learning to walk

It's a hot summer evening. Muffy has the day off because today's the Fireworks Festival. Even though she's free to go wherever she pleases, though, she lingers outside the Blue Bar, watching the sky darken.

The fireworks are about to start.

Her green eyes widen when she hears a flurry of motion not too far away from her and then a curse word. She looks over to see Hugh, the young son of Wally, in a crumpled heap on the cobblestone path. He's bleeding lightly on his knees and his eyes are glossy with tears.

"Are you okay?" She leaves her idle position outside the bar to crouch down next to him. He's blushing like crazy, obviously trying to push the tears back in.

"I'm fine," he says, but his voice cracks embarrassingly. She feels sorry for him. "I just tripped, is all."

"Do you want me to run inside and get a band-aid?" she tries to help, but she's only making him blush harder and harder.

"No, I'm fine, really. …Thanks," he adds after a moment's deliberation, watching his manners. After all, it's only polite to be a gentleman around pretty women.

"You don't have to be ashamed of crying, you know," Muffy suddenly tells him gently.

"I-I'm not!" She doesn't know if he's denying crying or being ashamed of crying, but either way he looks affronted, like he's just been accused. He jumps to his feet, startling her. "Sorry," he murmurs, and as if to make amends, hooks his thumb over his shoulder. "I'm going to meet my parents and Kate's family at the beach to watch the fireworks -- do you wanna come with me?"

The barmaid looks in awe at the invitation. After a moment she shakes her head slowly, blonde tresses waggling along with her. "No, thanks. I don't really like fireworks and I promised to help Griffin with --"

"Griffin's down at the beach, too," he interrupts her, blinking. "…He's actually the one who told me to come get you."

"…Oh." She doesn't know what else to say. "No thank you. I should be going now." Trying to ignore the wild, confused and mildly hurt look in his innocent blue eyes, she pivots and returns back to the bar, slipping inside.

Muffy doesn't cry. Sure, she fully accepts it and respects it and everything, but she herself does not do it. It's a personal thing.

She just doesn't want her makeup to run after all.

There's a big explosion in the distance, and she almost jumps -- not that you can control something like your reflexes -- but she knows it's Fireworks Night, and she's known that for a while, so she's prepared. In fact, she's very well prepared.

There's a book on the nightstand beside her bed and the windows are shut and the curtains drawn, to muffle the sound. Fireworks can be very distracting when reading, after all.

She crawls into bed and cracks the book open and attempts to read. The words swim on the page, treading and just treading, but not really. She puts the book down when she can finally admit to herself she has no intention of reading.

Without thinking, she walks over to the window very slowly. She parts the curtains and stares through the glass at the colourful fireworks crackling and soaring in the night sky. She can see distant figures on the beach, and despite the glass barrier, she can hear music and laughter. The scene unfolds in her head: new couples sitting hand in hand by the crashing tide, watching the beautiful display in awe; Gustafa strumming his guitar whimsically, surrounded by a handful of mystified listeners; families strewn all over the shore, chattering and laughing but pausing every once in a while to watch the show.

That's why she's in here, of course. She doesn't fit in anywhere.

She practically jumps and hits her head on the ceiling when she hears a knock on the door. "Muffy?" comes a voice she recognizes from hearing day-in and day-out. "Are you in there?" Griffin.

She clears her throat and calls back, "Yes, do you need anything?"

"Where are ya? Eveyone's down at the beach watching fireworks!" he gets straight to the point matter-of-factly.

"I…don't feel well," she lies shortly. It's the first thing that comes to mind.

Griffin is doubtful. "Is something wrong?"

"I'll be alright. I'll just lie down. You go to the beach and have fun."


"Go on! I don't care. I don't even like fireworks," she blurts out before she can even stop herself -- lies after lies after lies, like a rushing stream. She claps her hands to her mouth like she's just said something profane.

Griffin mutters something and he's gone. Muffy stares at the door (well, more like the trapdoor that leads from the attic to the ground level) and she's kind of disappointed.

No one in her life has ever been able to see through her obvious lies. Not one person, and definitely not a man. She knows that if she wants them to know what she's talking about, then she should just go right out and say it -- but it doesn't always work like that.

She's debating on whether she should go or not; whether she wants to. The sound of fireworks flying through the air and through the wind and through the entire world -- it's pretty incredible. The barrel-smack explosions are unique, something she doesn't hear everyday…

Before she knows it, she's standing outside the Blue Bar. Her hair's perfectly in place, she looks great in her red dress, and her makeup is flawless. She's ready to go…


She turns back to go inside when she hears a frantic "Hey!"

Hugh's standing there, not clearly in view, but he's not exactly hiding. He looks expectant -- he's been here a while. Maybe other people can't do it, but Muffy knows how to read between the lines.

"Oh, hey," she says, turning back around. "Did you need something?"

"I, um…was wondering why you aren't watching fireworks with everybody else." He fumbles and then stops. "…Have you been crying?"

Muffy is at a loss when she hears this. No, in all honesty, she hasn't been crying. Not even tearing up. So why…?

Out of the irony of it all, hot tears float to her eyes. "No," she crackles.

"It's okay to cry, you know," Hugh recites, and damn that's familiar. Is he mocking her or trying to comfort her? She honestly believes it's the latter and can't help but smile.

"Is there somebody you don't like on the beach?" he tries to find the answer.

Muffy laughs like silver bells. "No, that's not it. Go on, you're going to miss the show." On cue, a huge eruption of lights goes off behind them.

Hugh stands his ground. "You don't always have to be alone, you know."

And then his words really hit her. Like a well-received slap, her entire face transforms: her pupils deplete, her mouth twists, and her cheeks furl. "You don't know that."

"Yeah, I do." He goes up to her and grabs her hand, a bold act. "Come on."

She doesn't know what to do, but it really looks like she has no choice. Hugh's leading her away from the sanctuary of the bar now, towards the beach. "Can I ask you a question?"

She's still stunned from his gallant act. "Yeah, of course."

"How come you don't like fireworks?"

For some reason, she was expecting a deeper question than that -- something more self-exploring. She knows not to expect too much, though. From anyone. "I don't," she chuckles softly.

"Then why won't you come watch with us?"

She opens and closes her mouth. Hugh's looking at her like she's just gotten punched in the stomach. "You can cry, I won't tell anyone," he assures her. The boy has soul.

"I don't like crying," she stammers, vulnerable as she's ever been around someone else.

"Why not? Everyone cries," he argues, like her opinion is wrong.

"…My makeup runs," was her excuse.

He doesn't buy that for a second. "Come on." He lets go of her hand, like a father prompting his baby to walk alone. "I'll meet you over there, with Griffin." He nods his head in the general direction and jogs off, like he's certain she'll follow.

Muffy can only stare. Her knees are wobbling; maybe she's not ready to walk yet. But what good is it go up to a door, only to leave it closed, not even bothering to knock?

All her life she's been scared of being rejected. She's tired of being alone. She used to be convinced that was all she'd ever be - alone - but she knows that's not true anymore.

She makes her way over to the crowd, the fireworks exploding above her.

Baby steps.