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“Your unkind words will not dishearten me today.” He drew himself up and held a finger up with purpose, too triumphant to be discouraged from whatever speech he settled on. “I’ve paid you a visit because it’s the last weekend before summer, so Min and I will depart for our homes soon. As the top three students of this esteemed academy founded in the name of the prestigious Sherlock Holmes—”
“I will jump out this window,” she promised, nodding to the arched window frame between them. Undaunted, Everitt beamed and brought his ramble to a surprisingly early close.
“It’s only proper that we have a farewell party.”
Word count: 1400 (3 to 11 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Transistor Spoilers | Characters: Red and Boxer
He was heading to Junction Jan’s when they met.
Aside from her, that day was like any other. Normal days or not, the city always had some kind of energy to it. You could just sit on a bench, take in the sights, smells, and chatter, and really feel it resonating in your chest. Like a full orchestra playing.
It was the dives and local joints that really made up the place. The spots you knew about only because you lived there. Whatever the polls decided about the sky or the city layout, those tried-and-true restaurants and bars were his constants. He could tell the time with just a glance at some of them. And even without checking his watch that night, he knew he was out too late on the streets of Cloudbank.
Looking for a worthy cause to fight for, mostly. Bad things could happen at night. It helped if someone was there to keep an eye out before things got out of hand. Even if that someone smelled like stale sweat from odd jobs and was still figuring his life out. And things never got out of hand in Cloudbank. Not for years.
He sensed her before he spotted her, if he was being honest. She was like that. Always was. Red was made for the stage, and there was some kind of spotlight centered on her even when there wasn’t. Like the universe just knew she was special.
It was fitting that he saw her hair first. Spiraled wisps of red embraced her delicate features, and then he caught her eye. Of course her eyes were somewhere between blue and green, like the water in the Canals District, right where it met the painted sky. Dressed in her stage outfit still, she glowed in the crowd.
She was fearless. The alleyway shortcut to the gondolas might as well have been her living room for how she walked right into it. High heels announced her every step, but it didn’t stop her. He’d learn later that it took way more than that to make Red call it quits.
That night, he was willing to leave their one-sided meeting there. A mystical encounter he could recount later and wonder if he imagined her. But when another person followed her down that dark walkway, he had to do the same. In that way, he reasoned that he was following that person, not her.
It didn’t sound believable to him then either.
“—irst fight like that in four years,” the man hissed. He was taller than Red and scarily skinny, with pale blonde hair fluffed around his ears. Almost to bring more attention to how upset he was like the finger he jabbed in Red’s face.
It didn’t make a difference to her. Those bright, watchful eyes stayed on him and if he didn’t feel small, he had to be too dense for anything worthwhile. Red kept her voice steady, just like her expression.
“I didn’t write that song to provoke anyone.”
“Yeah, well, he’s been banned from the hall!” He added in a wild gesture back toward the street and him as a coincidence. Stepping around a cluster of flowers forcing their way up through the cracks, he kept walking over. This little chat wouldn’t wind itself down, something told him.
“I never intended for that to happen.”
“Your music speaks for itself, that’s what you said.” The man took two steps closer; he took four. One fight in four years was plenty. No need to make it two. Especially not with her. “What it causes, you caused.”
“That’s enough,” he interrupted, entering the soft yellow light of the streetlamp over them both. It felt staged. For a second, he thought it might be a sort of destiny that they met like this. The other strange man to follow her that night didn’t feel the same way. He sneered, looking him over without bothering to hide his disgust. That kind of reaction never bothered him anyway.
“What’s it to you?”
“Just the right thing to do.”
“There you are,” Red said, confusing everyone but her. She brushed past the other guy like he was nothing more than a sheet hung to dry. The way her hand lingered on his arm was a world apart. He could feel slight calloused spots on her fingertips on his arm, and even that touch was so warm.
He could never forget if they’d met before. So what was she doing?
“I told you to meet me at the restaurant.” That gentle squeeze on his forearm urged him to go along with whatever her plan was. It wasn’t like he had one. Not like he could do much thinking with a bit more light in her gaze directed at him.
“Looks like it’s good I didn’t listen.”
She smiled, and he forgot what brought him to her in the first place for a moment. “You never do.” She took her hand back, turning with a muted click of her heel on the stone walk to face their only company. “I’m taking what happened seriously, but I can’t change it. I’m moving forward. You should too.”
She passed by him next, walking back to the street and leaving them both. After a beat, he followed. He never did find out what became of the stranger they left alone in the light of the alleyway.
For the first stretch of their walk, she only looked back for a second or two. Eventually, she nodded him over to walk with her. He joined her in a few long strides and was greeted with a sideways glance.
“Why did you follow me?”
“Well,” he stalled, shoving his hands in his pockets. The crowds thinned out even more during their short detour. “The alleys by the Bay can be dangerous.”
“Obviously I wasn’t alone.”
He ducked his head, burying a laugh that way. He nodded before turning back to her and seeing that smirk holding up. She raised her eyebrows, half teasing in her sympathy. And here he thought he’d been watching over her. Over time, he realized they were both looking after one another. That’s how it was. “You knew I was here?”
“No,” she admitted, brief and weightless. The waves of her hair moved with the quick shake of her head. “But it seems like you need reassurance.”
They turned a corner to the shops and restaurants by the Bay, and he realized how they must have looked. A woman dressed in a fine gown next to a guy who looked like he was wearing the same shirt from yesterday. It wasn’t, of course. And hey, he didn’t mind. She asked for him to be there. What did it matter how it looked?
“I saw him following you, and I thought—” Taking one hand from his pocket, she made a vague gesture. “Anyway, I thought it’d be smart for me to go too.”
“Good instincts.” Red stopped by a crossroads. One path went further into downtown, and the other, towards transport back to Highrise. He never really liked it up there. But he thought she might have had business in that section of Cloudbank. His opinion changed when he found out she lived there on his first invitation. “Even though I know how to handle myself.”
She swayed a bit, maybe to a tune only she could hear. She had songs, the guy said. He was embarrassed afterwards to admit that he’d never been one for the arts before her. And after her? Well, he couldn’t listen to anyone else.
“Would you be alright if—” He sighed, looking to the fork in the road that went to Highrise. He had nothing to lose by asking. “Can I walk you to where you were going? Just in case.”
“Junction Jan’s.” She waited for him to catch on. Red was good like that.
“That’s where I was going.”
He looked to the opposite walkway, clear in the other direction from where he found her in the Bay area. It took too long for him to piece together that she was asking him out to dinner. But when it mattered, Red was patient. Persistent might’ve been the better word.
“Funny.” He chuckled, looking back to her. “Me too.”
“Then I say we go together.”
She went on ahead, and she didn’t even need to ask that time. He was right beside her.