I settled comfortably into my sofa and laid my arms outstretched along the back rest. “In phase one we swapped names. We swapped clothes and hairstyles and finances. You started wearing glasses and I switched to contacts. We each set off on a journey to alter our... physical shape.”
On her sofa, Dahlia shifted, her cheeks showing a hint of colour.
“These changes were profound,” I said, “but they were also mostly on the surface.”
“Cosmetic,” said Dahlia nervously.
“Yes. Exactly. And that’s great and I’m loving it. Are you loving it?”
She started to speak and her eyes quivered. She shut her mouth. “Yes,” she replied finally. “I love being you.”
I managed to control the smirk that came to my lips sufficiently to make it a reassuring smile instead. “We committed to swapping places for several months,” I continued, “and you’ve been so brave to take on your new job and accept that you have no choice about doing it. It’s truly amazing to see your commitment to this.”
Dahlia nodded submissively.
“But what I want to do next, in phase two, is to focus on the psychological aspects. We already started on that downstairs but I want us both to see it as a goal that’s every bit as important as changing our shape.”
“What do you mean exactly?” asked Dahlia.
“I mean that you’re Melissa now and it isn’t enough that you start to look like her. I want you to think like her – to really see yourself as her – to connect to what it is that makes Melissa who she is.”
She hesitated and then nodded. “How do you mean?”
I sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “Well first of all I want you to really think about what we talked about; really get your head round the fact that you are Melissa now with all that entails. You aren’t playing. You aren’t pretending. This is still going to end – of course it’s going to – but while it’s carrying on, you have to accept that you aren’t a model anymore. You aren’t rich anymore. You have to work. You can’t associate with the well-to-do anymore. You have to accept what level you’re on now; who your equals are. Who your equals aren’t.” I looked her right in the eye. “You aren’t my equal anymore for instance. You aren’t on the same level as anybody in this hotel. And this is a prestigious place. Even the staff here are better than you; have more prospects than you. They will see you as inferior to them and they should. You are inferior.”
My crotch was fizzling merrily. I felt so high on this. It was fabulous.
“So yes, make friends with the other cleaners at your hotel; have a tryst with that cook or some other similar bloke. Start to fill your time with the kinds of activities that someone of your... position... would do.”
Dahlia wet her lips. She uncrossed her legs.
“And I want you to come here every other day. To see me,” I said. “It won’t be a social call. We’ll be working. We’re going to be learning; about one another. You will tell me everything about your life from your earliest memories right up until the present time and I’ll do the same. We won’t keep anything secret. You’ll tell me about every fantasy; every secret; about everyone you’ve ever known. And I’ll do the same for you.”
Dahlia was staring at me in wonderment.
“I’ve purchased a voice recorder,” I said. “We’ll record every session and we’ll each have a copy to study. It won’t just be the background we’ll be memorising. I want us to work on our voices. I want you to master my accent; to alter the pitch of your voice until it is the same as mine. Over the next few months I want the changes to go on until we not only look like each other but sound like each other as well; until we can tell stories about our new pasts as though they really happened to us. And I want you to make your new history your own; to think of it as your past. Is that clear?”
Dahlia didn’t speak. She only nodded.
“Stand up,” I said.
She hesitated and then did so. I stood up too and retrieved the digital camera I’d bought.
“Take your glasses off and tie your hair back.” I gave her a hair tie and then did the same to mine.
Dahlia followed my instructions, eyeing the camera warily.
“Remove your glasses,” I said. She did so, blinking to clear her vision and then squinting slightly at me. I smiled to see the effect they were having on her. Was it really possible to alter her vision, to make it as bad as mine? She seemed to think so and it seemed to be working already.
“We’re going to photograph each other from different angles,” I said.
Dahlia frowned in query.
“A sort of record,” I said. “A before and after shot. So we can see how much we’ve changed. Alright?”
She nodded and I set about instructing her in what I wanted, all the while keeping an eye on her to see if it had clicked what my real intentions were; but it didn’t seem to have.
“We’ll start recording our backgrounds in a minute,” I said. “We have to push on with this and work as hard as we can. Do you agree?”
Dahlia shrugged and then nodded. “Yes Dahlia, of course,” she said.
I smiled, trying not to giggle.
I couldn’t believe how easy this was; how gullible she was; how willing she was to run toward the awful life she had chosen.