“C’mon, Sofie. I don’t want to spend the whole night waiting in this line.”
Sofia’s heart pounded a little as Moe dragged her to the front of the line to face the pair of stoic-looking fellows in official-looking clothing. In fact, it hadn’t stopped pounding since they’d first sighted the massive fortress city. For the first time in a long time, Sofia could feel every last inch of her skin, even the strange, smooth half-sensations she got through her marble arm. Only the beat coming from inside the club which thumped like some kind of pulse overlaid her own heartbeat. It had set Sofia abuzz, excitement shifting her from foot to foot as she looked around at the massive skyscrapers, some windows dark, some lit from within by flickering light; at the hordes of people, clothed in vests over faded t-shirts, in corsets and short skirts that parted like curtains down the middle, in feathers and bones and beads and skins; at the bikeshaws, with light metal frames and draped in some kind of animal skin, that conveyed people to the street corners.
It was Moe who had urged Sofia to land Tlanextli near the massive column of smoke. It would conceal their descent, but also that’s where the faint, thumping music seemed to be coming from. As they descended, Sofia could make out the letters on top of the building: DIS. An appropriate name, considering how it was lit from beneath by fire.
In short order they landed on the roof, behind the smoke, and dismounted. Moe sneaked forward a little to get a better look at the crowd gathered below. Sofia took this opportunity to turn back to Tlanextli.
“Thanks,” she whispered to him. Then she circled around and planted a kiss on his nose. He lowered his head and turned his ears forward for rubs, flicking his tail a little bashfully.
Moe began to emerge once again through the smoke. “Sofia, you gotta come see!”
At this Tlanextli lifted his head up suddenly and snorted.
Sofia picked up on his cue.
“Don’t make me hogtie you,” she threatened. “I’ll leave you upside-down on this roof if I have to.”
She then turned to regard Moe. Before she could respond, though, the pegasus pulled at her hair.
“You jerk!” Sofia said, trying to hide the humor in her tone. She turned and waved Tlanextli off, stifling her smirk. He whickered a little, as if cackling with sadistic glee. Sofia reached back and gave him a firm smack on his rump. He hopped forward and whinnied in surprise.
Moe rolled her eyes, then scrutinized Tlanextli. “You sure he’s going to come back for us?”
“He’d better,” Sofia said, giving Tlanextli a meaningful look. One of his ears turned back, but the other flicked forward. “He remembers the last time he tried to abandon me somewhere. Don’t you?”
This got a smirk from Moe and a whinny from Tlanextli. Sofia gently tugged his mane before turning around and stepping away, out of reach of his face. He still had to have the last word, though: the edge of his wing clipped Sofia on the back of his head as he took off, leaving the two girls alone on the roof. It didn’t do much except briefly mess up her hair, but the point came across.
“He’ll come back,” Sofia assured Moe, smirking.
The door guards crossed their arms as Moe and Sofia made their way to the front of the line. There was no way this was going to work. The bald one’s eyes flicked over Moe as she drew closer, though, and he slowly undid his arms and lifted his chin.
“Hey boys,” Moe said, offering them both her most winning grin as she began to move past them.
They stepped forward to block her progress. The bald guard put a hand out to forestall her further.
“Sorry, ladies,” he said. “There’s a line.” He nodded to the people waiting.
Moe huffed and tilted her head, crossing her arms in exasperation, and rolling her shoulders back in a way Sofia had never seen her do before, despite her making it look so natural. The motion pushed up her boobs… and apparently Sofia wasn’t the only one to notice.
“Oh, honey, you’re cute, but cute doesn’t get you inside,” said the other bouncer, with an exaggeratedly effeminate-sounding lisp. The bald one glanced at the other fellow, then straightened and crossed his arms again. “Go on now, wait in line like everyone else.”
“Don’t tell me Damien didn’t tell you we were coming.” She rolled her eyes, then looked straight at the two door guards. “Midget,” her eyes flicked to the bald fellow, “and Fabio,” her eyes flicked to the guard opposite hm, “right? You’re the new guys.” She didn’t wait for a response, choosing instead to uncross her arms and pace around in front of them. “Listen here, Midget and Fabio, me and my bodyguard were turned away not long ago by the other two jokers. You don’t want to make the same mistake.”
Sofia, getting her cue, straightened up, scowled, and crossed her arms. In a much less boob-pushy way. It was a good thing they couldn’t hear her racing heart. And it was a good thing that Moe seemed to know what she was doing, because Sofia had no idea how to dig themselves out of this hole.
“Oh yeah?” Midget asked, looking amused. “What other two jokers?”
Moe leveled him with a look and a vicious-looking smile. “Exactly.” She lifted her chin and tossed her hair back. “You see, when Damien caught wind that those guys hadn’t gotten his,” she leaned forward in a clandestine manner and lowered her voice, “special memo to let in his girlfriend, well…” She pulled back, letting the pause sink in. “What did Damien tell you about the last two guys when you were hired?”
Sofia nearly didn’t stifle her questioning look. Who the heck was Damien?
The guards looked at each other, a little confused and more than a little uneasy.
“Damien didn’t mention anything about a girlfriend,” said Midget to Fabio.
“Shhh!” hissed Moe, waving her hands at him to keep it down. The two guards looked to her, startled. “Gods, are you that fucking dense?” She glanced over her shoulder. “Damien doesn’t want us to go public yet. There’s a reason he hired me an escort, you know.” She sighed and straightened. “Look, I know you’re just trying to do your job. Let us in without any further fuss and I’ll talk Damien into giving you two a raise.” She gave him an utterly earnest look. “I promise.”
For a brief moment, Sofia was nearly convinced herself that this outrageous lie was true. Moe told it with such conviction that Sofia found herself trying to think back to when she got a boyfriend named Damien. The two door guards glanced at each other again. Fabio shrugged, then Midget stepped aside to let them through.
“Thanks, boys!” Moe said brightly, grinning and patting them companionably on the shoulders as she crossed into the doorway.
Once the door was closed behind them and they were out of earshot, Sofia gave Moe a look of disbelief.
“Did that just happen?” she asked. “I mean… How did you know their names? How’d you know they were new? Who’s Damien?”
Moe turned and leaned heavily against the wall of the hallway that led downward and heaved a heavy breath of relief, looking to the ceiling.
“I don’t know, I just—I just overheard them when we were on the roof, and… and…” She ran a hand through her hair. “They talked about this guy named Damien—the owner of the club, apparently, and some kind of… hush-hush information broker or something—and I just…” She looked to Sofia, a bright grin breaking out on her face, and grasped her hands tightly. “Ogma’s breath, I just made shit up! On the fly! And it worked, Sofie, it actually fucking worked!” She laughed, hopped up and down, and finally briefly released Sofia’s hands to spin around in a delighted little pirouette. Sofia couldn’t help her own laughter. Yeah, Moe really sold it!
But it wasn’t long before apprehension struck again. Sofia flicked her eyes briefly to the doorway. “C’mon, let’s get out of here before they change their minds.”
Moe looked at the doorway too, sobering almost instantly. Sofia started off down the stairs, pulling Moe along.
The moment they opened the doors to the club proper on the lower landing, they were hit. Thumping, deeply percussive music, colors flickering from the firelight… and people, so many people. It was hard to believe how many people could fit together in such a small, enclosed space, anonymous flesh pressing or bumping blithely against anonymous flesh without so much as a sense of awkwardness. Before Sofia could process it all, she’d already felt at least a dozen different people pushing by her or brushing her.
Moe recovered much more quickly than Sofia did. She whirled on Sofia, grinning broadly. “Sofie, if there was any sign that Aengus was still alive and kicking, this would be it.” She spun around once and, bobbing her head to the beat, grabbed Sofia’s hand. “C’mon, let’s dance.”
Sofia was dragged along a few steps before it occurred to her that she didn’t know how to dance.
“Hold on, Moe, I…” She pulled up short, carefully removing her hand from Moe’s grasp. “I don’t…” Bump. “Sorry. I mean, I…” Push. “Excuse me. Moe, this—yaah!” Okay, someone’s hand just brushed her butt.
“Hold that thought, Sofie,” Moe said, her grin fading to a reassuring smile.
She grabbed Sofia’s wrist again and tugged her in a different direction, this time with less excitement and more purpose. She wove and pushed easily through the crowd, pulling up short here and there to change directions, going with some kind of current or tide or something that Sofia couldn’t discern. But Sofia focused on following the subtle, unconscious cues in her steps, the angle of her shoulders, the pressure of her grip. Soon enough they approached an empty table without further incident. Moe urged her towards a chair. Sofia obligingly sat.
“You gonna be okay?” she asked as she pulled up her own seat.
Sofia tried to keep her gaze from flicking around, tried to keep her focus on Moe. “It’s just…” She tried to find the right words, but the rhythm of the music didn’t quite match the cadence of her thoughts. “It’s a lot,” she concluded, lamely. But at least there was no one pushing up against her anymore. One less thing to process. And now that she had a little space, she could actually hear the music. Pretty catchy, really. And was it coming from those tubes along the wall? That was actually pretty cool!
“Do you…” The pain in Moe’s hesitation sent Sofia’s gaze flicking back to her. “Do you want to leave?” Quickly she added, “I mean, there’s bound to be someplace else that isn’t so crowded.”
Sofia waved her hand dismissively. “No, I think I just… got hit by a lot all at once. I just need to sit for a little while. Take it all in.”
“You sure?” Moe asked, her expression equal parts eager hopefulness and disbelieving trepidation.
Sofia couldn’t help but grin at this. “Positive.”
Moe returned her grin, her shoulders dropping in relief.
She looked around briefly, scanning the surroundings. How did they get the flames to be different colors? Copper chloride, maybe, for the green flames? But then what about the blue and purple and red flames?
It occurred to Sofia that Moe was still seated across from her, watching the dance floor with no small amount of longing strung through her whole body. Her foot tapped instinctively to the beat of the music.
Sofia put a hand on her shoulder to catch her attention.
“You don’t have to wait up for me,” she assured Moe. “I’ll join you for the next dance.”
Moe snapped to look at her, searching her face, looked back to the dancing crowd, then offered Sofia a bright smile. “All right, but I’m holding you to that.” With that she rose and started forward, soon thereafter disappearing into the crowd.
Sofia rested her chin on her marble hand as she watched Moe go. In just two minutes Moe had already grown happier than she’d ever been since before the apocalypse. This was a long time in coming for her. Though she complained to Sofia about having to clean Brendan up, about trying and failing to get Aida to talk, about constantly struggling to coax Angie to eat or sit in the sauna, about attempting to keep an eye on Senbast, she still went out of her way to make sure she did all those things. Not that Moe was the only one working this hard—but that didn’t mean she didn’t deserve a break. She was going to have a great time. And Sofia got to come along for the ride.
She glanced up at the ceiling.
“Thanks, Dad, for giving me this chance,” she said, under her breath. “Hope I won’t give you a heart attack, sneaking out like this. Just want to make sure I have some more to talk about next time. So you know my life’s not all about fighting monsters all the time. So you know it’s worth it. And so Grandma won’t have to hit you anymore.”
“Pardon me,” said a voice.
Sofia snapped out of her quiet… well, prayer, and looked to the stranger who was addressing her.
The red light of the candle on the table set a soft glow to his face, taking the edge off the sharp shadows that filled the rest of this place, accentuating his smooth skin. Though he had a strong chin and jaw, it was gentled by his five o’clock shadow and black hair that fell just right over his face and curled up a little in the back. The rest of the lines that comprised him were soft, graceful, but distinctly masculine, from the gentle but thick brows that rested over bright, alert, engaged eyes, to his cheekbones which only cast the slightest of shadows beneath them, to his full lips that were tilted in a small smile. His shirt collar was split at the top, baring the top part of his chest.
“I’m Alvaro,” he said, offering his hand.
Sofia realized that her mouth was open. She quickly shut it. Then she realized that he was still waiting on an answer.
“I’m, um.” A brief, panic-filled half-moment passed as she searched for her name, which was strangely missing from her databanks. “Right. Sofia. Um. That is. That’s me: Sofia.” She thrust her hand out.
“Sofia,” Alvaro said, with an expert Hispanic lilt, the way Dad and Grandma and Carmen said it. The way that made it sound like it contoured perfectly with one’s tongue.
“Y-yeah. That’s me.”
Oh no, she was talking like a complete doofus. And smiling like a complete doofus. All she needed to do was quack like a complete doofus and the transformation would be complete.
Alvaro’s smile broadened in response. “Nice to meet you, Sofia.” It wasn’t until he shook her hand that she realized that’s what she should’ve been doing, since he’d offered his hand first. He paused as her fingers closed over his hand a little, suspending the moment. “Wow! That’s an impressive prosthetic!”
Sofia remembered how to breathe, withdrew her hand, and turned her eyes to the table, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks. It was nothing, just some marble she’d shaped… Suze and Amanda had done most of the work, really…
He paused, winced and put his hand over his eyes. “I’m sorry. That was incredibly… ah… forward of me.” He gave Sofia a pained look of apology. “I don’t mean to be intrusive. I was just caught off-guard.” He sucked in a breath. “I mean—that’s not what—I’ve just—I’ve never seen anything like—” He offered a helpless chuckle and turned his eyes to the sky, trying to stifle his grimace. “Good Lord, I’m in rare form tonight.” He looked at Sofia again, smiled politely, then tilted his head. “I’m very sorry. I’ve made the biggest fool of myself. I’ll go ahead and leave you alone now.”
“Wait!” she said, way too quickly, half-rising from her chair. He paused, looking at her. “I mean… you don’t have to. It’s, uh, it’s totally fine. I haven’t had a real arm since I was…” She looked at her marble arm and wiggled her fingers thoughtfully. “I think three. Not a big deal.” Hey, that was actually coherent! Maybe she could make it two for two? “You… you can sit down. If you want.” Not the smoothest. But it worked. Baby steps.
Alvaro absentmindedly brushed a hand through his hair, which made it shift and settle just above his eyes, sweeping gracefully to the side. “Ah… are you sure? I mean…” He offered her a little sheepish smile before continuing. “I’d hate to subject you to more of that… ah… painful awkwardness.”
Sofia seated herself again and waved her hand dismissively. “At least you’re talking to me. You know, instead of just going straight for trying to grab my butt.”
Gods, really? That was her reassuring little joke? What was she thinking? She laughed, to ease some of the embarrassment.
Alvaro’s brow knotted a little in concern. “Are you speaking from experience?”
Apparently her trying to be assuring in a funny way had the opposite effect. She quickly began to recant. “Ah, no! Not really, anyway. It wasn’t a grab, it was more of a…” She almost rose to demonstrate, until she realized that would be the most awkward thing ever. Good, good, if she could just keep catching herself in time like this, maybe she would steer clear of doofus territory. “Well, it was probably an accident. I didn’t actually see anyone.” She offered a shrug. “There’s a lot of people here, I’m sure there’s a lot of accidental… um… gropage.” Well, there went that plan. She was Sofia Xaxalpa, daughter of the Provisional Ruler of the Fifth Sun, professional Titanspawn stomper, oh, and the biggest doofus to ever doof!
His expression eased a little, but not fully. “If you’re uncomfortable, I can introduce you to my friends. They’re good people. They’ll do their best to make sure that if there’s any… ah…” He offered Sofia a slightly uncertain smile, “… ‘gropage,’ it’s purely accidental.”
Sofia hesitated. Was that a good idea? She probably shouldn’t ever come back after tonight… Wait, why not? They weren’t that far from the homestead… and there hadn’t been that many Titanspawn along the way. But maybe it was better to wait until after they returned home, gauge the consequences first, before making any future plans.
“No, I’m okay.” She glanced at the dance floor. “I’m… um… waiting here for Moe. Um. My sister.”
Alvaro tilted his head. “Has she not arrived yet, or… ?”
“Actually, she’s dancing right now,” Sofia replied.
He motioned to her and gave her a little inquisitive smile. “And you’re sitting by yourself?”
Sofia waved her hand dismissively, laughing it off a little. “Oh, just for the first dance. It’s our first time here and… well… I was a little overwhelmed, is all. I just… haven’t been around so many people in one place since the Giants won the World Series.” She looked around, scanning the crowd of shadowy bodies, chaotic yet all moving together, to the beat that vibrated through the pipes and drums. “But this place is pretty incredible. So creative, with the pipes, and the fire! And the giant sunroof, to let out all the smoke… is it shuttered or something? It’s got to be. There aren’t any bugs in here.” Well, she sure was turning this into a one-sided conversation, wasn’t she? “What…” As she looked back at him, she noticed he was grinning. It was such a nice grin, all wide and open and friendly and… wasn’t she just about to ask a question? “Uh…” Oh yeah! “What about you?” Phew, that was a close one. “You said earlier you’ve got friends… so what made you decide to come talk to me?”
Alvaro shrugged. “You were alone.” He offered her a small smile. “No one should have to be alone. And, actually,” his eyes flicked down, “I saw your tattoo. It’s a striking piece of body art. I wanted to ask about it. But then I got a little… sidetracked.” He looked back up to her, offering an apologetic smile and a pointed look to her marble arm. “If you don’t mind, I’d love to hear the story behind it.”
A grin broke out on Sofia’s face. She scooted her leg out from underneath the table to bring it into better light. “I just got it a couple months ago, actually. In honor of my dad.”
“Why a jaguar?” Alvaro prompted.
Sofia opened her mouth before she realized that the words would require a little more thought. How to explain that one? “That’s kind of an involved question. I guess… Dad… uh… identified with jaguars a lot. One of the recurring symbols of his life and all that.”
An arm draped over Sofia’s shoulders, in a familiar, comfortable manner.
“Sofia, you—” Moe’s eyes flicked to Alvaro, scanning up, down, and up and down again. “Well! Who’s this gentleman?”
Had the song ended already? Sofia hardly even noticed.
“Moe, this is Alvaro,” she said, her eyes flicking from one to the other. “Alvaro, Moe.”
Alvaro rose, offering a hand and a smile. “Sofia’s sister, right?”
Moe shook it. “Yes.” She glanced at Sofia, smirking.
“Enjoying your first time here so far?”
A grin caught fire across her face. “So far.” The grin told Sofia that that was the understatement of the year. After a brief pause, Moe said, “Please, don’t let me interrupt.”
“It’s all right, we were just talking about my tattoo,” Sofia offered.
Again Moe smirked at her. It was a covert smirk, quickly brushed away. “Like it, do you, Alvaro?” She stepped behind Sofia, lightly draping her arms over her and planting her chin on the top of her head.
Alvaro smiled brightly, his eyes flicking between Sofia and Moe. “It’s a unique, very authentic-looking tribal design. And the more elaborate the piece, the bigger the story behind it is. I couldn’t help but to ask.”
Sofia couldn’t see Moe’s expression, but she knew that there was something under Moe’s mild tone. “You have any tattoos yourself?”
“No, but I’ve thought about it.” Alvaro’s eyes turned down to the table. “A lot, actually, these past few years.” He absentmindedly ran a palm over its surface. “There’s one in particular I want to get.” His expression closed a little, focusing in on his gaze. It was mild, thoughtful, an inward look to the image in his head. It had to be vivid, the way it took up all his attention.
“Well, don’t just leave us hanging here,” Sofia prompted.
Alvaro looked up and smiled again, almost apologetically. “I’m thinking of a… a full sleeve. It would be a… window to an anatomical look at my arm, I guess you could say.” He looked at his arm, pushing his shirt’s sleeve up as far as it would go. He placed a finger on his wrist and drew it across, tracing a full circle. “Flexor retinaculum, all the way up,” he ran his fingers over his arm, “to the deltoids.” He paused, closing his hand, considering.
“Talk about an elaborate tattoo,” Moe commented. “So, how ‘bout that story, huh?”
“I… ah… well, I suppose I might’ve just proven myself wrong.” Alvaro rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
“Find a better one?” Sofia suggested.
“That… or make one up.” Moe was grinning. Sofia could hear it.
His eyes dropped and he pressed his palm flat to the table as he considered. A smile spread across his face and he drew his hand away. “Well. Believe it or not, I was a bit of a rebel when I was a kid.” He looked up, his eyes lit. His smile became a grin. It was a really nice grin, all wide and toothy, crinkling his eyes at the corners. “Father McKinley had just gotten a shipment of health textbooks, donated by St. Margaret’s School. Until then, ours had been from the 60’s—obviously we were overdue for newer ones. But, of course, before they could be handed out to us, Sister Elizabeth had to look over the material first, so she could build a new curriculum around it. Until then it was locked up in her office.” He lifted his eyebrows. “You’ve gotta understand: I’ve loved learning about the body and how it works since I was… maybe five. It’s amazing—miraculous, really—how everything fits together and works so well, how anything that goes wrong is usually taken care of by the body itself.” He looked away a little and shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe I was a little too excited about these textbooks.” He regarded them both again, fully engaged once more. “But I really wanted to see if there was anything new or different. Unfortunately our health unit wasn’t going to begin for another four months.” He straightened. “So I’d decided that I had to get my hands on a textbook.”
Alvaro paused a moment, to gather some more words.
“One night, after light’s out, I climbed up the creaky morning glory lattice to Sister Elizabeth’s office, on the second floor. It went up to her window, you see, and she liked to keep it open on summer nights.” He leaned closer, resting an arm on the table. “Problem is, it was a very old, very stubborn window, with a slightly sharp metal sill. Luckily her desk was by the window, and on it was one of the books.” He pulled away a little. “The plan was to stay up reading it all night and then, before dawn, put it back before Sister Elizabeth could miss it.” Another smile grew, sheepish this time. “Of course, that was the night she decided to enter her office for whatever reason.” Alvaro turned his eyes down to the table. “My arm was already most of the way in the room. I panicked, snatched the book, and scrrrrraaped my arm against the sill.” He rested his arm on the table, turning his palm up. “It was pretty deep, taking off the skin from here,” he put a finger midway down his forearm, then drew it up nearly to his wrist, “to here.” He looked up again. “It made me drop the book right back on her desk with a loud thump!… and then I followed suit, except on the other side of the window.” He regarded his arm, wiggling his fingers a little. “Well, Sister Elizabeth didn’t waste any time in getting me to the hospital.
Now… don’t get me wrong, it was very painful and I was pretty alarmed. But, after they gave me anaesthetics, I stopped being scared and just couldn’t help but look at my arm. I watched the doctor work, and asked her to tell me what all the parts I saw were. She was nice enough to answer.” He looked up again, a bit of a sheepish smile on his face. “When I could write again, Father McKinley made me write her a formal apology letter. And Sister Elizabeth kept her window shut from then on. Of course, by then my curiosity was mostly… um, I guess you could say satisfied. Until the health unit actually started, that is.” He grinned. “How was that?”
“Bravo!” Moe gave him applause. Sofia heartily followed suit. “You’ve treated us with a fine yarn there, Alvaro.” She draped her arms over Sofia again. “So when are you getting this tattoo done?”
Alvaro looked up at her, a little startled knot between his eyebrows. After a moment, when the wind dissipated from his sails, he eased it and shrugged, shaking his head. “Ah, it’s… just a… dream, really.”
It was almost like he’d… wilted a little. That wasn’t… that wasn’t right.
“A dream that’s stuck around for ‘a few years,’” Moe pointed out.
Sofia turned. That was actually a good point. Moe knew it too, judging by the a half-smile on her face. She turned back to Alvaro. “Aren’t any tattoo artists around here?”
A look of puzzlement overcame him. But the question that crossed his expression faded. “Yes… there are plenty. I just…” He paused. “You know, I don’t know. I’m just… I guess I’ve never really talked about it to anyone before. Talking about it now… I don’t seem to have any real reasons not to get it.”
“It can be hard to make that kind of decision on your own.” Moe paused, shifting very slightly behind Sofia. “Crossing into the paper tiger jungle, with the low umbral fog obscuring the path onward, is intimidating when you have no guide.” Oooh, Sofia knew that tone. Moe was in a good mood.
Sofia nodded in assurance, trying to hold back her grin. Moe was the best encourager. If it wasn’t for Moe, Sofia probably wouldn’t have gotten her own tattoo. And having company made a big difference. “Yeah, no one should be alone when they get a tattoo.” Well, Aida had gotten most of hers by herself, so maybe that wasn’t quite true… “Not for their first one, at least.”
Alvaro nodded thoughtfully, then he smiled a little. “Any recommendations? For a guide through the ‘umbral fog,’ that is.” His smile grew, just a little.
Oooooh Moe was awesome!
Only problem was, they didn’t know anyone here. But surely Alvaro did—maybe he had some friends who’d be willing to go with him.
“I’ll do it,” Sofia said.
The idea felt so right she just had to say it again.
“I’ll go with you right now,” she said, unable to stop the grin from spreading. “For real, let’s do it!” Oh, wait… Moe was having fun here. She flicked a look at Moe, her smile fading a little. “Uh, well… if you’re having a good time, I don’t want to—”
Moe’s hands lifted from Sofia’s shoulders, raised in a gesture of open-palmed hands-off-ness. “Two’s a party; three’s a crowd,” she recited. “I’ll just have to keep on enjoying myself here, won’t I?” She offered a wink and smile to Sofia.
Sofia had to press down hard on her excitement to stop it from escaping her in a squeak. She looked again to Alvaro, just catching the latter end of his growing grin. The result was broad, bright, and—gods, it was so… nice.
“Okay,” he said. “Into the paper tiger jungle, then.”
A thought occurred to Sofia. Two thoughts, actually, one named Midget and the other named Fabio. “Um, but first: is there a back way out?”