Gynoid Part 3

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As it turned out, he didn't have to deal with his friends until a week later. The fever Toby developed turned into a full-blown cold by morning, no doubt helped by a sleepless night worrying about questions he'd receive in school as well as being caught in the rain two days in a row. Luckily he had a great nurse at home, so he was able to endure it rather comfortably. When he received messages from his friends—none of them actually visited, though Toby didn't really mind that—he only told them that he'd tell them everything when he got back to school.

And in the meantime, he planned. He programmed. He downloaded new information into Ariel's memory banks, new protocols for interacting with people other than him. On the Internet he uploaded documents, created social media pages. He was determined to make sure that no one ever thought Ariel was anything but the wonderful girl she was.

Even so, when he arrived at school on Monday, he was unnerved and a little overwhelmed by how many people were staring at him harder than usual. And then came the questions.

"Dude, who's the girl?" asked Tim the moment Toby reached his locker. Behind him were a growing crowd of people, including Garth, Alex Shakti, Yu Seligman, and a bunch of other people Toby knew, as well as a lot of people he didn't know. "Man, she was hot! How did you keep such a fine thing from us?!"

"Was that the girl you said you were seeing?" asked Garth. "Was that why you weren't in a rush to get with Lapis?"

"Lapis saw the photo." said a girl from somewhere. "She's pissed. She thinks you were trying to make her a side dish!"

"I-I wasn't trying to make Lapis a side dish!" Toby said. "I-I only did it because everyone wanted me to go on a date with her—!"

"So who's the new girl?" asked Alex, wrapping an arm around Toby's shoulders. There was a whirring noise, and a small plastic blade popped out of Alex's sleeve, probably some prop from the drama club's latest play. "You either tell us or we'll be forced to get rough." he added wryly.

Toby pushed Alex away and cleared his throat. Almost at once the crowd around him went silent, leaning in towards him. Slowly, he said the speech he'd rehearsed what must've been a hundred times over. "Her name's Ariel Bostelli. Her parents work for a robotics company. She's mostly homeschooled so she doesn't know a lot of people her own age. We met through a chatroom not too long ago, and now we're...we're a couple." Toby said this last part casually, even shrugging as if to say it wasn't a big deal. He waited. Nobody said anything. He wondered if they had bought his story. The seconds ticked pass and he became more and more sure that they'd seen right through him.

And then Tim threw his arm around Toby's neck and gave him a rough noogie. "Dude!" he shouted. "You dog! It's about time you got something! I was worried after what Lapis said, but looks like I had nothing to worry about."

"Bet he only got her 'cause she doesn't know many other guys." said Yu snidely. Nobody besides Toby seemed to hear her though, because everyone else was congratulating him, patting him on the back, asking for more details on Ariel. Toby couldn't believe his luck. They believed him. They actually believed him! He was in the clear, no one would know the truth about Ariel, and he—

"Hey Tobes, here's an idea." said Garth. "There's a party going on at the Commodore Club this Saturday. Tim's dad is hosting, it's the launch for some new IHC system. Shakti and I were going to go with Tim and Yu. Maybe you could join in? Lapis is already coming with this guy she met, Raphael something or other, so we can afford two more. Right Tim?"

"Yeah, we can squeeze a few more people in." said Tim. "I'll give my dad a call. That cool with you, Toby?"

Toby had anticipated they'd invite him and Ariel out to something. "Yeah, that's scarlet." he said, playing it nonchalant. "I'll give Ariel a call and ask her about it. But first I gotta visit the office. Been gone a week and all." With a bit of effort Toby managed to extricate himself from the mob around him and dash down the hall before they could grill him some more on Ariel. Instead of going to the office though, Toby hid himself in a supply closet and called Ariel at home. She picked up on the third ring.

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