Magrat acknowledged the kids around the statue of the old bald man with a cheery wave. All she got in return was a nod from one of the boys and a half-smile from the girl sitting in his lap.
But Magrat didn't care. Right now, she was the happiest she had been in her entire life. She hugged the presentation box containing her very own stethoscope to her chest.
And it was only going to get better.
In the Black Beer, Arthur paid for and carried the four bottles of beer past the pool tables towards the door.
He stopped for a few moments to listen to the happy-clappers singing one of their songs, it made a sweet relief from Dudders' incessant and demanding whining.
When the song finished, Arthur turned towards the door, which is when he saw her.
Evan's 'girlfriend' walking past the front of the bar on her way to where he knew his little brother would be waiting for her, all gooey-eyed and tongue-tied.
It wasn't fair.
It wasn't fair that he had to do the lion's share of looking after Dudley. It wasn't fair that Evan got to go to school. It wasn't fair that he couldn't hang with his friends like he used to.
And it certainly wasn't fair that Evan had a girlfriend.
Ever since Evan had come home that day and wouldn't shut up about the new girl working at the clinic,
Arthur's resentment had begun to grow until he went to bed dreaming about how he would take her away from his brother.
In his fantasy he saw himself and Magrat laughing at Evan, teasing him, calling him names. It should be him, not Evan. He was the oldest.
How could the dumb bitch even look at Evan? He'd show her. All she had to do was look at him, right? And all he had to do was...
Arthur pushed awkwardly past the happy clappers. His heart was racing. In his head, the plan was so simple. He was an adult. He had beer to prove it. He'd talk to her, give her a beer.
She'd smile and do that thing girls do with their hair when they are into you. They'd talk about shit and then he'd walk her past the front of the wafflehouse and Evan would see.
It would be so funny.
He ducked quickly into the bathroom, checked his hair, smelled his breath, pulled a cool pose. Nailed it. But he had too many beers. Two beers is cool, four is... four is just too many.
Arthur hid two of the beers behind the trash bin. He stood up, there, sorted. Shit, she might be gone by now. Arthur ducked out of the bathroom and almost ran down the passage to the side door.
Magrat wasn't in sight.
In fact, she was just entering his peripheral vision, walking towards the wafflehouse. Relieved, Arthur leaned against the corner post by the steps and struck his coolest pose.
She could see him now for sure. He snapped the cap off the beer bottle against the wooden rail and lifted the bottle to his lips. The movement made the girl look in his direction.
Fucking perfect. He saluted her with the bottle.
Magrat paused. Her experience with boys in the camp had rarely been 'nice'. But this wasn't the camp and Magrat had been trying to let her guard down a bit. So, she turned on a smile.
Arthur pushed himself away from the post and descended the steps in that slow, sexy way the hero always did in the movies.
"Thought so. Evan described you perfectly. The way your hair..." But the compliment, also learned from the movies, was interrupted.
"You know Evan?"
Arthur hid the slight irritation.
"Yes, he's my brother."
"Oh. I didn't know he had a brother." Politeness indicated that she should perhaps move towards the boy. But still.... She glanced to her right, the wafflehouse was only a few metres away.
Comforted in the knowledge that Theis was close by, she overcame her caution and took the few steps to where the boy waited at the bottom of the wooden stairs.
Arthur offered her the remaining beer.
"My name's Arthur. Here, have a beer."
Magrat smiled graciously.
"No thanks, I'm on my way home..."
"One beer won't hurt."
She declined again.
"I'm sorry. It's not allowed. Look, I better get going. It was nice to meet you."
Magrat turned away towards the waffle house. Towards his little brother. In a flash of anger, Arthur closed the gap towards her and grabbed Magrat's shoulder to spin her around.
Magrat had lived in a raider camp for half her life. As a girl, she had had to develop 'certain skills.' One of those skills was to anticipate trouble before it started.
The other was to deal with it when it did.
Tossing to one side the presentation box with her precious stethoscope inside, Magrat dropped into a crouch, freeing herself from Arthur's restraining hand.
As she dropped, her hand found the carefully concealed slit in the seam of her trousers and her fingers curled around the worn handle of the long,
dangerously sharp amputation knife she had sneaked from an old box in the clinic. Pushing herself backwards, she regained her feet and brandished the knife in Arthur's direction.
Arthur stared in shock at the glinting blade. Not understanding his danger, he took the fatal step forward to try and take the knife from the stupid girl.
Fending off the first warning slash, Arthur managed to grab Magrat's wrist. They tussled for bare moments, pushing and pulling to gain control of the long blade.
Then the girl just stopped, and Arthur looked into her widening eyes. Was she giving up?
Magrat crumbled to the floor and Arthur had to dance backwards to escape the incredibly long gout of red spurting from the blossoming rose on the front of her shirt.
Arthur backed away. No. Nonononono! This was all wrong.
He just wanted to talk to her! Shit!
After a quick look around, sure that people would already be running towards him, Arthur took off at a run, behind the Black Beer, behind the houses and all the way back home.
Even then, it was only when he was trying to open the back door of his house that he noticed the bloody knife still gripped tightly in his shaking and equally bloody hand. Shadwell stared at the boy across the table. None of his anger had abated after hearing Arthur’s account, not one iota of it. He barely trusted himself to speak and had to force the words through gritted teeth. “Lock this piece… Just lock him up.”