She sat on the hard chair on the stage squinting to see beyond the stage lights. There was a man speaking to the assemblage. Was it an audience? A tribunal? She knew it would be her turn to speak soon, but as she had just arrived in this body, she had no idea what she would say. The girl who used to live here felt like an imposter, now Janet WAS an imposter.
The old man, thankfully, droned on and on, reveling in the sound of his own monotone basso voice. He was quoting poets and entrepreneurs as if joining the two in a sentence wasn’t supposed to be jarring. She tried listening but after he butchered a quote from Keats, she tuned him right the hell out. Hearing a muffled chuckle, she realized she wasn’t alone waiting on stage. A young man sat next to her, head down, hand up to his chin, partially covering his mouth. Yes. He was laughing. She looked at him with eyebrows up. He looked back and whispered to her, “If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, the world will be yours.” She looked at him questioningly. “That’s what he was trying to say. He said ‘friends.’ Maybe he hasn’t any.” She barely knew what he was saying, but she liked the twinkle in his eye and smiled anyway.
She wondered how much longer before she had to take center stage. The floodlights shined like interrogation lamps back at her. As if reading her thoughts, the man next to her leaned a little and said softly, “I think we’re gonna be here a long while.” While he smiled, she felt herself relax just a fraction. She looked around, hoping for a clue or a sign as to where she was. There were a lot of young faces in the crowd. A school perhaps? The room was not shaped like a typical auditorium. Maybe a theater. There were thick red curtains. If only she could run behind them and have some time to figure out She looked at her clothes and then at the man next to her. They both wore some sort of black corsets with fishnet stockings. Wait. That’s what she wore. He wore a dark suit with a red plaid bow tie. What the hell was this?
“Janet? Are you OK?” the man next to her asked.
“I don’t know,” she honestly said. “I… I’m not feeling like myself.”
“You look pale. Let’s get you some fresh air.”
“But we can’t just leave, can we?”
He took her hand and led her behind the curtain stage right. Somewhere in her cluttered memory she knew of an adage about bad luck and exiting stage right and saying something Scottish, but it was all a jumble. She tried to just focus on breathing normally when she realized he was still holding her hand. She struggled with what to say.
“Thank you. I think I’m all right now. I just need…”
What did she need? Someone to tell her who she was? Where she was? Why she was wearing a corset and was about to speak to a theater full of young people?
“It’s OK,” he said very softly. He led her to a dressing room nearby and they sat on soft chairs somewhat covered by discarded clothing and fabric. It was quieter and darker and she could breathe. Especially with him still holding her hand. She wasn’t sure what would happen if he let go.
“You’re a Warper right?”
He smiled. “You have a small red tattoo behind your right ear that looks like lips. I can tell you’ve done the Time Warp. I have too. I’m Brad.”
Flickering images suddenly behind her eyelids. Fishnets, lipstick, stars, music. She HAD done the Time Warp. And she wanted to do it again. But not alone. Not anymore.
“Can we Warp together” she asked.
“Oh, my yes,” he said pulling her into a warm embrace. “I’ve waited a long time for you and I’m not letting you go. Let’s dance.”
And they went back out on stage, hopping and grinning.