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Pictures for Miriam

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Never has a front door looked so ominous.

The witch stands there, her hand hovering near the worn knob she had turned so many times before. A bead of sweat trickles down her forehead.

Soon her fingers will close around that knob, and with a twist of her wrist, the door will creak open. She will bid farewell to the sun, the wind, the crimson-colored leaves of the trees, and her sanity as she enters the –

“I FORGOT MY TOOTHBRUSH!!!”

Never mind.

“We have to go back, Miriam,” pleads the bard, their eyes wide with worry.

The witch groans. “I am not flying you all the way home just for a stupid toothbrush.”

“But dental hygiene’s important! What if I get a cavity?!”

“I’m sure we have an extra toothbrush you can borrow!”

How did she let this happen?

A sleepover!

The idea was first suggested by Miriam’s grandmother, Sapphire (or “Saphy”). The older witch had invited the bard, named Kiwi, over for dinner and, during said meal, asked them if they’d like to stay the night. It was so late, after all. Surprisingly, Kiwi refused. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to, but they hadn’t prepared for a night away from home. They didn’t have a change of underwear, or their toothbrush, or anything!

But they promised the next time they were invited to dinner, they’d accept Saphy’s offer.

Well, the time has come.

And Miriam isn’t certain she’s ready for it.

She’s still uncertain even as she enjoys one of Saphy’s homecooked meals. She remains uncertain as she listens to the bard chat with her grandmother about a variety of mundane topics.

“What have you been doing these days?” the elderly witch asks as she gives Kiwi a cup of tea.

“Not much!” the bard cheerfully replies.

“Is that so? No plans on going to school or finding work? Content to whittle the days away with song and leisure?”

“…”

“Nothing wrong with a carefree life. You certainly deserve it after all you’ve been through.”

Is it Miriam’s imagination, or is Kiwi unusually nervous right now?

“Ah,” chirps Saphy. “I’ve something to show you. I believe it was tucked away with these books here…”

She pulls a weathered book from the shelf and looks at it curiously.

“Miriam?” she asks. “Isn’t this that book you borrowed from Mohabumi months ago? Weren’t you supposed to return it by now…?”

“I’m not going all the way back there to return some dumb book,” Miriam sneers. “Besides, they’ve got tons of books. Who cares if one’s missing?”

“You borrowed a book from that magic city, Miriam?” Kiwi asks.

“Yeah,” she replies.

“I thought you didn’t want to study magic?”

“I don’t. That book is, uh…”

“About music,” says Saphy. “It seems someone’s made her curious about the intricacies of song.”

“Could you not?!”

“WHAT?!!!” the bard jumps to their feet. “You’re studying music, Miriam?!”

“NO!!! I mean… Not really? What you said about music being vibrations and stuff made me wonder… Anyway, I’m not reading it seriously! Just browsed through it once or twice. Don’t get so excited!”

“Yes,” says Saphy. “Get excited about this instead.”

Miriam’s face goes pale at the sight of the “picture book” in Sapphire’s hands.

“What’s that?” asks the bard.

“A picture collection of Miriam as a little girl,” Saphy replies with a chuckle.

The elderly witch gently places the book in the bard’s hands. Kiwi holds it for about three seconds before Miriam takes it and shoves it back on the bookshelf.

“FORGET,” Miriam warns. “Forget you ever saw that.”

Now Miriam is more uncertain than ever about this whole “sleepover” thing. Dealing with the bard is one thing, but now she must put up with her grandmother’s teasing? And that’s exactly what this is – teasing. Saphy brought that book out just to mess with her. She knows it! The mischievous little smirk on the old woman’s face confirms it.

Yes, Miriam is very uncertain about tonight.

Later, as she bids her grandmother goodnight, she is still plagued with uncertainty.

Later-later, she sits in the bath, uncertain. Still.

It gets to the point where Miriam’s uncertain about being uncertain. When she becomes uncertain about being uncertain about being uncertain, she decides “enough is enough”.

Kiwi is her friend. And what do friends do?

They have nice, fun sleepovers.

“(It’ll be a great bonding experience),” she thinks.

Bonding.

The word gives her goosebumps. She and the bard have done a little bonding over the months since the world’s restoration. But she wouldn’t say she and Kiwi have gotten significantly closer.

It’s difficult. She still has many reservations about getting close to someone else. Whenever she feels her affection for her friend growing, she panics. Withdraws. Sometimes for weeks at a time.

But eventually she musters the courage to see them. And when she does, they welcome her back with a smile and a hug. And a song. Lots of songs.

“(A good chance to bond… Okay. I’ll be okay. It’s only for one night. I can put up with them for that long.)”

She frowns. “Put up with” isn’t a nice way to describe spending time with a friend.

“(Get it together, Miriam. You owe them some quality time. Get out there and be the friendliest friend you can be.)”

She takes a deep breath and steps out into the living room. Kiwi is splayed out on the floor, humming without a care in the world.

“I’m back,” she says.

Kiwi sits up.

“Aw, Miriam! You look cute in your jammies!”

Her “jammies”? Sometimes she questions how old Kiwi’s supposed to be.

The bard’s intense gaze makes Miriam feel sheepish. This is the first time she’s worn her pajamas – her “jammies” – around someone not named “Sapphire”. It’s a baffling sensation. Somehow, despite wearing an oversized light pink sweatshirt and purple shorts, she feels… naked? Maybe not “naked”, exactly. Vulnerable? Yes, that’s the word she’s looking for. She feels vulnerable!

And she doesn’t like it one bit.

“Is something wrong, Miriam?”

Her discomfort must be obvious. Her first thought is to answer sarcastically. Or maybe angrily. Perhaps a bit of both? She decides against it. That’s how she typically responds to, well, most things. But it’s a little different with Kiwi. With them, she’s trying to be “softer”. More earnest. It’s taken some getting used to. Being honest about her feelings makes her feel vulnerable.

And she doesn’t like it one bit.

But she’ll put up with it. At least for their sake.

“Isn’t this weird for you?” she asks.

“What?”

“Being in your pajamas around someone else?”

“No. Why? Do you think it’s weird?”

“A little? I dunno. I’m not used to letting other people see me like this. I feel… exposed?”

“Hmm. Your shorts are kinda short. Maybe try wearing pants? Do you think that’ll help?”

“Ugh. No. Just forget I said anything.”

“Okay…?”

Tonight’s off to a good start.

Miriam sighs and joins her confused companion on the floor. She sits far enough that another person could fit between them.

“…”

The witch thinks. “(Oooookay. Here we go. This is the part where… the talking happens.)”

Talking to Kiwi is always hit-or-miss. Their “weirdness”, while endearing, can make them difficult to talk to. It’s rare for a conversation NOT to end with the bard bursting into song. Like that one time a chat about snacks was ruined when they decided to waste five minutes singing about the flavor differences between various types of cheddar.

And the few talks that don’t end with a big musical number? They’re prone to ending with Miriam enraged over an innocently insensitive “compliment”, like that one time Kiwi told her how much they liked her long nose. Ouch.

“…”

Kiwi smiles. Miriam returns the smile, though hers is much more strained.

“(Anything’s fine)”, she thinks. “(Just say a word to them. Just one.)”

“Hi,” she mutters.

“Hi!” they exclaim.

Flawless. Ten out of ten.

She thinks. “(Okay. Maybe… more than one word?)”

“I, uh, like the color,” she says, “of your…”

She groans.

Jammies. That’s a pretty blue.”

“Oh! Thanks!” they happily reply. “I like the color too!”

“Kinda weird seeing you without your bard getup on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen your, uh, hair before.”

“Really? Huh.”

And just like that, the conversation dies. It didn’t end with a song or an unintentional insult, so Miriam considers it a success!

Tick, tick, tick –

The minutes slowly pass.

Miriam comes to the horrible realization that they have nothing to do. Aren’t sleepovers supposed to be fun? How the heck do you make them fun?!

“What do you do for fun?” she asks.

I SIIIIIIIIIIING –“

“BESIDES that!”

“Hmm… I like going out for walks. I visit Langtree a lot, but sometimes I keep to the woods. It depends on if I feel like seeing people or animals, I guess.”

“What? You have days you don’t wanna deal with other people’s crap?”

“…Sometimes.”

That’s surprising.

She appreciates the honesty. Kiwi’s slowly been getting better at expressing negative emotions, at least around her. There are still plenty of fake smiles, forced laughs, and dismissive comments. But they aren’t keeping ALL of their bad feelings locked away anymore.

She scooches just a bit closer to them.

“Guess we all have those days, huh? What else do you do for fun? Like, if it’s raining and you can’t go outside. You…”

SIIIIII-“

“Okay, BESIDES that!”

“Uh… What do you do for fun, Miriam?”

“Blow stuff up with my magic.”

“Miriam!”

“Kidding! Relax. I… Hmm. Guess I kinda like reading? Doing stuff with Grandma Saphy’s always good. And I practice playing the piccolo sometimes. …We don’t have a lot of hobbies, do we?”

“Guess we don’t. Maybe that’s why we get along so well!”

“Yeah, sure. We’ll go with that.”

Tick, tick, tick –

The minutes keep slowly passing.

Miriam thinks. “(This is bad. There has to be something fun we can do!)”

Sitting around isn’t bad, but it doesn’t make for a very exciting sleepover. What can they do to liven things up?

“Miriam?”

“Yeah?”

“Wanna take a look at this?”

Kiwi reaches into their shirt and pulls out a certain collection of Miriam pictures. The witch’s eyes widen with panic as she screeches -

“WHERE DID YOU GET THAT?!!!”

“Your grandma lent it to me!”

“RRRRRRGH!!! Of COURSE she did! …Did you have it hiding in your shirt this whole time?”

“Yep!”

She furrows her brow. Well, furrows it even more, as it’s already quite furrowed. If the book’s been in their shirt this “whole time”, that means they’ve had around an hour to sneak a peek.

Was there any point in the last hour she left them unattended?

“Crap. When I went to take a bath… Did you already look inside?!”

“Nope!”

What? They didn’t?

Kiwi gently places the album on the floor next to Miriam.

“I wanted to look through it with you,” they say with a smile.

“No way.”

She reaches for it. Kiwi snatches it away at the last second.

“Aw, c’mon. Why not?”

“Because it’s embarrassing?!” she snarls. “Now, give it here!”

She holds out her hand expectantly. The bard doesn’t budge.

“It’ll be fun.”

“It won’t! Gimme!”

She reaches for the album, but Kiwi holds it away from her. With a polite smile, they say -

“I bet you were really cute when you were little.”

“Give. It. To. Me.”

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Each attempt to snatch the album away is met with failure. And with each failed attempt, Kiwi’s smile grows wider. They take a deep breath.

“(Great!)” Miriam thinks. “(Here comes the song.)”

And they sing -

               I’m

               Afraid I must pry

               Time

               To find out why

               You’re

               So shy

She’s growing frantic. She is confident Grandma Saphy put the most embarrassing photo on the very first page. It strikes her as a “Saphy thing” to do.

She CANNOT let Kiwi open that thing. It can’t happen. It won’t happen.

“GIVE IT!!!”

She roars, her voice a mixture of anger and embarrassment, and lunges at Kiwi. They scramble to get away but are just a tad too slow.

They’re able to move away just enough to keep Miriam’s hands off the book. Instead, her fingers dig into their ribs. Kiwi’s voice goes up several octaves. On one hand, they’re pleased. They’ve been trying – and failing – to hit that really high note for a while.

On the other hand, HELP.

Miriam grumbles about several things, such as how much her ears are ringing after Kiwi hit that high note. Also what a pain in the butt they’re being. Why can’t they just give her the stupid book? Why struggle so much? And what’s with all the laughing?

Miriam rolls her eyes. She’s glad her friend finds her frustration hilarious. But then she realizes their hysterical chortling may have to do with the way she’s grabbing them.

“Oh? You ticklish?” she asks, surprised.

Apparently so.

“Cool. You gonna give me that book?”

Looking like a no.

Welp.”

The two struggle for some time. Somehow, even with all their flailing, the bard manages to keep the book just out of Miriam’s reach. It’s kind of upsetting her.

“Would you just...! Rrrrgh!” she groans. “How the…”

There’s another issue upsetting her.

“Hey. You ever gonna try, oh… I dunno. Defending yourself? Gonna die laughing this rate.”

In response, Kiwi makes one feeble attempt to swat Miriam’s hands away.

“…Is that it?”

It is. And they feel awful for attacking her. They should’ve tried singing instead. Not that they can right now.

Miriam sighs. “You’re taking some of the fun out of this… Fine. Fine! Do what you want with that thing. I don’t care.”

She lets them go. Kiwi takes a moment to catch their breath. Then –

“Here, Miriam.”

They hold the book out to her.

“What?”

“Take it.”

“What do you mean, ‘take it’? After all that crap I put you through, you’re just giving it to me?”

“I wasn’t actually going to look at it without your permission.”

“Huh? What the heck was up with all that ‘keep away’ stuff, then? If you were just going to give it to me in the end, you…”

“I wanted to tease you a little.”

Miriam isn’t sure why she’s blushing so furiously. Was it what they said? The way they said it? Who knows.

She picks up the album and turns away from the bard.

“Consider me ‘teased’.”

She peeks over her shoulder to make sure they’re not looking. They’re too busy staring at their twiddling thumbs.

Good. She slowly cracks open the album –

Yes. There it is, just as expected. It’s the only photo on the first page. Miriam, maybe two or three years of age, scowls as she sits on her training potty. Sapphire was kind enough to write “making a poopy” next to the photo.

Miriam smiles, but it’s a very angry smile.

She quickly turns the page.

“Hmm… Maybe this one…”

“Can I look?”

“NO!!! Not… yet.”

“…?”

“I’m picking out some photos, okay? There’s no way I’m letting you see all of these. But some of these are fine.”

She continues flipping through the pages, plucking out the least offensive pictures. But as she does so, a thought comes to her. She looks over her shoulder. Kiwi’s absentmindedly looking around the room.

“Hey.”

She waits until they look at her before continuing -

“You don’t laugh much, do you?”

“What? Of course I do!”

She thinks back to their world-saving journey. Kiwi’s smiling face appears all over her memories, as expected.

She thinks a little harder. There’s Kiwi, smiling like a fool. There they are singing at the top of their lungs, their voice oozing joy. There’s that time they forced a laugh as a conversation came to an awkward end. And another time they giggled to hide their discomfort over being insulted.

There aren’t a lot of memories of Kiwi laughing genuinely. Isn’t that weird? They’re literally a living, singing mass of happiness. There’s a smile plastered on their face right now.

Miriam’s eyes narrow. “(Hold on… Thought so! That smile’s a fake.)”

“Don’t get upset. I’m just kinda surprised,” she says. “You think someone who spews happiness out of every hole in their body would, y’know… be laughing all the time… or whatever.”

They’re suspiciously quiet. She looks away.

“…It’s cute. Your laugh, I mean,” she timidly continues. “You should, uh… do it more.”

“Oh… Yeah, okay. I guess I never noticed. No one’s ever said that to me before. …You don’t laugh much either, Miriam.”

“Duh. I’m a grump. One laugh a year’s all you’re getting from me.”

“It’d be nice if you did it more.”

They both fall silent. Miriam’s just about done picking out her photos when Kiwi says -

“Why don’t we laugh more together? That’s a thing friends do, right?”

She closes the book.

“Yeah. It is,” she replies. “And we can… definitely work on that.”

Why is she getting so flustered?

“F-For now, pictures. Here.”

She hands them a small stack of mildly embarrassing photos. Kiwi eagerly accepts them.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaw! Look at you!”

“Yeah, yeah. Rosy-cheeked little angel, that’s me…”

“You’re so CUTE!!!”

“S-Sure, yeah… Could you maybe not talk while you look at those? This is hard enough for me as is.”

“Haha… You’re blushing, Miriam.”

“YEAH?!!! AND?!!!”

Miriam can’t decide if this is the worst thing to happen to her or the best. Seriously. She’s both mortified and delighted right now. There’s something exciting about sharing your stupid kid photos with a friend. As long as they’re not incredibly embarrassing photos, that is.

“Miriam… Here.”

They hand the photos back to her.

“What’s that look on your face? Didn’t like the pics?”

“No, I loved them.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“There’s no problem…”

“Spill it.”

“Well… Maybe you should take a closer look at them.”

She does. She doesn’t notice anything wrong with the photos.

“These are pics of me. Yes, indeedy.”

“Yeah.”

She’s not sure what they’re getting at.

“They’re pics of you. Just you. You’re alone in every single one.”

She looks through the photos again. Kiwi is right.

“Not like I was a popular kid growing up. Wasn’t kidding when I said I didn’t have many friends…”

“…”

“What? You don’t need to feel bad for me. Sure, I didn’t have other stupid kids to frolic with. I didn’t need them! I had Saphy. That was enough for me.”

“Still… Oh! I know! Miriam, do you have a camera?!”

Why are they so excited all of a sudden?

“Pretty sure Saphy’s got one collecting dust in the house somewhere. I’m guessing you want me to dig it out.”

They nod.

“Right. Cool. Be right back, I guess.”

She finds it sitting behind the grandfather clock. She has no idea why it’s there. The camera is old and worn, likely the same one Saphy had used to take those baby pictures. Miriam had seen newer, slicker models at the shops in Mohabumi. In fact, it was the only location where cameras were commonplace. Upon closer inspection, she notices small crystals in the device like the ones hovering all over the magic city.

Miriam wonders if her grandmother got the camera from there in her younger years. She still wasn’t sure if Saphy originally came from the city. She’d been meaning to ask for ages, but never got around to it. Not that it matters now. She’s got other things to worry about. She returns to Kiwi and gives them the camera.

“Here.”

“Great!”

They fiddle with it for a few moments.

“I think I got it! Maybe? Do you know how to use this thing, Miriam?”

“Not really.”

“Okay! That’s fine!”

They fiddle with the camera for a few more moments.

“I think I got it! For REAL this time!”

“What are you doing?”

“You’ll see!”

They grab a few books from a nearby shelf and neatly stack them on the floor, placing the camera on top.

“Quick! Sit over here!”

She sits near the bard –

“Closer!”

They motion for her to come closer. She budges an inch.

“Miriam! There’s not much time!”

They frantically pat the spot next to them. RIGHT next to them. If Miriam moves that close, their shoulders will be touching. Gross.

MIRIIAAAAA-

“Okay! Okay! I’m moving, all right?! Knock it off with the singing!”

She sits next to them. As she feared, they’re so close that their shoulders are touching.  And it gets even worse. Kiwi drapes their arm over her shoulder and pulls her even closer. Their faces are nearly touching!

“It’s about to go off! Get ready to say ‘cheese’, Miriam!”

She isn’t ready for this!

“Three, two, one… CHEEEEEEEEEEEEESE!!!”

Flash!

Miriam is shocked. Is it over? Did the picture get taken? The aged camera slowly spits out a single photo.

“Look! Look, there it is! Do you want to look at it?!”

Miriam thinks. “(Nope. I wanna burn it.)”

She’s certain she’s making a stupid face in that photo. But Kiwi is so excited. She doesn’t want to disappoint them.

“I think it needs a few minutes before it’s ready,” she says nervously. “Let’s, uh… wait a sec.”

Excellent. She’s bought herself a little time. Now she can steel herself against whatever horror awaits her in that photo. Except her plan didn’t account for a certain issue.

She’s still sitting extremely close to the bard. Their arm is still draped over her shoulder. And their faces are still almost touching.

Kiwi’s noticed. Their joyous smile falters a tiny bit.

Both of them are frozen in place, awkwardly gazing into each other’s eyes, unable to say or do anything. Until -

“I think it’s ready!” they exclaim.

And just like that, Miriam’s left sitting by herself. Kiwi crawls over to the camera and picks up the photo.

“…”

“Soooo… How’d it turn out?”

“GREAT!!! Look!”

She takes the photo from them.

Just as she feared, her expression is beyond words, and not in a good way. Kiwi, meanwhile, is absolutely beaming.

“(Well…)” she laments. “(At least one of us looks cute.)”

Kiwi plucks the photo from her hand and moves to place it in Miriam’s baby album, but they stop at the last second.

“OOOOOOOH!!!”

That’s probably not good.

“Miriam! I have an idea!”

That’s definitely not good.

“Let’s start a new album!”

“A new one?” she asks.

“YES!! We can fill it with pictures of you and all the friends we made on our journey!”

“Uh… Yeah, I’m not sure about that.”

“It’ll be fun!”

“Hmm…”

“I need to visit Chismest anyway. My mom wants… Well, I need to go! And I was thinking instead of going straight to Chismest, maybe I could go around and visit people! And you could come with me!”

“Wha-? Listen –“

“AND WE COULD GET TONS OF PHOTOS!!!”

“Listen –“

“MIRIAM!!!”

“LISTEN!!!“

They frown.

“You don’t want to?”

Yes, but she doesn’t want to say it so bluntly.

They force a smile. “It’s okay. It was a dumb idea. I don’t want to force you into anything you don’t want to do.”

She hates it when they talk like that. And that stupid look of disappointment in their eyes –

Nothing pisses her off more.

“Shut up. Who said I didn’t want to go? You just surprised me. I mean, you dumped it on me so suddenly! My brain couldn’t process it.”

“Then…!”

“…I think it could be… an experience. Of some sort. Might be cool. Or not. Only one way to find out.”

“Miriam! Thank you!”

“What? Don’t thank me for that, you dork.”

“But I want to! It’s been a while since we’ve done anything together… And I know you’ve been busy, so taking time to spend with me… I appreciate it! And I appreciate you!”

“…Thanks.”

A few days later, Miriam sets off from her grandmother’s house for Langtree. She tells Saphy Kiwi needs her help with “stuff”, and she’ll be gone for at least two weeks. She’s careful not to let Saphy see the camera in her satchel.

Kiwi is ready and waiting by the time Miriam arrives.

“We’re hitting up Delphi first,” the witch says. “Wanna see your old bandmates, don’t you?”

“Mhm! Ready to leave when you are!”

“Hop on.”

Her broom hobbles as the bard literally jumps onto it. They place a hand on her shoulder and say –

“Thanks again, Miriam. I’m really glad you came.”

“Happy to be here."

Once a downtrodden town with little to offer, Delphi was now a lively community with slightly more to offer. Since the world’s restoration, the town had undergone a small economic and population boom. A handful of new houses were built on the outskirts, more shops opened, and the inn expanded! Yes, times were good in Delphi!

Locals wave as they notice the witch and bard flying overhead. Miriam “parks” her broom in front of the town’s main entertainment establishment – the Crazy Raven. Kiwi, excited at the thought of being reunited with old friends, can barely keep their giddiness in check. They jump off the broom and dance.

“Our day’s just started,” Miriam grumbles, “and you’re already acting like a lunatic. Would you relax?”

“I’m so happy, Miriam!”

I noticed. Anyway, we’re here. Gonna go talk to your friends?”

“Mhm! Let’s go inside!”

“You want me to go in there with you? Maybe it’d be better if I stayed out here.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I…” she hesitates. “…I don’t know them.”

“Then I’ll introduce you!”

“How about you go in there and have your happy little reunion, hang out, then come get me for the picture?”

“I could do that…”

“It’d be easier for me if you did.”

“All right. I’ll be back soon!”

Kiwi ignores their disappointment and boogies into the club. There’s no one inside except the owner. After recovering from the mild shock of someone bursting into his business with sick dance moves, the owner greets Kiwi.  

“Long time no see! Been doing good?”

“Great!” Kiwi exclaims. “How are things here?”

“Can’t complain. Business couldn’t be better! Haha, that’s a lie. It could be way better… but it’s good! Real good. Been thinking about doing some renovations to the place. You know, spruce up the bar, add some more lights. Stuff like that.”

“Neat!”

“Also thinking of expanding the roster. We do a bunch of music shows here – mainly Manny’s band. And other local talent, like Mitzi and Dani. You see ‘em perform yet? Their music is… different.”

“Different how?”

“Experimental. They started off as a run-of-the-mill ‘guitar and drum’ duo. Then they added props and novelty instruments and… yeah, it kinda escalated from there. Words don’t do ‘em justice. You need to see ‘em to ‘get it’.”

“Huh.”

“Anyway, I was thinking of adding a wider variety of shows to draw in more customers. I heard poetry nights are catching on bigtime overseas. Might do that. Oh, and more comedy shows. Improv nights could be a huge hit!”

He smiles.

“Been beefing up the ol’ joke repertoire, by the way. You should come see me do stand-up one of these days. For now, wanna hear a joke?”

“Yeah!”

“What did the ox say to her kid when he moved out?”

“…”

“…’Bison’.”

“…”

“How was it? Tried changing up the line delivery this time.”

“Are Manny and the others around?”

“Afraid you just missed ‘em. Skipped town yesterday to go to Rulle. They’re gonna perform at the king’s birthday celebration! Can you believe it? They’re really moving up in the world. Say, why don’t you rejoin them? I heard their current singer, Jaime, is finally going solo. They’ll need a new singer. I’ll tell Manny you-“

“Oh, I can’t join any bands right now. I’m in the middle of something…”

“Right. Shouldn’t be surprised you’ve got your hands full these days. I mean, you saved the world! People must be hounding you nonstop for stuff.”

“…”

Kiwi finishes chatting with the club’s owner and then heads back outside to rejoin Miriam.

“Photo time?” she asks.

“Manny and the others aren’t here.”

“For real? Sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be! Sounds like things are going great for them!”

“That’s good. You must be happy for them. You kinda helped start that band, after all.”

“Yep! …It’s a shame you never got to see our show.”

“If you ever end up singing with them again, I’ll totally be there. So? Now what? Wanna get some candy?”

“YES!!!”

Getting a picture with Manny’s band was a bust, but that doesn’t stop them from finding other opportunities. Miriam takes a photo of Kiwi and the candy store’s owner, Jeb, singing together. Later, she and Kiwi pose dramatically in front of the Queen of Winds statue. That night, they watch Mitzi and Dani perform at the Crazy Raven. They’re not sure what to think of the music. They take a picture with the duo before retiring at the inn.

“I had a lot of fun today,” Kiwi says as they head upstairs to their rooms.

“Glad to hear it.”

“How about you, Miriam? Did you have fun?”

“Surprisingly. It’s crazy how lively Delphi’s gotten the last few months. You can see the excitement in everyone’s eyes. It’s kinda gross.”

“Oh. This is my room. Um…”

“Mine’s over there. Guess we should say goodnight for now. Soooo… g’night.”

Goodniiiight! Sleep tiiiight!”

Miriam rolls her eyes. They had to get one last song out, didn’t they? She feigns irritation and enters her hotel room, sighing with relief as she removes her boots. The first day went well. Very well, even. She hopes the rest of their trip will go as smoothly.

But she gets the feeling it won’t.