Just because I can pretend to be someone else, doesn’t mean it’s easy to do so. If Penny found herself face to face with Akemi in the back of the library’s shelves, she’d say “Hi”, ‘find a book’ that she was looking for (any book would do) and then scurry back to one of the tables. It wasn’t that Penny didn’t like Akemi either, avoidance was just her method of dealing with social awkwardness in general.
I understood that, and I understood Penny (maybe better than anyone alive). Avoiding social situations made things infinitely easier, up to a point. That point was exactly where I stood with Akemi.
“Hi,” I said, falling back on my inner Penny as I struggled to figure out how to deal with the situation.
If I stayed, Akemi was certain to figure out that I was a Seeming and not the real Penny. On the other hand, if I scurried off like the real Penny, she’d probably figure out that I was a Seeming anyways and I would have no idea what she was going to do about it.
“Rodriguez?” Akemi asked. “You’re not in the library this period are you?”
“Not usually,” I said. “I’m skipping lunch though and that’s easier when there’s not food around to tempt me.”
“Why are you skipping lunch?” Akemi asked, looking me up and down.
Penny didn’t need to diet. She was at the stage where her metabolism was still higher than any food intake she managed and so she was, if anything, underweight for her height. Based on her parents and grandparents, it didn’t seem likely that metabolism would last forever but that was a problem for a far future day, perhaps in high school or college, if the world didn’t fall apart before then.
“My friend Rosie is out today and I didn’t have anyone to sit with,” I said. Penny didn’t actually mind sitting alone. No one paid her that much interest, but I figured Akemi probably didn’t know that.
Akemi nodded in understanding and it occurred to me that I didn’t know of any the girls in our class that she hung out with.
“So where’s Penny today?” she asked. No sniffing. No guessing. No beating around the bush.
“She wanted to come in,” I said. “She really did. Things just got a little messed up this morning.”
“Is that why you were hanging around with Deidra?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “She noticed me when I got out the car. She was…”
I trailed off, not sure what I wanted to say.
“She was warning you about me, wasn’t she?” Akemi asked.
“Umm, yeah,” I said. “She said you’d turn me in to the principal or Ms. Shoemaker. But I guess you didn’t right?”
Ms. Shoemaker hadn’t paid any special attention to me in homeroom, despite Deidra’s Seeming claim that Akemi had run off to tell her I was hanging around with a “known troublemaker”.
“God,” Akemi said. “Is she still saying things like that?”
“She didn’t say much.” I had no idea what sort of person or creature Akemi was or how she could see what I really was so easily, but I had a pretty clear sense how upset she felt.
Somewhere in the long list of “Bad Ideas”, was an entry for “aggravate someone who has unknown capabilities and motivations”. There was probably even a gold star next to it with double bold underlines.
Akemi huffed at what I said and an angry, hurt smile twisted up her lips.
“She doesn’t have to, does she?”
She rose to her feet and I felt like she was towering over me, despite the fact that we were roughly the same height. Whatever Akemi was, I was very certain I didn’t want to mess with her. As I flinched away though, I saw her smile fade into a frown, the anger draining out her but the hurt remaining.
“Just don’t do anything dumb,” she said and closed her book and turned to go.
“Uh, thanks,” I said. “For not getting me in trouble.”
With her back to me, Akemi sighed and said, “I don’t get people in trouble. You do that on your own.”
Then she left. Not in a rush. Not angrily. Just seeking to be alone from what I could see.
I couldn’t make that fit with the account Deidra’s Seeming gave of her though. Akemi who left didn’t look like a threat. But Deidra’s Seeming had been absolutely convinced that she was. I was living proof that appearances could be deceiving, but I also had some faith in my ability to read people and neither of them were lying as far as I could tell.
“Hard to believe those two used to be friends isn’t it?” a mouse said.
I looked down at him and nodded. It was a very un-Penny-like thing to do. Contrary to popular belief it’s not a “girly” thing to scream at finding an unexpected rodent nearby. Plenty of girls (and boys) will react in a variety of different manners to encountering small wild life. Penny happened to be in the “scream and leap away” category but that was a product of having grown up in a suburban home that was rarely visited by mice of any sort.
In a sense, I shared her upbringing, but I wasn’t actually human like she was. At my heart, I’m pure magic and on some level so was the talking mouse. In circumstances such as this, where he wasn’t invading my personal space or visibly threatening me, like recognizes like and being civil stood out as the preferable option in place of reacting as my original would have.
“They were friends?” I asked. “What happened?”
“They changed,” the mouse said. “As I’m guessing you have from what Akemi said. Is this your first day at school?”
I decided I had to be the worst Seeming in the entire world. My whole job was to keep Penny’s absence a secret and at the rate I was going, the only person who wouldn’t know by the end of the day would be our gym teacher who took sick leave.
“Yes,” I said.
“A pleasure to meet you then Sim-Penny,” the mouse said. “I am Harold Galloway of the Galloway Scholars clan.”
“You come to school here too?” I asked.
“For another year, then I’m hoping to get into MIT, but I’ll need to get my standardized test scores up for that,” he said. “Let me introduce you to some of the other special students. Our lot needs to stick together.”
“Stick together?” I asked. “Why’s that.”
“Halloween’s coming,” Harold said.
“And that’s bad?” I asked.
“Oh, you really must be new,” he said and shook his head.