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 Jusso
“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 ->

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