Rajani had learned to just go along with these hallucinations, so when she woke up to find snail-person Brady looking at her, with his snout resting on her sofa, she just made him breakfast as if he were actually there.
"How come you're a snail right now, and I'm not?" she asked him.
He blinked a little in confusion. He was so cute when he did that. "Well, you don't need to turn into a snail as often as I do."
Rajani groaned. "Don't make something up, Brady. I know you're not real."
"You have to understand," he said, "to me, it feels like I am real. I can't really act any other way."
Rajani slid a plate of eggs across the table. Brady bent over a little and started eating them right off the plate.
"It must feel embarrassing, right?" Rajani asked. "You don't even have arms."
"I don't like being a snail in front of other people, but it's all right when I'm with you. Actually, I kind of like being like this when I'm spending time with you."
"Because you think I'm not real, so you're totally honest with me," Brady said. "When you're in human form, you won't talk about what it's like to be a snail. And I really like having those conversations, because you're the only other snail person I've ever met."
"Wait, for real?" Rajani assumed that this imaginary version of her boyfriend would come from an equally imaginary family of snails. She couldn't understand why her mind was going down this route.
"Before I met you, I thought that the only reason I kept turning into a snail was because of all the magic spells I had been through back in school in Arizona. But then I saw you that night, in the forest, and I knew I had to learn more about it."
Rajani blushed. This shapeshifting fantasy was a deeply personal matter for her. But she figured if she couldn't talk to a real person about it, she might as well talk to an imaginary one.
- - -
"So my true form isn't as a snail?" Brady asked.
"No. After all, we're not snails that turn into people, we're people that turn into snails." Rajani pointed to her drawings. "That means that all of us salincomorphs are technically human, just... a different kind of human. Our bodies change shapes, but they don't change species."
"Wow. That's pretty crazy. But I guess magic can do some pretty strange things."
Rajani glanced over at Brady. He was looking at the sketches in her notebook.
For a second, Rajani could have sworn that it was actually her boyfriend on the floor next to her. But that was impossible, Rajani reminded herself. The real Brady would be waiting for her at class that afternoon. And she couldn't be nearly as open with him as she was with his imaginary doppelganger.
She ruffled his hair. That was one thing the real and imaginary Brady both had.
If only they really were the same person, she thought.
She caught herself. There was no way she'd actually want Brady to have a curse like this. Being forced to shapeshift into a snail left you completely helpless and vulnerable. She wouldn't wish that on anyone.
And yet, there was a part of her that wished this actually was Brady lying next to her on the floor.