Getting up early hadn’t been in the cards, happy to sleep after an exciting day of running around as a toddler, but circumstance being what they were - going to bed in one form at his mother’s house with surety that he would wake up as someone else - getting up early was the best way to avoid the potentially awkward scenario of clothing that didn’t quite fit. While the oversized sleep shirt he had been wearing - far more dwarfing on such a small frame as he had gone to bed with, but fitting now in a much better way - had been a good thing, covering up everything necessary, there would have been some oddity found in a child putting on boxers and sweatpants that were easily far too big, meant for someone far larger in stature, making for the quiet walk across the hardwood floors of his second floor room that would hopefully procure something a little more fitted albeit still not fitted enough to the change in figure.
And boy, had it been a change in figure.
It was all he could do to hang his head in front of the bathroom mirror once he had managed to skulk his way into it, closing the door before turning on the light in hopes that he hadn’t woken up anyone else in the house. Sandra would have already been to work, getting there early to make sure everything was in operational order for the coming day, and Michael, likewise, would have already been off to the office where he would whittle down the hours of his day behind a desk, however executive in nature it might have been; but what he hadn’t expected was the lingering presence, conveniently forgetting the details of Aiden’s stay with the Armitage Family for reasons he couldn’t detail - not now, not when he was staring at himself in the mirror, attempting to figure out what to do about the violet tresses of hair on his head, framing feminine lines and angles of his face which, decidedly, was not his face once again. In fact, it hadn’t even been of his own gender, a soft sigh escaping his lips as he reached for the drawstrings of his commandeered sweatpants to try and tighten them tighter around his hips.
Then came the alibis and the outright lies, stories prosed of considerable thought as to what he could - what he would - tell Aiden when he woke up that morning to a woman in the house and not a toddler or a shaggy-looking boy in glasses - not that there had been any particular association between those two beyond their presence at Mugunghwa. As far as Aiden knew, those had been two separate people with two separate lives that only intersected because of their relationship to the restaurant - one an employee and one family, but if those options had been removed from the docket of stories he could formulate, what was this one? Who was this girl to the Armitage Family when Sandra only had so many siblings and Aiden would have known well enough that Nathan, still in Los Angeles as far as Connor had last checked, didn’t have children of his own?
Or did he tell the truth?
That was always a possibility, one the resonated with ease more than any of the complex narratives he could attempt to pull together in the early hours of the morning as he pulled his hair out of his face, tying it back with a hairband, before tucking in the shirt just so it hung more pleasantly from his body when the kitchen was the next stop. There was still some tact to put into it, some choice wording for the explanation of something that was hardly believable in and of itself, but it seemed far easier to come out and say it, and it was far easier to do that with something to break the ice - no matter how many times it had been broken before, be it as a new employee at Mugunghwa or a small child thrown into one’s care due to a family emergency - whatever that might have been.
The traipse to the kitchen was another quiet one, Point A to Point B only producing a few small creaks in the floor, snapping the light on so he could start pilfering the fridge for the ingredients he would need to make something for breakfast. Simple in form, egg toast happened to be a favorite - easy to make, filling, a good start to any morning. Snapping on the flat top, he let that warm up while he prepared everything else, blending the eggs before mixing them together with the slaw and some green onions before flattening them out into sandwich-sized slabs that, alongside buttered bread, found themselves on the flat top to grill. It was joined in due time by slices of bacon which he wholly expected to be the waking factor as the smell filled the kitchen and made it into every nook and cranny in the house, an occasional check towards the stairs the answer to his question as to whether Aiden had woken up or not when Mochi came bounding down the stairs; and everything was inevitably stacked with cheese and topped with the second piece of grilled bread before being set out on the table.
And if that hadn’t been enough, he was sure there was more to the kitchen than met the eye, the rice cooker full with leftovers in the fridge that would only need some reheating to add to a much wider spread of breakfast; but even with food in front of him once he turned off the flat top and made sure to clean up, he had been cautious in eating, waiting for the inevitable confusion that would come from being caught in such a form, a total stranger - again - even if a pretty one.
He didn’t expect to be called in to work. After the emergency call that Sandra had received at the restaurant the day before, Aiden had taken the precaution to dial his office to give them a heads up of his absence. He didn’t detail much; no one at Human Resources needed to know the details even if he had details to give. He simply stated what was necessary, which didn’t extend beyond what Sandra had told him: an emergency. That had been enough, though he didn’t specify for how long. Not at first. To be safe, he told them a week factoring in the likelihood that he would probably be helping out where he could at the restaurant outside of his usual hours as well as helping to take care of the tiny human he had grown rather fond of. He needed time to sort through everything; to get his head on straight when things he wasn’t sure how to handle started to bombard him; to have time to recuperate from it all; to be ready to start the same routine over. He’d figure it out. He had to. He would figure out how to keep everything in working order...not just for Sandra, but also for the little boy that had surprisingly become that boost of strength he needed to get through just that first day.
He had been drained ragged. Perhaps not so much physically as it was far more true from an emotional standpoint when the evening prior had been filled with an assortment of tasks that turned into games or fun activities to make things more enjoyable for a child. While outwardly, he wore a smile and rather enjoyed the tiny human’s company that had befell upon him, emotions warred with one another: Worry argued with Calm; the tug-of-war between Happiness and Frustration turned to a battle of tantrums that Humor made a joke of every chance he got; Urgency wanted to call Sandra - wanted to drive to U.C.S.F. and make all the mindless attempts to find out where she was and who had brought her own worries about her. He wanted to make everything okay, but from where he was and the company he had to keep, he could only do so much.
So he made due and thankfully, he had Mochi to help alleviate some of that emotional stress from his mind. The Corgi pup was a fairly tiny something for the child to play with and easily distract while Aiden made quick work whatever things still needed to be tidied up or otherwise taken care of outside of what they had lovingly curated for Sandra’s return before sleep eventually took them into the next morning.
Sunlight barely creeped into his room, peeking in passed the curtains as a gentle morning breeze blew in. The salty air of the marina was difficult to avoid, but it wasn’t that peculiar smell that stirred him awake. There hadn’t been the rustle and stir of the furry rotund body that normally occupied twice its size upon the bed near Aiden’s feet. The stretch of his legs verified that much as he continued to bury his face into his pillow. The presence of the child? He may have mistaken him for the pillow beside him, sneaking into his room to rouse him for breakfast, his hand retracting quickly when he made contact. Forcing an eye open, Aiden blinked focus in, finding neither a hungry child or an equally hungry ball of fluff looking to be fed. Maybe they’re playing somewhere outside, he wondered internally, catching a glimpse of his phone in his peripheral once he rolled over onto his back, the notification light flashing annoyingly.
Sorry, Aiden. Tall, lanky, and awkward didn’t show up last night.
There was a temporary smirk laced with sadness that followed his text of thanks. The sent message took to the skies just as his phone hit the bed. He had every right to spend his day off as he liked. He didn’t have to spend it with him even if there were just a couple of hours to spare before the shift he was supposed to have waiting tables turned to babysitting. Perhaps something had come up. That was a very real possibility. Plus, it wasn’t like he had any way of contacting him outside of the restaurant to reschedule.
“Dummy,” Aiden scolded to himself in regret, his eyes narrowing at the ceiling. “You didn’t even get his number.” One of the songs from the night before was a bittersweet reminder; part nag, part reason to smile. With a huff of a breath, he pulled himself out of bed and set out to prepare breakfast for him and the tiny beings that he suspected were running around somewhere in or around the house. It hadn’t occurred to him that perhaps they thought it was a brilliant idea to make him breakfast until the telltale aroma of bacon sizzling on the griddle hit him. “시발,” he cursed, kicking the lingering sleep right out of his system as he bolted down the hall and toward the stairs.
Then he stopped in his tracks. Beyond the banister, he could hear Mochi barking happily, likely in the kitchen asking for food from the tiny tot from the night before. He could have easily left the thought that the two of them were looking for all the after-dinner sorts of treats to sneak in before breakfast, but there was an unfamiliar face to consider, one that he caught barely a glimpse of before he thought against turning the corner to head the rest of the way down the stairs beyond the landing that split one level from the next.
She was pretty. He may have even dared to think she was beautiful because she was. He wasn’t blind, but he couldn’t begin to piece together why she was there, sitting at the table with a delicious breakfast spread piping hot and laid out ready to enjoy. His lips thinned as he took a second to break down the evening prior. Nowhere in those late night hours was he out with a woman like her. Just a child and a dog playing games and enjoying simple and delicious food while they waited for Sandra to come home. Quickly, he scanned items in the house just to make sure he was, in fact, still in the Armitage’s Marina District home. Yup. Still here, but so was the woman with the soft lavender tresses. So out of place.
A hand raised to his face in confusion until he barely felt the slight reminder of sleep imprinted on his skin. “Aish,” he hushed, sneaking back up the stairs to the hallway bathroom to freshen up a bit. Hair less mussed, face clean and more awake than the smell of bacon had prompted him to be, clothes less disheveled. He could feel his heart rate pick up in anticipation as he moved back down the hall, descending the stairs with every intention to make it to the bottom. What was he going to say when he finally came face to face with her? Sorry, did I wake up in the wrong house or is this a dream? That sounded dumb.
The face he made at the thought was outward, but it quickly dissolved into something more neutral, perhaps more curious and disbelieving, when he finally turned and met her eyes. Her gaze held him there for a breath before he finally opened his mouth to speak, gradually closing the distance between where she was and where he stood, the table the only thing dividing them, as his eyes flicked here and there, looking for the boy from the night before though he only thought that Mochi was with him, beyond his current line of sight, just playing.
“Morning,” he managed, biting at his inner cheek briefly, still unsure of what to say and still very utterly confused, his eyes falling to the meal in front of them. “I’m almost afraid to ask if this is a dream ‘cause something…crazy usually happens…so I hope I woke up in the wrong house and you’re letting me down gently with a nice breakfast.”
There had been all intention to check in with his mother once they were both awake, fed, and ready to face whatever ails might have befallen her husband, likely to put stress on everyone in some way, shape or form. What those exactly were, Connor couldn’t say nor had he intention to dive right into such a somber conversation as he listened to those tell tale signs that Aiden was awake - the sound of footsteps in the upstairs hallway, shuffling around in the restroom to the tune of running water to wake up some more, and, ultimately, the traipse down the stairs which had gone in one direction only to head back up, again coming down in a confusion-inducing back and forth; but then again, Connor wasn’t exactly Connor as he had been the night before, young child who had been playing games with Aiden in an attempt to keep his mind off the situation that had befallen his family, or the night before that, indeed the “tall, lanky, and awkward” described in texts. No, he hadn’t shown up at work, but that was expected - both because of his own fatigue, felt deep in his bones and pressing on the sides of his mind, and because he wouldn’t unless such a form made a return.
His eyes raised when Aiden entered the kitchen at last, nodding his head over to the breakfast in front of him as a sign to sit down and eat. He was still standing there, perhaps trying to figure out who he was this time - not that he exactly knew that tall and lanky, the small child, and now violet-haired woman were one in the same - with no information to go off of.
“No, you’re in the right house,” he said, voice considerably different from the deeper tone of the young man from the other night or the near-squeaky pitch of a whining child, as he picked at the sandwich in front of him. A few errant pieces of slaw were pulled from the sandwich, breaking away from the patty the eggs had made to cushion the rest of the ingredients. “Assuming you’re supposed to be in Sandra Hwang’s house,” Connor said with a small shrug of his shoulders; it wasn’t as if Aiden wasn’t supposed to be there, and Connor knew that well enough just as he knew a number of things that this person, this girl that was sitting at the table as a complete stranger, shouldn’t have known from nights before.
“Sit down, eat,” he urged, nodding again to the egg toast before standing up, grabbing some napkins from one of the cabinets to set them out once he sat back down again - all moves to buy him some time while he mulled over the ways he could explain about the situation at hand. It seemed far fetched and completely ridiculous to suggest the explanation that he had been given by a mother who, for all his faults, spoke fondly enough about a man no longer and not ever to be in the picture, a father that Connor knew very little about other than what he had been told once upon a time - something to the tune of always being able to recognize him no matter what form he was in, not that there had been such a precedent for this situation. It was a brand new turmoil, he supposed, to have to explain it now, not sure whether it would be for the better, something that Aiden might have been able to accept once he wrapped his head around it, or shift everything that had been enjoyed about that first night into something worse.
Still, something had to be said.
“It’s the least I can do for the cake and pizza last night since I think 엄마 might have fallen asleep at the hospital and I’m not sure how well it would have gone to order pizza with an adult’s debit card,” he said, finally picking up the egg toast to take a bite, again buying more time to finish the thoughts in his mind, “and for the help the night before.” It wasn’t the most straightforward way to say that they had been the same person, an ease into a strange and unusual situation, but the straightforward way might have been too much.
“But at least we did get to spend some time together,” he offered, anticipating the absence of tall and lanky might have been viewed as some sort of stand-up.
There may have been a slight sigh of relief when it had been confirmed by a sweet voice that Aiden had indeed woken up and that he had, indeed, woken up in the right house, though it was only slight in the fact that he still had no clue as to who this woman was and what she was doing here. She dressed far too comfortable to be a babysitter, Aiden briefly wondering if Sandra had thought ten steps ahead of him to call someone in such a time crunch to allow him to be able to go about his usual workday Downtown and the nightly hours he would later spend at the restaurant without having to break from that routine too much or take leave from work entirely just to care for a child that had been meant to be her responsibility.
Responsibility be damned, he was fine with taking time off to help where he could and despite such an urgent situation, perhaps that break was a blessing in disguise that his last break had failed to be. Maybe the woman was the boy’s sister. Someone who had a life of her own and finally some time to break from it to take her brother back home. Whatever the case was, she seemed to know Sandra - no less, by her maiden name - so they must be close. To some extent, that put Aiden at a little bit of ease as he grasped the back of the chair he stood behind and pulled it out to take a seat at the second place setting at the table, obliging her request.
Two. There were only two. Two plates. Two meals. Two voices and a dog. His eyes did a quick scan followed by one that was slower and more thorough as she continued to speak. No, his eyes weren’t deceiving him as much as he thought they were when he had finally come down the stairs. The obvious action that he was counting everything on the table was apparent in the way that a slender finger lightly bounced in the air only punctuated by the slight bob of his head as if it would make his counting more confident and he wasn’t just making any of this up. There should be three. One for him, one for her, and one for the small child that he still wore was with Mochi until the pup came sauntering in from the living room toward his own food bowl, stopping only to acknowledge the both of them with a happy wag of his tongue and a wiggle of his Corgi butt before he dug into his breakfast.
Dark eyes narrowed slightly at the dog as he continued to eat, Aiden wondering why his occasionally defiant dog was so casual about their new guest like she wasn’t a stranger to the house. Now that he thought about it, Mochi had been the same way in the presence of the child, though that was a little bit more expected; Mochi loved kids and their energy, like Peanut’s, was something he took quickly to regardless if he had just met them or had known them for years...but her? The woman with the violet tresses? As far as Aiden knew, she had been here a whole ten minutes - at least in his waking - and Mochi wasn’t trying to nip her ankles or sniff her annoyingly for the next half hour or so for some kind of speed-date level of familiarity. He simply just let her be which was...not normal.Then again, Mochi took to Kolya like a moth to a flame upon their first meeting. Why couldn’t she be the same way?
Aiden was about to shrug it off and ask about the boy and whether he ate already, craning his neck to stretch out a stiffness there when the instance about cake and pizza fell from her lips. He didn’t turn his head from the slightly turned away position it was currently in, but his eyes shifted from the Corgi to her as he paused in motion to listen. The cake was still there and so were a few slices of pizza from the night before. No doubt she had seen them during her breakfast preparations and if she had known Sandra for as long as she seemed to make him believe as well as her whereabouts, then yeah, she may have known these things or pieced them together from what had been left of the night before Aiden, the boy, and the dog all eventually passed out after their long day. That bit about ordering pizza with an adult’s debit card though… that made him straighten his posture a little.
Then she kept talking, even around her bite of egg toast, though it wasn’t much. It was a vague thanks without the word even being present for help that he and he alone had offered that could stand alone in a statement without further context. Had he thought he had been stood up? Yeah, he had, but with the way that she was talking, it seemed like he wasn’t stood up at all, but the feeling he felt in that moment, with those words, wasn’t so easily overlooked. Followed by something that almost sounded like an apology with the other words masking it and he held his breath. What he felt then, he had no words to describe it. Was he confused? Yes, because she shouldn’t have known these things - she wasn’t there - but her words were suggesting otherwise and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear anymore when he felt the pang of something else that didn’t have a place in this conversation...or perhaps it did and he couldn’t even begin to point out the reasons why.
He tried to let that feeling die with some kind of action; straightening further in his seat, leaning his head to the other side, grasping onto the edge of the table, the chair, grasping something to calm, to quell, or otherwise give him some stability or focus to make sense of what was being told to him. Unfortunately, that feeling only amplified the more he heard those words echoing in his head and that sharp feeling trailed along with it. “What are you saying?” he asked, tone even and curious, and perhaps uncertain if he wanted to hear more.
Two plates and two plates alone - one for him and one for her, though the pronoun hardly applied to the mind that was stuck in a female body - and none for the little boy that had been there the night before, no longer existing on this plane when he had finally fallen asleep, driven into fatigue between the carbohydrate coma and sugar crash as well as the games they had played, allowing the magic of this curse or whatever it was to take hold. With how often it happened to him and the knowledge about it that he had gleaned from his mother, the confusion of it hardly fell into mind though the frustration remained.
If only he had stayed awake that first night until he could see Aiden again…
He was no longer focused on eating once those words had come out of his mouth, hints at evenings that he wouldn’t have known anything about as an absent party, watching Aiden and the gears that were turning in his mind while he attempted to process what was being said to him. There were some things that, yes, could have been inferred from a quick scan of the fridge and the contents within, leftovers from the night before that he could have spied that morning in search of something to eat, but there was so much more than that to the days that had passed and so much more than he knew; so much more he could say and explain, highlight the slightest facts about the evening that were a bit more personal like a fear of heights or attempting to crane oneself underneath the tables to mop, and even the joke about the spot under the table which didn’t exist at all to the music that had played during the time they spent mopping the floors and washing the windows following their respective meals of yukgaejang.
“I’m saying I’m the same person,” he said, nodding a little bit. Much to his mother’s sure chagrin, he put his elbows on the table, fingers interlacing in front of his mouth which he seemed to rest against it as he thought about the words to say and implications of such, and just what it might have meant when the conversation came to an ultimate close. “The tall boy at the restaurant who took your order of yukgaejang, chicken and ube waffles, and the persimmon mooncake who told you the secret to the batter was chopped up and dried persimmons,” he explained, describing things further in an effort to provide some validity to his claims, “and the child with the awkward bowl cut and legs too short to reach the floor of your car.”
“You were going to be free between four and six in the evening, and had I really thought about it, I would’ve stayed awake so this,” he said, motioning up and down his body with his hands, “wouldn’t have happened.” It would have been inevitable, the transition from one form to another, since there was only so many hours, so many days, Connor could reasonably stay awake so he could be the tall, lanky, and awkward young man with far too many thanks to give. “But I’m really sorry about that,” he assured, hanging his head a little bit, eyes cast on the egg toast that, for the moment, would remain hot though eggs didn’t have a very significant duration of warmth once they had been away from the flat top’s heat.
“And I’m sorry I ran into you,” he said, lifting his head up so he could give him a dramatic flare of his nostrils, chewing on the inside of his lips at that point since he knew it was only fair to given Aiden some time to let it all sink in and process, and even so, he wasn’t sure just how it would be taken or if it were to be believed.
He couldn’t help the twitch at the corner of his mouth when those words came from her lips. The same person? How could she be? His left eye narrowed only so much in further disbelief as he squared himself with the table, and therefore, her as well, listening further as she described each instance that he had been with these people: tall, lanky, and awkward...the very same young man with the wide eyes that he could stare at for hours if time would let him and the beaming smile that he couldn’t get out of his mind, especially not with the possibility that he could see him again; then the frustrated child who he had tried to entertain when sitting at a busy restaurant just wasn’t his idea of such...the same one who suggested what nice things they could do to make Sandra’s return home as comforting as possible when she no longer had to be at the hospital; now, she was trying to convince him that she was the woman before him trying to explain it all, including all the little details that wouldn’t have been known by anyone else otherwise. There hadn’t been anyone else really in those moments, especially not beyond the restaurant’s operating hours and definitely not in the privacy of his car or the Marina District home they sat in.
There was no one else that could have known...so why was he still doubting?
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that his eyes were being deceived, barely able to imagine the young waiter or the small child in her place at the table until the phantoms of her supposed former forms seemed to manifest from memory; the much taller young man talking to him excitedly about the autumn menu, disclosing the secret to the mooncakes, or making playful jabs at his shortness in response to the jabs Aiden had made to his towering form before he morphed into the tiny human who hated sitting still for too long; the same child speaking about cake and being convincing enough to have a little more sugar than he was allowed, or how happy he seemed when they were playing games to pass the time and avoid an all too somber mood that was bound to creep up on them again when they were finally allowed to know what was going on at the hospital. The woman before him now? Unlike the others, he wasn’t with her long enough to say much beyond their conversation except that her recollection of each of the days that passed were both eerily accurate.
Aiden exhaled after he let her words sink in, his body hitting the chair back as he turned his head away to look down the hall that led into the living room, Mochi’s rear trotting along and disappearing around the corner as he had probably grown bored of their conversation or had otherwise finished his food and didn’t have much of a reason to stick around anymore than he needed to. Aiden may have half-expected the boy to come running down the hall, but really, if he allowed her words to be truth to his ears, the boy was there - just in a different form - sitting at the table across from him with a barely eaten egg toast resting on his plate, flaring his nostrils in apology behind violet locks and feminine features.
As unbelievable as any of it sounded, he wasn’t sure how much of it he could forgive when it seemed like a lot of it was inevitable. He tried to process it all as fast and as best as he could, not wanting to keep her - him? He didn’t know which was proper beyond what he could see - waiting for a response, but it was difficult to give an answer. Could he be okay with this? This tall, awkward young man one day, small child the next, beautiful woman now, and then what? Would he ever know or would it always be a guessing game to play where they would stand in the same room, share the same space, and not realize the other was there the whole time just waiting for the right body to finally approach and say, I’m here or I’m sorry I kept you waiting? Wouldn’t that run the risk of being too late?
Then that pang returned and it hurt.
Slouching his shoulders, Aiden let his gaze fall over the food set before him. For what had remained constant that hadn’t deceived his eyes in the days that had passed, there was good food and despite appearances, there was also enjoyable company, and memories that would stay with him even after this. It wouldn’t be the first time that a memory hurt to recall and it wouldn’t be the last that he would look back on if only to smile at everything that led up to it no matter how supernatural it seemed. He had heard similar things - experienced some too, yet still hadn’t fully believed them - but it didn’t mean that they wouldn’t stop. Eventually, he’d come around to accepting them - believing these strange things that kept happening around and to him - or otherwise find a way to deal with them...eventually.
For now, he needed air.
“I’m sorry, too,” he replied softly, finally raising his eyes to meet hers, his lips barely curving into something of a small smile when he caught her flaring her nostrils in the same way the child - her other form - from the night before had. “Please excuse me,” he breathed, his voice directed a little more to the table as he shifted to stand. Slowly, without another look back, he made his way down the hall toward the living room and out the sliding door that led into the yard where Mochi was quick to escape as Aiden took to the skies with a deep breath as if the clouds held the answers. Was anyone who they were anymore? Unfortunately for him, there were no clouds to look to. Just the warming sun and clear blue skies.
So maybe breakfast hadn’t been the best time, Connor staring at the empty seat behind the plate of egg toast that was still resting there, slowly losing its heat much like he felt he was slowly losing his resolve in the uncomfortable silence that followed. Mochi, having already taken his leave of the room, wasn’t around to tap his feet about on the linoleum floor of the kitchen, and there wasn’t anything of the background noise that would have been found in the restaurant - no dishes being cleaned, no shouting from the kitchen, no pans sizzling while pots boiled with delicious broth, and no customers chatting while mush played over speakers barely heard. There was no one else in the household, his parents at the hospital, one admitted while the other waited for some good news or someone to usher her home. It was just him, alone, for a few minutes that had stretched into an uncomfortable perception of time as he stared at the plate, his nails, his hands - anything that just wasn’t the empty chair.
The dilemma remained on whether or not to follow after Aiden, intruding on what was to be safe space with some time to think about the revelation that Connor had just dropped on him with the weight of an anvil from high above - not that such had been the intention, but it had to be difficult to reconcile that they had all been the same person and these experiences had gone far beyond that first genuine encounter at the restaurant, and just because the body had changed, that didn’t mean anything else had. Nothing had, but still, in the form of sight and perception that couldn’t be shifted and molded into what it had been; and who to say that was even the right form, the lanky boy with the glasses? Was there even one anymore?
Up on his feet in a moment, when the stretch of minutes seemed to become too long to be anything but restless, there was a temporary venture back up the stairs where he could start rummaging through his belongings, coming back down with something held firmly, but gently in her hand. There had been a moment of hesitation, right at the door where he had come to a stop to look out to see where Aiden had taken to, but how long would he stand there and wait for Aiden to catch his breath? How long was too long, apt to give some reason to withdraw from what could have been, and how long was too short, not enough time to make his presence an imposition? Neither were particularly welcome of results, sure to make an already troubling situation even worse as another person was all but pushed out of his life because of something Connor couldn’t control.
Thankfully, had there been a silver-lining to the violet-haired form, a lighter frame meant lighter steps as he carefully slid the door open to step outside, putting on the nerdy glasses in tow - the same black boxed frames from the prior night - in tow onto his face which seemed to dwarf his features while magnifying and illuminating his eyes all the same time thanks to the thickness of the lenses themselves. It was a foolish notion perhaps that something as simple as a pair of glasses would bring about some realization he hadn’t been lying, but if it worked for Clark Kent to conceal his identity, sure it could do something in reverse to prove his own. He pushed them up on his face again and again, already large for the six foot and then some boy and far more for him now, before reaching out with another pause, another chance to let his fear and worry get the better of him, to gently touch Aiden’s shoulders. He hoped not to startle him, but was still curious enough in his concern not to draw his attention away from the sky.
It was brought back seconds later once he was sure there was some sort of effect to it, making for a twitch or turn to suggest that Aiden wasn’t completely ignoring him at that moment. “Are you okay?”
He didn’t know how long he would stand out there, staring at everything and nothing, attempting to process thoughts that both confused him and made him feel something. What that something was, he couldn’t it pin down nor give it a definitive name. What he did know was that it made him feel...well, a lot.
He had heard something like this before. That there was someone else - someone else that he was supposed to be - on the other side. The other side of what? He couldn’t recall if he had asked or if the reply he received had been just as vague, but the mere idea that there was someone else in him - if that were even the case - was still a concept that he had difficulty wrapping his head around, and in the days that followed, there hadn’t been any real indication that he was anyone else other than who he ever truly believed he was: Aiden Park. Outside of some strange occurrences that he may have tried to logic out as a result of circumstance - of getting caught up in a rivalry turned camp brawl with a particular group who he had accepted and believed to have such powers - or had quite literally got acceptance smacked into him by several somethings he would have skewered and grilled over an open flame if the one they were attached to wasn’t going to disown him as his friend, this shouldn’t have been anything too far fetched. This…’shifting into different bodies’ thing that the woman with the lavender hair had claimed.
Was that even possible?
A faint breeze blew in from the marina as he continued to stare at the sky, wondering with childlike curiosity while Logic and Doubt argued over his experiences and facts. There was no reason not to believe the things that the woman with the violet hair was saying were true just as there was no reason to say that it could not happen. He had been there - every second of each of those days - and the recollections - the significant details - held no flaws outside of the form that was doing the recollecting. No, she wasn’t the tall, lanky, and awkward boy with the wide eyes and the bright smile, but she was. She wasn’t the restless child with a sweet tooth either, but she was. Who she was supposed to be behind her own eyes and who she had been, he hadn’t asked, too wrapped up with whatever had been going on in the days that they had spent together to bother with something so simple. If he enjoyed her company as much as he had, did it even matter?
The light jingling of Mochi’s dog tags indicated that he was near, the sound gradually drawing him out of his thoughts. As usual, the dog paid his pet parent no mind as he moved about the yard, sniff this or circling around that before he directed his attention to the silent slide of the door and the violet-haired woman who was feather-light on her feet stopping just short of Aiden as he continued to stand there in the middle of the yard staring at a cloudless sky that wouldn’t give him an answer. Instead, nature gave him direction. With the gentle breeze of the marina at his back, there was a touch and the muscles in his shoulders tensed, but he didn’t look back. Not yet. Instead, he tried to feel for the light swat of the rag the night they cleaned the windows at the restaurant, and the secure hold his small arms hand on him as he carried him to his car so they could go home. Then her touch was gone.
“I’m okay,” he breathed, relaxing as he turned his gaze downward. The pang he felt in his chest was less searing now as he reached a hand up to rub his neck, briefly working out the knot that still lingered there before his hand dropped to his side. “I’m sorry I-” he began in mid-turn to face her, but silence was the only thing to leave his mouth thereafter as he stared at the violet-haired girl, the small child, and the tall, awkward boy in the all-too familiar glasses, a different feeling mounting and swirling about in his chest, his gaze no where else, but her eyes…
No, his eyes, realization settling in.
“Uh…” He stifled a chuckle at how large her eyes looked behind those thick lenses. “Those are just a little too big for your face, don’t you think?” he asked, eyes barely narrowing as he stared at her curiously, seeing the ghost of the tall and awkward boy from the first night staring back at him, smirking a bit at the memory. “They were too big for you even then,” he added, reaching out to gently nudge the edge of the frame so the glasses sat a little higher on the bridge of her nose. “But at least they stayed on better.” Reaching up, his hands lightly grasped his own ears and his eyes barely squinted into slight half moons as his shoulders hunched upward in preparation for the attack he was bound to receive.
“I make due,” he said, brushing off any notion that the glasses on his face might have been too big with a flippant wave of his hand that didn’t come close to stopping him from pushing the glasses back up on his face - again. It served his wallet no good to constantly buy pairs of glasses for moments like this, not sure if one set of frames would fit a number of forms where some certainly wouldn’t have as had been the case with the child form he had been in the day before. For now, they were perfectly fine, albeit unrequired as he turned on his heels to head back towards the sliding door that was opened so Mochi, excited again about the prospect of going inside, bounded over.
“Omo, my ears weren’t that big. They fit my face,” Connor commented with an exaggerated pout of his features, unfortunately no rag or towel in his hands that he could use to smack Aiden with even if the truth was that, yes, his ears had been big and, yes, they were far more fitting for the glasses on his face now than the much smaller feminine features worn. It didn't matter. Tomorrow would be a different day with a different form and, taking them off his face, it wasn’t like he needed to wear them anyway when all they would do is ail his vision for the day, perhaps even giving him a headache in the process.
“Come on, eat breakfast,” Connor said as he opened up the sliding door again, stepping inside and waiting for Aiden to come back in. The likeliness that the egg toast sandwiches on the table were cold had been a great one, egg not exactly known for holding onto heat, but it too didn’t matter when Connor could just as well heat them up again - be it by a quick run in the microwave or putting them in the over where a low heat would make sure they warmed up again without getting any sort of soggy like a microwave might have done. While he popped the oven on for a moment, grabbing the toast so he could place them on the rack within once the oven had preheated to an appropriate temperature, he idly thought of what else might have made for more of a complete breakfast.
“Want anything to drink? We might have some orange juice,’ Connor asked, stepping over to the refrigerator to look through it, his eyes focusing momentarily on the pizza that remained in its box, still a decent amount considering there had only been two people to enjoy it the night prior, and the cake that was left in similar circumstances, before they popped up a shelf or two for something to drink. Juice - whatever flavor it may have been - and water, tea and coffee - those had been the standards about the house and today had been no different even if the face that looked over it was. “We have the usual,” he nodded, shrugging his shoulders a little bit in his own indecisiveness about what sounded the best.
It felt a little weird to accept everything that she had told him, hearing himself utter such things aloud only to receive a reply that only further validated her accounts. His accounts? He couldn’t be sure as to which pronoun he should use when he thought of her - currently female in his eyes - even if in the days prior she had been male. He supposed that was the least of his worries. It would just take a little getting used to. Luckily, he had all day to do it with no real work obligations to speak of.
“Did you not look in the mirror that morning?” he teased, a smile curving his mouth as he watched her pout, his hands dropping to his sides. “They….were pretty big. Even if they did fit your face.” He couldn’t help but wonder about how this physical shifting business went. Whether prior capabilities were retained, like eyesight and hearing, or if they were lost depending on the body that she ended up in each morning. His question went without being spoken, though it didn’t go unanswered as he watched her remove the glasses from her face and he couldn’t really be certain whether he liked seeing her without or if he preferred the phantom of the young man she had been.
The jingling of Mochi’s dog tags encouraged the reopening of the sliding door, the excited Corgi entering without having to be called unlike his pet parent who stood outside only for a few moments longer only to follow after the young woman with the violet hair, conceding to the call of the breakfast he had previously foregone to find some clarity in the whole situation. Granted, while there were some parts of this whole physical transformation shift that were understood and accepted, there were some things that he still had questions about - had been curious about - even if those questions weren’t initial, but were gradually formulating in his brain.
“Telling me twice to eat is a first. Rare Achievement Unlocked for you.” Sliding the door shut, he followed her into the kitchen, watching as she took to the oven to warm up the toast again, stopping at the counter to lean his forearms upon it, pondering over their possible drink choices. “Juice sounds refreshing,” he thought aloud. He didn’t need coffee to wake him up; that came when he backtracked up the stairs when he realized there was a too-gorgeous-for-words woman sitting in the kitchen with breakfast made and she hadn’t disappeared when he finally descended the stairs in their entirety. Water or tea just didn’t seem to fit the menu.
Glancing to the oven and taking into consideration the egg toast that she had prepared for them, he suddenly felt that plain old orange juice just simply wouldn’t do. For an unplanned, but welcome, day off, was that the sort of celebratory drink to start off one’s morning? “You know, I think there’s some vodka hiding around in here.” Pushing off the counter, Aiden beelined for a cabinet that had a number of liquors that he spied Sandra reaching into whenever she was cooking something relatively fancy whether for experimental menu item purposes or just simply ‘fancy cooking.’ When the bottle of vodka didn’t seem like enough for a single glass, there was an unopened bottle of champagne that he fished out, head tilting toward the fridge where the juice resided and back toward the bottle.
“What do you think? Fancy egg toast deserves a fancy beverage pairing.”
“Of course I looked in the mirror. I have to know what I’m dealing with,” Connor said with a bit of laughter as it would have been a much different wake up call had he been older, perhaps elder old, or in a form that didn’t quite fit the ‘too-gorgeous-for-words woman’ he was now - an odd consideration to say the least, but he supposed there were stranger things than even that to happen, perhaps the least of all being Aiden being told to eat breakfast twice. There were plenty of options and it was a blind grab bag of which he would wake up as, no rhyme or reason to it besides the universe playing a rather uncertain game with him. What the universe said, ultimately went, and it served to question whether there would be an end to it all.
“But I’m sure someone telling you they’re basically a body swapper is even stranger which I guess means not running out of the door, screaming, is probably an achievement for you. At least a bronze trophy,” Connor pointed out with a scrunch of his nose, nodding a little bit as he moved about the kitchen to get everything in order. With juice, in part, the drink of choice, Connor made quick work of pulling the carton out of the fridge, setting it on the counter so he could go about grabbing glasses from the cabinet that would be more appropriate for the added vodka - no, champagne - that had been produced from the ‘fancy cooking’ cabinet which was likely just Sandra’s name for the ‘liquor cabinet’ despite the presence of cooking sakes and other liquors more suited for deglazing a pan or adding into a red wine sauce.
“Now I’m beginning to think I skimped with the egg toast,” he said in response to the champagne, setting the carton and the glasses on the table. With some attention paid to the oven, he made sure the toast had properly warmed up again before putting them back on the plates, and they too joined the glasses. There was a pause as he considered what else he might have been able to put on the table to make the breakfast more well-balanced, digging through the fridge again for some fresh fruit which was washed up and sliced before being set out in bowls for them to pick from over the course of the meal that was quickly identifying itself as ‘brunch’ over the standard ‘breakfast’.
“There,” he nodded, eyes looking over to the corked bottle of champagne with a slight sense of worry. “I really hope that thing doesn’t just pop across the kitchen,” he added, teeth pulled back into a grimace as he grabbed a hand towel from where it hung, something that could easily catch the cork if it did go off with a significant pop. “It happened once and I was almost sure it was going to break something.”
“I can only imagine.” A full smirk rounded out his statement, the ease and carefree nature of the first night and perhaps even the night before finding their places in conversation was strange, but welcoming. Of course, in the case of these physical shifts, he could only imagine what it must’ve been like to wake up every morning to someone different even if the person beneath it all was the same. Male one day. Female the next. Elderly thereafter and later, an energetic youth. To Aiden, for a moment, it could have been seen as walking in someone else’s shoes even just for a day. A new backstory, a new appearance, and equally new experiences with the same run of people that she had been encountering wherever her usual haunts were.
In the same vein, the longer that he thought about it as they both moved about the kitchen to finally be able to sit down and actually have breakfast together, the more he thought it was a little sad. A new face, a new backstory, and equally new experiences with the same run of people… How lonely would that make a person feel? To have to start over, to try to reconnect with someone they had spent a whole day with prior only to have them not recognize you because of physical appearance - to have them constantly look for you when you’ve been in their presence all that time?
The feeling pulled at his heart as he began to peel the foil from the champagne bottle, masking it behind some thoughtful look as he peeked within drawers that were within his reach for a corkscrew that was bound to be nearby and a feigned hurt at only receiving a bronze achievement trophy in this body swapping conversation. “Just bronze? Really?” He wanted to argue it just as he naturally had the night they were cleaning up the restaurant, but with a distracted mind between trying to understand how she must’ve felt - was probably still feeling - about making simple connections with people with this daily body swapping business and getting the champagne bottle open, he couldn’t find the words to fight her. “I guess I can live with that,” he conceded.
“Okay, just ‘cause we have a fancy bottle of champagne doesn’t mean I can pull off some fancy theatrics to get this thing open,” he told her once she had finished pouring their glasses of juice, waving the corkscrew around like he was preparing to do a magic trick. “Like popping the cork off using a knife. I’m talented, but I’m not that talented,” he plugged shamelessly, humoring himself a little. Corkscrew now in hand, he twisted the screw in only to start wiggling it out slowly the rest of the way, eyes on her as they awaited the eventual pop and hopefully, no cascade of champagne once the bottle was finally open.
“Do you want it to pop out and bounce across the room?” He inquired with raised brows beneath his messy fluff of hair no thanks to the marina breeze, the cork still in place as he played a little with the cork wings. “I could just as well remove this and let this thing fly,” he added, only starting to wind the screw out with the thought to leave the cork in and prepare for potential takeoff, briefly taking note of the hand towel in her possession. “We can see how great - or horrible - of a catch you are.”
Had he dipped his toes into the less pleasant aspects of his circumstances, the loneliness would be found alongside such difficulty to relate and connect to people who went with what their eyes saw first over the person who was behind the facade, whatever one it might have been at the time. While there had been circumstances where it was welcome, opportunities to avoid people in the wake of clashing heads or sheer embarrassment, those that weren’t far outweighed them, the scale almost constantly tipping towards a lonely existence with only a handful of friends and family members who knew. That could have been because they were told and worked through the struggles of wrapping their minds around it or because it was innate - something that they just knew and understand, able to see the person in front of them for who they really were and not who was seen in their own two eyes. It wasn’t a thought he was keen to dwell on, thankful that his mind was focused more on making brunch than it was counting his grievances.
“Okay, okay, I will upgrade to silver,” Connor said, flipping some loose strands of hair away from his face, something he was never quite used to since there were very few instances where his hair was actually of such considerable length, it seemed to be all over the place all at once. “It is still a trophy, but I never make it to the silver or gold rounds. Once… maybe, and I’m not even sure which game I was playing at the time.” All things considered, there hadn’t been much time for it, always something to do or some story to make up or some recipe to fix together in hopes that it would find something more than a spot on a seasonal menu at the restaurant. He seemed to stand there in thought for a moment, lips pursed, finger tapping at them while he sorted through a mental catalogue of games that might have been in whatever console graced the living room entertainment system. When nothing came to mind, his shoulders shrugged and he went back to what he was doing.
“I’d sooner break the glass probably into the bottle which is ridiculous because the propulsion of the carbonation within is supposed to make sure that doesn’t happen, but I,” he said, pointing a thumb towards his chest as if this was some triumphant moment. “I would make sure of it somehow,” he joked, setting the knife he had been using in the sink and rinsing off his hands, drying them off gingerly on another towel in the kitchen.
From there, he simply turned around and waited for Aiden to pop the cork off, but when there hadn’t been that pop, perhaps holding back for the decision on whether or not he wanted it to pop across the room, he nearly pouted. “You’re going to keep me in suspense of this, aren’t you?” He claimed, his brow furrowing slightly as he kept his eyes on the cork, bouncing them up now and then to try and figure out what was going on in Aiden’s mind. Psychic, he was not, but some things like potential mischievousness weren’t so easily hidden.
“I am an excellent catch, I hope you know,” he bragged, still holding the towel out if Aiden wanted to take it in preparation of a champagne cascade. No, it wouldn’t catch all of it if it decided to burst, but it would at least make sure he could get to a sink with less of a mess to clean up. “Though I can’t say I’m used to catching flying corks. I think that might hurt these hands,” he added, holding up what were delicate palms and digits, not so worn or worked from the restaurant or dojo in their current state.
“No, no,” Aiden protested at the instant upgrade to silver achievement trophy once he set the corkscrew back down on the counter, hands occupied with the bottle as he teased the cork a little further in preparation for the inevitable takeoff. “You gave me bronze. I’ll take my bronze. For now. I’ll earn my silver or gold one of these days,” he promised, setting himself up for an unspoken challenge that he wasn’t even remotely sure how he could accomplish it when there was no real set goal to strive for other than being awarded either silver or gold by word of mouth. A trophy was still a trophy, to that he found himself barely nodding in agreement, but the metal attached to it signified something more. Perhaps that had been his driver; to always try to one-up himself even if there were no other limits to break. It helped to give himself a purpose, a reason to keep going, a motivation to do better - become better - even if the cost of it would come from several game hours logged, a handful of sleepless nights, and other random achievement unlocks that he wasn’t even actively trying for. Where one trait was attempted and failed at, others were mastered. Whether he realized it or not, it was usually the case, especially in games.
Curiously, he glanced over at her when she mentioned video games and a tease sat on the tip of his tongue. “Were you playing Candy Crush?” It had been a while since he had played - too long of a while - and he was fairly sure they didn’t have the typical bronze, silver and gold achievement trophies like gaming consoles and their respective PC counterparts had, but it was the first game that had come to mind; cute and colorful in visuals, simple in concept, addicting and challenging in experience. He himself had achieved a level in the triple digits, but got fed up with the level he was stuck on far too many times to give it a second look, though he was sure that its addictiveness would manage to lure him back into that colorful candy world if he gave it a chance. “Seriously, though,” he attempted to say around the teasing grin that remained after his former question, genuinely curious, “what kind of games do you like playing?” he asked, though he may have been temporarily distracted the second she spat some science his way to expect an answer right away.
While a game of Break the Glass into the Bottle was absolutely a game that he wouldn’t play if he could help it, he couldn’t help but feel amused at how silly their conversation was getting. “So...you know your way around food and beverage, you're a gamer, and a klutz? Is that what you’re telling me?” He huffed at his bangs as his thumbs wiggled the cork a little more, watching the worry grow in her eyes as he continued to keep her in suspense. He gave an enthusiastic nod of his head when her question came, half moon eyes and a scrunch of his nose coming into play as he continued to be amused by this. His mischievousness was no secret and he did very little to hide it.
For a moment, he considered the towel she held in her hands, wondering if she should keep it to catch the flying cork or if he should take it so he wouldn’t be drenched too horribly in a champagne shower. Internally, he argued that the clean up wouldn’t be difficult if he had foregone the towel, but there were also other towels in the kitchen he could use - somewhere - and if they were around, they weren’t so readily seen. After a quick glance around the kitchen, Aiden accepted the towel she offered to him, keeping it near the mouth of the bottle as the cork was slowly nudged further up the neck. His brows furrowed slightly at her comment, a different sort of smirk curving his lips as he listened to her. “I don't, but you’re welcome to prove it,” he invited, though it wasn’t to say to which form he meant as the cork continued up the neck of the bottle. “Oh?” he said in response to the comment made about her hands. “Dainty too, are you?” Another tease and another couple millimeters of cork left before takeoff, a different sort of pressure felt beneath his palms as he continued to grip the bottle. “Well, get your sweater paws on ‘cause this cork is going for the door,” he warned, aiming the bottle out of the kitchen and toward the furthest point of the house from where they stood with minimal obstructions in its flightpath.
“Omo, who plays Candy Crush anymore?” He asked, shaking his head. While it had taken up some space on his phone once upon a time, it had been long deleted and, as far as Connor knew, had just about disappeared from the normal circulation of mobile game advertisements, replaced by Angry Birds or Clash of Clans or something equally cartoonish and addictive until they turned into pay-for-play games thanks to one hard level after another; but in such digression of thoughts, he found his way back on path of the question that came as a follow up, canting his head to the side for a second as he tried to remember what had been last played. “It might have been Fallout,” he said, “or one of those Batman games… maybe Ghost of Tsubasa, but I’ll play anything once if it looks like it’ll be good.” Naturally, not every game was a good one, not every game was a hit, but there were some diamonds in the rough of audience reviews and magazine rating scores that were inflated because of the impact they could have on sales. “Cyberpunk is coming out soon, so that should be fun to dive into and probably not see anyone for a week,” he joked - the latter half in particular - before his eyes dropped back onto the bottle as it rested in Aiden’s hands.
‘Break the Glass Bottle’ was definitely not a game to be played if they didn’t want a mess to clean up, but if it made the morning even more entertaining - as if there hadn’t been enough woeful excitement in secrets told and, from the appearances of it, accepted to be true - ‘Catch the Cork’ was something he knew he could manage, if not because he was already rounding the counter to make sure he had a head start against something that, in any form and no matter how lithe and light he was on his feet now, would have beaten him to the punch in a sprint towards the wall. No, it wouldn’t have done any harm to the door, reinforced with steel considering it was the entrance to their home, but if he could avoid it even putting a mar in it, why not make an attempt even if it just meant slowing it down?
Readying himself, he bent slightly at the knees as if playing catcher at a baseball game, hands at the ready to strike out for the cork when it was finally released. “Okay, but you have to give me a countdown,” he said, “because I really don’t want that to hit me if I’m not paying any attention.” As focused as he was right then, however, the latter didn’t seem likely, but that didn’t mean there weren’t hypothetical distractions from this little game of sport like someone ringing the doorbell or Mochi getting in the way or his phone suddenly going off; and with as much luck as he seemed to have, he wasn’t sure whether it would be a complete miss or the worst would happen and he would be hit somewhere much more delicate than smooth hands, like the eye.
He nodded at the selection of games she was naming off. Some familiar, others not so much. He may have passed a number - if not all - of the current releases during those random trips to the store, skimming through the entertainment aisles for something new to dive into, though often leaving without anything in hand. The Cyberpunk title he had vaguely heard of once upon a time, but he couldn’t really recall what it exactly was about as far as the type of game that it was or what kind of story would unravel with play.
Tearing his focus from the bottle, watching the alcohol bubble toward the mouth of the bottle, Aiden made a precautionary scan of the area in which the cork launch was to be expected, keeping an eye out for Mochi who had moved to stand next to him, staring at him curiously. Whether he was expecting food or wanting to play catch with the cork too, Aiden couldn’t make that assumption as he shook his head at him, the pup only tilting his head the other way as if confused. Glancing back to the young woman with the violet locks, he shouted across the room. “Why’s that?” He asked, though he couldn’t be sure as to what would’ve been doing the distracting when the food was heated through, their drinks in the process of being prepared - if that was an even accurate description - and the only other potential distractor trotting along the sidelines, glancing between the two of them with his Corgi butt wagging excitedly. “The dog’s cute, I know, but just focus on me and you won’t get hit in the face. Hopefully.”
With a nod of his head, Aiden began the countdown and with the last number, he let the cork fly in a long arc toward the door and waiting hands, his laughter - a mix of both amusement and awe - echoing in the kitchen as he moved to hover the bottle over the sink, letting the excess drain while the towel caught the cascade and the rest of it settled back into the bottle. There was some clean up to be taken care of, though it wasn’t anything horribly time consuming. A small puddle on the floor, splatter on the counter and the rest in the sink or on the towel. The rest would find a better and more appreciative home in the two glasses of orange juice that welcomed the mix. For now though, he shook his hands in the sink with the bottle wiped down as best as he could, stuck watching the cork and where it would end up.
First there was an excited dog bark and the scratch of nails against the hardwood, beady eyes following the flying object only stopping short when he noticed that the violet-haired woman was bracing herself for the catch. Then there was a smack, one that held Aiden’s mouth agape until his eyes scrunched into half moons and he hung his head over the counter laughing. If this was supposed to be the catch that would seal the World Series title for the home team, it didn’t happen, Mochi trotting over to the cork as it tumbled in an awkward roll under the coffee table followed by his curious nose. “You sure you didn’t need those glasses? Maybe they would’ve helped,” he teased, pouring their drinks to completion as he took a seat, glancing to the other empty seat for her to join him.
“The dog is cute, and the dog might want the cork if I don’t catch it,” he said, nodding and focusing more intently on where the arc of the cork - if it did arc and didn’t just launch at him like a straight shot bullet - would go; and with the countdown, there had been the tell tale pop of champagne and a few splatters of liquid against the ground that would be easy enough to clean up and a sudden smack of it into his hands before it bounced out for it’s unceremonious roll underneath the table. Immediately, his hands went up, palms open towards Aiden as if there was some points deserved for even just getting his hands underneath it, but if there was anyone that had won on account of this cork World Series, Connor knew it would be Mochi.
With a slight detour to the coffee table, he knelt down to grab the cork before it could be grabbed and taken off with by the dog who, still sniffing at it, might not have been so sure about it until he got his teeth on it. It took up residence in his palm, gripped securely, only until he was able to set it on the counter, leaving it to settle in front of the food that was now heated back up to a decent and definitely edible temperature. This time he was a bit more readily able to eat, appetite no longer suppressed by those things he felt he had to reveal and that he was sure were still knocking around Aiden’s brain even in it took backseat to their antics, not exactly easy to swallow and definitely not as easy as the first bite of warm egg toast.
“Maybe, but I think they might have just been a distract and then I really would have gotten hit in the head,” he commented, just imagining the glasses sliding off his face at the pivotal moment between a flying cork and having to put a bag of peas on his face because it happened to bean him right in the face. Reaching out to lift up his glass, he gave it a little toast in the air.
“Here’s to never playing cork baseball,” he said, nodding a little bit and waiting for the return of such a gesture before taking a sip of the orange juice and champagne brunch addition, just the thing to top off the food that was set out between them. “And to maybe not having broken anything in the process of my living room debut.”
“You’re probably right,” Aiden admitted, thinking about how large those glasses had sat on her face earlier when they were outside in the yard and just how easily they slipped down the bridge of her nose or barely hung on her ears. He glanced over at her then, still finding it a little strange that she was the waiter at the restaurant and the young boy he babysat, but in conversation, it was like there was no time lost. Just different pronouns and a different voice - a different body - recollecting the same things that he, too, had experienced and remembered.
When the toast was initiated, Aiden blinked, reaching for his own glass as he chuckled at what they were toasting to. “Maybe never playing without the proper equipment,” he suggested, though it was a tough call to make as to when - if there would ever be such an opportunity - another game of cork baseball would come into play. With the clink of their glasses, he followed suit, letting the bubbles tickle the roof of his mouth before he swallowed, trading his glass for the toast he had foregone earlier. “If there is another game of cork baseball in the distant future, it can be outside. There’s less to break out there,” he pointed out, his head nodding toward the yard since it was readily in view than the front lawn.
Looking to the updated breakfast-turned-brunch menu, Aiden barely caught himself smiling. He had been appreciative of it before he realized that he wasn’t dreaming and that he wasn’t going to get ushered out of a house by a guest that he didn’t have any knowledge of from the night prior, but with everything that had to be explained, he hadn’t found a good moment to express his gratitude until now. “Thank you,” he said after some silent dissecting of the egg toast in his hands. “For brunch,” he decided on saying when it could no longer be considered breakfast. “Are there any secret ingredients here that I should be aware of?” he asked, finally taking a bite to see if he could pick anything out not that his taste buds were anything special; he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an organic egg or a free-range egg unless he were ever shown the carton.
“There is, and if it makes a mess, well, it makes a mess and there might be some really happy ants or something in the grass,” he said, not that there was much grass considering the paving in the small yard attached to the house, one of the better points of living in the Marina District. His attention turned to the brunch in front of them, this time focusing more intently on getting the egg toast into his stomach before it found itself too doused in orange juice and champagne to want to eat properly; and drunk in the morning wasn’t something he had much intention in being, but it wasn’t anything he was going out of his way to stop either. It was, in a way, an unspoken celebration of a secret revealed even though the thought was just as miniscule as the mention. Some good breakfast would at least ensure it wasn’t going to make for an evening hangover - not unless, of course, they drank the day away.
“No secret ingredients this time. Just fresh and traditional,” Connor said, going through the rigmarole of explaining how he had made the egg toast and what he had used, and considering the fruit that had been put out on the table, some of it might have been store bought while others were brought in from farmer’s and community markets, if not overflow from the restaurant as was the case with any persimmons that might have been in the fridge at the time. “So if you’re watching weight or calorie count, the bacon and eggs will be no friend, but it’ll still be delicious,” he added, shaking his head since that had never been a concern given Aiden’s size and stature. There was a nod in acknowledgement of the thanks, a smile creeping onto his face as he continued, picking at pieces of egg fried cabbage from the sandwich before another sip of his mimosa was taken.
Among talk of recipes and marketplaces, of various forms, the favored of which being the lanky and awkward new employee that was not necessarily the original, and the sneaky things he could have possibly gotten away with in one of another - an unfortunate tales of events that were neither thrilling nor entertaining considering he kept his head on his shoulders most days - the food was found to slowly disappear. A few pieces of watermelon with mimosa to follow, another bite of the egg toast, a small serving of warmed steamed rice with an egg yolk when it seemed even the spread hadn’t satisfied his appetite - there was very little to be left by the time the bottle was empty and stomachs were full, Connor’s slender arms leaning on the table, one pitched at the elbow to hold his hand under his chin.
Maybe it was a staring contest, or maybe there was something more to it, something Connor was trying to figure out behind Aiden’s eyes in regards to the news he had been given, but his gaze remained even among narrowing eyes, perhaps trying to rewet his eyes without closing them. Then a question: “If you could start over as anyone - anything else - who would you want to be?”
“‘Watching weight or calorie count?’” The look on this face was one that thought those string of words were the most ridiculous things he’s ever heard. A scoff of a laugh uttered as he glanced at his sandwich before pointing at it. “Bacon and eggs? We’re the best of friends. Inseparable. Sometimes they’ll insist I invite their other best friend, hot sauce, to the party because he spices things up,” he added, scanning the counter for the readily available bottle to do exactly as he said. “It takes things to the next level. You know how that goes,” he finished, recalling their conversation about food and what treatments or ingredient substitutions elevated a dish in the best ways possible the night they first met at the restaurant, taking a healthy bite of the newly spiced egg sandwich, happily satisfied sounds muffled around a mouthful of food.
Along with the disappearance of food came conversation, at first around food they ate and where their respective ingredients were purchased, to topics that diverted from food altogether. He had been curious, about her - his - condition and while the tiny human he portrayed the other day had been amusing, he had favored the lanky and awkward employee from the first night, but it wasn’t to say that his current form wasn’t easy on the eyes either. It just made speaking the right pronoun very difficult. Not that their drinks or the fresh fruit that accompanied them were helping at all to correct things. There were more bites of food taken with a very vague attempt to sober up alternating with sips that became gulps of fruit and mimosa, but no amount of carbs could settle the tingle he felt in his head or how slight the room seemed to sway while he was pretty sure he was still firmly fixed still at the table.
If there had been a staring contest, he had missed the memo. The look he had returned her unblinking narrowed gaze in curiosity as his lips pushed together in a pondering pout, wondering what it was that she was thinking. Thankfully, he didn’t have to wonder long, his eyes fluttering in surprise when his attempt to prop his own chin in his hand just as she did was clumsily missed. “Who would I want to be?” he repeated, finally getting his arm propped and chin comfortably settled in his palm as he thought of an answer. “You?”
It was rare in Connor’s experience that anything caught up with the inebriation to come with mimosas, something to do with the sugar content of the orange juice and just how easy it was to down something palpable in comparison to other alcohols. Unless they were alternating with glasses of water or eating something far heavier than eggs and bacon on toast, the mimosas would stick to their tricks, especially as the morning wasn’t exactly Connor’s call time for imbibement. That was typically a ‘just got home from work late and want to unwind’ sort of occurrence, but as the food disappeared and the conversation continued, ebbing and flowing where it did with some fruity interruption, until they had come to the unspoken staring contest and, had circumstances not been considered, perhaps an odd question.
“Me?” He said, genuinely surprised that there was any consideration to such an answer, but perhaps that was the concept of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ talking. There were, after all, good things to be someone else every single day of the week, the only trigger to change being a good night’s rest, but from Connor’s own perception of it, it was confusing, frustrating, and nothing he wanted to maintain though he supposed he had little to no choice in that matter when it just happened.
“I’d much rather be you,” he said, canting his head a little bit as if moving a tiny marble of thought around his head, but that was surely the settling of the alcohol. “You can be yourself,” Connor explained, “and you don’t have to wake up the next day in question of whether or not you’ll be yourself, or someone close, or so far off, someone thinks you’re their ahjumma.” Granted, he hadn’t stepped too far off the mark when it came to feeling like his skin didn’t fit, but at least the mimosa and the company made it feel far more natural a thing than it would have.
He had thought about it for some time. Even if that time was short - the expanse starting from the moment she had explained her - his - situation to him and what memories he shared with the different forms he had been interacting with - it seemed like something he could want for reasons that were more deep-set than anything that was outwardly presented or voiced. Instead of reply with words, all he could seem to do in that moment was nod, firm and sure.
There was a light sigh of amusement when she answered, Aiden turning his gaze away briefly to stare at the table and what remnants were left of their meal which wasn’t much. The hand that didn’t support his head reached for his empty glass, nudging it away as his reply left his lips. “You don’t want to be me,” his voice soft. Although he could understand the appeal of not having to deal with the uncertainty of who he would become the next day, what physical traits he’d have to adjust to, or what sort of connections he’d have to reestablish with people he had already interacted with, now with a new face that likely required some plausible backstory, there were just some things that couldn’t be forgotten when memories were often linked to appearances.
“If it’s only about appearances, I’m not sure what kind of favor you’d be doing for yourself wanting to deal with all of this,” he said, further mussing up his hair into a fluff. “But I think you got the better deal. You’re able to really know someone from interactions as a small child versus ones as a beautiful girl. You literally get to be in someone else’s shoes and experience different perspectives, challenges, successes… You’re able to be close to someone as a complete stranger when you’d otherwise be distant if you were anyone but yourself.” A beat. Then he shrugged, leaning back in his seat, allowing the alcohol that was also settling in to force him into a slouch.
After a short pause, he raised his gaze back to her. He still remembered the young boy with a pension for nose flares and the awkward waiter with the nice eyes and cute ears, but although he had missed those bodies, the beautiful girl that sat with him now was only different in appearance. Beneath it all, their conversations, their teasing jabs, and what shared interests had surfaced in the time they had spent together were elements that remained unchanged just like the light fluttering in his chest he felt mirroring that from the night of their first goodbye.
“You’re still yourself,” he said, now picking at a loose thread at the hem of his shirt. “Even if you change faces as often as you change clothes, who you are is difficult to lose. It’d just be easier to mask.”
“I could clean under tables easier,” Connor joked as a throwback to the first night they had run into each other in the restaurant, “but that also means I couldn’t get the windows either, so I’m starting to see your point - though I think one day as a child might be something to take into consideration.” Full nostril flares and all, being a kid was perhaps his least favorite of the forms he ever had, too small and too weak and too uncoordinated to do anything other than hobble along whomever was playing the role of responsible adult for the day. Throw in someone trying to pinch his cheeks or his ears because all they saw was a tiny tot, and Connor could punctuate his dislike for being back in such a remedial form with a strong period.
“But it isn’t only about appearances - not really,” and Aiden had said it himself in the words to follow: He could attempt, at least in some part, to understand how other individuals lived with the same consciousness he always had. He was still himself, he still carried his own thoughts and mannerisms, but while appearances changed, there would be no forgetting what experiences he had from one form to another; there would be no missing memories, no black outs…
It felt like a hammer had hit inside his head in that moment, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose as his eyes closed, trying to focus pressure on the front of his forehead where there could have very well been a headache forming from the alcohol; but no, that hadn’t been it at all, had it? There was a ringing in his ears - something akin to a beeping sound - that seemed to usher him out of all conscious thought for the moment, Connor shaking his head a little bit to try and will the sound away as his eyes opened up again.
“I think,” he said with a small grin, part grimace, pointing to the empty glasses and the equally empty bottle, “we might’ve finished that off too fast, or at least I did.” Play it off and play it cool: That seemed the appropriate thing to do than entertain some idea that things weren’t really all they seemed in that moment; that maybe Aiden wasn’t there and Connor wasn’t either, and there was something going on in the folds of his mind and memories to keep him put against whatever might have awaited him on the other side. What that was, he was having a hard time figuring out, instead distracting those thoughts by gathering up the dishes to make quick work of them, rinsing them off and stacking them up in the dishwasher.
“We can watch a movie maybe?” And he could call his mother, but perhaps when the buzzing in his head wore off and he was a bit more coherent to the situation that it was believed she, and in turn they, were dealing with.
The corner of his mouth jumped a bit at her comment about being a small child. If he had read further into those frequent nostril flares from the other night, he may have understood his distaste for the form. Thinking on it himself briefly, if he had been in his shoes, Aiden didn’t think that he would mind much being toted around, listening to adults hardly saying what they mean when as a child, he could easily be blunt, call them out, and not get scolded too bad for it. He knew for sure he wouldn’t mind a day to just watch TV, play around in some cartoonish onesie, and sleep, probably with Mochi as his pillow.
There was an attempt to possibly explain, Aiden waiting intently when she admitted that it wasn’t just about appearances, but when her fingers reached to pinch the bridge of her nose, he moved to sit straighter, leaning in with his hands bracing himself against the table and the grip he hand on the back of her chair. The question of whether she was okay halted when her voice cut the air first, the concern on his face remaining as he glanced to the empty glasses. “Maybe,” he replied with a slight laugh. “Or the ratios must’ve been way off.”
When she moved to tend to the empty dishes, so did he, watching her for a moment to make sure she was alright and was managing well enough before he tended to whatever was still leftover. Mostly a wipe down of the table, recycling what needed to be, and pushing in their chairs. Curious glances were shot at Mochi who seemed to mind his own business like he usually did on any given day unless he wanted something. He didn’t, trotting away to find a chew toy to play with in the living room. Out of sight and out of mind.
Then his attention was back on her, attempting to ignore the buzzing in his own head as he processed her question. “Yeah, sure,” he said with a nod, lightly touching a hand to her shoulder in an attempt to help guide her toward the couch if she was really feeling the alcohol and may have needed a little support. “Was there something you wanted to watch in particular? I’m...not sure what there is physical selection-wise, but, you know, that’s what streaming is for.”
“Someone likes to mix drinks heavily,” he said, shaking his head before amending as to not necessarily imply it had been Aiden’s doing when, as far as he was concerned, it was a joint venture. They could both take the blame for it just depending on who was actually doing the mixing at the time. “Me. It was probably me.” Beyond that, it was simply easy to drink and talk, and time flew by with ease when one wasn’t thinking so much of the finer details of things. At some point, this moment in particular, the drinks would be gone and the food nearly so, what few pieces of fruit remained either snagged to be eaten or returned to their boxes if there was still a substantial amount for a small snack. With two people taking on the work much like they had in the restaurant days prior, it went by a bit more quickly than it would have with just one person manning the clean up efforts.
“I’m not sure if anyone uses physical movies anymore unless they don’t have a choice,” he said, following Aiden’s lead to sit on the couch, seeking out the remotes to go about the process of turning on the television and the console needed to bring up a selection of streaming services. Between any one of them, there had to be something on though there were no doubts there would be quite a bit of surfing through any one of them to find it. It was only when Aiden had settled and something had been found to watch - a movie that he expected he might fall asleep halfway through, but couldn’t be bothered to stop himself - that Connor slumped down on the couch a little more, finding some comfort in repose from the headache that threatened to move about his skull at any given moment.
“I guess the rest of it is just not feeling like I have to carry on multiple lives,” he said after a moment of silence that had been spent watching the movie’s opening sequence, Connor backtracking to their conversation at the table. “Sometimes I don’t want to be a different person to understand others or deal with the ups and downs that come with it or the trouble with not knowing what is around the corner. I suppose everyone does deal with that in some way, but the everyday consistency can get tiring,” he explained, gesticulating slightly, but otherwise keeping his eyes on the screen as if it would have contained the answer to fix such a problem as an ever-changing form.
“Sometimes I just want to be me without any confusion.”
“I’ll admit, I have a few,” he said, settling into the cushions. Only a handful of favorites were ones he actually purchased physical copies of, but otherwise, he did turn to recommendations provided by streaming services that weren’t so easily accessible if he ever did seek out physical copies. There was just a little something extra that came with something tangible...other than the obvious fact that it would take up space. “I don’t want Netflix to tell me I can’t watch a certain movie anymore.” After a thought, Aiden chuckled a bit at the screen as their movie search began. “I had a coworker who told me the other day that his two favorite shows got removed from Netflix and how he’s cancelling his subscription. That his life no longer has meaning.” He had been dramatic of course and Aiden didn’t dare let his mini reenactment fail to convey what his coworker shared with him. “It’s reasons like that that I need physical copies. Something to hold onto when the digital one is gone.”
Leaning further into the cushions, Aiden ran a hand through his hair, letting his arm rest lazily on top of his head as the opening sequence progressed into the first act. At her voice, he turned his head, cheek against the cushions as he listened, trying to process everything outside of the buzz and the dizzying effect their heavy-handed drinks were having on their brains. He could understand that. Coming up with one story after another just to make sense of the body she had woken up to would be tiring and frustrating, but it wasn’t to say that being herself wouldn’t be any better. There would still be things that would feel tiresome or frustrating to deal with, things to fear and overcome...things that would erect a wall in front of him to keep him from running...
Twisting his body, Aiden pressed his side into the cushions and let his hands fall into his lap, leaning against it like it was a shoulder to lean on as he stared at her profile. Perhaps it should’ve been the first question he should have asked the first night they met. Perhaps it should’ve been the first question he should have asked after she had explained the situation - her predicament - after he allowed it all to sink in. It should’ve been, but at the time, it didn’t matter. He cared about the time spent, the company kept, the conversation shared, the flutter in his chest… The faces? They were just images of someone for him to tie yet another string of memories to and hopefully never forget.
While his mind might have been confused in the days passed of who he was with, his heart wasn’t, but she wouldn’t know that. Curiously, he stared at her, anticipation rising in his chest for the answer to the question he was about to ask. “It could very well just be the alcohol talking, but I’m...I’m not confused by you. If it will help, for the sake of knowing, may I ask...who you are?”
“It does do that, doesn’t it?” He said, nodding. Though it was admittedly something that he didn’t keep an eye on as much as others he knew, he did know that movies disappeared eventually, lost for some amount of time until Netflix or other services saw reason to bring it back, usually attached to some package one would have to pay for extra. Streaming was just a brand new way to present cable television if he got down to brass tacks about it, but for his own personal preference, it was far better to save on the space and minimize the clutter if he could. “Omo,” he chuckled, throwing his hands up in the air a little bit. “That’s it. Just give up the ghost, by which I mean Netflix, and find it where you can. I’m not even sure if they’ve pulled anything I usually watch, but then again, I don’t want too much of anything with consistency.”
“If you ask any number of people, I’m a distance relative or the child of a family friend just as I’m - well, I don’t think I’ve come up with a convincing enough story for all this yet,” he said, motioning to the feminine figure he had now with the purple hair, “but I suppose that is just dependent who I run into. I could just be some regular person off the street with a penchant for brightly colored hair,” which was something Connor knew he hadn’t done for some time, the days of dying his hair frequently a thing not so far in the past, but far enough to where natural black fit far better than any other color he might have had recently. He shifted a bit to sit up more readily, back pressed against the arm of the couch although it was no comparison to actually sitting on the couch right and proper.
“I’m everyone, but no one I really am,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders, for a moment distracted by trying to keep strands of hair out of his face. It sounded like a riddle, he realized that, but when nothing made sense anyway, what was the problem with that? The answer came as simply enough after that, arms dropping to cross in front of him as if ready to present the biggest cosmic joke of all time. Was it actually amusing? Probably not, but the reaction could have been.
“I’m Connor Hwang.”