Act 1: Chapter 6, Part 1

Posted on August 06, 2017

Chapter 6: In Which Evan is Fortunate

In Which Butts are Once Again Discussed

Ryan. First Day of School. Food Time.

Ryan somehow managed to be the one to have to find a table. Which was fine. He just wasn’t always easy to see. But he tapped his phone after he put his tray down on the table, sending them a message so they at least knew he’d found one.

Not that he didn’t have eyes on them both. Megan had gotten waylaid by Tammy Whiteshrine and Tammy’s girlfriend Coralie and Angie had gotten stuck in a ridiculous line. Angie wasn’t the only kid rewarding her or himself with a cinnamon roll for getting through the first day. But Angie reached the front of the line by the time Megan broke away, and Megan’s line wasn’t short either.

Angie sat down next to him, setting her cinnamon roll down, then reached out and gave his hand a squeeze. “That line was ridonkulous,” she said.

“Sure was,” Ryan said, giving her an upward twist of the corner of his lips as he did so, before he turned his eyes back to Megan. “Funny thing, first day of school.”

“Oh, butts to you,” Angie replied, wrinkling her nose at him, then took her first small, neat bite of cinnamon roll.

“Butts are widely considered a positive and desired attribute these days,” Ryan commented. Megan was looking at her phone as she stood in line. “Many people would be appreciative to be wished butts.” Looked like Tammy and Coralie were having a not-super-fun conversation in the wake of whatever transpired with Megan.

“Okay,” Angie said, narrowing her eyes, then spent a second chewing. After swallowing, she said, “Ugly butts to you! Butts so ugly that it would be impolite to describe or comment upon them!” Ryan noted Bryan and Marco, two kids who had been in computer classes with him and Evan, walking through the crowd.

“I’m wounded, Matchstick,” he said, grinning at Angie. “I thought you cared for me; such a dark curse you’d inflict upon the object of your affections!” Ryan continued to match his attention toward Angie with an awareness of who was around them, noting members of a half dozen different parties just from Asphodel in their vicinity. His finger idly traced and tapped around on the screen of his phone, half hidden behind his ramen bowl. Ryan wanted to keep tabs on anything interesting happening.

“Farts to you,” Angie said, scowling back. She shoved a larger piece of pastry in her mouth. “A single gross stinky fart, when no one else’s around,” she said after chewing and swallowing. Not that Angie wasn’t interesting. She was always interesting. It was why he was drawn to her, why he’d taken the offer to join them in the first place, back in fourth grade.

“All solo farts are proud farts, and should be,” Ryan replied, aiming for a reverent tone. “It’s much easier to try and sneak them out when no one might hear them.”

“You are vile,” Angie said, monotone yet emphatic. She’d been a lot more bashful back then, but he liked her just as much if not more now. They’d had to grow up a lot, and maybe they were all a bit harder than they were as kids, but life was hard, and this Angie wasn’t going to roll over and take it.

“I’m fifteen,” Ryan said, trying not to full on smirk and only sort of succeeding. “And I certainly didn’t say that I actually do that at all regularly. I simply said it was objectively easier to do so. It takes less effort. And that I’m proud when I fart alone, because I’m not farting around other people.”

Angie was silent for approximately twenty seconds. “I suppose that’s all fair,” she said, nodding with a concessive expression. “And I suppose I’m the one who brought up farts in the first place, I can’t get mad at you for that. I apologize for calling you vile.” She took another bite.

“Apology accepted,” Ryan replied, letting a little something genuine weave its way into his tone. “Hey Megs,” he added, as Megan plopped down a vada pav and a mango lassi. The old nickname felt good to say. He winked at Angie just before Megan looked back up at him from settling in.

Angie winked back and echoed him. “Hey, Megs.”

Megan smiled at them, but there was distress in her eyes. “Hey guys.”

“Looked like you had some words over there,” Ryan observed.

“What now?” Angie asked, glancing at him.

“Yeah,” Megan said, her voice small. “How much did you guys get picked on?”

Ryan blinked. “Very little. Why?”

“Really?” Megan said, looking just as surprised as Ryan had been. “Uh, well, that’s good. Okay. Well, Tammy’s girlfriend was just saying some stuff most people know better than the talk about around me, I guess, if it’s still making the rounds. I’m surprised… um. Do you…” she trailed off for a second, seemed to gather her courage, took a deep breath. “Do you know some people call you the Exiles?”

Angie giggled, and Ryan snorted, unable to help himself as a chuckle burbled out after. “That melodramatic drivel is still going around?” he asked. “That’s amazing!” He decided to take a bite of ramen finally, now that it was cool enough.

Megan blinked more. “You really… people haven’t been trying to push you guys around?”

“You really haven’t paid attention to us at all?” Angie asked, sounding something like impressed, giving Megan a curious look.

“I couldn’t…” Megan said, glancing away and down. “People knew better than to talk about you around me, I guess. I seldom heard anything about you. And I never saw you.”

Ryan glanced at Angie, just as she was glancing at him. They both smiled. “We saw you,” Ryan said. “You and Lauren’s party weren’t exactly hard to spot.”

Megan continued looking away, shifting her attention to the sandwich in front of her. “I don’t know. I’m good at not noticing stuff, I guess.”

“You always were bad at finding stuff, I’ll grant you that,” Ryan said with a grin. “That’s pretty similar.”

Megan finally looked back up, to make a face at him, scrunching up her nose and mouth. “I was feeling super guilty that I might have left you guys the target of bullying happening behind my back, and you’re making fun of me.”

Ryan let real fondness creep into his smile and his voice again, even as he said, “You know me, Megs.”

She sighed. “I guess I do. How?”

“How did we not get bullied?” Angie said, amusement in her tone, her eyes sparkling.

“Yeah,” Megan said, her voice real small again.

“We had a lot going for us,” Ryan said, shrugging and flipping out his index finger. “Many people knew we had been your friends. I’d surmise that Lauren didn’t want to actively punish us, she just didn’t want you to think about us, and making it clear we weren’t acceptable targets would keep attention from being drawn to us at all.” Flip out the middle. “Also, at first Evan’s sister had just died.” Megan flinched again at that. Just a bit. “No one at Asphodel was that big a monster.”

“People have never quite known how to deal with me,” Ryan continued, flipping out the ring and pinky. “Angie talks to birds, and is the daughter of an enchanter, so no one really knows what she’s capable of. Even today, people don’t necessarily trust sorcerers to obey the law.” Thumb. “Being called the Exiles probably helped, if anything.” He flipped out the index on his other hand. “Also, we try and cultivate a general don’t-fuck-with-us atmosphere in public.” Satisfied, he stopped counting on his fingers, returning his attention to his food and slurping up a noodle, as quietly as he could. After a moment he went on. “In short, there wasn’t a social benefit in picking on us and there was a potentially significant but unknown cost for doing so, so mostly, people left us alone.”

“A lot of people just plain wouldn’t talk to us unless classwork or activities forced them too,” Angie said. Her cinnamon roll was half gone. “Evan was also a bit... prickly for a while, so even people who didn’t care about what Lauren thought gave us a wide berth, and by the time he had it together that just was sort of how it was. The last year or so we’ve ended up with a handful of acquaintances: a few tech kids, art kids, theater kids, band kids, you know. People doing less important stuff than Lauren and the rest of you.”

Megan’s face flushed, and beneath the table where she couldn’t see, Ryan kicked Angie’s leg. Angie jumped, made a quick face at him before smiling, a bit shamefaced, at Megan. “Sorry,” Angie said. “Lauren and the rest of them.”

“I was doing the stuff they were doing,” Megan said quietly. Her eyes were on the table.

“Megan,” Angie said, giving Ryan a defiant look. “I cannot promise to not be a little bitter sometimes. I’d be lying if I were to fake otherwise, and that’s not a great way to start this whole thing out.”

Megan found herself trying to blink back tears. “I know,” she said, quieter still. “I accept that. I fucked up.”

“Bingo,” Angie said. “Moving on. What brought this up? Also, you should eat your snack. ”

Megan chuckled, a little, despite the tears still in her eyes. “Okay Mom,” she said, then picked up her vada pav and took a bite. Ryan used the opportunity to eat more ramen. When she swallowed the bite, Megan said, “Just the stuff that Tammy’s girlfriend was saying. I suppose that all may come down to the ‘don’t-fuck-with-us’ attitude you’re ‘cultivating.’ She was saying stuff like she thought Evan would rather shoot people than talk to them, and that you seem like you know secrets about everyone. Ones that would ‘ruin your life’ if they got out.”

“Really?!” Ryan asked, a grin spreading across his face despite himself. “That’s so great to hear! That’s exactly what I’m going for. It’s so nice to have one’s work appreciated in one’s own lifetime!” Beside him, Angie giggled.

Megan regarded him, expressionless, for a long moment. “You know,” she said, “I think I’ve kind of sanded off your edges in my memories. Your weird, weird edges.”

“You mean the reasons I like him so much?” Angie said, her tone again amused. “That was silly of you. You’ve been hanging out with the popular kids too much, Megan.”