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Pictures for Miriam

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It’s been several days since Miriam went away. Kiwi still hasn’t left Chismest. At this rate, they doubt they’ll ever leave.

“Screw you! You wanna stay here and pretend to be mommy’s happy little angel? Be my guest. Stay here for the rest of your life for all I care.”

Her words repeat endlessly in their mind.

“I’m so done with you.”

Without thinking, they hum the lullaby their mother used to sing to them. Growing up, they often relied on the gentle, familiar melody to comfort them during their darker moments.

Their sadness. Their anger. Their fear. Their pain.

Music could wash them all away. One by one, they would drown, until only “good” feelings remained.

They hum until Miriam’s voice fades from their mind. They enjoy a minute or two of peace before other problematic thoughts take the place of Miriam’s hurtful words.

The future. Dreams.

The bard looks down at the ground and notices a small rock. They nudge it with their foot.

There we go. Kiwi feels a little better now.

“Everyone’s so… busy. There’s so much going on! They’re starting bands, traveling, growing businesses, working with their neighbors, falling in love and so much more. Much, much more. Everyone’s working towards their future…”

The bard is genuinely happy for their friends. No doubt about it.

But hearing all their friends talk about “what’s next” - seeing them work to make their “dreams” come true – made the bard realize something.

What, exactly, is “next” for them? What is their dream?

They wanted to prove they could make a difference. They dreamed of saving the world.

Well, they succeeded.

What happens now? Where does their life go from here? What do they want to do?

“I guess... you don't really ever figure that out.”

They recall a conversation they had with Miriam ages ago. It was when they were still on their quest to save the world, when they were in the city of Mohabumi. The bard had found Miriam dancing at a club.

The city of witches had left Miriam filled with questions. Ones she struggled to find answers to.

“I've been figuring out... a bunch of stuff... about myself... and, it's been exhausting... Like, who I am... and what I'm doing... and why I'm doing it.”

The same ones Kiwi now found themselves struggling with.

“You... always seem to know what you're doing.”

They didn’t.

“You know... who you ARE.”

Maybe back then. They’re not so sure anymore.

“You're always so sure... of what you want.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

At first it didn’t bother them much, as they were too busy enjoying the new world to think about their lack of direction.

But as the days turned to weeks –

And then months –

They found it harder to ignore. And now it has become impossible.

Kiwi closes their eyes and sings -

     As time marches on

     In a world newly restored

     Others face the dawn

     Towards a future fit to be explored

     Mmm -

     Has the sun already set for me?

     I can’t see

     What’s meant to be

     Aimless, I fear

     My future unclear

Somehow, singing that song only made them feel worse.

“Your voice… is nice.”

Kiwi looks up to see the Baron looming ominously before them.

“…Hi,” they say.

“…”

“Um…”

“May I sit with you?”

“Oh. S-Sure…”

The bench shifts and creaks under the Baron’s weight.

“It saddens your mother…” he says slowly, “to see you without a smile.”

“I know,” replies Kiwi. “That’s why I’m not home.”

“…”

“I’m sorry. I’ll go home soon. I just needed to… not smile… for a bit.”

“Do you resent her?”

“What?! Mom? No! I love her!”

Kiwi stops to carefully consider what they’ll say next. It’d be easy to end the conversation here. The “old Kiwi” would’ve ended it, despite still having so much to say. They think of what Miriam would say were they talking to her instead of the Baron. She’d tell them to “let everything out”. That it’s okay to share the bad feelings and unhappy thoughts… sometimes.

“I’ll always be grateful for everything she’s done for me. She loves me despite my… weirdness.”

Is that really what they want to say? Miriam wouldn’t be satisfied with that. She’d probably say –

“So you love your mom and she loves you? That’s sweet. Doesn’t explain why you’re upset.”

It doesn’t. Kiwi sighs.

“…I only wish she tried harder to understand me. I can’t always be the way she wants me to be… Sometimes I get sad, or mad, or scared, and it hurts to smile…”

That’s better. But there’s still a little more, isn’t there? What is it that’s really bothering them?

“I wish I could be happy all the time. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have hurt Miriam.”

“The witch girl?” the Baron asks.

“She’s my best friend. Well, she was… I said something mean to her, and she went away… I don’t think she’s coming back.”

They bring their knees to their chest, curling up into a ball as they continue speaking.

“I feel so lost. I was already feeling lost because I couldn’t figure out what to do with my life, but I thought as long as I had Miriam, I’d be okay! Now she’s gone and I-I’m… I’m so terrified! I don’t know what to do!”

“…’What to do with your life’, you say… How curious.”

“Huh? What’s curious?”

“I’ve recently wondered the same. Despite months passing since the factory’s restructuring, I remain at a loss as to how to proceed forward. If such a thing is even possible for me, that is.”

“Why wouldn’t it be…?”

“I dedicated my life to bringing joy to others. I sacrificed my friends, my family, my home… for a dream I ultimately failed to realize. It was painful… learning the path I chose led me astray. My ambition poisoned this city… and all who dwelled in it. And it denied me the greatest happiness of all – the joy of family. Of being a husband… and a father.”

“…”

“My life is in its twilight years. Should I not spend what little time I have left making amends for the past? How does one move towards the future when everything one does revolves around the past?”

Kiwi tries, but they can’t think of a good answer.

The Baron rises to his feet and looks down at the bard.

“However, our struggles are not quite the same. I seek a future where there may be none. You have a future but are simply unable to see it clearly. Know that an unclear future is one rife with opportunity. It is something to be celebrated, not feared.”

He slowly walks away. But as he leaves, he says –

“Whatever it has in store for you… I pray it brings you happiness.”

Some time later, near Delphi -

It’s another lovely day.

There have been so many lovely days lately. Miriam can’t stand it.

Well, she’ll do today what she’s done the last several days. What she’s done the last two weeks, to be exact.

Absolutely nothing.

She sits up in her bed and glances to the other side of her room, where her satchel has sat abandoned since she returned from her trip. She wonders if Kiwi’s still in Chismest.

Not that she actually cares.

Groaning, she flops back down onto her bed and covers her face with a pillow. She wishes the day would end already.

“Good morning, dear.” Saphy says, “Are you planning on spending all day in bed again?”

“Mrrrgghh…”

“Hoo hoo! Ah, to be young and unemployed. Won’t you at least join me downstairs for breakfast? You’ve barely eaten anything for days. You must be famished.”

“Mmmmrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhh…”

Miriam hears the sounds of her grandmother opening the nearby window. A cool breeze flows into the room.

“My, what splendid weather!” Saphy says. “Care for a bit of flying?”

“Mmmrgh …Huh? What, you mean together? You haven’t ridden a broom in ages.”

“Look at that beautiful sky, Miriam. How wasteful it’d be not to soar in it! Come, now. Put on your hat and let’s be off.”

“Really not in the mood…”

“Humor this old woman. We won’t be long, I promise.”

Miriam forces herself out of bed and gets dressed. Her grandmother is already waiting for her outside by the time she trudges downstairs.

“I’ll drive,” Saphy giggles.

Miriam takes a seat behind Sapphire and wraps her arms around the old woman’s waist, just like she did when she was little. Even in her advanced age, Sapphire’s control over a broom far surpasses Miriam’s. For one, she can fly a passenger around all day and night and not break a sweat. And the broom doesn’t wobble at all when she controls it, unlike Miriam. She can also do a lot of “sick maneuvers” – as she jokingly calls them – though the young witch doubts Saphy will try any today.

“Ah, how nostalgic! Soaring above the clouds with my sweet little girl! I couldn’t be happier!”

“At least one of us is happy,” Miriam grumbles.

“Did I say ‘sweet’? I meant ‘grumpy’.”

“Yeah, very funny.”

“Oh, Miriam… Are you that upset about your friend?”

“Huh? Who said anything about them?”

“It’s woefully obvious. Before your little excursion, you couldn’t go more than a few hours without mentioning your precious little bard. Yet during these last few weeks, you’ve not mentioned them once. That, my dear, is rather suspect.”

“Tch! Maybe I don’t want to talk about them!”

“You had a fight.”

Miriam doesn’t answer.

“As I feared…”

“Ugh. Can’t hide anything from you, can I? Yeah, we… fought. It… It was bad. They said they didn’t want me around…”

“Miriam…”

“Don’t feel bad. I’m sure they’re out there having a great time with all their other buddies. They have so many other friends! It’s almost disgusting.”

“…”

“They don’t… They don’t need me.”

“Oh, Miriam…  You know that isn’t true.”

“It is! You should’ve seen them! Everywhere we went, they had a grand ol’ time… with everyone but me. I could’ve left anytime and they never would’ve noticed.”

“Now you’re being dramatic.”

“I’m not.”

“How many times did they check on you while you were moping by yourself?”

“What? How did you… I-I mean, I didn’t mope by myself!”

“You’re not fooling me, my dear. I bet you crawled off somewhere and grumbled your little heart out at least once a day. And whenever you did, they came looking for you.”

“That’s not… true.”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Always with the negativity. Is it that hard to admit they cherish you?”

“Maybe they d-did before, but they sure as heck don’t now! I-I messed everything up. Grandma, I really… think it’s over. Our friendship, I mean…”

“Not all friendships last. It’s one of life’s many sad truths. Some run their natural course, with friends outgrowing each other as circumstances push them down differing paths. Others end suddenly and dramatically, a casualty of anger, disappointment, resentment… Then there are those most lamentable – the ones that end unnecessarily.”

“Unnecessarily?”

“Yes. Friendships that could be mended – perhaps even strengthened – if only the estranged pair would open their hearts to each other. But they allow pride or fear to hold them back. Weeks of silence turn to months, then years… Decades pass. Sometimes they never put aside their differences and pass on without ever reaching out. Ah, what could have been…”

“But what if one does reach out but the other shuts them out?”

“It is what it is, as unfortunate as that sounds. You can’t force someone to care about you. But at least you can take some comfort in knowing you tried! You set aside your pride, your pettiness, your bitterness, and let that other person know you still think of them. And, should they wish it, you can be friends once more.”

“…”

“I speak from experience, dear. Nothing is more painful than realizing you could’ve saved a relationship had you only tried. All those experiences missed. All those words left unsaid. And for what? A silly misunderstanding or argument that meant little in the end. …If only I’d told them how I missed them – how I loved them. But the chance has passed, and all I’m left with is regret.”

“Grandma…”

“You and your friend have something truly special, Miriam. It would be tragic were you to let it slip away.”

“…I don’t know what I’d do if they turned me away…”

“Hoo hoo! I doubt that’ll be an issue.”

“Don’t laugh! I hurt them! They –“

“They are likely thinking the exact same thing, Miriam. Ashamed of causing you pain… and terrified of approaching you. Were you to show up at their doorstep unannounced, I… Well, let’s just say I don’t see them turning you away.”

“Psh. Wish I had your confidence.”

“Just try, Miriam.”

They return to their house. Miriam joins her grandmother for a late breakfast and then heads back upstairs to her room. The satchel is still sitting where she left it.

“I'm really glad you came back! I missed you a lot, Miriam.”

They’d welcomed her back with open arms back then. Back when the world was on the verge of collapse. She’d abandoned them at a critical moment, leaving them to fend for themself on the frozen peaks of Mount Ichor. She claimed to be too injured and tired to continue, but in reality, she had simply run away from them.

She’s always running away from them.

“Thanks for being my friend...”

They’re always welcoming her back.

This time will be different. It has to be. Even someone as nice and patient as Kiwi has limits. They must be tired of her crap by now.

“We're outsiders... together! I'm glad that we're friends!”

But what if they were willing to give her one more chance?

“I love you!”

No. Not “what if”. She knows they’ll give her another chance, even if she doesn’t deserve it. That’s just how they are.

“I really… miss you,” she says quietly. “And I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to make you wait a little more. But don’t worry… I’ll be there soon. Wait for me a little longer. Please…”

She grabs her satchel and her broom and heads downstairs.

“Going to see your friend?” Saphy asks, pleased.

“Not yet. I got something I need to take care of first.”

“Hmm. Well, good luck, dear.”

“Thanks, grandma.”

It isn’t until three weeks later that Miriam finally makes it to Kiwi’s house.

“This is it,” she mutters, “The big day… Keep calm, Miriam. Everything’s gonna be okay.”

She stopped by Langtree earlier to verify that Kiwi had actually returned from Chismest. Luckily for her, they had. However, she was troubled to hear that the bard rarely visited Langtree, and when they did, they were oddly quiet and lethargic. They still smiled and sang, because of course they did, but everyone could tell something was off.

She approaches the front door of Kiwi’s house and gently knocks on it.

“Kiwi? It’s… It’s me.”

There’s a strange thumping noise from somewhere within the house, but aside from that, there’s no response.

Miriam bites her lip. This is the moment she’s been dreading the most – the moment where she actually has to speak to them. To tell them everything.

But she doesn’t know how to start. What can she even say? She opens her mouth to speak, but no words come out. She tries again and again, but to no avail. The words won’t come to her.

Discouraged, she backs away from the door. Today is a lost cause. She’ll come back tomorrow and try again.

“(No! I’m just trying to run away again),” she thinks to herself. “(I have to do this now… If I don’t, they really may not give me another chance.)”

She reaches into her satchel -

“(Can’t talk? All right, then I won’t talk. I don’t need words to convey my feelings. They’re a bard! If there’s one thing they understand…)”

And pulls out her piccolo.

“(It’s music.)”

She brings the instrument to her lips.

“(Kiwi… Listen carefully, okay? ‘Icky Feelings Miriam’ is back in all her terrible glory, and she’s got a song for you.)”

And she plays –

     Air, carry all my fear away

     Sing what my heart wishes to convey

     When I saw the look in your eyes, I knew

     That I hurt you

     Harsh words, pain undue -

     Lashing out, denying what’s true -

     I’m scared of a future without you

 

That’s not enough. That’s not what she really wants to say. She closes her eyes and continues playing –

     This is so hard for me to say

     Thoughts and feelings long kept at bay

 

A familiar voice begins to sing along with her melody –

          (Air, sing doubt away)

     A brimming fondness I cannot subdue

          (Every day, to you I’ll say)

     How I love you

          (How I love you)

     Real warmth, bond anew

          (Pure joy, shared by two)

     Side by side, let’s see the day through

          (We’ll see it through)

     I don’t want a future without you

          (I don’t want a future without you)

She lowers her piccolo.

“Kiwi…” she whispers. “You… sang with me…? Thank Eya…!”

Her feelings reached them.

She hears the sound of the front door slowly creaking open. Kiwi, dressed in their blue pajamas, stands and looks at Miriam.

“(I’m an idiot. I’m a coward. I’m sorry I took so long. I’m sorry for everything.)” she struggles on what to say to her friend.  

As she mulls, she doesn’t notice the bard approaching her. Quickly, at that. She’s caught completely off guard as they throw their arms around her and hug her so tightly she can hardly breathe. They don’t say a word. Their breathing is unsteady, and their body’s trembling. She thinks they may be crying, but she’s too scared to ask.

They stand there, silently holding each other for a long while. Finally -

“Miriam?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s chilly out here… Can we go inside?”

“Sure.”

However, neither one of them loosens their hold. The pair is forced to awkwardly shuffle into the house. After Kiwi gently pushes the door shut with their foot, they find a nice spot in the middle of the room to resume standing in silence.

This time, Miriam speaks first –

“Guessing you’re not mad at me anymore.”

“I’m sorry. I never should’ve gotten mad in the first place.”

“No, I deserved it. I was being a jerk.”

“You kinda were.”

“(Oof),” she thinks, “(Wasn’t expecting you to agree with me.)”

“Still,” Kiwi continues, “it was wrong, and I’m sorry.”

“No, I was wrong and I’m sorry. I’m an idiot, Kiwi. I should’ve told you what was bothering me instead of bottling it up and giving you the cold shoulder. I ruined the trip…”

“I’m not any better! I was bottling stuff up too! I wanted to talk to you about it, but I didn’t want my problems getting in the way of all the fun we were having…”

“So you kept your bad thoughts to yourself.”

“Yeah.”

“Even though you promised ages ago you were gonna stop doing that.”

“…Yeah.”

 “We got time. Wanna talk about it now?”

They release each other and walk over to the bed. Miriam takes a seat at the foot of the bed and pats the spot next to her. Kiwi avoids her gaze as they sit.

“Okay! Tell me what’s going on, Kiwi. What’s got you down?”

“Do you remember that dance club in Mohabumi? The Crater? We talked about a bunch of stuff…”

“We sure did.”

“You said I always knew what I wanted and who I was…”

“Whoa. That’s a gloomy look on your face. I’m guessing your problem’s got to do with what I said back then?”

“I don’t know what I want anymore, Miriam. My dream was to save the world and make a difference… and I did! And for the longest time I was really happy! Life continued on… Everything went back to normal. And that’s great! But… watching everyone go on with their lives, working towards their dreams… made me realize I don’t have a dream anymore.”

“Psh. Is that it?”

“W-Well… Yes…?”

“Look at me, Kiwi. Do I look like I have some big dream?”

“Um…”

“The answer is ‘no’. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. And y’know what? That’s totally fine. I’m happy getting by one day at a time. Big goals and dreams can motivate someone to better themselves, but some people take it too far. They get so caught up in chasing a dream they don’t stop to enjoy what’s happening right now.”

“It’s still scary. When I think about five years from now, or ten, or fifteen, it’s a total blank. What should I do? Everyone else is moving forward and all I can do is watch.”

“Everyone goes through life at their own pace. Just because it looks like everyone’s moving faster than you doesn’t mean they are. Anyway, don’t worry about it so much. Find something small you can focus on now.”

“Something small? Like what?”

“I dunno…”

“What about you? What are you focusing on?”

“Uh… S-Stuff…”

“Miriam!”

“Gah! Okay! I-I’m… focusing on what we talked about before. A-About being happier and stuff…” she pauses. “And… y’know… some o-other things…”

“Like?”

“I can’t believe I’m telling you this,” she groans. “Like… Uh…”

She points at Kiwi and then herself.

“What does that mean?” the bard innocently asks.

It means”, Miriam hisses, barely able to contain her embarrassment. “I’m focusing on… us.”

“…”

“…”

“Oh. You mean our friendship?”

“Yes. That’s exactly it,” she grumbles. “Because y’know what? I’m like you – I can’t see much of anything when I think of my life five or ten years from now. But unlike you, I can see one thing.”

“What is it?”

“You.”

“…”

“A-Anyway, let’s talk about my p-p-problems now! Yep, it’s the Miriam Misery Hour with me, Miriam! I, uh, so during the trip I kinda… You and the p-pirates and the band and everyone and…. I-I dunno, it got under my skin and… Crap, I’m not making any sense… Hold on…”

She clears her throat.

“I didn’t agree to go with you to hang out with all your buddies and get some stupid photos. Oh, I’m talking about our trip, by the way. So, yeah. What I was really looking forward to wasn’t any of that stuff. It was being with…  Ugh… This is really embarrassing! Forget I said anything!”

“Are you okay, Miriam? You’re being really sweet today. It’s scaring me.”

“DON’T make fun of me right now. I’m THIS close to exploding, okay? ExPLOOOOOOOding!” she trembles as she speaks.

Maaaaybe I want you to exploooode!” they sing as they throw their arms around her.

“NO!!! No HUGGING!!! I can’t deal with this right now!”

The witch thrashes about, desperate to get away from all this affection, but the bard refuses to let her go. Eventually her thrashing turns to half-hearted squirming, and then –

“This,” she says quietly while hugging them back, “was all I wanted. Time where we could just be dumb friends doing dumb friend things with no one else to bug us. That’s what got me so worked up before. I could barely get a moment with you. Everyone wanted to talk with you or sing with you or do whatever.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I was scared! Telling someone you want to spend time alone with them? Don’t you know what that sounds like?! Besides… I didn’t want to get in the way of you having fun with all your other friends. And before you tell me I could’ve had fun with you all too… Yeah, maybe I could’ve. But that’s not the point, though now I’m not really sure what the point is, and I’m so desperate to end this conversation and –“

She pries the bard off her and reaches into the small satchel hanging at her side. She pulls out a book and thrusts it into Kiwi’s hands.

“What’s this?” they ask.

“Open it.”

Kiwi does so and is greeted by the picture they’d taken at the sleepover weeks ago – the one of Kiwi grinning at the camera while Miriam makes a bizarre expression. Beneath it, scrawled in Miriam’s sloppy handwriting, is the phrase “A PORTRAIT OF DORKS”. They turn the page.

There are the pictures they took in Delphi. They strike cool poses before the Queen of Winds statue, stand apprehensively next to Dani and Mitzi after a strange concert, and sing in a sweets shop with its owner.

The next page is filled with photos of the coffee pirates as they go about their business. The following has pictures of Kiwi and Lucas swapping hats, Kiwi dancing with Nina, and Kiwi playing card games with the mermaids. There are also random shots of the Lady Arabica and the open sea. Miriam notices Kiwi’s smile fading slightly, likely in response to her not appearing in any of the pirate photos.

There are a few pictures of Xiatian. Of Manny, Viola, and Ash. There’s the picture of Miriam chopping wood.

There are a few pictures of the moon and stars in Chaandesh’s skies. There’s the one awkward family photo of Kiwi and their parents.

And then a blank page. Kiwi begins to close the book -

“You’re not done,” Miriam says.

“Huh?

“I’m telling you to turn the page. There’s more.”

Kiwi turns the page and sees a picture of Miriam with her grandmother. They’re picking mushrooms in the woods near Delphi.

The next page has a shot of Miriam with Manny’s band at the Crazy Raven. They’re setting up the stage for a future performance. Another shot has Miriam making a goofy face with the Crazy Raven’s owner. Another has her and Ash watching Viola attempt to play the accordion.

They turn the pages faster now. There are dozens of shots of Miriam with the mermaids and pirates. One shot has Lucas and Mel together with the word “SWEETHEARTS” written in Lucas’s handwriting. There’s one page that has nothing but pictures of Nina’s face. Nina wrote “coolest person alive” next to each photo.

“Miriam, this is…?” Kiwi asks.

“My attempt to make things right, and the reason I haven’t come to see you until now. I went all over the world to take pictures with everyone. And… make friends with them. You’ve got some weird taste in people, but… they’re not so bad once you get to know them. Next time we go on a trip, we’ll have tons of fun. No more sulky, antisocial Miriam.”

Kiwi looks back down at the photo album in their lap.

“…”

Drip, drip –

Tiny droplets of water fall on the page.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” Miriam gasps. “Are those tears?!”

“Mhm.”

“RRRRRGH!!! Don’t ‘MHM’ me! What the heck are you crying about?! And why are you crying and smiling at the same time?! It’s okay to frown sometimes, y’know!”

“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, Miriam. I’m just… so happy right now.”

“…Pffft! Hahaha! Y-You’re seriously the worst! You smile when you cry, you apologize for being happy… What a weirdo.”

She uses her sleeve to wipe away Kiwi’s tears.

“Haha… Yeah, I know,” they say. “Miriam, thank you. For this… For coming to see me… For talking to me. For always being such a great friend. I don’t know if there’s a way for me to say how much I love you. SO I’LL SING –“

“OKAY, WOW, LOOK AT THE TIME!!! Saphy’s gotta be worried sick about me! Really must be going!”

“Oh! You’re right. It’s getting late. Will you be okay flying back? Maybe you should spend the night.“

“I really, really, really, really can’t tonight!”

“(I’ll seriously die if I don’t get away from you),” she thinks.

“I really, really, really, really want you to.”

“Well…” she glances down at her satchel, “I did kinda pack my sleeping bag, pajamas, and a change of clothes… and grandma knows I’m here, so I guess she wouldn’t be that worried if I didn’t come home tonight…”

“Then…!”

“I guess I can stay.”

Kiwi quickly gets dressed and takes Miriam to Langtree for dinner.

“Marley and Francine always make too much food!” Kiwi exclaims. “And everything they make is good. You’ll love it!”

“Is it okay for us to randomly show up and ask for food?”

“I do it all the time.”

“Maybe you should cook for yourself more.”

“Haha! I’ll cook next time you stay with me.”

Marley and Francine have indeed made too much food, and they have no issue with Kiwi and Miriam joining them for a meal. Marley’s nice enough to give Kiwi a few snacks to take home. The pair wander around Langtree for another hour or so, chatting it up with anyone who’ll give them the time. Kiwi does most of the talking, but Miriam makes an effort to socialize. With no one left to talk to, they head back to the bard’s house.

Some time later, they’re both sitting around in their pajamas.

“Hey,” Miriam says. “Wanna take a picture?”

“YES!!!”

With Kiwi’s help, Miriam sets the camera’s timer. She sits on the floor in the middle of the room and pats the spot next to her.

“C’mon. Don’t have much time.”

Kiwi pounces on Miriam.

“WHOA!!! Relax! You’re way too excited about this!”

She gently pushes them off her.

“Okay, so,” she clears her throat, “go ahead and put your arms around me.”

They gasp.

“Don’t make this weird!” she shouts. “Say anything dumb and we’re not taking the picture!”

“I’ll be good!” they say, pulling Miriam into an embrace.

“Good. N-Now… our, uh… cheeks should touch… o-or whatever.”

“Like this?” they ask, pressing their cheek against hers.

“Y-Yeah…” she replies, stifling her embarrassment. “Just like that. Make sure you look at the camera, okay? It’s about to go off, so… I’m gonna count to three. You’d better smile like your life depends on it!”

“Okay!”

“Here we go. One… Two… THREE!!!“

She jabs the bard in the ribs.

“GAAAAAAAAH!!!” they scream.

Flash!

“Yes! Got it!” Miriam snickers and fist pumps the air.

Kiwi, meanwhile, has fallen backwards and shows no signs of getting up.

“…Miriam, that was mean,” they pout. “Now we gotta take the photo again.”

“Nah.”

“But I blinked! …And screamed. And fell backwards.”

A single photo slides out of the camera’s front slot.

“It’s fine,” she looks at them and grins. “Trust me, this is gonna be the best picture ever.”

Kiwi, still on the ground, watches as Miriam takes the photo into her hands and –

“Hahahaha! I-It’s perfect!” she waves it triumphantly in the air. She looks at it again – holding it closer to her face this time – and cackles hysterically.

Curious, Kiwi sits up and takes the photo from Miriam.

The witch’s face is turned towards the camera, but she’s looking at Kiwi from the corners of her eyes. Her mouth’s twisted into a sinister grin. Kiwi, meanwhile, is right in the middle of switching from “picture-perfect smile” to “shrieking at the top of their lungs”. It’s not a flattering look, but it is a funny one, and Kiwi can’t help but laugh at the sight of it.

“Here! Here, give it back!” Miriam motions for Kiwi to return the photo to her, which they do.

She opens the photo album and removes a picture from it. She holds it up along with the new one.

“That’s the picture from the sleepover,” Kiwi gasps. “Oh! They match!”

Both photos are of Kiwi and Miriam in their pajamas sitting next to each other. In the old photo, Kiwi’s smiling at the camera while Miriam’s making a ridiculous expression. Now there’s the new one that has Miriam grinning and Kiwi looking like a lunatic.

“I’m keeping this one,” Miriam says as she slips the newer photo in her satchel.

“You don’t want to display them together?”

“It’d be cooler to use this one to start a new album.”

“A new one?”

“Yeah. I want you to keep that one,” she points to the book resting on the floor next to Kiwi’s bed. “Think of it as an apology gift for me ruining the trip.”

“But those pictures were for you.”

“Okay. They’re mine, right? That means I can do whatever I want with them.”

The bard looks at her quizzically. “Yes?”

“I want you to have them.”

“But…”

“Why the long face? You should be excited! This gives us an excuse to go on another adventure to take more stupid pictures.”

“OOOH!!! WE CAN HAVE MATCHING ALBUMS!!!”

“Yeah, there you go. That’s the spirit.”

Kiwi jumps to their feet, grabs the camera with one hand, and Miriam’s arm with the other.

“LET’S GO TAKE A BUNCH OF PICTURES!!!” they shout.

“Are you crazy?! Look at the time! We should be getting ready for bed!”

“Oh. Can we take some pictures in the morning?!”

“Sure? I guess that’s fi-“

“GREAT!!! Let’s go to bed right now so we can get up bright and early, Miriam!”

In an incredibly rare show of force, Kiwi drags Miriam over to their bed, throws the blanket off, motions for her to lie down (which she does), grabs the blanket from the floor, tucks Miriam into bed, quickly sings her a lullaby, then collapses on Miriam’s sleeping bag on the floor.

“Uh,” the witch mumbles, “g’night…?”

Kiwi closes their eyes.

“Kiwi?”

They open their eyes. “Sleep, Miriam!”

“Aren’t you uncomfortable down there?”

“I’m fine!”

“You’re not even in the sleeping bag.”

“Go to sleep, Miriam!”

She groans. “Look… I… I don’t feel right taking your bed. We should –“

“You’re my guest. I can’t let you sleep on the floor!”

“…I’m… I, uh… H-Have fun on the floor!”

Kiwi closes their eyes.

“Ugh …Kiwi.”

They open their eyes. “Sleep, Miriam!”

“Get in the bed.”

“But you’re in the bed.”

She lowers her voice to a nervous whisper. “I know. I’m saying w-we can… share it.”

If only she could see the look on their face.

“No,” they answer, hiding their nervousness with a cheery tone. “I’m okay!”

“RRRGH!!! I’m not letting you sleep on the floor!”

“I slept on the floor at your house!”

“So did I!”

Both of them had slept in the living room and used sleeping bags.

“Either you come up here,” she growls, “or I’m going down there. You have until the count of three. One. TWO!!!”

Kiwi scrambles into the bed.

“G-Good,” Miriam squeaks, her voice barely audible. “Sleep n-now. G’night.”

She turns away from the bard pretends to snore. Kiwi turns away from her and closes their eyes. They follow Miriam’s lead and also pretend to snore.

“Snore, snore,” Miriam says, “Snore.”

“Snoooooore,” Kiwi replies, “Snore, snore, snore…”

“Snore, snore, s-snore,” her voice cracks.

“Sno… Haha! M-Miriam, what are we doing?”

“I have no idea,” she snickers. “You got enough space over there? You can move closer if you want.”

Kiwi’s been teetering on the bed’s edge the entire time. They slowly slide over, stopping only when they feel their back pressing against Miriam’s.

“Sorry! Is that too close?”

“It’s… f-fine. You’re, uh, wow… You’re warm.”

“I am? Is it bothering you? Should I –“

“I’m not complaining. …I like it. Actually, I… Okay, Kiwi? I’m gonna say something very icky to you, and I need you to promise not to make a big deal about it. Can you do that?”

“Sure! I promise.”

“Great. So, uh, here goes. I… like… w-w-warm.”

“…?”

“Crap! What I meant was, I like how warm you are! There! I said it! And I hope you enjoyed it because I’m never saying it again!”

“Aw! I like how warm you are too!”

“Tch! And there you go, just blurting crap like that out without any hesitation,” she turns to face them. “How is it so easy for you? Saying stuff like that, I mean.”

“I’m not as shy as you are.”

“Wha-?! I’m not shy!”

“You are, and it’s one of my favorite things about you,” they finally turn to look at her. “You’re so cute, Miriam.”

“WE’LL SEE HOW ‘CUTE’ I AM AFTER I PUSH YOU OFF THIS BED!!!”

“Haha! Wait, wait, wait! I’m sorry! I’M SORRY!!! Don’t push me off! NO!!!”

“You’d better be sorry!” she says, frowning. “Seriously… Don’t say stuff like that to me right now, okay?! I can’t deal with it!”

“Miriam? Sorry. Did I tease you too much?”

“No,” she sighs, “I… UGH!!!”

She sits up. “I’m the one who’s sorry! You’re totally right about me being shy. It’s so frustrating… I try getting close to you, but when you start… uh… ‘returning the favor’, I tell myself I can’t deal with it and push you away! I’m lucky you’re as patient as you are. Anyone else would’ve given up on me.”

“I’d never give up on you!”

“Sometimes I wish you would. Do you know how awful it feels knowing I’ve hurt you repeatedly? And instead of getting mad or sad, you just… let it slide!”

“I don’t want to be mad at you. I was at Chismest and look at what happened. We almost…” their voice trails off.

“Don’t you dare blame yourself. You had every right to be angry. The problem is… and always has been… me. I need to learn to control my feelings better. Not just my anger, but… everything! I don’t want to stay like this if it means I’m just going to keep hurting you.”

“You don’t need to force yourself to change for my sake, Miriam! I love you the way you are!”

“Guh! I’m not ‘forcing’ anything! It’s called ‘personal growth’, Kiwi! I want to be a better person! I want to be someone who’s so awesome and makes you so happy you’ll never have to fake a smile again! And I’m…”

She clenches her fists.

“I’m gonna start right now! Kiwi!”

“Y-Yes, Miriam?!”

“’Shy Miriam’ is dead. There’s only ‘Cool Miriam’ now.”

“Okay?!”

“Close your eyes!”

Confused, and just a bit scared, the bard closes their eyes and keeps still. They feel Miriam’s hands cupping their face. Is this what they think it is? They feel her leaning in closer.

Closer.

They feel her breath on their face. And then –

“…”

Something gently pokes their cheek.

“…Miriam?” the bard asks after a long pause.

She responds with a mildly annoyed grunt.

“Is that your nose?”

“…Maybe.”

“Did… Did you try to kiss me just now?”

“…Also maybe.”

Kiwi opens their eyes to see a mortified Miriam staring back at them. They both glance at her nose – its tip slightly bent from pressing against Kiwi’s cheek  - then back at each other’s eyes.

Kiwi isn’t sure which one of them cracks first, but within seconds they’re both howling with laughter. They laugh for what feels like forever, and by the time they finally calm down, neither of them has the strength to move.

Miriam, however, still has enough energy to grumble.

“Darn it, darn it, darn it, darn it,” she groans. “Of course. Of course this happens. Ugh…! That’s what I get for calling myself ‘cool’. Should’ve known better… I’ll never be cool. Gonna spend the rest of my days being a loser dork. And you –“

She pokes Kiwi’s chest.

“How dare you laugh at me! Once I get enough energy to move, I’m leaving. You’ll never see me again. I hope you’re happy. Jerk.”

“You were laughing too, Miriam.”

“I totally didn’t find anything about that funny. I only cracked up because someone here has a dumb, infectious giggle.”

Kiwi giggles.

“Heh… See?! See what I mean? Anyway… can we just, uh, pretend that didn’t happen? That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m also gonna go to sleep because I’m seriously exhausted. I don’t think I ever laughed that hard in my life. Sheesh…”

“Sleep sounds good… Wait, we’re still taking pictures tomorrow, right? Or are you really gonna leave forever and never come back?”

“Eh… I’ll forgive you this time. Consider yourself lucky… that I love you so much…” she yawns. “Okay, seriously… sleep time. We’ll take pictures tomorrow… G’night, Kiwi.”

Goodniiiight! Sleep tiiiight…”

After a pause, they add –

“I love you.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. As a friend, right?”

The bard giggles but doesn’t say anything. Miriam’s eyes snap open. Why didn’t Kiwi respond to that? What was that ominous giggle? Is there something they’re not telling her? She could try forcing an answer out of them, but she’s had enough “grossness” for one day. She’ll ask them about it in the morning.

The two of them hold each other and drift off to sleep.