When Traci got home, the first thing she did was plop down on the sofa and watch whatever came on the TV. She welcomed anything that could distract her from thinking about the last twenty-four hours. Crappy Sunday reruns, cooking shows, even basketball, a sport she hated - anything with enough action to keep her mind occupied. After a number of hours, it was hunger that finally roused her from the couch. She flicked the TV off and went to the kitchen to make a meal out of whatever she could find.
While she cooked, she mused over everything the Doctor had said, but it all jumbled in her head and she found herself going in circles. Finally, as she ate, she dealt with it the only way she knew how, by writing it all down and trying to organize it to make some sense. It took her quite a while to decide how to arrange it all and put it together, and at the end, she had two pages of notes to look over.
The thing she couldn't wrap her mind around was being someone else. Like she had the day before, she tried closing her eyes and imagining what it would be like to be someone else, this time pretending to be her friend Lynn. She tried to think like Lynn did, to like things that Lynn did that she disliked, to understand and take to heart Lynn's opinions, but she couldn't do it, and she was a lot closer to being like Lynn than she was to being like some unknown alien Time Lady. Her inability to truly digest this idea didn't surprise her at all. She remembered joining drama club in high school and finding she had no talent for acting: while she could memorize lines just fine, she had been incapable of becoming the character she was playing. If she couldn't do that, why should she expect to be able to understand what it's like to become a Time Lady?
And thus, the only thing that jumped out at her from the paper was the note, "Traci no longer exists." Traci was all she knew how to be. The thought of not being herself terrified her. Could her existence, everything that was important to her, be erased so easily? She looked around at her shabby apartment. It might not be much, but it was everything to her.
With a sudden burst of agitation, she sprang to her feet and dashed over to the window, yanking open the curtains to look out on her tiny corner of Chicago. It was still a dirty city and she wasn't fond of it, but it wasn't so bad. It was home, at least for now. Her home. For some reason, she felt some ownership of this apartment, this neighborhood, even though it was chosen simply for the sake of economy and proximity to work. She stood gazing out at the street for a while, and was only drawn back in by her phone ringing.
Making a mental note to call in sick tomorrow, she strode over and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Hey, Trace, it's me, Aaron." A tremor in his voice revealed his nervousness. "I'm sorry for running out on you yesterday. I'm glad you made it home all right. Do you… do you think we could talk?"
Traci smiled. She had completely forgotten about their fight the day before. I guess I had more important things to think about. "Yeah, sure. It's okay, you know. I understand why you left."
"Yeah, well, it helped, to tell the truth. I thought about what you said, and I get it. I get why you want to… why you want to do what you want to do. See," and he took a deep breath, "I don't want to leave Chicago, but I also don't want to break up or anything. So, I was thinking, if you can stand it, let's wait a while and see what happens. You take the bar exam like you're planning and see where that gets you. And in a year, or two at the latest, we see how you feel, and figure out where to go from there. What d'you think?"
She had no idea, and mumbled an "ummm" into the phone to stall for time. Honestly, what she might do about where she lived and how to pursue her career, and whether or not Aaron would move to California with her, wasn't even on her mind anymore. She had to force herself to concentrate on what he had just said, and she realized that he was asking to postpone any decisions - a perfect solution that would let her get back to more important considerations. She caught herself before she yelled, "Yes!" into the phone.
Curbing her enthusiasm, she made herself sound tentative and slightly disappointed. "Yeah, I guess that's a good idea. I can do that. Wait and see." She hoped she sounded convincing. "Talk about it again in a year, maybe? I kinda would like to know how long I'll have to wait."
"Sure, a year sounds good. Plenty of time to see how things go." Aaron sounded a lot more chipper.
"No problem, babe. I love you, you know. I wanted you to know that, well, that I'm willing to meet you halfway on this. Maybe all the way. Just not right now."
Traci just wanted the call to end. "Yeah. I appreciate it."
"Hey, do you mind, uh, can I come over?"
Oh, no way! She panicked and couldn't think of a good excuse why he shouldn't come over, since they normally spent almost every evening together. "Uh, not tonight. I've got stuff to do, and I… I want to get to bed early."
"Oh. Okay." She could hear in his voice the suspicion that she was still angry with him, and she silently shook her head; he'd just have to deal with it. "Well, I'll talk to you tomorrow. Maybe we can grab dinner after work."
"Sure, sounds great. G'night." She kissed a couple of times into the phone to try to convince him that she wasn't still angry.
Hanging up the receiver, Traci exhaled heavily. She really had not wanted to talk to Aaron tonight, but the phone call taught her exactly what she should do. She cleaned up her dirty dishes, then settled back on the couch to rot her brain with TV until she went to bed.
The next morning, after calling in sick to work and scarfing down a bowl of cereal, Traci got dressed and headed to the park. It was mostly empty, since it was a school day, except for the alien lying on his coat spread out on the grass. His hands pillowing his head, he was gazing up at the clouds floating by against the azure sky.
"Good morning," she called as she approached. The Doctor tilted his head to see her, and smiled. She had only known him for two days now, and yet the brilliance of his smile caught at her heart. She wondered if all Time Lords were so expressive, so alive.
"Ah, Traci! Join me?" He scooted over to make room on his coat and sat with his knees drawn up, his arms resting on them. Dropping her purse first, she sat down next to him, then spoke before she lost her nerve.
"I've made my decision." She looked him straight in the eye. "I've decided that I don't want to be a Time Lady." Disappointment clouded his face, but she rushed on with her explanation. "I have a good life." She snorted. "Okay, I have an okay life. But I'm just starting and I want to see where it goes. I want to be me, not someone else." She added in almost an undertone, "I don't want to die."
He composed his expression into neutrality. "Of course you don't. You have your whole life ahead of you."
She wagged a finger at him. "But I don't want to rule it out, either."
"Well, you can change your mind any time you like. You just need to open the watch."
She eyed her purse, then shook her head. "No, I don't think I could do it alone." She leveled her gaze directly at the Doctor. "Come back and ask me again, in a few years."
The Doctor smiled, a gleam of respect in his eyes. "Of course."
Grabbing her purse, Traci stood up. "Thanks for, um…" Not at all sure she had wanted to know anything he had told her, she didn't know what to thank him for. "Um, yeah. See ya." She turned and fled.