Saturday, September 16, 2017

Checkboxes Chapter Ten

It’s the last day of the Kyoto trip, and it’s another one that is pretty open for us to do whatever we like with the day, to give another opportunity to go to the gift shops before the bus leaves in the evening.  Since I already did my shopping when I spent the day with the delinquents, however, I’m not sure what to do.  I eat breakfast with Amai, but she wants to go to some store that’s a good distance away because she heard that there are some real gems in Kyoto for things like cookware and cute bento boxes, but wasn’t able to really go looking the first day we were here.  I don’t much feel like wandering around to a bunch of cooking stores, which she understands and tells me that if she sees something I’d like, she’ll bring it back for me.

Why not just stay here today?

Well, that definitely seems like a waste of time.  I should learn as much about Kyoto as I can while I’m here, even if I’m not sure yet where I’d like to go.

You’ll have plenty of time in the future to learn about things.  All the time in the world, you could say.  What’s limited is your time with these peers.  You remember yesterday, how some people weren’t at breakfast?  They never ended up going out with their groups.  They won’t go out today, either.  They won’t talk to each other; But they could use the company.

I guess that is a good point.  I know that Korekara Academy is home to a handful of struggling shut-ins, for sure.  I decide that I’ll wait a couple of hours so that the rest of the students who are planning to do something today finish filtering out, then I’ll hunt down the hermits.  Once that’s done, I go searching.  Nobody’s out in plain sight, of course, since some of the more involved chaperones might then encourage them to get up and get out there.  One of said chaperones, who I don’t even recognize (I’ll assume she’s a teacher for third years) even attempts to get upset with me for staying in, but Kaiba steps in and defends me saying that I’ve already had two busy days in a row.  That gets the chaperone to back off.

Funny.  Do all the teachers know that I’m not exactly capable of being a functioning human on a normal basis?  Admittedly it was convenient this time, Kaiba using my situation as an excuse, but it still feels a bit infantilizing.  I don’t need everyone looking out for my well-being at every turn, I’ve already got Fucko to do that, and it’s built for the job.  Well, it seems lately more like it’s built to look after the well-being of everybody I know, but as it pointed out once before, that can be taken as just another part of looking out for me.

The first person staying in that I track down is Mayu, which does surprise me a bit.  When I met her in the video game club before, and especially when we chatted online, she seemed perfectly friendly.  Still, that doesn’t change the fact that she’s sitting on top of a trunk in the attic when I climb up the ladder.  She looks up with shock in her eyes, but the look softens as she waves and gives me a greeting, “Ah, Hako-chan~!  You found me, huh?  Check this out.  I didn’t know anyone stored anything in trunks anymore, but they’re all over the attic.”

“I guess you’re right,” I nod, finishing the climb and closing up the trap door behind myself again as I look around the room, then let my eyes fall on her as I address her once more, “How did you get in here?  It was unlocked when I got here but I wouldn’t think the owners would want anybody climbing around in their storage space…”

“Of course they don’t,” Mayu shakes her head and swings her feet as she answers in a tone that’s very nearly sing-song, “I had to pick the lock!”

“That just leaves me with more questions,” I say, raising both eyebrows at her because I’m not able to do just one, “What possible reason could you have to know how to pick a lock?”

“I have to have some skill, right?” She hops down from the trunk only to sit cross-legged on the floor instead, “I’m not good at anything else, so it may as well be picking locks that I can do.  My big brother can do it too, we’re both self-taught.”

“Why did you both learn to pick locks?” I question, sitting down across from her.  I’m just more confused at this statement; I’d think she would have been taught by her brother if they both had the ability, but it seems that just isn’t the case.

“It was kind of a necessity when we started growing older,” She presses her hands into her ankles as she explains, her eyes trained on the ceiling.  She seems to be biting her left cheek even as she continues speaking, “Our parents always made sure we were clothed and fed, but it was hard to ever see them enough to ask for things like money for school trips, so we figured out how to unlock their bedroom door when they were out at work and take what we needed.  Zhou-nii could forge their signatures too, but I never got a handle on it.”

“That’s terrible!” I exclaim, leaning in towards her.

“Look, we just did what we had to… It’s not like it was really illegal, since we would’ve gotten that stuff anyway if we were ever awake when Mom and Dad came home,” Mayu protests, pouting as she turns to look even further away from me.  She’s on the defensive.

“I’m not saying what you did was terrible, I’m saying that the fact you needed to is terrible!” I insist, trying my best to dissuade her fears, “That’s just downright neglectful, you know.”

“I think maybe it would have been better, if either of us were more useful, but…” Mayu lifts a hand to her cheek, covering the corner of her mouth, “Zhou-nii’s a musician, and I can’t do anything at all.  That’s disappointing to a lot of types of parents, you know?  So it’s not like we were worth any time.  Minimum effort for minimum effort layabout children.”

“That’s not right at all,” I mumble, shaking my head, “Care can’t be conditional like that.  If your parents only wanted children that had impressive skills, they shouldn’t have become parents at all.  Everyone deserves maximum effort.”

“Just because you say that doesn’t make it true,” Mayu notes, pulling out her phone again, “I’d rather just stay inside and talk to my friends online.  Nobody there has ever cared about how useless I am.  The very fact that we all use that chatroom means that to a lot of the world, we’ve got a shameful hobby.  Why would anyone spend money in a mobile game?  We do, though.  So it doesn’t matter if I’m worthless there, everybody else feels the same way.”

“You know,” I start, looking back towards the trap door down from the attic, “I don’t think anybody in this school would care either, if you’re even as useless as you think.”

"Maybe you're right about that," Mayu chuckles, tracing her finger in the layer of dust caked onto the floor of the attic, "I just... I don't want to make anyone bother with someone like me.  Even you, Box, as soon as I could I introduced you to other people I thought would be more interesting to you than I am."

"I want to bother with you, and I'm sure plenty of others do.  Just look at your online friends, okay?  You'd still get along if you'd met in person, but only if you took the time to actually    -:
jhgfdmeet and get to know each other.  As long as you're telling yourself that you don't want to inconvenience others by being their friend, you'll never find the people who'll be better off for knowing you.  People like Tsukkun, and Nadia.  And me."

"I..." Mayu started, then took a deep breath and balled up her fists, "Yeah, you're right.  I have to keep trying my best, and I'll stop thinking about how useless I am... Even if I'm useless, I'll never get any better if I just keep dwelling on that and don't do anything about it, so I definitely have to keep on looking towards the future.  Thank you..." She looks back to me with a sweet smile pushing at her freckles, "You really helped me."

"Of course I did," I laugh a bit, "Making friends is the only thing I'm good at, after all.  It's my special talent... Which is to say, I'm even more useless than your unknown talent, in a way!  At least you'll be able to get a salary job, but I'm just here spending all of my time talking to people because I just don't know what else to do."

"It definitely helps," Mayu assures me, "But... There's others, right?  Other people who you could help?  Why me?"

"Because you're part of everyone!" I answer, "But don't take that to mean you're insignificant, just because I try my best to do the same for everybody  I'm glad I got the chance to meet you, Mayu.  I'd hate to die without ever having done so."

"Thanks," Mayu giggles a bit, holding a hand up to her face, "Well, maybe I'll try to talk to some cute girls sometime soon... Hope I don't annoy them too much!"

Shouldn't you be finding someone else to talk to now?  You've clearly worked it out with Mayu already.

I like talking to Mayu, but I know that I need to follow Fucko's instructions, even if they're disappointing to me.  I say goodbye to Mayu, and make my way back downstairs from the attic.  I have no idea where else somebody might be hiding, but I take a look around.  It's like the world's strangest game of hide and seek.  Nobody's in the bathroom which broke last night, and the building doesn't even have a basement.  I end up finding somebody inside the fireplace, though.  That's weird.  I can't even tell who it is, "Hello?  Fireplace-chan?"

Reed Ka-Fai
"What do you want?" The girl in the fireplace asks as she steps out, revealing herself to be another student who's in the other second year class.  In their first year, she'd transferred from Hong Kong, and promptly avoided showing up to classes most of the time.  She's in the cooking club, but Amai says she usually contributes by mailing her creations in.

"Ka-Fai-chan!" I greet her, maybe with a bit too much enthusiasm, "I didn't think that I would ever meet you!  I'm trying to talk to everyone who avoided going outside."

"Not to convince me to go outside, I hope," Reed mumbles, brushing the soot off her socks.  Since the fireplace doesn't seem to have been used since last winter, it wasn't very dirty, "I'm not keen at all on the idea of doing that."

"I won't make you do anything you aren't comfortable with, I just thought you could use some company.  Is that okay?  Do you mind talking to me?" I question, leaning in towards her a bit.

"As long as you don't make me leave the building, I will be perfectly glad to socialize with you, thank you," Reed nods, then points back to the sleeping area, "Actually, would you like to read some of my poetry?  I do hear it is good.  Good enough to get me into this school, I suppose, so I've been told.  I like sharing it."

"I'd love that!" I nod, holding my hands behind my back, and follow her over to her mattress.  I sit down next to her, and she pulls a notebook out from her bag, opening it up as she sidles next to me.  We stay silent for quite a while as we just flip through her poems, and I'm glad she didn't take offence to my lack of anything to say.  It's very emotional poetry, and through it I feel like I understand her on a level I've never really understood any other of my friends, except maybe for Amai because Amai is the best.

Reed's agoraphobic, that much I knew, but her poems almost make me just as afraid of the outside world.  Everything from blades of grass, to cars, to pigeons are described in chilling, visceral terms which don't even seem out of the ordinary.  Everything she says about how terrifying these things are is a perfectly valid description, even if I don't personally see the world that way.  It makes sense, if this imagery is what her mind jumps to, that she'd be scared.

There are poems on getting lost out there, and poems on strangers too.  The poems on strangers... I find them disturbing, even more than the everyday items.  I can't imagine seeing a person on the street and immediately thinking to myself all the awful things that person could have done, in excruciating detail.  I look up from the notebook and turn to Reed, "I can understand why you wouldn't want to go outside..."

"Hah..." Reed chuckles, shaking her head, "Thank you.  It's funny.  People say that it's important to see the beauty in the world, but I just can't find it outside.  I have another notebook, about the types of things I find beautiful, but I don't show that to a lot of people.  When taken together, the two perspectives will make people write me off as a standard millennial, choosing the creature comforts of modern life over sunlight.  If I only share half of how I feel... I can make a name for myself as a morbid poet."

"Well, I won't think of you like that.  Maybe it's because I'm from the same generation of you, but I think most kids our age can appreciate the outdoors a lot.  Just look at today, for example.  Everyone chose to go out and do something, and most of them will stop to appreciate some nature of some sort," I chuckle, holding my knees to my chest,  "The market's oversaturated with ways the outside is beautiful.  I think it is, but I think the indoors is lovely too.  I want to see that loveliness through your eyes, after seeing what you fear."

"Once we get back to Korekara, come by my dorm and I'll share it with you.  Ah, here," She pulls a page from the back of her notebook and writes down a number, her handwriting full of unnecessary swoops and loops when she uses roman characters, "That is my dorm number.  First floor.  I live alone, and get my food delivered by a grocery service in the area.  A school like ours, and its graduates, that's the perfect market for grocery delivery, don't you think?"

Now that she mentions it, I have to agree, "Between agoraphobia like yours, types of anxiety, physical disabilities... All of that's more common around a school which specifically invites troubled kids, so that makes a lot of sense.  It's nice of them to do something like that for us here, since I can imagine there's bigger business even than a den of mental illness like ours produces in the city."

"I suppose that's correct!" Reed laughs, pressing her hands together, "A den of mental illness... That's our town.  Even those who don't show it obviously, right?  You too, I bet."

"That bet would work out well for you," I nod, holding my hands against my chin, "I'm not a functional human being, not really.  I have some Assis-co technology which helps me, though I'm not at liberty to discuss it any further than that.  I completely lack natural impulse control; I'd put my hand on a hot stove, remove it, then immediately put it back.  I'd die if left to my own devices for sure."

"Ah, then you're even more impressive," Reed holds her hands to her face, showing me a wide smile, "The beauty of a classmate with such bravery!  Were I to be in such a condition, I would be even more terrified at every turn.  Not only are there so many outside threats, but I would have no clue of when I might give myself, wanton, onto those threats..."

"Well, it's not really that scary when it's the everyday.  Besides, like I said, I have help!  There's not really anything for me to worry about, honestly, and I wouldn't say that it's bravery at all," I shake my head, "I think you're more brave.  The outside world is that terrifying to you, and yet you still went outside for long enough to come along on this school trip.  Even if you won't go anywhere of interest in Kyoto, at least now you can say that you've been here."

"Yeah, that's exactly why I came instead of going to hide when we were leaving," Reed nods, staring at me, "It would have been easy, to just avoid coming in the first place, but I decided that I needed to at least take the first step towards being a little bit less terrified of everything, if I could.  It isn't much, but..."

"It's one step, and that's all you need.  It's all anyone needs.  Just go from zero to one, and then taking the next step could be just a little easier,”

I offer, and I’m really glad that I was able to help Reed in some small way, though I'm not sure I actually did that much.  That seems to be a pretty common theme in all of this.  I'm not helping anyone all that much, just facilitating coincidences and getting people to realize they're able to help themselves.  I guess that's good as long as I'm still able to accomplish my goal, though.

My goal... What is it that I'm really trying to do by following Fucko's instructions?  It says that it knows the steps I need to take to make sure that nobody dies during my time at Korekara Academy.  That's morbid, and I guess my goal is to stop that, but it's strange to even think how that might happen.  At one point, it felt all too real.  I felt horrible thinking about all that destruction, when from a rational standpoint, it seems irrational to think so many bad things could happen, or be prevented by just one person.

Still, there was that light in the bathroom, and the way that Takeda almost got kidnapped by delinquents... That's the only hard proof I seem to have so far on if my actions are really doing anything, really helping at all, but it's better than no proof at all, and I guess it's not like I'd want to just abandon this goal now and take it easy.
With that existential quandary out of the way, I guess I have one person left to talk to.  Yoshiko Nishimura, of the occult club.  I remember meeting her once before, and I guess that she really did strike me as the shut-in type.  I've already searched every inch of the inn, however, so I have no idea where she could possibly be hiding.  I wonder if this is one of those things that Fucko will deign to help me out on.
Well, I guess that we're not smart enough to figure that out all on your own.  Uh... Pardon the phrasing there, it was a slip of the metaphorical tongue.  Anyway, she is actually outside, but she's in the woods out behind the inn.  She's been there since the bus arrived.
I can't imagine how I ever would have figured that out on my own, so I'm grateful for the information, and make my way outside only to find that, indeed, there's thick forest directly behind the inn.  It's strange to see something like this in a city, but I suppose anything's possible geographically, and if I had to guess the area these trees covered I, with no real knowledge to guide my hypothesis, would say it's less than half a mile.  That's pretty small.  I'm probably going to get bit by bugs, but I guess that's the price I pay.  I wander into the woods, looking around for any movement, anything out of place, and after quite some time my eyes fall on none other than Yoshiko, leaning against a tree and reading a thick book.  She looks up when she hears me approach.
"Hako," She greets me, listless, "You've arrived... I suppose I was expecting you.  Someone with such an aura of light around her would naturally be drawn to aggression towards my malaise."
"I'm not here to be aggressive at all," I shake my head, then hesitate a moment before I sit down across from her, "And I don't care about your malaise.  Well, not that I don't care in a complete sense, but I mean that it won't make me think any less of you or anything like that.  That sort of not caring.  If your malaise is important to you, Nishimura-chan, you.  Are.  Valid."
"...Yeah, whatever you say," Yoshiko rolls her eyes, then returns her attention to the book she's reading, "Kyoto... It's an ancient city, rich with history.  Rich with history and dead people.  I've been reading this book nonstop since our arrival, seeking out some way to take advantage of the sheer number of ghosts which must infect the area... To no avail.  I fear that with the number of temples and shrines, every spirit to die within Kyoto's borders has found some sort of peace or purpose in their afterlife.  None wish to answer to the most evil human to walk the Earth this century."
"We're only fifteen years into the century," I can't help myself but point out the problem in her chuunibyou logic.  I guess that's rude.
"Yes.  This century thusfar.  I do not know if somebody more evil will begin," Yoshiko explains, turning the page on her book, "It is a shame, that I was not able to gain anything from this school trip... It seems that despite allowing me admission, the staff of Korekara do not wish to aid in the development of my dark desires."
"Weren't able to gain anything?  Well..." I trail off, then stand back up and hold a hand out to her, "There's still a few hours before we need to leave, so why don't you let me buy you dinner?"
"Dinner..." Yoshiko mumbles, then takes my hand and gets to her feet, "Yes, though I may feel in my soul as if I am a wraith made only of evil and darkness, I inhabit a mortal vessel which does require sustenance.  How foolish of me to forget that... Though, I have money that I was supposed to spend on food all weekend, so I cannot on my honor as a soldier of the night allow you to pick up the tab."
"You didn't eat the whole time you were out here?  That's terrible," I frown, and offer my entire arm to prop her up instead of just the one hand.  She's so short, and so frail... No different than usual is the way her skin hangs to her bones, but knowing that she hasn't eaten makes the emaciated look seem like something which is an actual problem, and not just the way that she is.  I end up supporting most of her little weight as we go to the nearest restaurant, and she orders nothing but a seaweed salad.  I order four entrees.
"Are you going to eat all of that food?" Yoshiko questions, staring straight at me, "I suppose you haven't gained back the weight you lost in your sickness yet, so that's fine.  I simply never bothered to gain it back, myself."
"I won't eat all of it.  I can only eat two entire entrees all on my own!  I ordered that much food because a seaweed salad just isn't enough.  I got a tofu dish, too, in case you're a vegetarian.  Are you?" I ask, leaning towards her.  We're beside each other at a counter restaurant, not somewhere with tables.
"I am no vegetarian.  Were I to care about mortal pleasures, the idea of biting through something which was once alive would surely be exhilarating," Yoshiko muses, staring up at the ceiling, "I suppose if the food is here anyhow, I should help myself to some of it..."
"That's the spirit!" I encourage her, "Maybe I need to get somebody to bring you food every day, so that you actually eat it 'just because it's there'."
"Who would possibly do something as idiotic as that for humanity's greatest enemy?  You do understand, that one day I will plunge this entire world into a fit of untamed dark magic?  I will open a portal through which I will invite all things evil," Yoshiko insists, her eyes growing wide as she tries her best to intimidate me with a raspy voice that I'm only just now realizing is a result of her horrible physical state rather than an act.
"Yeah, yeah, that's something to worry about later, though," I wave her off, "Not a problem for right now.  The problem for right now is making sure that you don't die of starvation before you get the chance to open that portal of darkness."
"Good point, I guess," She relents, and when the food arrives, eats as much of it as she can stomach.  That's not a lot, but it's more than a single order of seaweed salad, that's for sure.  After we're done, we make our way back towards the inn to catch the train back to the airport, and arrive just in time to pack our bags before we ought to leave.  On the train, I notice that the delinquents aren't anywhere to be seen, and assume that Kaiba's driving them again.
I decide, then, to sit down next to Amai.  There isn't anybody else in those four seats, and I realize that Sayaka probably got the same offer from Kaiba again.  It makes sense, if Kaiba's trying to get Sayaka to join No Boys, of course she would offer up favors as a sort of... Cooperation bonus.  That seems to make sense for gang members... I think.  It's not like I know about that type of thing firsthand.
"Hey there," Amai greets me, raising a hand, "How did your lazy day go?"
"Not that lazy," I sigh, rubbing the side of my neck, "I helped Mayu Wang figure out how to make friends, I listened to Reed Ka-Fai's poetry, and I forced Yoshiko Nishimura to eat the first food she's had in three days."
"The only one of those names I know is Reed's," Amai notes, leaning against me, "But in any case, I'm exhausted.  We'll sit together on the plane, right?  You'll let me sleep on you?  Though I guess 'let' is kind of an overstatement, I bet you'd be overjoyed to have me fall asleep on your shoulder, since you're in love with me and all."
"Of course!  I wouldn't forsake you to falling asleep on a stranger," I laugh, "Since apparently, you don't know any of your peers."
"I know plenty of my peers!  The members of the cooking club, plus Rena-kun.  Those are the only peers I need to know," She yawns, "You, and Rena-kun, and Sayakacchi... That's who I care about.  Well, sort of.  Just enough to say I do, but without being sappy."
"Sure thing," I can't help but chuckle a bit at her.  She's such a softie, if she'll ever admit it.  Well, I guess that she's pretty cruel too, with the way that she covers it up.  Tsundere may seem endearing in theory, but it's kind of obnoxious to experience firsthand.  I kind of wish I could just have Amai's nice moments without any of the mean ones, but when I think about it, I'm mildly disturbed.  It might be nice to have, but a compassionate Amai just wouldn't be her.  The way that she insults people without a second thought... She's been that way since we were kids, but not the whole time.  I don't know when it started.  Maybe after she fake divorced me from our fake marriage, as kids often do.  Actually, if I think about it, I don't know what happened when we were in elementary school that prompted her to want us to leave.
I guess I sort of put it together, eventually.  She wanted to go to public school even though she'd previously frowned upon it so much, seemed desperate to make the switch.  It was easy enough to figure out the reason in a vague sense once that teacher turned up dead.  "Shitty lolicon".  Those were the words which appeared beside his corpse, and they held just enough stock that nobody was all too embittered that he was dead, while also allowing the school to avoid a huge scandal.  Why believe the words of a murderer?  But why disbelieve them either?  Still, I can't help but feel like Amai was more impacted by all of that than she lets on.
I won't press her about it, though.  Not now.  There are plenty of things I still don't know about her even though we met when we were hardly even capable of maintaining a coherent conversation.  I like that, actually.  I wouldn't want to be with somebody who never has any more surprises for me, whose personality, mannerisms, and past I know to a fault.  My parents have been married for a while, and they still surprise each other, even if it's just in little ways.  Not that I'm thinking about marrying Amai or anything like that, of course; it's just an example.  I mean, we tried that when we were toddlers and it ended in quite the messy divorce.  She got the house and everything, all I got to keep was custody of the teddy bear we were pretending was our child.  Though, those were some pretty nice days.  We didn't have to worry too much.  And we never had to wonder if that fake marriage had any basis in real feelings, because we were kids, and love was a foreign world to us.
You had better not be falling for her.  I can't possibly say what might happen if you break her heart.
What makes you think I'd break her heart if I did?
You wouldn't.  It would happen, though.  Some things are just inevitable, you know.  Just like some people don't know how to say I love you.  Just like some people will suffer over and over again.  There's no explanation, and it's a melancholy thing.  Trying can only get you so far in the end.
I want to just say that Fucko's being a pain, but it seems sad while it says this.  Inevitable? 
Did you seriously think that you could change the course of history and walk away?
Somehow, I know the answer to that question.
No.  I didn't.

Next Chapter ->

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Evil, Meet Justice Chapter Two

“Yeah,” Arturo confirms the promise, grinning at her, “That’s the spirit! Just make sure he doesn’t hurt you so much that you can’t, right? For me?”

“I’ll be careful,” She nods, but then her demeanor drops again, “Oh, but... How will we know? How will I know if you keep your promise? How will you know if I keep mine? After what happened today, I don’t think we’ll be able to be friends anymore...”

“Well...” He crosses his arms and pouts, “Good question. I guess we just have to keep an eye out for each other! And,” He pauses for a second, watching a cicada land on a telephone pole nearby, “If it won’t upset Dawson too much for you to stay out later, you could come over to my house tonight? Just so we can be friends a little longer...”

“I’d like that! I have to catch a bus at noon tomorrow, but I could hang out until then?” She offers, leaning over to stretch her back out. It’s a really nice day, she thinks, even with the heat. It’s not often that she can just spend time outside like this, and while the air is hot and the wind unpleasant, it isn’t humid, so she wouldn’t consider the temperatures to be bad by any means.

“Yeah,” He agrees, then his grin returns in a more devious fashion, “Speaking of buses... There’s a bus into the city in about ten minutes. Now, it’s no Casa Del Pancakes,” He puts particular emphasis on the name of the restaurant that his parents own, prompting a few giggles from Tina and unable to refrain from laughing himself, “But I do know a pretty good restaurant that’s a few blocks from the bus stop. A really good family owned Chinese takeout place. I don’t know anywhere to get Japanese food, but I think that’d be close enough to eat while we watch that thing I picked up?”

“You mean,” She freezes where she stands, “We can just take the bus into the city, just for fun?” She holds her hands close to her chest, leaning closer to him with her eyes wide and ready to be enlightened, “Usually I can only take the bus to go to my lessons! Or to go shopping for groceries with Dawson,” She taps her foot on the ground as she speaks, “So can we really do that? Wait... I don’t have any money with me...”

“No worries! I bus tables at the restaurant so I have enough money to justify carrying a wallet! This can be my treat,” He flashes her a thumbs-up, “And yeah, we totally can! You can do whatever you want to as long as you stick to the buddy system in this town!  That’s what Mom always says. Basically...” He rubs the back of his neck, “I mean, assuming you can get out of the house, but he can’t seriously expect to keep you there all the time... Hey, that’s how we can make sure we keep our promises! Every Saturday we can, we’ll both go to this restaurant from eleven-thirty to twelve, and chances are we’ll run into each other there occasionally!”

“But, you just said about the buddy system...” She blinks, taking on the appearance of a doll with wires for bones as she sinks and deflates a bit in her confusion.

“Well, yeah, but I can get a friend to come with me no problem! And I know you can take care of yourself, if you can’t get anyone to go with you,” He starts to walk in the direction of the bus stop, and she jumps back into her energy to follow after him, “I think you could, though, if you could just shake Dawson. You’re a really nice friend to have, you know. If you weren’t, I’d have ditched your brother years ago!”

“I’m flattered!” She laughs a bit, keeping up with him, “Really, though, he doesn’t like me having friends. You could tell, right? He wants to have me all to himself,” She sighs, but doesn’t fall into a gloomy state again, “I guess, maybe it’s time I started actually standing up to him about this sort of thing. Just because he’s a pain doesn’t mean I should let him govern my life...”

“Yeah, exactly!” Arturo nods, speeding up a bit to make sure to get to the bus stop in time, knowing that she’ll keep up, “You’re strong, right? You can hold your own against him, I’m sure. You’re better than him! I get it if you don’t want to hurt him, but at least defend yourself sometimes, okay?”

“I don’t think so,” She shakes her head, but she’s still smiling, “Didn’t you hear what I told you earlier? If it’s not me, he’d find somebody else. I’ll... stop letting him affect me. Emotionally, at least, I won’t let him keep holding me down, but I have to let him hurt me. I’m used to it, after all! Hah, I’m so used to it, why was I ever scared to go against his wishes anyway?”

“Well,” Arturo hesitates a bit, but also keeps his smile on, “If that’s what you feel, I won’t argue with you. I just want you to be as happy as you can, right?”

“Don’t worry!” She salutes jokingly, then looks up and sees that they’ve arrived at the bus stop, and within seconds the bus slides up and stops with that distinctly odd ‘shoooooosh’ sound that buses always seem to make, “Oh, our timing’s perfect!”

“Perfect indeed!” He agrees and steps onto the first step of the bus, pulling his wallet out of his pocket and paying the driver double fare, to pay for Tina’s ride as well. She follows close behind him, and he leads her to a certain seat, on the left side of the bus, 8 seats from the front and 8 seats from the back. People are seated all around this seat, but not in it. Arturo points at the window, and Tina sees that there’s a long crack down the middle of it, “Nobody ever sits here because of the broken window, but the center seats have more legroom than the rest.”

“How often do you take this bus?” Tina questions, stretching out in the aforementioned legroom, “You must do it pretty often, to know this trick...”

“Mm,” He nods, holding his jacket a bit closer to himself, “Most weekends, when I’m not working,” He explains, and she nods, understanding. His family’s restaurant employs some teenagers, but they’re generally only free to work weekends, so he fills in the time throughout the rest of the week, doing his homeschool work during dead times when there’s nothing for him to do, “The seat with the cracked window can get pretty cold on chilly days, or at night, so people just tend to automatically avoid it all the time. I always wear a cool jacket though, so I’m totally fine.”

“Rad,” She nods, then looks around the bus, “It won’t get cold here today, though, so I think I’m all set,” She notes, tugging the legs of her shorts a bit further down her thighs, “Unless for some reason we end up staying out really late...”

“Aw, that won’t happen,” Arturo chuckles, waving off her concerns, “We’re just grabbing the food then heading back so we can multitask!”

“Say, Arturo,” She pauses, pressing a finger against her chin and looking up at the ceiling of the bus, eyes naturally falling onto the sign for that emergency exit, “How do you have so many friends, if you’re homeschooled? Everyone says that homeschooling inhibits social development and stuff, but obviously you aren’t really inhibited at all.”

“Of course not! I work with people every day!” He turns and leans back against the window, crossing one leg over the other and generally just collapsing into an unshakably casual position, “I’m sure some people wouldn’t meet friends being homeschooled, but not me, I live at a restaurant! Almost everyone in the seventh grade has been to Casa Del Pancakes, and I’m phenomenally chatty.”

“Well, I won’t deny that,” Tina chuckles, shaking her head in amusement, “Isn’t this funny? You’re homeschooled with a lot of friends, but I go to public school and haven’t befriended anyone at all... What a reversal of expectations!”

“Don’t say that, Tina,” Arturo sighs, reaching over and putting a hand on her shoulder, “After all, you befriended me! And you’re going to make a lot more friends once you try, I’m sure. Now, I haven’t seen you at school, but I’m pretty sure you’re not disliked, you’re just basically unknown.”

“You’re right,” Tina nods, “I’m pretty, but I don’t talk to anyone, so I basically don’t exist. People just know me as Dawson’s sister,” She sighs, pulling one knee up to her chest, “You know, Arturo, he has a lot of friends, but you’re the only one that he ever invited over to our house. I don’t think he wanted me to meet his other friends...”

“That’s because assholes attract assholes,” Arturo shrugs with the simple dismissal in his crude language, but then blinks a few times and elaborates, “I mean, I’m a nice dude, probably the only guy friend of his he thinks wouldn’t come on to you. His other friends, he probably feels like he’d have to compete with them for you... Sorry, gross as that is. I won’t bring it up again if it upsets you.”

“It’s fine,” She lifts a hand to rest against her own neck, “You can mention it, if you want. It’s nice to be able to talk to somebody about this, actually... Ssnad just threatens to kill Dawson if I bring it up.”

“Snad?” Arturo questions, narrowing his eyes, “What the Hell?”

“Ssnad, not Snad,” She enunciates the S in the first statement, “There are two S-es. He’s my shooting instructor. Well, it’s not his real name, but he says I should call him that when I mention him to other people,” She notes that Arturo seems suspicious, and a bit afraid, “I swear, it’s nothing bad! It’s just that he used to be kind of famous, on television! He doesn’t want people knowing about it so he uses a different name.”

“Oh, I see,” Arturo nods, but shortly finds himself confused again, ‘But, why Ssnad? Why not some other, more sensible codename, like Magnus, or Bartholomew?”

“Are those sensible codenames in your mind?” Tina questions right back, but relents to answer him anyhow, “I have no idea why it’s Ssnad, and I’ve never thought to ask. Maybe it has some sort of meaning to him? I don’t honestly see how, given that it’s a nonsense word in just about any language, but... Whatever floats his boat I guess?”

“Yeah,” Arturo nods, then glances out the window, “Oh, we’re almost there. That was quick.”

“Fifteen minutes,” Tina notes by checking the Power Rangers watch on her wrist. It was a Christmas present from her mother... a bit juvenile, but she did need a new watch, so she may as well use it, “It just seemed especially fast because we were talking, I guess. Do you not usually have company on the bus?”

“No, not really,” He shrugs, “I meet up with people in the city a lot, but I don’t usually come with anyone from our neighborhood. Not that our neighborhood isn’t full of great people, I guess I just always end up making plans with people who live in different parts of town.”

“Makes sense,” Tina nods, standing up while the bus grinds to a halt, “Our neighborhood is nice but there aren’t a whole lot of people our age, are there?  It seens like it’s mostly retirees.”

“You and Dawson are the only seventh graders within walking distance of my place,” Arturo stands as well, and the pair starts to shuffle off the bus, “I think it’s bad etiquette to hang out with people in different grades till you’re both in high school, right?” He asks, then groans when a realization hits him, “Ugh, I’ll have to actually go to the high school when I hit that point... There’s no home school curriculum for it.”

“Well, at least then you’ll make loads of friends in a whole bunch of grades?” She offers, stepping onto the sidewalk and looking around. She’s never taken this particular bus, which goes to the edge of downtown; The grocery store is barely into the part of Albuquerque that she’d consider a city, even. The buildings are taller than she would expect, and everything’s loud. Altogether, an unfamiliar and interesting environment.

“Yeah,” Unlike Tina, who’s marvelling at the grandeur of the city, Arturo looks to be completely in his element. Then again, she thinks, he always seems to be in his element. An astonishingly adaptable person, this friend of hers, “So, this way! Stay with me, and make sure to walk with purpose. That’s what my mom always tells me to do in the city, anyway! Just to be on the safe side.”

She says nothing, but nods, following after him as he walks along the sidewalks in an expert fashion, displaying quite the familiarity with the area. It’s not every weekend, but most that he takes the bus downtown, taking joy and comfort in the hustle and bustle. Despite Tina’s impression of him, he is not always in his element. Empty streets, calm days, light breezes and a lack of sound but for the low chirping of cicadas... that is when he’s out of his element. Between working in such a high-tension environment and his leisure trips downtown, he is an expert at being busy, but an absolute newcomer when it comes to a time when the world relaxes around him.

There are no words between the two in the short time it takes to reach the restaurant. Not out of any animosity, simple out of mutual disregard for the idea. Arturo wishes to move quickly and arrive with confidence as he always does, and Tina wishes merely to keep up with him and get used to the incredible number of people on the sidewalk.

Once opening the door, however, amity falls between them again, “And, here we are! What do you think?” He asks Tina as she looks around the restaurant. The time of day means it isn’t altogether very busy, only a few people eating noodles in the corner. There are maroon colored tiles on the floor and wallpaper peeling slightly off the walls in the corners, obviously picked at by the tiny fingers of little children until the floral print pulled up to reveal disappointingly cream walls.

“I haven’t even had the food yet and it’s already one of my favorites,” She answers, grinning as she steps further inside, “Who would have thought there would be such a nice place out here? It’s just like some of the restaurants we have out in the suburbs, except the outside doesn’t look as much like a house.”

“Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty good assessment,” Arturo nods, “I don’t really like fancy places or chain restaurants, places like this are always better! I think it’s because the food is made with love or something.”

“I’d say you’re right,” She nods, crossing her arms and looking up at the ceiling. Common enough tiles, for a tiled ceiling, “People always get so worked up over reservations at fancy, expensive places... there should be some television show or newspaper column or something about these types of restaurants.”

“Yeah...” Arturo sighs wistfully, tapping his chin, “Who knows, maybe someday somebody will do that? I hope he has cool hair, like mine,” He chuckles, running a hand back through his recently bleached hair.

“You mean blonde, or slicked back with five pounds of crisco?” She questions, stepping a bit closer to tease him.

“Both I guess,” He shrugs, and the pair burst out laughing for a few moments, him shaking his head till he can speak again, “But, one out of two wouldn’t be too bad anyway.”

“Hey there!” A voice interrupts them, and they both turn around to see somebody standing behind them. Tina recognizes her as being one of the top students in her English class, “Funny to see you here! Whatcha up to, on a date?”

“Angelica?” Arturo questions her identity despite knowing full well it’s her, then shakes his head, “No, no, Tina and I are just here to get some food, we’re not dating!”

“Oh, I see!” She nods, hesitates, then lifts a finger in the air, “Wait, I have a question for you! You bleached it. Your hair. Were you following in my footsteps, Tina’s, or somebody else’s?”

“Tina’s. I thought, hey, I’d sure like to be cool, and who’s cooler than Tina Packard? I mean, not that you aren’t also cool, Angelica, but she’s just the first person who came to mind!” Arturo explains, chuckling a bit as he scratches the back of his neck, “I’d ask what you’re doing here, but I can guess. Picking up dinner for your mom?”

“You got me!” Angelica giggles, raising her fingers in front of her in a childish ‘cops and robbers’ gun shape. She did that an awful lot and it somehow gave off the vibe that she was constantly flirting, even when she wasn’t, “And no worries! I’m not offended that you think she’s cooler than me. She never talks in class so she’s got that whole mystical vibe to her... Can you even talk, Tina? Can you talk?”

“...I can talk,” Tina deadpans back, crossing her arms and glaring up at the taller girl, “I don’t exactly appreciate you treating me like some sort of small child, either. I am just as capable as you...” She narrows her eyes even more, “Perhaps, even, more.”

“Oh? Well, in that case, you’re probably right,” Angelica sighs, tossing her hair back over her shoulder and giving the pair an overexaggerated shrug, “I apologize, also! I guess it’s just a little bit in my nature to be condescending, but really, if somebody thinks they’re better than me than they probably are!” She shows a wide and sweet smile as she says this, picking at the magenta nail polish on her thumb.

Tina finds herself somewhat fascinated with the way that this girl, Angelica, carries herself. She’s never paid much attention to people she doesn’t interact with. She knows how to anticipate Dawson’s bad moves, how to read him. She knows quite a bit about Arturo, and she’s been trained to observe people by one of the only people that she could probably never learn to read; she just never bothered to notice her classmates.

Angelica Jusso seems to her like an actor. That smile, the makeup, the nail polish, and nice clothes... All seem fake on some level. It’s not like the girl’s trying to be more popular at school, or with boys, but by merit of this disguise, she was anyway. A little more skin showing, more flirtatious behavior, and Angelica could be a skilled and deceptive agent, couldn’t she? Swindling anyone out of anything, be it money, or information... And Tina realizes, that could be her.

From watching this girl pretend to be happy, she’s learned herself how to pretend to be interested in somebody. Not like she’d ever do something like that just for the fun of it, or to act like her home life wasn’t something to frown at... it was just nice, to be able to pick up a skill just from watching somebody. Even if she’ll never use it.

“...Listen,” Tina hesitates, holding her left arm by the elbow, far too tightly, in her right hand, “It seems like we sort of got off on the wrong foot, don’t you think? Sorry I got offended. Actually, I think that it might be nice for us to try being friends, don’t you?”

“Hm?” Angelica tilts her head to the side, then nods, “Oh, yes, absolutely! I’d like that! I’m sure I’ll love being friends with somebody so much more competent than me!” Somehow, her tone is lacking something. She doesn’t sound like she’s being passive-aggressive. Her words are genuine, “And, I’m friends with Arturo. Friends of my friends are my friends too, given that they aren’t mean, or hate me, or I hate them.”

“Yeah, now that you mention it...” Arturo ponders, holding his chin, “I’ve known both of you since I was really young, so how is it you’ve never met before?” He waits a moment, then corrects himself, “I mean, I’ve been friends with both of you since I was really young. I’ve known a lot of people in town this long, but...”

“Hm, that’s right! You mentioned that her brother’s your childhood friend, right Arty? And since I go to your restaurant every week, it just makes sense! Ahh, Tina!” She holds her hands in close to herself and wiggles a bit before extending her arms again to hug her new friend, “I’m so glad to finally meet you for real!”

“Hey, Angelica,” Arturo starts, crossing his arms and leaning in closer to her, “Tina and I were gonna get takeout, then go back to my place to watch tv. She was gonna stay over, since she had a fight with Dawson. Wanna join us?”

“Well...” She releases Tina and steps back, holding a finger up to her chin and looking off to the side, “I’d love to! But, only if you’re okay with waiting for me. I have to run some food back to my mom, but I’ll sure she’ll let me go over once I do that!”

“Oh, is your mom working in the city?” Tina asks, shoving her hands into the miniscule pockets of her jorts.

“Mmhm! Every day! She’s a news anchor, you know? Anna Jusso,” Angelica answers, then twirls around a bit, “She has Mondays off, so that’s when we eat at Casa Del Pancake. Every week. The rest of the week, she sends me off to different restaurants near the television studio.”

“Anna Jusso?” Tina tilts her head to the side, and frowns, “But... I thought that she had a son?”

Angelica lets out a gasp, an incredibly melodramatic, exaggerated gasp, and turns to Arturo, “Uh-oh! I gave away the secret, Arty!” She pouts as she turns back to Tina, twirling her hair, “The truth is, well, sort of. Thing is, she always wanted a daughter. Like, always. So, she asked if I wanted to be a girl! I said sure. So here I am. Angelica.”

“That’s... sort of confusing...” Tina gives a nervous chuckle, holding one hand in front of herself, “So your mother just... changed your gender...? How?”

“Easy!” Angelica giggles, “Why, she just let my hair grow out, and got me nice clothes, and makeup! Of course, now that I’m getting older it’s a little more complicated,” She bites the inside of her cheek, “There’s medicines and stuff, I guess, to keep me from growing up like a boy? And Mama gets mad at me if I don’t look pretty enough, but it’s fine! I like being a girl better anyway!” As soon as she releases her cheek, she retains a gleeful grin, the slight deviation forgotten.

“I see,” Tina nods, tilting her head to the side, “Well, as long as Arturo’s fine with it, I don’t see a problem with waiting for you to take lunch to your mother.”

“Aah, wonderful!” Angelica claps her hands together, then turns to Arturo and gives him what could only be described as ‘puppydog eyes’ in earnest, clutching her hands to her chest, “So, Arty?”

“Not a problem, we can just catch a later bus. You called your order ahead, right ‘Gelica?” He asks, and she just nods, very fast, “Great, so we can put in ours, then walk you back to the studio to deliver it, and grab ours on our way back to the bus station. Did you order for yourself, or?”

“No,” She shakes her head, clasping her hands, “I usually just eat cereal, when we get home at night. Mama doesn’t like me eating in the studio lobby, since I’m a child, and children are useless and doomed to make messes... I really don’t get it though, I mean, I’d clean it up! I’m good at cleaning things! That’ll probably be my first job, anyway. I’ll look so cute in those frilly aprons~”

“I’m pretty sure you’re mixing up ‘cleaning lady’ and ‘french maid’ there,” Arturo chuckles, putting his arms behind his head, “I’ve never seen a french maid in person you know, only on video and in tv shows. I don’t think they really exist. At least, not as a viable career option for us citizens of the Albuquerque suburbs.”

“Hum, I guess you’re right,” Angelica nods, looking up at the ceiling as she approaches the counter to pick up her order, “Tina, isn’t your mom some high-up businesswoman? That means that you, and me, and Arturo are just lucky enough to have middle-class parents...”

“Well,” Tina chuckles, scratching her arm and glancing away from them, “Actually, my parents are sort of living below their pay grade. My mom makes a lot of money, and my dad... well, he’s not really a well-known musician or anything, but he gets enough gigs when he travels around with my mom... Not to mention my stipend...” She blinks a few times, then turns to Arturo, “I’ll pay you back for all of this, okay? I just realized my family’s sort of rich. Sort of.”

“Sort of,” Angelica nods again, pulling her bag of takeout for her mother off the counter then giving her own order, to go along with Tina’s and Arturo’s, “But I think you’re still middle class. Not even really upper middle class, because upper is more of a socioeconomic denomination... And unless you’ve had big money for generations, or you break out big time into the entertainment industry, it’s hard for folks like us to be considered upper crust, right?”

Tina, as well as the restaurant’s cashier, just stare at her for a few moments until Tina speaks again, “Well, you obviously know a lot about that sort of thing,” She notes before turning to put her own order in with the somewhat confused cashier.

“What, does that surprise you?” Angelica asks, tucking some hair back behind her ear, “I spend most of my time at a television station, after all. I know what goes on in the world, more or less, and I guess that fact just stuck with me. Basically, no matter how high above the poverty line you are, you’re working class unless you’ve got the social power to go along with it... Or you’re like, a multi-millionaire on a regular basis. They talk about it all the time when rich celebrity names come up in the news!”

“I guess you’re who we go to if we need to know about current affairs,” Arturo hadn’t seemed shocked at all when she spouted the fact earlier, but that was only to be expected, given how long he’d known her. Actually being made aware of the extent to which she was informed was a different matter, though. He had no idea she spent all of her time at the tv station...

“That’s surprising to you too?” She seems a bit confused for a moment before closing her eyes and smiling, soft, “Oh, I guess I never really mentioned it. It’s not like it’s a secret, or a problem or anything... Mama likes to keep me near her, is all, so she takes me to work with her all the time. She says babysitters can’t be trusted, and she doesn’t really have any friends or family who could watch me either... So unless I have something planned with my friends, she takes me to work with her! It’s kind of sweet, that Mama’s so loving...”

“It must be nice, to have a parent who dotes on you,” Tina notes wistfully, and with the order made, follows Angelica out of the door, with Arturo close in line. She isn’t bitter, that other people have parents who aren’t so incredibly absent; not at all. That would just be unfair to those people, to be upset over something that’s not related to her in any way. Absentees, that’s just who her mother and father are. Arturo’s parents are the involving type, Angelica’s mother is the doting type. Her own are the absent type. That’s fine. Would be fine, if not for Dawson. She’ll put him out of her mind, though, for now. For once in her life, she’s spending time with friends, time that he can’t steal from her. She’ll cherish it.

‘So!” Angelica giggles, skipping a bit to get ahead of the other two before turning around and walking backwards. She knows every inch of these streets; where every streetlamp, telephone pole, decorative tree or trashcan is. She knows where on the curb residents put their cans on respective trash days, and she knows anytime construction is going to happen, even before the people who’ll be working on it know the job belongs to them. As long as others move for her, as she knows they will, walking like this is no danger to her, “Tina, Packard! I wanna get to know you, right? What sort of things do you like?”

“Guns,” Tina shrugs, glancing to the side as she realizes that answer is insufficient and probably somewhat rude, “I mean, I collect guns. And I’ve been shooting since I was young.”

“Ooh, nice!” Angelica pumps her fist in the air, seeming eager to ask her next question, “So, what sort of things do you like to hunt? Grouse? Quail? No, no, you seem intense! I bet you hunt elk, right? Do you have trophy horns at home?”

“...No,” She shakes her head, offering a sheepish smile, “Sorry, but I don’t hunt. I just collect interesting guns, and shoot out at a range. Every Sunday. I have a really nice shooting instructor, too. I’ve never hit a living thing before, though.”

“Aw,” Angelica sighs, crossing her arms, “I thought you were finally my ticket to trying something cool! And by something cool, I mean gamey meat! My mom’s a vegetarian, so all the meat I’ve ever eaten comes from restaurants and there’s nothing interesting around here! Nothing at all! And I can’t even try the steakhouse because there’s nothing she’ll eat there. Why’s Mama got to be so fussy anyway? It’s like she cares more about the lives of animals than humans...”

“Huh?” Tina stumbles a bit when she hears this, but quickly composes herself, “But, Angelica, I thought that you got along with your mom?”

“Mama’s conveniently over-supportive of my gender situation,” Her voice seems to drop to something cold and intimidating for a moment, but then she pops back up to that original glee, “Ah, but of course I love her! Just because we have a few little disputes, doesn’t change that she’s my very best friend!”

“Whatever you say,” Tina wants to say more, but can she even speak? She herself is a princess of denial, so who is she to comment more on this situation? Perhaps, that was a call for help, but even if it was, she’s lost the opportunity to act on it.

“Oh, look, we’re already here!” Angelica stops in her tracks and throws out her left hand to point at, indeed, the television station, “So, I’ll run in and give Mama her food, then meet you back out here! If I’m not back in like, ten minutes, assume that I can’t go after all, and enjoy my sesame chicken for yourselves!”

“Alright, ‘Gelica,” Arturo rolls his eyes as he watches her go in, then turns to Tina, “See, I knew you could make friends! Day one of trying and you’ve already gotten on Angelica’s good side! And believe me, that’s not as easy to do as it may have seemed. She’s already revealed like three secrets to you, totally on purpose. She’s sickly sweet to everyone, but she only gives away personal info that casually to people she can actually see herself trusting.”

“Really? But... she only just met me. Are you sure those things she said really weren’t accidents? She played them off as Freudian slips so well,” Tina bites her cheek with a confused look and crosses her arms, “Well, regardless of that... Arturo, you were saying you wanted to help people, right? I was serious when I told you not to help me. You should actually... Help her. Help Angelica Jusso.”

“Help her? But, I mean... what is there to help her with?” Arturo furrows his brow, frowning, “Tina, she may have an unusual narrative, but I promise you that her dysphoria is completely valid. It’s not like her mother is brainwashing her into being feminine or anything.”

“No, of course not,” Tina shakes her head, “Don’t you think, that if I thought that, I wouldn’t be calling her a girl? It’s obvious she’s comfortable in a skirt. I just think... there might be some stock behind what she said, about her mother valuing animal life over human life.”

“So you noticed that...” Arturo shoves his hands into the pockets of his jacket and shakes his head, “Look, Tina, I don’t know what’s up with Angelica and Anna, but even if I did, what could I do about it? Dawson’s my age. I have a shot at helping you. When it comes to adults...”

“Look, I told you, you can’t do anything. The only way to remedy Dawson’s awful personality would be to kill him, and I can’t say I want my brother dead,” She snaps, but then rocks back on her heels and closes her eyes, “Besides, Arturo. Even though I said all that, you helped me out anyway. I was being foolish. You opened my eyes to the prospect of defying him, of speaking to others. I sometimes like to think... that I know everything. But that’s not true. We’re still kids, right? We can’t possibly stop learning and growing. We think we know what’s up, but then everything changes... right?”

“Right,” Arturo nods, slinging an arm around her shoulders, “It doesn’t matter that we’re kids, though. I think that... it’ll stay this way forever. I don’t know if I’ll ever know what’s up. And no offense, but I’m sure you won’t.”

“I know,” To his surprise, she agrees without argument, “After all, I’m barely human in the first place.”

“Barely human, or too human?” He questions, and he’s never been happier that people on the street are too concerned with other things to bother listening in on the conversations of strangers.

“I guess that bit really depends on who you ask,” She shrugs, staring at the door of the television station. Neither of the pair says another word until Angelica’s return. Fifteen minutes later. Longer than she said, but of course they waited. Of course they wouldn’t abandon her that quickly.

Next Chapter ->