Once they had passed the offending thicket, the source of the voices became plainly evident… Bryan was seated at a table, laughing and enjoying the company of… Paulette?!
It took Paulette a moment, after doing a double take, to deal with the rush of thoughts that came at her with the sight of this obvious impostor. Who was this woman pretending to be her, and why didn’t Bryan know she was an impostor? Or had he come to Subreality, to “take a break” as he put it, to find (or make) himself another Paulette?! She had to know.
Approaching their table, she pointed an accusing finger at the other woman and demanded, “Bryan, who is this? And what are you doing here with her instead of with me?”
“Oh, hi, Paulette,” Bryan replied casually, as if this sort of thing happened every day. He didn’t get to say anything else.
“Never mind Ã¢Â€Â˜hi Paulette,’ who is this woman?!”
“Who do I look like, Paulette?” she replied with a smile.
Paulette let out an exasperated sigh. “Well, obviously, you look like me, but you can’t be me, because… well, because I’m me, and I’m over here.”
The seated woman chuckled. “Well, I can’t really argue with that logic. I mean, you’re definitely you, and yeah, you’re over there, but… well, do you remember anything special about the first time you came to Subreality? Anything unusual, maybe?”
“Don’t try to change the subject–!”
“Paulette,” the woman cut in calmly, “I’m not changing the subject, I’m answering your question. What do you remember about that first trip here to Subreality?”
Paulette took a few deep breaths to calm herself down before continuing. “You must mean the arguing James Bonds.” At the same time she wondered how this woman knew that Paulette had happened upon a street-corner argument among men who looked just like Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan, all the actors who had played James Bond in the movies up until that time.
“Exactly. Do you remember who they actually turned out to be?”
“Well… the folks at the Subreality CafÃƒÂ© said that they weren’t the actors who played James Bond, they all were James Bond, only different ones.” Paulette paused a moment, then added, “And now that you’ve reminded me, that kind of explains something I saw on the way here. There were two guys arguing that looked like Daniel Craig and David Niven, the leads from the two Casino Royale movies. Probably the same argument, too.”
“Mm-hmm,” the seated woman said. “Now hold onto that idea but fast forward to here and now.”
Paulette looked off into the distance for a bit, frowning, then turned back to the other woman. “Are you trying to tell me that you’re supposed to be me?”
“I’m not trying to tell you that I’m supposed to be anyone,” the other woman gently corrected. “You and I are both Paulette.” After a pause, she continued. “Do you remember the end of your first visit, when you were just about to leave? What was on your mind?”
“I remember wishing that I could stay here permanently, or at least not have to go back right away. Then this weird woozy feeling came over me, and then I was back home. I felt woozy when I first got here, so I thought it was it was just part of the transfer.”
Picking up where Paulette stopped, the other woman said, “And when the woozy feeling passed, I wondered why I was still here instead of home. When I asked around, people told me that that apparently I wanted to stay here badly enough to make it happen. But they said that in all likelihood I was also back at home, with no idea that… well, that I was still here at the same time. Were they right?”
“I had no clue,” Paulette said, shaking her head. Then, turning to Bryan, she said, “Did you know? Was this what you had in mind
when you said you needed a break?”
He held his hands up in a gesture of surrender before replying. “This was all new to me, too. I had no idea I’d find another Paulette here. All I knew was that when I saw a restaurant called The Unseen Scene, I just had to check it out. I had no idea that you— well, that she” — indicating the woman seated next to him — “was the owner.”
“How did you go about setting this place up, anyway?” Paulette asked her. “I mean, I don’t know a thing about running a restaurant. Or any kind of business, for that matter.”
The woman smiled as she replied, “I just decided I wanted to open my own place, and the knowledge I needed just kind of came to me.”
Paulette looked at Bryan, who just shook his head and shrugged, looking as puzzled as she did. Looking back at the other Paulette, she said, “I don’t understand. How could the knowledge just Ã¢Â€Â˜come to you’?”
“That’s one of the great things about this place. Subreality, I mean. Here, Muses and even Writers have a kind of power that most Subrealizens don’t have available to them. Once I realized that I didn’t have to figure out how to get home, because somehow I was already there, I was free to do what I wanted here. It’s not even like I had to figure out what you would do in my place, because I am you. So, with apparently all the free time in the world, I spent some time at the Subreality CafÃƒÂ©, but it kind of freaked me out that I couldn’t control my invisibility there. No matter what I tried to do, I stayed visible. I didn’t like being stuck visible; after all, I’m supposed to be Bryan’s invisible muse. I came to realize that it was only in the cafÃƒÂ© that I was stuck, so I picked out a spot and put up my own place, and here it is.”
“Well, OK,” Paulette said, thinking over Paulette2’s words, “but what made you decide to open a restaurant, instead of something else?”
“I just wanted someplace of my own, where I could be invisible or not at my choice, that’s all. Listen, we’ve been talking for awhile, and I’m hungry. Are you two ready to eat?”
“I’m starved,” Bryan replied. “How do we get a waitress’s attention?”
“Already done,” Paulette2 said, motioning towards the potted trees, where a pair of gloves hovered towards their table, about waist high, holding a pen in one hand and an order pad in the other.
As all three ordered, Paulette couldn’t take her eyes off the hovering gloves, writing each order as it was given. After everyone had ordered, the gloves floated away. Paulette then turned to Paulette2 and said, “I notice that our… order-taker never said a word. Was there someone actually wearing those gloves?”