Tox’s face immediately grew flushed the moment the words left her mouth. She excused herself to go to the bathroom, and I watched her as she left, noting the way her cocky attitude had shrugged off her like a fur coat on a sunny and steaming day.
And- I know this next part is going to make me sound like a pervert- I followed her. I picked up my stack of books, flew through the self-checkout, and set them on the bench beside the water fountains before sliding open the door to the unisex bathrooms. All the stalls were occupied except for the one where the handle had long since busted and there was nothing but an open hole remaining of the original lock- not a big stretch of the imagination to know why nobody used it anymore.
I camped out in the broken stall and squatted on top of the toilet lid, the perfect height to watch the people coming in and out. I hoped that, with enough time, Tox would come out, see that I was gone from my spot, get confused, and then go back to wherever she came from.
I… I can’t write today. I can’t- I can’t-
No. I’ve got to write everything I can think of down, because if Miralay catches me and makes me the Providence, I want to remember the person I was before, even if he was nothing more than a dreamer stuck inside a dead city.
I watched that yellow bathroom door like a hawk. Countless people passed in and out- mothers with their children, elderly ladies with functional bowel systems looking to surround themselves with younger outlooks, teens just dismissed from the local anime club needing to purge their systems of the soda binges and wash the cheeto dust from their fingers. I waited for what seemed like a few hours- my watch told me it was fifteen minutes.
But fifteen minutes was plenty of time for Tox to finish up in the bathroom, even if she had to redo her makeup, right?
I slid out of my stall, washing my hands even though I hadn’t done anything, and glanced around. The situation I had walked into was inverted- all of the stalls were empty except for one, where a pair of bare feet poked out from behind a purple door. I walked closer- a soft sniffle, a rustle of fabric, a faint humming.
I recognized that voice.
I gently knocked on the stall door. In the back of my mind, I screamed at myself- what are you doing? That’s probably just a stranger, someone you don’t know-
The sounds stopped. The door opened a tiny crack, Living Wasteland peeking out with only a sliver of her face visible, the eye that I could see gray like someone had poked it with a needle and let the color drain out.
A morbid image fitting for the morbid fate she was perfectly okay with allowing to happen to herself.
“Call me Liv,” she said in an almost inaudible voice. “I like it better.”
“Fine, Liv,” I sighed. She opened the door slightly more- her forehead shone with beads of sweat. Behind her was a backpack, black clothes hastily crammed in and overflowing.
She must have noticed me staring since she glanced away and blushed. “I need you to take me home.” She rubbed her Providence dot. “I don’t know how to shift back.”
“You can… shift? Is that a Providence thing, or…”
She shook her head. “I don’t know, okay?” Tears formed in her eyes. Her mouth quivered. “I was going for a walk, and then I doubled over in a playground, thinking I was going to be sick- and then I found myself looking like that, so I put on my second pair of clothes thinking they would fit better. I thought I would walk around town and see if I could find any Miralayan enforcers willing to give me cash in exchange for the Providences-”
“You were going to sell me out!?”
Liv covered her eyes, cringing. “I would come too, dumbass! You and I are in this together, remember?”
“No. I’m not the Providence, and I’m not your Providence, and if you know what’s best for you, you won’t be the Providence either.”
I slammed the stall door in her face, chivalry be damned, and walked myself home with my books in hand. In retrospect, diary, I should have been kinder. Should have tried to talk her out of her apparent death wish. But at the same time… There’s no reason why I should have to take any crap from a girl who would be so willing to spit on her mother’s grave for a misplaced sense of duty.
Earth is so vibrant here compared to what I’ve seen of Miralay. I would rather see blood on my scuffed knees after a long day of exploring than the reddish dirt of Mars after a day of being pampered. Miralay doesn’t have wide-open skies or skin-roasting bonfires or deafening waterfalls or whispering forests as far as the eye can see. Miralay won’t give me the freedom to choose my own job or decide where I want to live or even to keep my mind unadulterated and free of foreign influence.
Living Wasteland can go join her namesake for all I care.
I’m not king material. I’m not the Providence- I can’t be.
I won’t be.