Akemi Maki wasn’t a large girl, so maybe I could have been forgiven for not seeing her sneak up on us. If it hadn’t been broad daylight out. And if there’d been anywhere for her to hide.
“Where were you lurking?” Diedra’s Seeming asked, drawing Akemi’s attention away, for which I was supremely grateful.
“I wasn’t lurking,” Akemi said.
“Stalking then?” Diedra’s Seeming asked.
“What are you doing with Penny?” Akemi asked, ignoring Diedra’s accusation.
“Walking,” Diedra’s Seeming said.
Part of being able to adapt to what people wanted to see of our originals was an enhanced, if very specific, form of empathy that Seemings possessed. I knew without having to think about that Akemi expected Penny to be uncertain about following Diedra.
In Penny’s eyes, Diedra was a troublemaker and Penny was shy and reserved. The obvious conclusion was that Diedra was luring Penny into violating one or more of the school’s regulations.
“We should get to our homerooms,” I said. “I can’t be late today or Ms. Shoemaker will hit me with a detention for sure.”
“Detention’s not so bad,” Diedra’s Seeming said.
Akemi scowled and pushed past us, trotting to get to the door and get inside faster than we could keep up with her.
“She’s going to go tell Ms. Shoemaker that she saw us out here,” Diedra’s Seeming said.
“I should definitely get to homeroom on time then,” I said.
“Or we could play hooky,” Diedra’s Seeming said. “It’d be easier than having Ms. Shoemaker giving you the ugly eye the whole time she’s making announcements.”
“That would definitely get me a detention,” I said.
“Detention’s nothing,” Diedra’s Seeming said. “It’s an extra study period at the end of the day. It’d be a chance for us to pass notes. I could tell you who to watch out for.”
Penny would have been horrified at the notion intentionally getting in trouble, but I had to admit the idea had its merits. Diedra’s Seeming knew a lot more about fitting it at school and the dangers I could run into there than I did. Plus, homeroom was the class period where the other students were the most likely to pay attention to me. In all the other classes they’d be focused on the teacher and I could relax. For a little trouble now, I could probably save Penny a world of headaches later on. In that sense getting in trouble was definitely the right play.
Except I knew Penny would hate it. And maybe even more importantly, I wanted to go to Grandma Apples’ home after school too. Whatever the old witch had to tell Penny, I wanted to know too. If I was trapped in detention, I might miss out on my best chance to understand what I really was.
“Maybe tomorrow,” I said, “I’m tied up after school today.”
Diedra’s Seeming frowned and looked a little deflated.
“Yeah, you should get going then,” she said. We’d been walking on the path to the back door and she stepped off it while she fished around in her purse. She found a lighter first and then a pack of generic cigarettes.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “You don’t have time for that do you?”
“I don’t have anywhere to be this afternoon, and Akemi’s on the warpath so she’ll need to find something wrong that I was doing or she’ll start to really wonder about you,” Diedra’s Seeming said.
“You don’t have to do that for me,” I said.
“I’m not,” Diedra’s Seeming said. “I just want a smoke.”
I stared at her, torn between solidarity with a fellow Seeming and doing the job I was supposed to for my original.
“Alone,” Diedra’s Seeming said.
“Ok, well, don’t be too long,” I said, feeling clueless and lame. I could read other people and mirror back to them what they wanted to see but that didn’t appear to work on other Seemings. I couldn’t mirror a mirror I guess.
For all the drama leading up to it, I arrived at my homeroom with plenty of time to spare. Mom had dropped me off early and the walk around the school hadn’t taken that long. I was tempted to turn back and see how Diedra’s Seeming was doing, but dodging the obviously magical students took enough of my attention that by the time I reached my seat I was more than happy to plop down and “get ready for the day”.
I had access to Penny’s memories, so I wasn’t walking into a school day for the first time, but somehow it felt like that anyways. It was terrifying, but after a few girls asked me some simple questions (“Do we have a test in Mr. Yungs class today” and “Is it pizza day today?”) I started to feel like I had a grip on things.
The rest of the day passed pretty much the same. Penny was a quiet girl who didn’t attract much attention, so impersonating her didn’t exactly require Oscar-winning acting. I kept my head down the same as she would have, took notes in class the same as she would have and eavesdropped on the conversations around me, the same as she would have.
The only major difference in my day versus the one my original would have had was that I made it a point to stay well out of the path of the kids who looked like they had a chance of figuring out what I was. Most of the magical kids were covered by simple glamours that hid their inhuman nature from the other students. All I had to do to avoid them was to ignore them just like Penny had been doing for the last few years. I knew there had to be other magical students that I couldn’t see as easily, but I didn’t have any idea what to do about them. My understanding of what witches could do was limited at best and my familiarity with the capabilities of non-witch magical folk was all but non-existent.
I spent a good part of the morning looking for the one person that I thought could serve as a wingman and help bolster the illusion that I was Penny but, in each class we were supposed to have together, Rosie was nowhere to be seen.
When lunch rolled around I decided that, pizza day or no, I was going to take a study period in the library rather than sit alone in the cafeteria and risk attracting unwanted attention to myself.
I headed to the back of the stacks, looking for a nice dark corner to lose myself in for an hour, when I heard a small sniff.
I was too slow to stop myself from rounding the corner, but I was fast enough to spot Akemi Maki sitting on the floor, with a book open on her legs.
If I didn’t know better, I could almost swear that I saw her wiping her eyes with the back of her sleeve and sniffling a bit.
She turned to look at me with accusing eyes and a terrible thought occurred me to about her sniffing. Diedra’s Seeming had said Akemi had a fantastic sense of smell and that only a pine cone would throw off her ability to sense that I was a Seeming too.
Akemi had been sniffing the air right as I walked up.
And I didn’t have a pine cone on me or anywhere nearby this time.