(Author’s note: This story takes place at the end of the novel “Marnie,” which isn’t quite the same as Hitchcock’s movie. The chief differences are that the original “Marnie” is set in England, there’s a spiteful former business associate instead of a jealous sister-in-law, and Mark hasn’t yet paid off Mr. Strutt and has never met Marnie’s mother.)
I’ve always believed that it was entirely up to me to make my own luck in this world.
And I haven’t always gone about it like a respectable British girl ought; but then, starting out with no money, there wasn’t much respect to be had from my so-called betters, one way or another. Which is as good an explanation as any for how I came to steal. I just hadn’t planned on getting caught.
“Please sit down, Miss Holland.”
Harsh reflections from an overly bright bulb gleamed from George Pringle’s balding scalp as he drew back a chair for me. As a branch office manager of the accounting firm Crombie & Strutt, he’d been most unpleasantly surprised when a clerk calling herself Marion Holland had absconded with eleven hundred pounds of the firm’s money in February of 1959 and left him to do all the explaining. Just about what he’d deserved for not checking her references more carefully; but then, of course, he couldn’t be expected to see it that way.
Two years had passed since that little incident, and of course my hair was different now, both the colour and style; that was always the first thing I changed after a job. And so I thought, well, there might still be a bit of doubt in his mind, even though the junior partner, Arthur Strutt, a stout man with spectacles, was sitting right there across the table and presumably had brought Mr. Pringle here from Birmingham expressly for the purpose of making sure of his identification of me.
“It’s Mrs. Rutland, if you please, Mr. Pringle.” I kept my voice under control, with a calmness I didn’t begin to feel, as I went on to add, “Margaret Rutland.”
Mr. Strutt blinked at me with glittering eyes that looked like a pair of tiny beads behind the thick spectacles, as if I were some dusty but fascinating curio-shop oddity he’d just happened to come across.
“The former Miss Margaret Elmer, I’m told.”
He didn’t mention where he’d gleaned this little tidbit, but it wasn’t hard to guess. Terry Holbrook, my husband Mark’s former business associate, had driven me to Mr. Strutt’s house this evening in what turned out to be some twisted scheme to get back at Mark for grudges real and imagined. On the pretext of giving me a lift home from my mother’s funeral, no less. Although I hadn’t thought myself capable of being surprised by just how low it was possible to sink, this was a new one, even for me.
“Apparently your sad tale of having been a poor widow from Cardiff hadn’t a shred of truth to it,” Mr. Strutt continued, “which still leaves us with the question of just where you were two years ago, doesn’t it?”
Well — yes, it did rather. Ordinarily I’d have had no problem inventing some elaborate explanation, but I wasn’t at my best right now. Trying to collect my thoughts, I reminded myself that Terry Holbrook really didn’t know anything for a fact, except that he’d looked up the marriage records to determine that my first marriage was bogus. A while ago, Terry had snidely enquired in a roundabout way as to whether I’d been Mark’s mistress before his first wife’s death. For all I knew, there’d been quite a bit of betting among the office staff on the subject.
All in all, it wasn’t the first story I’d have chosen, but for lack of a better one, it would have to do. Of course, I hadn’t really been involved in any sort of illicit affair with Mark, and it thoroughly galled me to say so. I gave Terry a disgusted glare before turning my full attention back to Mr. Strutt.
“I take it Mr. Holbrook has been repeating office chatter.” My words felt like cold, polished stones as they left my lips, in the upper-class accent that I’d so carefully acquired through elocution lessons a few years ago. “Yes, it’s true enough that I was Mark’s mistress before we were married. Mark thought there’d be less talk if I pretended to be a widow and spent a few months working at Rutland’s. Evidently, that wasn’t at all effective. I suppose ill-mannered people will gossip under almost any circumstances.”
Terry bit his lip and flushed slightly, making the red birthmark on his neck stand out even more than usual. He ran a sweaty hand through his overly long hair.
I had a bit of an advantage for the moment, I knew, and I meant to press it. “Mr. Strutt, do you have a private study where we might continue this conversation? I’d prefer not to give the rumor-mongers any further opportunity to chatter about my private life.” Then I got out of my chair, without waiting for a response, and turned toward the nearest hallway.
“Er — it’s this way, Mrs. Rutland.” The rotund accountant bobbed to his feet almost instantly, like a startled hare making a leap from the tall grass. Perhaps he’d suddenly discovered his manners, or more likely, he thought I might steal his furnishings if he left me unattended.
I permitted myself a small smile as I glanced toward Mrs. Strutt, who had been silently loitering in the kitchen throughout all of this. “Oh, Mrs. Strutt, dear, may I trouble you for a cup of coffee? Black, please, with half a spoonful of sugar.”
And then I left the room, following Mr. Strutt with a dignified stride that would have done the Queen herself proud.
For now, I’d managed to gain a brief reprieve, I thought. Mr. Pringle wasn’t likely to telephone the police without specific instructions from the boss, and I suspected Terry Holbrook wouldn’t dare. Especially considering that, if it turned out I wasn’t the thief after all, the police weren’t likely to look all that kindly upon Terry’s melodramatic midnight kidnapping of a business rival’s wife.
Which meant that my immediate task was to do something about Mr. Strutt. Following the accountant into a dark-paneled study dominated by an enormous cherry desk, I briefly considered telling him that I had to go to the loo. I could probably climb out the window and be long gone before he’d notice. But then again, he might be clever enough to send his wife to keep an eye on me. Besides, I really did balk at the idea of giving Terry Holbrook such a juicy story to tell, even if I’d never see the stinking twerp again. Funny what bothers people sometimes.
So I sat down in one of the comfortable visitor’s chairs (the one nearest the door, naturally) and gave Mr. Strutt what I hoped was a calm, self-possessed smile as I thought about what I might say. Feigning complete ignorance wasn’t likely to gain me anything but a trip to the police station, and the idea of a tearful confession was enough to make me want to vomit. Mark had told me that he’d be willing to pay off Mr. Strutt to get me out of trouble, but I didn’t see any way to make such an offer without looking absurdly desperate, unless I could somehow blame it all on my evil twin . . .
Now that was a thought. I crossed my legs demurely at the ankle and leaned forward slightly, trying to look like a respectable society wife who’d been left no alternative but to deal with someone else’s unpleasant situation.
“I must apologise for having deceived you at the Newton-Smiths’ dinner party, Mr. Strutt. I assure you, that wasn’t my intent. When you mistook me for Marion Holland and asked if I had any sisters who resembled me, I answered honestly when I said I hadn’t.”
I chewed my lip for a second, as if reluctant to go on. “But I didn’t know, at the time, that you might be looking for my cousin. Later, when Mark told me that you’d had a theft at your Birmingham office, I realised — well, I still can’t be certain of this, you understand — but my cousin looks very much like me, and she’s been in this sort of trouble before. And she was in Birmingham two years ago. I couldn’t help but to wonder about it, and then Mark told me he’d be willing to make good the money she stole, but I didn’t want to come forward and say anything when I couldn’t be sure.”
Yes, that was the right tone, I decided. Mr. Strutt, fidgeting with a pencil, still looked suspicious, but no more so than before. Now, it was about time to come up with a good sob story.
“She’s not a bad person really, Mr. Strutt, she just can’t help herself. All her money goes on the horse races — gambling can be an addiction, you know, as much as alcoholism. Mark’s been paying for her to see a psychiatrist regularly since December, and she’s doing ever so much better. We’re hopeful that, if she hasn’t to face charges, she’ll be able to make a full recovery from her illness and lead a productive, Christian life.”
Now that was quite a tale. I just about believed it myself. Of course, the secret to being a good liar is to be able to believe one’s own stories, if only for a brief moment.
I twisted a lock of hair around my fingers and continued earnestly, “Please, Mr. Strutt, can you find it in your heart to drop the charges against her? I assure you, Mark will repay every penny. He’s already told me he’s willing to do it.”
The prospect of recovering his money seemed to have left the accountant just a trifle more cheerful, but a slight frown still furrowed his brow behind the spectacles. He pushed them up farther on his nose. “Really, Mrs. Rutland, I can’t promise anything without my business partner’s approval, and after all the inconvenience we’ve been put to, I can’t say such approval is likely to be forthcoming.”
That answer didn’t come as much of a surprise, but at least he hadn’t rejected the idea out of hand. I smiled as brightly as I could manage. “If you’ll just talk with your partner about it, I shall be ever so grateful. Mark will call on you with a cheque as soon as he’s able. He’s been in hospital for the past week. A riding accident at the Thorn Hunt.”
That certainly made us sound like the landed gentry, and had, besides, the advantage of being the unfortunate truth. I didn’t mention that I had thought very seriously about leaving Mark, with a handbag full of his cash, while he wasn’t in a position to prevent it. Mark ought to have known better than to marry a liar and a thief.
I went on, “The accident was my fault. I took a jump that I never should have done, and Mark — followed me. My poor horse, Forio, was badly injured and had to be shot.”
I felt something damp on my cheek and realised, suddenly, that I was crying. Now, I don’t have any trouble turning on the waterworks when it suits my purposes, but this had somehow, in an instant, become piercingly real. For a moment the horror of it all washed over me again, and I was back there with Forio’s ghastly high-pitched screaming and Mark’s prone figure lying at my feet like a dead man. And for some crazy reason I just kept on crying, for poor Forio, for myself, for Mark, and for the abominable disaster that our marriage had been. A pity someone hadn’t just shot me, too.
A folded square of white cloth was passed into my hands: a lady’s handkerchief, embroidered with a flowery pastel border. Mrs. Strutt, who had come into the room without my being aware of it, set the coffee cup and saucer down on the desk and patted me on the shoulder.
“There, lovey, I’ll just put a dollop of brandy in the cup for you. I understand what it’s like losing a pet. Our poor dog died this past summer.”
I dabbed at my eyes with the handkerchief, feeling like a complete fool. If I couldn’t manage any better self-control than that, well, I figured that I deserved to go directly to gaol. Which was probably what would come next.
But Mrs. Strutt, stirring the brandy into my cup, still had a look of sympathy, and even her husband’s expression had lost much of its earlier harshness. Even if I hadn’t convinced him entirely, there might at least be a chance that he’d decide to wait a few days and see if Mark in fact produced a cheque before he took any further action. A little greed could be a wonderful thing, sometimes.
I took a sip of the coffee and felt its warmth, augmented by the brandy, begin to restore me to some semblance of a functioning human being. “I’m ever so sorry for all of this. No doubt I’ll feel better after I’ve had some sleep. I couldn’t possibly impose on you to drive me home, but would you mind terribly if I used your telephone to ring for a taxi?”
Several seconds passed, the tall clock in the corner ticking interminably away as Mr. Strutt pondered. He might just as easily telephone the police, I knew. I raised the coffee cup to my lips again, doing my best to appear perfectly at ease. No reason to be afraid, I told myself. After all, I was Marnie Rutland, the respectable wife of a successful businessman, not some dirty little urchin skulking about in the slums.
Even if the new me still didn’t seem entirely real.
“I’ll ring the taxi company for you, Mrs. Rutland,” the accountant finally offered, reaching for the telephone on his desk. His wife, in what seemed to be a genuinely friendly tone, asked me if I’d like some more coffee and a plate of scones while I waited.
I wondered what the Strutts would have done if I’d shown up at their house last year, as a repentant office clerk confessing my crime, and offered to pay back the stolen money out of my wages at a few pounds a week. No doubt the police would have been at the door before I’d had a chance to say more than a few words, and after they’d carted me away to gaol, Mrs. Strutt probably would have felt obliged to have the house fumigated just in case I’d brought in any vermin.
Quite amazing, what having a husband with some money could do for a woman. A pity I wasn’t the sort to be content with that.
I followed Mrs. Strutt back to the kitchen, holding my head high as I passed a scowling Terry Holbrook. No doubt he was quite disappointed indeed at finding that his clever little attempt at revenge hadn’t turned out as he’d planned.
I drank most of another cup of coffee and nibbled some sort of biscuit with apricot jam in the centre, all the while making small talk about several well-to-do ladies with whom I’d spoken recently. Mrs. Strutt, poor thing, suffered politely through my very best imitation of the dreadful social climbers I’d always secretly longed to strangle, but her relief was visible when I told her I’d just go outside for a minute and get my luggage out of the boot of Terry’s car.
No one followed me out of the house. The garden was dark and cool under a cloudy midnight sky, with a faint mist beginning to rise. I retrieved my bag from Terry’s car, noticing that he’d left his keys in the ignition. Not the best choice of action with a known thief about. Tyre-slashing was another enticing thought, but I hadn’t anything with which to slash the tyres, and after about half a minute I told myself to stop being foolish.
My taxi wasn’t yet here; when I glanced toward the road, the only lights to be seen were the brake lights from a passing lorry, casting an evil red glow. Their reflection glimmered strangely from an outline in the mist that resolved, a moment later, into the figure of a young woman. One who could not possibly have appeared out of thin air, unless I was going mad, which was always a possibility.
She approached rather slowly, with the watchful air of a predator, or a well-trained soldier. The dark grey uniform didn’t resemble anything I’d ever seen. Ridiculous movie images of Communist spies went through my head. I didn’t think she looked like a Russian, though, and a secret agent obviously wouldn’t be found walking around in uniform.
“I’m looking for my commanding officer.” Her voice had an accent that I couldn’t identify: almost American, but not quite. “He has an unfortunate habit of getting misplaced in space and time.”
Her exotic appearance was heightened by some sort of spots along both sides of her face. Although I couldn’t get a close look at them in the dark, their pattern seemed far too regular to be a simple rash or birthmark. Perhaps a tattoo, I finally decided; after all, sailors were known for such things.
“I haven’t seen anyone. Are you sure that he came this way?”
“His location’s been tentatively identified within a range of about two hundred kilometres and twenty years.” She drew back her lips into a sudden smile that revealed perfect white teeth. “Which, I have to say, is considerably better than the last time.”
At least one of us had gone quite mad, I thought. Beyond question.
And just then my taxi arrived.
The cabbie picked up my bag while the foreign sailor, or whatever she was, stood scowling at the readout panel of some peculiar electronic instrument that she was holding.
“Do you need a lift? I’m heading toward London.” As soon as the words had left my mouth, I wanted to curse myself for my complete lack of anything resembling a brain. I’d already mucked things up quite sufficiently, even without picking up some lunatic stranger who fancied herself the time marshal of the space patrol.
“Thank you. I’m Jadzia Dax, by the way.”
I glanced back toward the house and saw Mrs. Strutt staring at us from the kitchen window. Have a nice life, I thought cheerfully, waving a hand in her general direction as I got into the taxi. I had to admit it was good to get out from under all that worry about the police catching up to me, even though having Mark to thank for it still rankled.
“I’m usually called Marnie,” I said, leaving off the Rutland part for the time being. Maybe I’d have to go back to being a married woman in the morning, but that was several hours away.
Jadzia put the electronic whatever-it-was on a clip at her waist as I gave the address of Mark’s house to the cabbie. Although I’d been living there for several months now, it still didn’t feel like my house. I wondered if it ever would. I didn’t know the first thing about being a wife. I didn’t even know if I’d ever be able to let Mark touch me without feeling sick inside and wanting to run away. I wondered why other women found it so easy.
Then again, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they all faked it.
Sitting beside me in the taxi, Jadzia looked alert, her posture straight and confident. I couldn’t imagine her cowering in the corner of a bedroom while her husband undressed. In fact, from the look of her, I wouldn’t have thought she had any fears at all.
“Are you married?” I was surprised to find myself speaking without having thought about what I intended to say. One of the consequences of a thoroughly miserable week with too little sleep, I supposed.
Jadzia raised a sardonic eyebrow. “Usually it’s men who ask me that.”
As we passed a lamp-post and moved back into shadow, I was grateful for the dark to hide my face. I reminded myself that it didn’t matter what she thought of me because I’d never see her again, anyway. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Not the type to pick up a beautiful stranger for an evening of forbidden pleasures?” Her tone mocked me gently. I glanced toward the driver, who was sitting in silence with his eyes fixed on the road ahead, and figured he’d probably heard worse.
“Maybe it’s your idea of pleasure, but not mine,” I told her, staring down at my hands, which had for some reason decided to clench themselves into tight little knots in my lap. I wondered if I ought to put Jadzia out at the next corner. “I hate sex. I hate anything to do with it.”
A silence, and then she spoke again, in a softer voice that had lost its mocking overtone. “How old are you, Marnie?”
“Twenty-three.” I turned away from her, gazing out the window at a shuttered butcher’s shop, and wondering what they did with dead horses. “And don’t tell me I’m too young to feel that way. I’ve heard more than enough of that from Mark.”
Mercifully, she didn’t ask why I had married him. I’m not sure I could have given any answer that made sense. Part of the reason was simply that, when you’re alone as long as I had been, you begin to crave someone to talk with. I had told Mark once, in the midst of a nasty row, that I’d only married him because I’d thought he would turn me over to the police otherwise, but that hadn’t been altogether true. All the same, I certainly hadn’t married Mark for love or for money. Most of the time I still felt that it had been a huge mistake from the start, for both of us.
“Some women just aren’t born with a natural attraction to men.” I realised that Jadzia had begun speaking again, her voice slow and measured, as if she were making an effort to choose her words carefully. “It’s not a disease, and there’s no reason to feel ashamed of being different.”
“Just about what I’ve tried to tell Mark,” I said. Not to mention the dreadful psychiatrist Mark had made me visit, who’d naturally diagnosed all sorts of nice juicy neuroses to justify his fee. By now I’d started to think no one could ever understand how I felt, and it came as quite a surprise to hear words of empathy from this mysterious stranger in a taxi.
“If you feel attracted to the female gender instead,” Jadzia went on, “you’ll be much happier when you begin to accept yourself as you really are, rather than trying to force yourself into someone else’s concept of a proper woman.”
Now that was a disgusting idea. I knew I should have put her out of the taxi when she started all that suggestive talk. By now, though, we’d almost reached the house, so there wouldn’t be much point to stopping.
“I’m not a . . .”
I didn’t even know what to call it. All the words I’d ever heard on the subject had been unspeakably vile. What in the world could a woman possibly do with another woman, anyway, I wondered; and then I felt all hot and ashamed of myself for even thinking about it.
“Labeling people according to their sexual behaviour isn’t all that helpful,” Jadzia declared in a pedantic tone. “Where I come from, it’s generally accepted that most of us are bisexual, at least to some extent, and there’s no shame in admitting it.”
Nowhere like that on Earth that I’ve ever heard of, I thought, as the cab pulled up in the driveway. The outside lights were on, brightly illuminating the front walk, although I knew the house was empty; Mark wouldn’t be home from the hospital until tomorrow.
Jadzia got out of the taxi and glanced at her peculiar electronic device again, shaking her head at the results, as I settled up with the driver. Apparently the heroes of the space patrol didn’t bother to carry mundane items such as money. The taxi backed out, the driver no doubt feeling much relieved to be rid of his lunatic passengers.
Damned if I was going to invite Jadzia in and have to listen to her bizarre ideas. I glared at her as she didn’t take the hint and turn to leave. Under the lights, her grey uniform had an odd sheen to it, unlike any fabric I’d ever seen. The dark spots on her face continued down her neck until they disappeared beneath her collar. They blended softly into her pale skin without the sharp lines of demarcation that tattoos would have had, but I couldn’t imagine how they could be any sort of birthmark, either.
“You’re really not human,” I said, still in a state of disbelief, “are you?”
“No. I’m not.” She spoke as calmly as if it had been a perfectly ordinary question. “Would you mind if I come in for a few minutes?”
I’d have to be completely crazy, I thought.
And then I took the key from my handbag and unlocked the front door with a calm to match hers, as if inviting sexually perverse space aliens home for the night didn’t bother me at all.
“D’you mean to say you’ve actually done it?” I asked, once I’d got the door shut behind us, so that no one else could possibly hear. The house seemed huge and empty around us, and I could hear the sighing of the wind. “With a woman, I mean. Been — intimate.”
“Yes,” Jadzia said without a pause, adding in what appeared to be an afterthought, “But then, I was a man at the time.”
She’d probably gone entirely out of her mind even by space alien standards, I thought. An escapee from the nearest interstellar asylum, perhaps.
“If you need to freshen up, there’s a lavatory at the end of the hall,” I told her, with ghastly politeness. I waited a moment before retreating to my own bathroom, which adjoined the small bedroom Mark had given me when he’d found out I wasn’t interested in sharing his.
My face in the mirror looked like something the cat had dragged in, chewed up, and spat out. I started brushing my poor bedraggled hair, wondering all the while if I ought to go and keep a close watch on Jadzia to ensure she didn’t steal the silver or any of Mark’s antiques. After all, that’s probably what I’d have done before my marriage if some trusting young housewife had foolishly invited me into her home.
But it turned out that my worries were unfounded. Jadzia’s face appeared in the mirror a few seconds later. I put down the brush and turned to find her standing in the doorway, without any burgled items in hand.
“There are many different kinds of intimacy,” Jadzia said, taking another step toward me as she continued the conversation. “One kind isn’t necessarily any better or worse than another.”
And I hate all of ’em, I thought, so it doesn’t matter. In fact, I didn’t feel at all comfortable even talking about it. So I didn’t say a word in response, and the silence stretched between us until I felt certain that Jadzia would have to come to her senses and realise that it was past time for her to leave.
Instead, she picked up my hairbrush from the counter and murmured, “Like this,” as she began drawing the brush through my hair with gentle, even strokes. I ought to have told her to leave right then; I meant to, really I did. But she didn’t seem to intend any harm, and I had to admit I did rather like the way the brushing felt. Years ago, when I’d been a child, my mother hadn’t taken good care of my hair, and once I’d been beaten up after school by a group of rough girls who’d taunted me about being dirty and having lice. Now, although I took three baths a day when I could, it never seemed quite enough to wash away the memories.
My hair crackled with static as Jadzia set the brush aside and used her hands to smooth the unruly locks around my face. I wondered why she cared about my hair at all. And right about then, I started thinking of those dreadful tabloid stories with space aliens abducting unwary young women for evil breeding experiments. I had to admit Jadzia looked a lot better than those contrived photos of little green men with antennae.
“Is this where you implant a monitoring device in my skull so that the alien invasion force can read my thoughts?”
Jadzia choked back what sounded like a very human laugh. “Not at all. Whenever we’re involved in time travel or make contact with non-spacefaring societies, we’re required to avoid taking any actions that could change the natural development of the species. In fact, I really shouldn’t be talking to you at all.”
She took a few steps backward, into the clean and empty bedroom, and I followed her, wondering if I ought to say anything more or just send Jadzia on her way. She’d no right to come barging into my life like this, leaving me with more questions than I could answer.
“So, why are you talking to me?”
Rain spattered against the window, and the panes rattled sharply. I hoped it wasn’t about to turn into a thunderstorm. For some reason I was funny that way; although I’d had no problem facing down three hostile men who’d have liked nothing better than to see me sent to prison for several years, a spot of lightning was enough to turn me into a quivering, panicking mass of phobias. Something for Mark’s tame psychiatrist to sort out, I thought. After all, he ought to do something useful to deserve the money Mark paid him.
And I realised that I didn’t want Jadzia to leave the house, to leave me here alone.
“You looked so lost and abandoned, standing there beside the road with your suitcase,” Jadzia told me. She spread her hands wide and smiled. “You looked, Marnie, as if you could use a friend.”
Then she reached to embrace me, her strong hands drawing me close. As she began to kiss me, a distant corner of my mind registered the odd fact that I wasn’t at all afraid. I found myself wondering whether a night with a space alien really counted as being queer. After that I lost most of my capacity for rational thought.
I don’t remember turning out the lights. I do remember the softness of Jadzia’s cheek nuzzling against my neck as she tenderly enfolded me in her arms, and the way she arched and shivered as I ran my fingers over her spots, and the heat of her lips on parts of my body that I hadn’t even known I had. That, and more, I’ll never forget.
Bright sunlight streamed through the open curtains as I woke. I had a peculiar feeling that I couldn’t quite put a name to, some sort of rising, sparkling sensation, as if I’d suddenly become light enough to fly. At first I wondered if I might be about to come down with a virus, but after a little while I was able to identify the unfamiliar feeling.
It was happiness.
“D’you know,” I said, lifting my head from the pillow and turning to face Jadzia, “I think I’m going to be all right.”
She was standing beside the window, looking out over the garden, and once again she was in uniform. “I never doubted it,” she answered quietly.
I wanted to ask her if I’d ever see her again, but even at twenty-three I knew better, so I just got out of bed and put on a robe.
“I hope you find your commander.”
“Oh, as to that,” Jadzia said airily, in a tone of almost complete unconcern, “he always turns up after a while.”
I half expected her to disappear into a ghostly mist right then and there, but instead she walked down to the kitchen with me and drank a glass of orange juice before departing on her own two feet. Those military boots had some practical uses after all, it looked like.
And I closed the door behind her, thinking that this house was starting to feel like mine, after all.