"That is one ugly hoodie, Ethan." Her face is doing that smile people do when they're secretly happy but are trying to make you think they disapprove. "It's so bad it's good again."
"I tend to have that effect," I tell her.
We're supposed to go wait for Neal outside the mall. Blend in. Be neato incognito. Or at least try to keep from being hauled out of the city by the guardians. Or thrown in a dungeon and forced to battle our way to freedom. Or whatever it is they do to unwanted visitors. I'm not really sure.
Shocking. I know. Can't say I've ever really wanted to find out. Professional curiosity only goes so far. Unlike Valor powers, I have a healthy sense of self-preservation.
Maria and I leave the bathroom. All casual like it's normal. We head for the exit. Not too fast. Just walk with a purpose. Silence mixes with song. Getting hard to tell which silence is whose. Dante. Avalon. Neal. The guardians. Too much silence. Shouldn't be so much in one place. Draws attention. The wrong kind.
A jangle of distorted Beauty catches me. Maria's got her arm threaded through mine. Three layers of fabric and the contact still stings. I must wince.
"What?" She looks at me. Really means the question. "I'm just keeping you from wandering off or walking into a bench or something. Don't go getting the wrong idea."
No such things. Ideas are ideas. People make them wrong or right.
I shrug. It's a good enough response.
"Do you think they're ok?" she asks, her voice low.
Take a moment. Appreciate the two of us. Arm in arm. We're practically friends. Got it? Good. Because it lasted about two seconds before the garbage can attacked.