Touch is strange. To touch a thing, an Annie, a Kat, Robot.
"You are my friend," Robot says. He tilts his head. I can feel his hand all around mine: top, side, between my fingers. His metal is cold. Or maybe it is hot. I know the words--"I'm cold, Annie, let me under the blanket!"; "It's too hot to wear trousers today"--but I do not recognize which feeling this is.
I shiver. Shiver, verb: to quiver or vibrate, as by the force of the wind. I duck my head further back into my jumper hood. It makes me smile. My Robot hood. My Robot, my friend. His hand still touches mine.
"Annie," I ask, "How do I know if I am cold or hot?"
We build our room in the closet behind one of the staircases that lead to nowhere. The closet is bigger on the inside. I explain this to Kat when she and Annie visit for the first time, and she laughs. "Like a TARDIS," she says, hahahaha.
"Hahahaha!" I repeat.
"Hahahaha," says Robot.
Kat bends over--I worry that she might be hurt, but Annie doesn't try to rescue her so she must be okay--and slides down the wall. She sits on the floor. Tears leak from her eyes, and Annie places a hand on Kat's head. Kat turns and rests her forehead against Annie's leg.
Robot leans toward me. "I am glad I swept last night," he says. I am glad too.
Our room is clean. There is a bed in the corner; I borrowed it from one of the haunted dormitories in the missing tower, and our blankets were a present from Parley. She is very sorry. She says she is sorry often. We do not sleep in our bed, but sometimes Robot will ask me to shut him down overnight. He trusts me to turn him back on in the morning. This makes me warmer inside than our blankets.
Robot holds my hand. I like the way it feels between my fingers.
"So, Shadow," Kat says, "How you enjoying life in three dimensions?"
I smile. Hold my arms out in front of me so I can see my sleeves. "I like it very much!"
"Good," Annie says. She keeps brushing her fingers through Kat's hair. It looks nice.
"Robot," I ask, "Do you wish I had hair? Should I try to grow some? I can try!"
I close my eyes and concentrate on hair, my head, the shape of Kat's shadow against the wall. I like the way her head looks spiky. I vibrate all over, and Robot tries to hold me still. I focus on Kat's hair. It sticks up. I can't stop shaking.
"Stop," Robot says. His voice sounds strange. I think my edges are moving, changing shape, but I can't lift my hand to check. I try harder. My jumper is itchy. "Shadow, no, stop. Don't leave me."
"Shadow!" Annie says.
"I won't," I say. I stop thinking about hair. I open my eyes. "Robot, I won't."
Robot's arms around me are the opposite of spikes.
My jumper is soft because I use fabric softener when I wash it. The Court is dark. Robot and I race through the corridors. It is harder to sneak in three dimensions, so I practice after Kat and Annie return to their dorms.
Someone yells, "Shut up I'mma mess you up."
I stop running. Robot bumps into me, but I stand up as tall as I can and absorb his weight. I peer around the corner: the demon girl is standing with her arm around her magic friend, while the Boy Called Jack twitches in front of them.
The wall behind my back is damp. This section of the Court always smells like science, but the demon girl smells like dying leaves and honeysuckle. "We should bring a black cape next time," Robot says, "Or a blanket." He is very shiny. We stand close enough together to touch from shoulder to foot.
"Good idea," I whisper. I squint. Tap Robot's elbow until he pays attention.
"Please," the boy called Jack says. He looks sad. Or mad. Annie says they're almost the same, sometimes, and I think she is right. "I just need five minutes, and then I'll piss off. I swear." He holds out his hands: maybe it is a prayer.
"Oh," Robot says. He bounces on the edges of his feet. "I know this-"
"Shh," I tell him.
"Oh," he whispers.
"Two minutes," the demon girl says, "And then I kick yer head off."
"Right." The boy called Jack shifts his weight. He runs his fingers through his hair. Wraps his hands around his ears and keeps them there. "Erm, youfancygoingtothedancewithme? Both of you, of course, I mean. Right. Okay."
The demon girl and her magic friend touch hands. They communicate in their minds--the boy called Jack paces back and forth; I stand perfectly still, but he turns before he reaches us--and neither Robot nor I can understand them.
One of the sentry birds flies overhead. Robot tells it to leave us alone, but it flies over to the demon girl and she starts to shriek. The entire corridor shakes. I wrap my hand around Robot's wrist, and I start to run.
"I can fight," Robot says. I pretend I don't hear him; Kat is not with us to put him back together if he breaks.
"Do you miss your family?" Annie asks.
Annie always remembers to bring a torch with her when we sit under her sheets to talk. Her bed is soft. It smells like Annie and grease, magic and Kat and Reynardine. place my hand on top of hers and wait until she folds our fingers together. Her skin is soft and hot. It doesn't feel anything like Robot's metal, but I like it almost as much.
"No," I say, but I do.
I miss my mirror shadow and the cousins I used to slide through the forest with at night. I miss the trees and the rocks and the caves. I even miss Coyote, sometimes, when Robot is practicing with Parley and I am alone in our room.
"Yes," I say.
"Yeah," Annie says. She squeezes my hand, and my entire body tingles. "Me too."