Act 1: Chapter 5, Part 6

Posted on July 30, 2017

In Which Megan is Deeply Displeased

Megan. First Day of School. Almost Food Time?

The Food Court took up its own sub-block, fairly spacious paths on either side allowing easy access to the neighboring lane. It was a large square building of grey stone blocks, crenellated at the top like a battlement. It had small arrowslit windows. The building was only nine years old; Megan could remember when it first opened, when they were six years old. Not too long after they, she and Angie, met Evan.

“Cinnabon, Cinnabon, time to eat a Cinnabon,” Angie sort of sang, prancing forward ahead of Megan and Ryan. They both picked up their speed to follow her into the Food Court, Megan smiling at the fact that Angie still sang her little songs like that.

The Food Court was a weird establishment (or so Megan had always thought). On the ground floor was the titular food court, which the Court’s owners rented out to a combination of higher end fast food chains and independent vendors (most of which sold semi gourmet versions of fast foods, fair foods, and street foods, the sort of stuff you’d see in food trucks in other parts of the city) along with mall stalwarts Cinnabon and Orange Julius.

On the second and third floor were arcades suitable for all ages, with a target audience of adults with children. Those floors contained a combination of mechanical games of skill like pinball and skeeball along with older, child friendly video games. On the fourth and fifth floors was a bar and tavern combo, accessible to adults, and, on Fridays and Saturdays, First Agers, which contained a number of pub and tavern games such as darts, pool, and, on select nights, cards (which required patrons to be of full-age).

In the basement, there was a First Age and older arcade, with contained many more modern and more graphic video games. On Fridays and Saturdays, they served alcohol down there, too, but that wouldn’t be the case today. Which was fine; Megan didn’t really want anything interfering with her cognition at the moment.

Megan hadn’t been to the Court in years now (Lauren thought the whole place was rather déclassé, she’d made that clear the first time Megan had ever suggested it) and had forgotten about how pungent the actual food court was, so she paused for a second as it hit her in the face when they walked through the doors. The smell of so many foods--burritos and curry and burgers and ramen and sausages and suya and pizza and more--all intertwining was a little overwhelming. Not bad, just a lot.

The first floor was maybe half full of people, as far as seating went; a lot of the crowd was other teenagers--if she had to guess, mostly Persephone students who had gotten a move-on faster than the three of them had. Megan spotted a few people she knew, but her crowds usually spent their time elsewhere.

“So,” Ryan said, an anticipatory smile on his face, “I’m going to get me a Bowl o’ Ramen. Anyone want to join me?”

“Cinn-a-bon!” Angie replied.

“Does Curry Time have any vada pav?” Megan asked. “I haven’t had any since I got back, and I miss it.”

“I think so,” Ryan said, “But I don’t know how good it is.”

“It’ll probably be good enough,” Megan said with a shrug. “We want to get a table?”

“Whoever gets done first should get one,” Angie said. “This place isn’t that big. See ya!” And she dashed off in the direction of the Cinnabon.

“Yeah,” Ryan said. “This place isn’t that full, it should be easy to get one.”

“Okay,” Megan replied. “See you in a bit.”

“See ya.” Ryan stalked through the bustle toward the ramen place.

Megan managed to walk eight whole steps in the direction of Curry Time, three of them dancing out of the way of a dumb oaf who was ignoring Megan’s existence in the space he was moving through, before a girl’s voice called her name. She turned to see a thin girl of middling height waving at her, who after a second Megan recognized as Tammy Whiteshrine, a girl she’d been friendly with for years, but didn’t know well super well anymore. Tammy hadn’t gone to Asphodel for middle school; Megan had mostly seen her at the shrine since they’d hit their teen years. She was holding hands with a shorter, slighter girl with darker hair than Tammy’s sandy brown. After a moment Megan recognized her as Cora something; Megan had never really crossed paths with her, but she’d gone to Asphodel.

“Hey, Megan!” Tammy said when she and Cora reached Megan, who had paused as she’d determine their identities. “Didn’t expect to see you here. Doesn’t really seem like your scene.”

Megan blinked at that. “Hi Tammy. Why do you say that?”

“Oh, you know, just the party you run with,” Tammy replied, then glanced at Cora. “You guys know each other? You both went to Asphodel.” Megan recalled that Tammy’s family had moved houses between elementary and middle school, but she couldn’t remember which of the other middle schools Tammy had gone to. She didn’t bother to correct her in calling Lauren and the girls a party; that was Lauren’s hill to die on. Megan simply didn’t care that much.

“Nah,” Cora said, quirking one corner of her lip up. “I know who she is, but we’ve never talked before.”

“Megan,” Tammy said, gesturing “This is my girl Coralie Rocard. She’s starting ninth year at Asphodel.”

Megan beamed at them both. “Nice to meet you properly, Coralie. Is that what you like to go by? All I could remember was Cora something.”

“Yeah, please call me Coralie,” Coralie said with a nod and a return smile. She had a nice smile, dainty and dimpled, with a flash of teeth. Megan could see why Tammy would be into that.

“Will do,” Megan replied with a nod and a continued smile.

“So what you up to here?” Tammy asked.

“You know,” Megan said, “I’m just here with Angie and Ryan. We’re just getting food and chatting I think, though I guess Ryan might drag us to the arcade, too. I don’t know yet.”

“Oh yeah?” Tammy said, smiling, her narrow face benefiting from the expression as well. “That’s nice to hear! You haven’t really talked about them the last couple of years when we’ve run into each other.”

“Who now?” Coralie said, drawling a bit.

“Angie McMillan and Ryan d’Maughan,” Tammy said. “You know them?”

The smaller girl was looking at them both with a surprised expression. “Oh, them? Really? The redhead and the short boy that hang out with that Evan kid?”

“Yeah?” Tammy said. “I mean, yes, assuming they still do. They did in elementary school. Why?”

Megan, afraid of what she might say, said, “Yeah, them. We’re friends from way back. We, uhm, went through a rough patch.”

“Sacred shit, you’re the one who exiled them? I never knew that! Are you unexiling the Exiles?” Coralie asked, her brown eyes widening even more.

“The what now?” Tammy asked, incredulous and confused.

Megan frowned at the other girl. “That’s a very rude thing, trying to name someone’s party for them like that. I keep telling people I don’t like it.”

Coralie shrank back a little; it must have been something in Megan’s tone. “Well, you’re unexiling them, so it won’t apply anymore.”

“I think the whole ‘the Exiles’ thing is melodramatic and childish,” Megan said, trying not to let her hostility toward the idea color her tone too much. She tossed her head to throw some hair out of her eyes and continued. “People should mind their own business rather than labeling other people based on nothing but hearsay and guesswork. At any rate, they are my friends and I’m doing my best to put all that behind us.”

“Oh, I heard you lunched with the new Light Bearer! Chris!” Tammy said, using the same tone Megan imagined she herself would use if the situation had been reversed and she’d gone this long without asking about it. “You and some people no one I talked to knew. Was that Angie and them?”

“Y-yeah,” Megan said, feeling her cheeks warm, irrational as that was. “Um. It was.”

“That’s fucking insane,” Coralie said; she seemed to be the sort of person who doesn’t know when to quit digging. “Those three are spooky. There’s something unsettling about them. I can’t imagine them hanging out with you and a Light Bearer.”

“Sure, a Light Bearer, but why not me?” Megan said, no longer bothering to keep her displeasure at this conversation off her face or out of her voice.

“‘Cause of how fucking gorgeous you are,” Coralie said.

Megan still blinked at the baldness of the statement. That sort of thing had started right after she’d turned fifteen, and she still didn’t understand it. Like, she knew she was pretty, she wasn't an idiot, it was just how direct people were willing to be, how often they let it color the things they would say to her and the things they apparently thought about her. She was an adult, so people thought it was now okay to say stuff like that to her, she guessed, and they were trying to compliment her, mostly. Usually it was a little more subtle, but Coralie still had a full year of middle school yet to go.

But it’s not like she was a Tourney girl or anything. She wasn’t hot and toned like Nisha or Lauren were. At any rate, Tammy’s expression on hearing her girlfriend call Megan ‘gorgeous’ could be best described as somewhere between ‘stony’ and ‘unappreciative.’

“Oh relax,” Coralie said to Tammy. “It was just an observation. Look at her blushing at you asking about the Light Bearer. You have nothing to worry about, babe.”

“It’s still part of a mean idea,” Megan said, as coldly as she could manage. “Since you’re either insulting my friends by saying there’s something wrong with them, or insulting me by implying  I couldn’t be accepting of people who are different, or both.”

Coralie shrank back further, tried to hide behind Tammy, who took a step away from her. In a small voice she said, “I wasn’t… I didn’t mean to be mean. I just was saying what I felt, which is that they’re creepy. That Angie girl talks to birds and squirrels sometimes, which, I mean, that’s cool an’ all, it’s just a little disconcerting, you know?”

Megan did not let any trace of forgiveness touch her face, and Coralie went on, talking faster. “Which would be fine, really, but that Evan kid walks around like he’d be just as happy shooting you as talking to you--”

“That doesn’t sound like the Evan I remember,” Tammy said. “He was a sweet kid.”

“Well, I haven’t like talked to him,” Coralie replied. “You don’t talk to the Exiles. Mostly you don’t talk about the Exiles, either. Particularly because that little guy’s always wearing this expression like he knows something you don’t, and that whatever it is you won’t like it if he tells. Like he knows a secret that would ruin your life if it got out.” She shuddered, and it didn’t seem to be for effect.

“Well,” Tammy said, “That does sound kinda like Ryan, though.”

“It’s been great catching up, Tammy,” Megan said. “I hope you guys have fun.” Then she turned and walked toward Curry Time without waiting to hear her reply.