Lunch was a leisurely affair, milk tea and a slice of cheesecake from the bakery on the western street. The shopping mall is an easy enough place to lose herself in for the following hour: she pokes at plush toys and ornate dolls sitting pretty on shelves, fancies herself wearing well-tailored dresses and overpriced jewelry, and the sight of parents, walking shoulder to shoulder and holding their feeble, wobbly-kneed children in tow doesn’t make her pause, not once, though from the corner of her eye she counts them, and there are many.
His is the face she sees reflected in the boutique window when she passes, paper bag sticky and overflowing with sweets, and it’s only for a second that her knuckles whiten, trimmed nails pricking shallow crescents into her palm. A part of her thinks he might be proud to know she can still imagine his voice as he’d said it to her: a second can make all the difference.
But this isn’t a battlefield, and her hand clutching the white of her dress isn’t streaked with red. If she’s complacent, it’s because she can afford to be. She levels him with a bland smile and an unimpressed stare, and doesn’t deign to sound surprised when she tells him he isn’t real. “Renne’s all grown up now,” she says. “I’m too old for imaginary friends.”
He’s as transparent as the veins in her arms on a bad day, and for a moment she wants to say it, too. Not that she’s not lonely, or that she’d only been sad for a little while when he died.
She sniffs, “If you want to visit someone, then visit Joshua. He’s not like me. He misses you, I’m sure.”
He doesn’t reply, and she’s not surprised by that, either. The sky closes in on her, and a woman comes out the front door with an umbrella and a worried expression, asking where her parents are. She manages to brush her off, and by the time she’s back on the pavement, he’s gone, of course. The air smells of rust and rain, and shadowed by the tall buildings, the only footsteps she can hear are her own. A familiar feeling, not that she’s glad.
She gets used to his presence by the time she decides he’s neither ghost nor imaginary. As far as both go, he’s pretty lousy, anyway; she’s not haunted, and he’s never been a good conversationalist- not that being dead has made him any better at it since then.
It’s when she’s watching Estelle and Joshua exit the bracer guild from her safe perch on someone’s rooftop that she swivels her head quickly to her left, and he’s there. Silent and faraway, even when he’s right next to her, the same way he always is in all her memories of him.
Whatever it is he would’ve said, she’s sure she can guess it anyway.
The truth is something you need to find for yourself. He told her that often, sometimes with a smile, mostly without, and whatever truth she managed to grasp with her own two hands he could accept, because it was hers, and she never once wondered whether he really agreed with her or not. There was only the rush of warmth at knowing she was right, that the world turned and worked exactly as she knew it. He’d never call himself a kind person, but she thinks, now, that might have been the only way he could show it.
“But I’m all grown up now, Loewe. I don’t need you to do that for me anymore.” She frowns, closes her eyes. The sound of the city roars in her ears; a thousand different people laughing and chattering and living in the world they all share, and for a moment, just a moment, she feels very small. “I just need… I just need to think it over.”
And she doesn’t smile, but when she exhales, her shoulders feel somehow lighter.