Although the Halloween party started at 8, I was in the library working on a paper until 10. I didn't have a costume so I didn't really feel like going, and besides that I didn't know any of the people at the frat that was hosting it. I'd hoped to write another few hundred words that night while everyone else was out partying, but when I found myself alone my thoughts turned, as they usually did, towards me, and how it didn't matter how many words I wrote because I wasn't very smart to begin with. Eventually I decided no matter how long I tormented myself in a study cell, I wasn't going to put any more words down that night, so I went to the party anyhow. As expected, I didn't know anyone there, so I found myself sitting on an old plaid couch nursing a beer and watching people dancing, talking, pairing off and going elsewhere.
When she walked in, of course, she caught pretty much every eye in the room. You could hear the noises that people make when they stop making out because something extraordinary is going on. She was dressed in a full-body powder blue jumpsuit, and her face and hair had been colored to match. Only her lips were red -- the rest of her was that sharp powder blue, marred only by the telepath badge above her left breast. She must have felt all those heads turn towards her, and maybe she even picked up on the lewd sorts of things people think when they've been drinking, but at no point did a blush ever darken those faint blue cheeks.
She gathered up the grace that the pressure of stares can provide. She walked regally over to the fridge, got herself a drink, and sat down in the easy chair next to the couch. She was closer to me now and I could see her jumpsuit better. It had a zipper down the front and loose fabric at the wrists. Her hands were blue too; had she gotten a full-body cosmetic or was she just careful?
I continued to look her over as she glanced about the room. I had no idea whether she was reading minds or merely checking out the scene (this was before the different marks on telepath badges were introduced). She moved slowly, as though careful or thorough with her gaze, and never changed expression. Eventually her gaze came to rest on me.
"Hi," she said. She smiled. "My name is Kimberly, but everyone calls me Kim."
"Hello, Kim," I said. "My name is Nate."
"Hello, Nate." She continued to stare at me, though after a few seconds her smile faded. Eventually I realized that she must be reading my mind, though I didn't feel anything. I waited, silent, for her to finish.
"You're pretty messed up, aren't you, Nate?" she said.
"Yeah," I said, thinking about how glad I was to be at a party, not alone, distracted from my numerous failings.
"I like being in your mind," she purred. She moved to sit next to me on the couch.
"It's a good mind, I like it, it suits me well," I gibbered, dumbstruck by her attention.
A short while later, we paired off and went elsewhere ourselves. It turned out to be a whole-body cosmetic after all.
I didn't realize she was in my section of Social Dynamics until the next day. As I entered the discussion room, she smiled and waved at me. She still had blue hair, but she had gotten rid of the rest of the cosmetic. I'm pretty sure I blushed and waved back. I sat in the open seat behind her.
"Hi Nate!" she giggled, leaning her head back to look at me upside-down. "Great party last night, huh?"
"Hi Kim," I said. "I must admit I wasn't paying too much attention to the party." She giggled at that too. She was very pretty when she giggled. "The TA just sent out our grades on the last test -- how did you do?" When I asked that, her face lost all traces of mirth. I wasn't an esper myself, but the serious look didn't bode well for her grades. She righted herself and turned around in the seat.
"I'm kind of embarassed about it, actually," she said.
"Say no more," I assured her, ever the charmer. "You know, maybe we could have a study session some time."
"I don't know," she said. "I don't really like studying, you know?" She giggled again. I wondered if there was anything behind that pretty giggle. "But maybe we can go for coffee instead."
"Well, Kim, that sounds like fun. Maybe when finals come around I can talk you into that study session."
"I doubt it!" she said, and tossed her blue hair. "I'm very stubborn, you know."
Just then the TA came in, a smile on his face and a spring in his step. He casually went over some of the mistakes he'd found in the papers we'd turned in. He exuded a sense of superiority, but it had been worth it to see him one-foot-in-the-grave last week, when he was still grading. He said someone in the class had gotten an A-plus on the paper, but I found that hard to believe. As he rambled sonorously, I looked at the back of Kim's head. She was staring off to one side, presumably into the middle distance. If she hadn't been doing well in class, why wasn't she paying better attention? Maybe I had hooked up with a ditz. After all, she was certainly pretty enough. Not that you had to be pretty to be a ditz, I thought quickly. This was college, and we were all just trying to look sophisticated. I was urbane enough to allow for the possibility that a ditz could be ugly.
What have you gotten yourself into, Nate? I thought.
The next day I met for lunch with my friend Connie.
"You should break up with her," she said, as soon as I mentioned Kim.
"We just went for coffee," I protested. "What, are you afraid she's gonna take over my body or erase my memories or something like that?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Connie said. "But you should break up with her."
"I'm not even dating her yet!" I tried to describe what had happened at the party and after class as best as I could. "We just stayed and talked. Although, to be honest, I get the feeling she's not very bright. Whenever I mentioned classes, she clumsily changed the subject."
"You need to break up with her," Connie repeated. "She can read your mind! Doesn't that scare you? She knows all your dirty little secrets, and she's never even been to your apartment."
"I don't know, Connie. Maybe it means she'll be able to understand me, without all those stupid words that get in the way. Don't you want to be understood by whoever you're dating?"
"You know," Connie said, looking thoughtful, "I had a friend back home who was a lesbian. I thought, wow, that's gotta be so great. Your partner isn't some insensitive guy with a different sex drive than you. It's some woman who knows exactly what you're going through, biology and all. But I asked my friend, hey, do you ever fight? Or do you just understand each other all the time? And she gave me this look, right? and said, oh, we fight from time to time. And when we fight, it's no holds barred. We fight for blood. And we can hurt each other so much worse, because we understand each other." She gave me a withering look, the look her friend must have given her. "Listen, I think it's great you're dating, you know, a telepath. And I don't go around throwing rocks and calling anyone names or anything like that. But I just think a relationship has its secrets, and maybe there are some things you don't want her to know. I'm not just talking about your inability to dance or your filthy apartment, you know."
"Thanks, Connie," I said. "She's seen me without any clothes on, and then she still wanted to have coffee with me. I have to say I don't think I'm afraid of what else she might know about me." Of course, I really hoped that Kim did know all there was to know about me, and love me anyhow, or know how to fix me. But I wasn't going to admit that to Connie.
"Well, it's your funeral. Or insane asylum or whatever." Connie focused on her sandwich.
Kim and I got closer quite naturally, and we began sitting side by side in Social Dynamics. She did see my filthy apartment and we did go dancing, quite a few times. But then a paper or test would come up.
"Hey Nate, want to swing by my place for dinner? I'm cooking lasagna." She meant really cooking, cutting up ingredients and applying heat the old-fashioned way, not just entering selections in a menu. She was even dressed for the occasion. She was wearing an apron and was covered in flour. It was like a white version of the all-blue outfit I saw her in on the night we met.
"God, that sounds good, Kim, but there's this paper due Tuesday."
"Aww, damn," she said. "Well, more leftovers for me, I guess."
"Come over and let's work on the paper together."
"Oh, I can't do that, Nate, the tomatoes would go to waste. Do you know how hard it is to get real tomatoes? It ought to be a crime to waste them."
"They'll make more. Come on, let me see your paper, maybe I can help you with it."
"That's sweet, Nate, but I don't want to look at my paper! I want to eat lasagna. With you. Are you sure you can't come by?"
"Sorry, baby. I really need to get through another two thousand words tonight if I'm gonna have enough time to revise. Some of us aren't able to just wiggle our nose and read Hendrick's mind, you know?"
Her eyes went wide at the suggestion. "Me? I would never! That would be completely unethical. Besides, he's always focusing too hard on the brunette in the third row to think anything useful." She giggled. "You know the one? With the huge lips?"
I couldn't help but laugh. "All right, Kim. I'll see you in class, then." I disconnected, and hoped she really would pull it together before the semester ended.
"What's it like, Kim? Being a telepath?"
"It's lots of fun!" Giggle. "The first part, knowing how people feel, it's not as different as you might think. It's sort of like the women's intuition people always talk about, except a little better. Then there's when you do a deep scan. That's like going into someone's bedroom, seeing all the things around them that they take for granted. Thoughts half-finished because they've thought them a million times before. The things they value, scattered here and there because they didn't know you were going to be visiting."
"Did you ever try to lie, and hide your telepathy?"
"You remember those esper tests we took in first grade? The guy who did mine was so scary. I knew he was an esper, and I thought if I was an esper he was going to take me away with him and I'd never see my family again. So when he asked me, you know, How many fingers am I holding up, Can you tell me what I'm thinking, I told him I had no idea. They told me he himself was an esper but I didn't realize what that meant." We shared a laugh at her younger self's frightened misunderstanding. "But he didn't take me away, so I thought he believed me. And then the next week, I got a badge, and I was so proud! It was my very first piece of grown-up jewelry. I think I still have it at home somewhere."
"Have you looked at that analysis matrix for Dynamics yet?"
"Oh, Nate! You're the worst at pillow talk. Let's go back to talking about me, that was great!" Giggle.
When I got back my C-plus in Social Dynamics, I thought Hendricks was a jerk but concluded that it was probably a fair grade. It had been a hard class. The TA published some grade statistics -- I was barely over the median. Some overachiever had gotten an A and spoiled the curve for the rest of us. Damn, I needed a better grade than C-plus to pull up my GPA. Hopefully I'd do better in one of the other classes I was taking.
I went to Kim's to tell her the news. She wasn't there but her AI let me in. I ordered a beer from the automat and, once it synthesized, lay on her bed and sipped it. I wasn't thinking about anything in particular when I heard Kim come in the front door.
"Command: Check messages. Audio only." she said, walking over to the kitchen to get something for herself. The AI followed her with the sound, so I didn't hear anything. "Next," she said. "Blah, blah, blah.. next."
She walked into the bedroom where I was just as the next message started. She didn't notice me where I was, but I heard the message: "Congratulations, Kim, you made the Dean's List. Again. Be well. Bye."
"Dean's List?" I asked, maybe more forcefully than I should have. Kim spun around and grabbed at her chest. "Oh my God, Nate, don't do that! You scared the shit out of me!" She giggled again. "How nice of you to surprise me like this! Man, you would not believe --"
"Dean's List?" I asked again. "How did you make Dean's List? You're the worst student in the entire Dynamics class! I only got a C-plus! You couldn't have done better than me!"
The giggle was gone now. She was staring at me calmly, rationally. She ran her hand through her hair, sighed. "Actually, Nate, remember the student who got an A? That was me."
"Oh my God." I closed my eyes, leaned back against the pillows. "You cheated, didn't you? I can't believe it. How could you? Don't you understand what this means? If they find out --"
"I didn't cheat, Nate." She spoke quietly. "You can't just mind-read an entire paper. Do you think I want to spend any more time with that TA than I have to? He's full of himself. Hendricks is even more full of himself and he's a lecher too. I wrote those papers myself."
"You lied to me," I said, scrambling out of bed. "I can't believe this. I'm out of here." I left the beer and broke into a run. I got back to my apartment sweaty and out-of-breath. "Command: lock, all," I gasped. I collapsed into a chair at the kitchen table. It took me some time before my heart rate returned to normal, but then I put my head on the table, covered with my scalp with my hands and hoped for the world to end.
Kim contacted me that night through the comm system.
"Is it that frightening that someone could be smarter than you?" she asked.
"It isn't about that," I said, though secretly I was afraid it was. "You lied to me."
"Oh, this is about the fact that you thought I was dumb. And that's supposed to be my fault. The truth is that I really am embarassed about my grades. It's hard enough being a telepath, let alone being the top student at this school too. But that wasn't good enough -- not only am I supposed to tell you the truth, I have to make you think it too."
"Don't give me that," I snapped. "You acted a certain way, knowing what I'd think. You encouraged me to believe you were a -- a --"
"Yeah. You can't claim any moral high ground just because you never said the words. You're a telepath, you knew what I'd think! And you said exactly what it took to make me think it!"
"What was I supposed to say, Nate? Hi, I'm Kim, and while you've been staring at my chest I've been thinking about the next four hundred words I have to write for my paper due Thursday? I'm not responsible for other people's misunderstandings. I don't go around correcting people all the time. If you really wanted to know something about me, you should have asked flat out!"
"Oh, so now I'm supposed to ask explicitly about everything? Is it true that you're in my Social Dynamics class, or did you sneak in? For that matter, do you even go to school here or do you just go to the parties?"
"Don't get snippy, Nate.."
"How should I get? Don't you think lying is different for telepaths? Don't you think that manipulating someone into a misunderstanding of the world is bad, no matter what words you use? How can you expect me to trust you when you've misled me all along?"
"What difference would it have made? Did you want me to double-check your work? Provide you with crib sheets? Drop my pencil if the answer to question one was true?"
"Is that what you think I'm like? That I'm really that shameless?"
"What I know," she said, "is that you care an awful lot about your grades. And that you like to feel more intelligent than other people. Regardless of what I did or did not do, we had a happy few months together. Isn't that enough?"
"It's over, Kim," I said, with a finality I didn't feel. I don't know if she could read my mind over the commnet, but her expression didn't change, and she sat quietly for a few moments.
"Nate," she began, "I've lived with the thoughts of strangers for 20 years. In all that time, I've found out that people lie. They lie all the time. They lie to themselves, loved ones, strangers. And I didn't even do that. I dodged one question about my grades and I giggled a lot. If that's too much dishonesty for you, heaven help you if you ever fall in love." She disconnected.
I don't know if she graduated, moved away, or simply avoided me. Maybe I guessed right and she never really went to school there after all. I didn't see her there ever again. Life goes on.
Kim was right. Any woman who loves me is going to know me well enough to lie to me. Isn't love about trusting the other person anyway?
Connie says I did the right thing, that it's impossible to know whether a telepath of that caliber is lying to you. Connie thinks a miserable truth is better than a happy fiction any day of the week, and that I managed to get the miserable truth. But sometimes, when the library is empty, I think back to Kim and wonder if maybe I'd have been better served by loving the blue-suited woman who knew me well enough to lie to me.