“You have a twin,” said the man at the reference desk when Red brought his books back on Monday.
Red blinked a bit. “I do?” His words were slow, uncertain.
“An older gentleman,” the man said, taking his books while he talked. “He’s here right now, actually, if you want to just walk around.” He jerked his head toward the rows of computers to Red’s right.
Red refrained from looking. “Thank you, but I think I’ll pass.”
Later that night: “Damn it, Amanda, they found me out!”
Amanda–red hair, a skinny face, model-shaped body with small breasts–consoled him with two soft hands held lightly to his cheeks.
“Don’t worry, Red,” she whispered, her face auspiciously close to his. “There’s look-alikes all over the place.”
“But a twin? He called him a twin!”
“Calm down,” Amanda said and punctuated the sentence with a soft kiss. “Let’s enjoy our evening and not worry about it, okay, Red?” She batted her eyelashes and gave a startling impression of sad puppy- dog eyes. “Now, let’s go eat dinner and settle down a bit, shall we?”
The next morning: Red was walking in the library when he noticed the dark-skinned man from the reference desk heading his way through an aisle of fiction hot off the presses.
“He’s here again,” the man said quietly, raising his eyebrows and nodding slowly. “Right at that computer, there,” all said without pointing, but with subtle glances as if merely answering a patron’s questions, “if you want to look. Not exactly a twin, but similar.”
Red nodded. “Thanks,” he said, this time the word dry and somewhat pasty in his mouth.
The man walked off and Red threw caution to the wind, metaphorically speaking, and hoped the wind wasn’t blowing in his face. He walked through the fiction aisle casually and then strolled through the rows of computers, as if searching one out. Luckily they were all already packed for the day and ambling amid them wasn’t so far out of place for anyone there.
When he turned back and began retreating–as was all part of his plan, though no one else would have known it just from looking–he slowed his walk, adjusting his bag, near the man in question. He was looking down at his computer terminal, which made his face harder to discern if made the whole operation easier to ascertain, and Red breathed a sigh of relief. The man’s hair was thicker and shorter and his face was slightly thinner, with more prominent features. Even so, from a distance, someone might judge them as brothers, if not distant cousins or something strange like that.
And then Red remembered something he had once read, that it’s as likely for complete strangers to look alike and share similarities as it is for siblings to be alike. He shuddered, hating this infernal fact of reality, and then walked off to a table in a faraway corner of the library.
He’d finish this semester, he decided, and then he and Amanda were getting out of this place, finding a new life, and taking new faces if they had to. It wouldn’t be the first time, Red thought with sullen repose, but if they were lucky–and if they were careful enough–it might be.
Next Thursday: “Hi, my name is Billy and I’m a doppelgänger.”
“Hi, Billy,” came a chorus of voices from the circle of cheap fold-out chairs arranged around him.
“I, um, uh, I, eh, huh–”
“It’s alright, Billy,” said a man sitting opposite him in the circle, wearing a red scarf and a white cabled sweater. “We’ve all been there before, Billy. Just let it out. We won’t judge you.”
Billy nodded, ruffling his tousled brown hair with one hand as he fiddled with his keys in the other. “I… I first knew I was a doppelgänger in the second grade. There was an older boy there.” Billy sniffled and dropped his keys, hurriedly picking them up without looking up from the floor. “He was popular. Everyone wanted to be him.”
Billy swallowed and looked up. Small trails of tears were starting to forge paths down his cheeks. “I shoved him down the stairs.”
There was a brief pause, but in the silence, with the biggest secret out, Billy just kept on going– “The next day, everyone thought I was him. When I went to the bathroom and saw the mirror, I thought I was him, too.” He swallowed. “Um, yeah, that’s it, I guess.”
“Very good, Billy, very good,” said the facilitator in the red scarf. “Although none of us condone murder, we understand how it is sometimes.”
“Oh, he didn’t die,” said Billy quickly. “He was just in the hospital for a couple weeks. When he came back, I still looked like him, so then I knew I had to leave. So I left. After a while I learned how to control it, how to change myself. It’s been pretty fun since then, actually.”
“Isn’t it my turn?” Red grumbled.
Amanda slapped his hand and hissed for him to be quiet. No matter, they’d caught the attention of the facilitator and he turned to face them.
“Red, do you have something to add?”
“Amanda and I are leaving in two weeks.”
Now the silence that ensued was richer and thicker than before. Pushing people down the steps was nothing–most of them had done comparable acts if not ones far worse when first discovering their true nature–but to leave a community after being a part of it for as long as Red and Amanda had been, now that was a shocker to everyone there, except Billy, who was new.
“Red and I were very careful,” Amanda said, resting a hand delicately across Red’s thigh as she leaned forward a bit to face everyone there, except Billy, who was new, “when we crafted our new bodies after moving here. We grabbed clippings from newspapers and magazines, modeled ourselves after bits and pieces of hundreds of people, to ensure we would be as averagely unique as everyone else”–
“Porn stars,” someone coughed under their breath. Red flushed crimson.
–“but the other day in the library, someone told Red that he had a twin, and…” Amanda sighed. “It spooked us both terribly.”
Someone knocked on the door and poked their head inside. “Is this Dumbledore’s Army?”
The facilitator looked up quickly and flashed a dashing smile right out of Gilderoy Lockhart’s best photographs. “Yes. May I help you?” They all hated the name, but it was the only thing they could think of that DA might stand for other than their original intent, but thankfully they’d found this backroom of a Pagan house of worship that was all too happy to share their space with other practitioners from around the city.
“I was wondering if I could join you….”
“I’m sorry,” said the scarfed man, “we’re not accepting new members right now. As you can see, we’ve sort of maxed out our space allotment.”
“Oh…I see,” he said. “Wait, why aren’t there any wands?”
“We’ve set them aside to become a book club,” he answered.
“But there aren’t any books.”
“If you don’t mind, we would like to resume tonight’s discussion.”
“Oh, yeah, right.” The guy glanced around with a strange look on his face and then left, pulling the door shut behind him.
“Billy,” said the facilitator, because he was new, “would you kindly lock the door for us?”
When Billy came back, he looked oddly like their brief intruder. When someone pointed this out, Billy blushed and mumbled, “Sorry, he was cute.”
“Red,” the facilitator said, “are you sure you must be going? Can’t you change yourself only slightly enough to distinguish yourself as average enough to see someone who might look like you, without changing too much? Perhaps put on a few pounds, gain an inch, or wear glasses? After all, I get told I look like that guy on Glee, but no one’s ever chased me out of town because of it.”
Amanda sighed. “It’s one thing to have someone think you look like an actor–they’re trained to look like anybody, you know–but it’s another to be told you look like some other average shmuck, sorry dear.”
“It’s alright,” Red said and sat up straighter. “It’s dangerous to change too much. As it is, I’ve already lost some hair since we got here.”
“It’s called aging, dear,” Amanda added.
“Which is precisely why you could put on a few pounds.”
Red and Amanda glanced at each other and Red quickly said, “I’m a very active man, John, it wouldn’t suit my lifestyle.”
“At least reconsider,” said John, “won’t you? It could happen to anybody–if anything, it should mean you’ve done a good job this time.”
Red was adamant to say no, but before the meeting ended Amanda said she’d talk about with him some more the next day.
On Monday: Red returned to the library to return some DVDs he’d taken out over the weekend and the same reference man was there to greet him.
“Seen any new doppelgängers?” Red asked.
“Always,” said the man with a smile. “It’s an occupational hazard, I’m afraid. See so many people every day and after a while they all start to look the same. Did you enjoy the movies?”
Red nodded, chuckling. “They were good,” he said.
At his table, he laughed so hard he had to stop himself. After all, he didn’t want to be too noticeable in the middle of a library, did he?