<Adam - one week later>
“So he bursts into the concourse of the Tech-Commerce building while it’s all crowded between classes. He’s practically bowling people over as he chases down this girl. Finally, he catches up to her right in the entryway, spins her around and shouts so like the whole room can hear him ‘Katie-Anne, will you talk about sex with me?’” Cheryl laughed hysterically into her cell phone.
I sat next to her, head hidden in my arms on the cafeteria table, where I mumbled, “I am sitting right here, you know?”
She paused and looked at me. “What?” then didn’t wait for a response before she continued into her phone, “Anyway, by the next day, half the school had heard about it and everybody was talking about it. Then, down at Caesar’s on Friday, some guy was totally checking me out at the bar and then he all the sudden comes over and asks me if I’ll talk about sex with him.”
“Well, how could I not? I mean, I couldn’t stop laughing and he was kinda cute. You know, dorky cute, like one of the music fraternity guys. But when I got back to the house the next day, all my sisters were talking about how guys had used the ‘talk about sex’ line on them and Lindsay—you met Lindsay right?—well, Lindsay even used it herself. She finally got up the nerve to ask that Hallaway guy out who always goes to the games shirtless with his chest and face painted. I’d never seen him without the paint, but Lindsay’s had on a crush on him like forever, and the line totally worked. It’s like the cool way to break the ice or something now.”
I lifted my head up enough to glare to glare at Cheryl over my own shoulder.
“You should totally try using it at your school, Elle. If nothing else, it’ll drive your teachers nuts.” Cheryl glanced over and saw me glaring at her, “I should probably get going, Sis. Adam’s all pouting because he came up with the line, but it worked for everybody but him. Tell mom hi for me. Later.”
Elle wasn’t one of Cheryl’s sorority sisters. She was instead Cheryl’s seventeen-year-old biological sister. The prospect of the product of my social ineptitude invading a high school, or for that matter, high schools all over Free People’s States was just about more than I could take. I glimpsed a vision of teenagers wearing T-shirts with “Will you talk about sex with me?” printed across the chest.
I grunted and buried my head in my arms again.
“So you embarrassed yourself in front of a girl. Big deal. Everybody does it.” When I didn’t respond, or even lift my head, Cheryl went on, “If it matters at all, almost no one even associates you with the line anymore. Most people don’t even know who first said it or who it was said to. It’s just a stupid little joke that caught on. Now it’s just harmless fun.”
I didn’t have anything to say. She was right, but I certainly couldn’t say that. Nor could I explain the pervasive feeling of embarrassment that I suffered even so. I could know that no one really cared I’d made an ass of myself. Knowing didn’t help me convince myself of it when I entered a crowded room. Cheryl made a short, quiet whistle and patted me on the back. “Cheer up, Adam. Your day is about to get a whole lot better… or worse—maybe loads worse. Either way, bye!”
I looked up and saw Cheryl dart from the table. On her way down the aisle, she passed Katie-Anne, never saying a word, and then continued on out the back door of the cafeteria. I hadn’t seen Katie-Anne go through the line and only just now realized that, food tray in hand, she was coming toward me.
My heart leapt but, since gravity applies even in the realm of metaphorical hearts and mine had the lack of foresight to leap from a high place to a much lower one, the resultant fall nearly killed it. This took me by surprise. I found Katie-Anne interesting. I’d even told Cheryl as much. But I never expected her to talk to me and, after last Monday, I was seriously considering dropping SIM seminar, changing my name and moving to another state, so that she wouldn’t ever see me again. I never really liked Kurenski anyway.
“Hi, Adam. Can I sit?”
I had a vague notion that bursting into tears would not be an appropriate response. I settled for saying, “Yeah.”
She sat. She ate. I felt like the eyes of the whole room were on me. I checked. They weren’t. Nobody noticed or cared. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling of embarrassment. I wondered if Cheryl was right and that all of my embarrassment and awkwardness was just because I had a crush on Katie-Anne. I looked closely at Katie-Anne. She was cute but not stunning, though her short hair did suit her. She certainly wasn’t charming. She was just… interesting. She was the mystery girl at the back of the room who hardly ever said anything and nobody had any idea what she was thinking.
So why did I care so much about what the weird, probably crazy girl was thinking? She was famous, or rather, infamous—she had cost her mother reelection to the presidency five years ago, and there were still people who bore her a grudge for that. I wasn’t one of those people, but neither did I want to get involved with Free People politics or with the people in the middle of them.
“You coming to SIM seminar today?” she asked. “If you miss more than two, they’ll start dropping your grade.” I had skipped both the Wednesday and Friday sessions of seminar last week. Not having been there made it all that much harder to go back.
“Yeah. How’s Jenkins been the last two classes?”
“He warmed up to us when we actually started talking a little. He’s still loud and, you know, flappy.”
I pictured Jenkins flailing about as he lectured and smiled. “Have we made any progress with the subject matter?”
I expected this to be awkward, but it was a question that I ought to know the answer to. Katie-Anne didn’t even blink, “He’s asserted that sex is the fundamental reason why people use SIMs. He says that sensory immersion technology has been the catalyst to a new consequence-free sexual lifestyle that will end up the same way the sexual revolutions of the past did.”
“Digital diseases and simulated babies?”
She smiled at that and for some reason my heart leapt again, though this time somewhat more cautiously. “A consequence-free existence is ultimately a meaningless one.”
“That’s all you covered in two classes?”
“They’ve been doing a lot of arguing.”
It did sound like the class had picked up some since Dr. Jenkins’ first day. Without anything pertinent, witty, or charming to add, I looked around the room as Katie-Anne ate in silence for a few minutes.
“He’s wrong, you know,” Katie-Anne said, wiping pizza sauce off of her hands.
“Yeah. Sex isn’t the reason why we use sims. It’s freedom.”
I got the sense that she was bracing herself for Free Peoples’ doctrine. I was supposed to say that freedom is choosing to live the lives that we were given or that confining ourselves to a fictional and ineffectual reality could never be freeing. I didn’t say these things. I hadn’t believed them in years.
When I didn’t respond, she went on, “Simmers are free to choose who they surround themselves with from out of all the people in the whole world. They can be with anyone and do anything. And sure sex is a part of that. It’s important, but it’s just one of the things that people do with each other when they are completely free to choose.”
“How did the class respond to that?”
She smirked. “I could serve that to them with cupcakes and they wouldn’t eat the cupcakes.”
“That’s a pity. Cupcakes are tasty.” It struck me that Katie-Anne had probably thought long and hard about why people simmed. If the news stories and propaganda from the last election had any truth to them, five years ago, a lifelong free person, Katie-Anne had been not only exposed to the sims but immersed in them for several months. She would have had to overcome fourteen years of Free Peoples upbringing in order to get past an almost mechanical hatred of sensory immersion technology. And from all appearances, she loved it. That kind of shift in perspective isn’t the product of teenaged whimsy and it isn’t something that happens overnight.
Katie-Anne wasn’t going to learn anything about the simmer perspective from the seminar. She was already a simmer. She could have taught the class.
She was smiling at me like we were both privy to a particularly juicy secret. She thought that I understood her and that I agreed with her. I didn’t want to tell her that she was only half right. I enjoyed her smile.