Luz sat down to lunch with Willow and Gus, and it was immediately apparent to the two of them that their friend wasn’t her usual cheery self.
“What’s wrong?” Willow asked.
Luz sighed. “I was looking forward to this field trip to the griffin sanctuary with the beast keeping track after lunch, but I forgot that I have to present my poem for the bard track, so I won’t be able to go.”
“Can’t you read the poem another time?” Gus asked.
“I asked, but the professor said no. Oh, look!" Luz suddenly smiled as she pointed across the cafeteria. "It’s Amity!”
Luz started waving and shouting, “Amity!” until she came over.
“Amity, have lunch with us today!” Luz said.
"Well, OK," Amity said, blushing.
Amity had been hoping to have lunch with Luz and the others. The past few days had been difficult for her. She’d uncharacteristically made a mistake in one of her assignments, forcing her to beg Ed and Em to lend her money to get more ingredients at the last minute. Although their parents were wealthy, they didn’t give Amity any money of her own, meaning it was going to take her forever to pay them back. And they’d mercilessly teased her about it, of course.
And though she’d gone to Ed and Em to avoid having to tell her parents about her mistake, it was just her luck that she came home with the ingredients right when they were getting back to the manor from a dinner engagement, forcing her to explain everything. They’d berated her for it, saying she should’ve been more careful, and were still bringing it up. Then they stormed into Amity's room to chastise her for how messy it was, even though it was pretty neat as far as she was concerned, saying this kind of disorganization was why she'd made such a mistake in the first place.
Amity had completed so many assignments perfectly without a word from them, but the one time she’d messed up, they just couldn’t let her hear the end of it.
Her one solace had been Luz, who’d lent her a sympathetic ear and encouraged her. Luz was always so kind to her. She just wished they could spend more time together than the handful of classes they shared and the occasional lunch.
Amity sat down, and Luz explained her dilemma again.
“My poem isn’t even any good,” Luz said. “I had a big project for the oracle track, so I barely had any time to spend on it. Juggling all these tracks is harder than I thought.”
“Maybe you should just focus on one track,” Amity said.
“But they’re all so cool!” Luz protested.
“But no one can do everything they want to do. Studying every track just isn’t realistic. Especially with your disadvantages.”
Luz gasped and glared at Amity. “You know, I think I’ve done pretty well for myself despite my ‘disadvantages.’”
Amity was surprised. She hadn’t meant to be insulting. As a human, Luz was at a disadvantage when it came to learning magic; that was just a fact, wasn’t it? Luz herself had said as much to her at the covention. If anything, it was a compliment. It meant that what Luz had accomplished so far was all the more impressive.
Amity wanted to explain all that to Luz, but she found herself at a loss for words. Why was it that she always seemed to say the wrong thing around Luz? Like when she’d bumped into her and called her a nitwit without thinking, and right when she’d been about to ask Luz to go to Grom with her too.
Luckily, Gus said something to break up the tension.
“You know, Luz, there is one thing we could try. I could make an illusion of you to read your poem!”
“Really?” Luz said. “You could do that for me?”
“Yeah, it would be no problem!”
“Thanks, Gus!” Luz said. “This is perfect! It’ll pose as me for poesy. Hey, that’s not bad!” Luz pulled out her poem and a pen. “Maybe I can add that in somewhere.”
Gus drew a circle, and a perfect copy of Luz appeared.
“Wow!” Luz said before handing the illusion the poem. “Can you read this poem in bard class?”
“Anything you want,” the illusion said.
“Hey, why is your illusion so much more obedient than the ones I make of me?” Gus said.
“Thanks, Gus!” Luz said. “I owe you big time!
“No problem, Luz! You know, it feels really good to be useful. Lately, I've been feeling like I spend all my time learning about magic but never actually doing anything with it.”
“I’d better tell the beast keeping professor that I’ll be able to go after all.”
As Luz and Gus talked, Amity just stared at the illusion, wide-eyed.
“Gus…" she said. "What exactly are you going to do with that illusion after she reads that poem?”
“Huh? I don’t know, get rid of it, I guess.”
"I see…" Amity said.
Throughout the next class, Amity thought about that illusion of Luz. (Il-Luz-sion? she thought. No, that doesn’t sound good.) She’d had strong feelings for Luz for a while now, but every time she’d thought of asking Luz out, she’d either chickened out or said the wrong thing like she’d done just then. Maybe what she needed was some practice. That was the only reason she was considering what she was considering.
After class, Amity went over to the bard classroom and saw the illusory Luz (illusory Luz, that sounds better, Amity thought) walk out. She followed it to the illusion homeroom as Gus came outside to get rid of it.
“Gus,” Amity said. “Do you think I could… borrow that illusion of Luz?”
“Uh… I’ve taken up sculpting recently. And it’s so hard to find someone who can model for me. I thought this illusion could work.”
“Wow, sculpting? That’s cool! Hey, what if you sculpted me instead? I’ve always wanted a sculpture of me!”
“Well… I’ve just gotten started. I’d rather wait to sculpt you until I’ve gotten better.”
“Oh? Then yeah, take the illusion! Get as much practice as you can!”
“Thanks. Also, could you not tell anyone about this? I want to keep it a secret… until my sculpting has gotten better.”
After school, Amity put the illusion in a big pot like the ones she used to make her abominations so no one would see it. But that turned out to be unnecessary; no one was at Blight manor when she got home. She got the illusion to her room and locked the door.
“You won’t tell anyone else about anything we discuss in here, will you?” Amity asked the illusion.
“Not if you don’t want me to,” it said.
"Good. Pretend you’re Luz. The real Luz. And I'm going to ask you out.”
“OK,” the illusion said. "And what should I say?"
"Well… say yes."
The illusion nodded.
Amity took a deep breath in and out. “Luz, I… really like you… and I was wondering whether maybe you might want to think about going out with me sometime… if you wanted to.”
“I’d love to, Amity!” the illusion said.
Even though she knew it wasn’t real, Amity’s heart fluttered wildly upon hearing that. She had to take a minute to compose herself. Now came the hard part.
“OK,” Amity said. “Now, I’m going to ask you out again, and I want you to say no.”
Amity figured that if she could get used to the image of Luz rejecting her then she wouldn’t be so afraid of it happening for real.
“Whatever you say,” the illusion said.
Amity braced herself. “Luz, I really like you, and I wanted to ask you whether you might want to try going out on a date with me.”
“Oh, that’s really flattering, Amity, but I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Hearing that felt bad, but not nearly as bad as Amity had thought it would. But that was just because she knew it wasn’t real no matter how much the illusion looked and sounded like Luz.
Amity sighed. “This was a dumb idea. I should get to my homework.” Then her brow furrowed. “Uh, how do I get rid of you?”
“If you just hit me hard enough, I’ll disappear.”
Amity shoved the illusion lightly, but nothing happened. Surprisingly, it felt like a real person too.
“It didn’t work,” Amity said.
“That was too gentle. You have to give me a pretty hard whack.”
Amity hesitated. Even though she knew it was an illusion, hitting it would feel a lot like hurting the real Luz.
“I’ll just wait until Gus can get rid of you tomorrow,” Amity said.
Amity sat down at her desk to do her homework, but it was strange with the illusion there. She felt like she was being watched.
Then, she wondered, if the illusion were going to be there anyway, maybe she should make some type of use of it.
“Hey,” Amity said. “Do you think maybe you could… put your arm over my shoulders while I’m doing my homework? And maybe say, ‘You’re doing a good job’ or something like that every so often?”
“Anything you want,” the illusion said.
The illusion put her arm on Amity’s shoulders, and her heart started to beat rapidly as she felt herself getting flushed.
It’s not real, she reminded herself. And it’s just for today.
"You don't think it's… weird… for me to ask you to do this, do you?"
"No," the illusion said.
Once Amity started focusing on her homework, she began to feel more normal. That was, until the first time the illusion said, “You’re doing a great job, just like you always do.”
That felt so good to hear.
The hours passed on that way. It wasn’t uncommon for Amity to feel good after a long session of studying or homework. It gave her a sense of accomplishment, especially when she’d completed a project. But she’d never felt this good. That encouragement from Luz—no, not Luz, it was an illusion, she couldn’t forget that—had made it so much better.
“Thank you,” Amity said once she’d finished. “I’m going to bed. Uh, do you sleep?”
“No,” the illusion said, shaking its head.
“Will you get bored waiting for me to get up?”
“No,” the illusion said. “But if there’s anything you want me to do overnight, I could do it for you.”
“Oh… well… do you think maybe you could clean my room a little?”
“Sure,” the illusion said.
When Amity woke up the next morning, she found her room immaculate.
“Wow, thanks,” Amity said.
“It was no problem,” the illusion said.
Amity had gotten up early so she could leave with the illusion before anyone else would be up to see it. She had to take it back to Hexside to get Gus to dispel it. But then she wondered, what if she kept it for one more day? Just to get a little more practice asking Luz out. No other reason.
“If I asked you to stay here all day and be quiet, would you get bored?” Amity asked.
“Nope. Is there anything I could do for you while you’re gone?”
Amity considered. “No, I can’t think of anything.”
Now that she didn’t have to worry about going to school early, Amity realized that she had some extra time that morning.
“Hey, do you think we could maybe talk for a bit?”
“Absolutely,” the illusion said.
“And you won’t… judge me for anything I say?”
“Of course not,” the illusion said.
“So, I was only trying to help Luz, but she got mad at me anyway,” Amity said. She'd been talking to the illusion for a while now, and at this point she'd started resting her head on the illusion's shoulder as it stroked her hair. “Do you think I did anything wrong?”
“No,” the illusion said.
“Thanks, I didn’t think so either.” Amity sighed. “I don’t know, maybe Luz would never go out with me. What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” the illusion said. “But no matter what Luz says, I’ll say ‘Yes’ to anything you ask, if that’s what you want.”
Amity blushed. “Thanks. I'd better get to school."
Amity packed her backpack. Before she left, she looked back at the illusion one more time and asked, “And you’ll be here when I get back?”
“Of course,” the illusion said.
Amity left for Hexside, and for once she couldn’t wait to get back home.