Charlie was not surprised that Daiyu had left in the middle of the night, but that did not change the fact that he was utterly disappointed. He thought that perhaps he and Juno might have made a difference in her life. Turned her away from a life of working as a hench-person for an evil overlord. But then, he supposed, that was all very fantastical of him. Perhaps that was what became of a life spent watching fairy tales and dreaming of a world better than this one ever was. With a heavy amount of resignation, he headed up to the roof with Bear to start on his chores for the day.
A week ago, you couldn’t have paid Charlie enough to work a farm every single day. Yet now he found it brought him a great amount of comfort. He enjoyed doing something with his hands that didn’t involve scrolling social media posts. He was surprised to find that the work in and on top of the apartment building was a breath of fresh air. Of course, it would have been nice to check in with his mother, but then again, she knew where he was, and if she really cared, which she most likely didn’t given her track record, she could always come find him.
He reached the roof and stepped off to find that his lettuce and tomatoes were fully grown. As someone new to farming, this might have been a matter of uncertainty, but in typical fashion of these strange fast-growing vegetables planted in the soil of this strange magical roof-forest, they had a way of letting him know they were ready. Each of the plants sparkled in the morning sun, telling him that they had reached perfection.
He approached the tomato patch first, opening the little wooden gate on the fence and then reaching down and pulling one of the ripe red tomatoes off its stem. It plucked easily with a little snap and glistened in his hand like it was touched by magic. He smiled at the tomato marveling at the fact that he, someone who had almost given up on life, had somehow managed to create it. Or, at the very least, help it along. He brought the tomato to his mouth and took a small bite of it. Charlie had never been a huge fan of plain tomatoes, often requiring them to be buried deep in a salad, covered in dressing or piled atop a burger, but this tomato exploded with sweet, juicy flavor across his tongue. His eyes were wet by the remembrance of pure delight, and a tear rolled down his cheek.
“Must be a good tomato,” came a voice behind him. He quickly wiped the tear from his face and turned to see Milo approaching him. He was wearing a short-sleeve salmon color crop top under a black cardigan with beige slacks that ended at a pair of high-top sneakers. His ears were perked, uncovered atop his head, and his tail flicked proudly behind him. Usually Milo covered these parts of himself up, but now they were on full display. Charlie couldn’t help but feel as though this meant that Milo was finally starting to adjust to him living in the building and being more than a stranger in passing.
“It is,” replied Charlie proudly. “Wanna try one?”
Milo glared down at the tomatoes. “I’m not really a plant food person,” he said.
Charlie rolled his eyes. “Just try one.” He reached down and plucked off another plant, taking care to pick what he felt to be the best one. He wiped it off with his sweater sleeve and placed it in Milo’s hand. Their eyes met and stayed on each other. There were no fireworks or stars dancing around them this time, only their breath fogging the air between them.
Milo broke away first, pulling back and looking away as he brought the tomato to his lips. He took a small bite and chewed it in a way that made it clear he was tasting every bit of it before passing judgment. Finally, he swallowed and looked back at Charlie. The sarcastic glint was back, replacing any twinkle of care that had been there a moment before.
“It’s alright,” he said nonchalantly.
“Bull shit,” said Charlie. “It’s delicious and you know it.”
Milo let out a small laugh and conceded. “Fine, it’s delicious. You grew a plant that doesn’t taste like moldy grass. You want a medal?” But even with the snide remarks, he took another, much larger bite. The juice ran down his cheek.
Without thinking, Charlie stepped forward and wiped away the juice with his thumb. Milo’s eyes went wide, but he didn’t back away.
“Sorry,” said Charlie. “You had a—”
“It’s fine,” said Milo, using his cardigan sleeve to wipe his own chin. He cleared his throat. “So you grew a plant.” He eyed the tomato and lettuce plots and corrected himself. “A few plants. You made some friends in the building. You stopped the place from being bought out, and you adopted a mangy animal.” Bear barked at that last comment as if to say that he was not, in fact, mangy. “I suppose your little adventure is coming to an end soon.”
Charlie stepped back as if struck. “What do you mean?”
“I mean you swooped in here, saved the day and grew emotionally…or whatever.” He waved his hand in the air as if ‘whatever’ was a big enough word to sum everything up. “It’s the point of the story where you go back to your privileged little life ready to seize the day, and be a better person. And you’ll promise to come see us again, but you won’t, because ultimately we’ve served our purpose in your little story. We played our part and now you get to ride off into the sunset. I mean you’ll probably grab the same croissant as some well-to-do brown-haired, blue-eyed hunk before the credits roll, but your story is basically done.”
They stared at each other for a long time, Charlie feeling as though his stomach had just fallen out from under him.
“And we’ll just be here,” added Milo. He bit his bottom lip, stopping himself from saying more.
Charlie shook his head, his sadness quickly turning to ange. “You know what, Milo? Fuck you.”
“Fuck me?” bit back Milo.
“Yeah, fuck you!” Charlie pointed a finger at Milo angrily. “A week ago I was ready to kill myself. And then all of this happened. And you know what, I happen to like it here. I don’t want to leave. Because leaving means going back to the shittiness that sent me to that bridge in the middle of the night. I want to be here. But you are so determined to make me into this person that just walks away after taking one step in the right direction. This place is the only reason I’m still standing. It gave me a reason to keep going!”
“But that’s the problem, Charlie,” growled Milo. “We aren’t your purpose. We aren’t here to give you a cause worth fighting for. We are people with our own lives and our own problems. We aren’t just side characters in your quest of betterment. Despite what you and everyone else seems to think!”
“Seriously?” Charlie snapped.
“Admit it, you walked up to this apartment and saw how it looked and who was living here and some part of you said, I can make a difference here. And if I can do that, maybe my life is worth something!”
“Actually I didn’t!” snapped Charlie. “When I walked up to this place, the first thought I had was ‘Well worst case scenario I can always go back to that bridge tomorrow night.’ But I’m still here!”
“Because you haven’t ‘fixed’ us enough.” hissed Milo. “You’re only still here because you haven’t decided that we’re saved, and you can go home the hero!”
“I’m only still here because I like you, you asshole!”
Silence erupted between them. The words seemed to echo amongst the trees.
“What did you just say?” Milo asked in a whisper.
“I said you’re an asshole,” grumbled Charlie.
“Before that,” said Milo.
Charlie wiped the tears away that had been sliding down his face during the fight, before finally turning to face Milo. “I said…”
“Boys?” They looked up to see Juno running up to them from the open elevator. Worry played across her face. “We have a problem.”
CONTINUE TO CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE
Ohhh, the drama! I really like this moment between the two of them and what it means going forward. I love that they have so many emotions between them and when it all comes to a head, it really just means that they care for each other.
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