Schütz, in the briefest spark of self-awareness, strips naked of his sodden cage. “Hah~” he breathes, free. The kitsune’s blood clings to him heavy and thick like syrup, but no longer an oppressive force weighing through his given clothes like a snail’s shell. If he thought about it, he might have stripped earlier, but the thought never crossed. His mind is congealed, a quagmire of oil ready to ignite.
Elly’s stare bores into him as it has been for the last week, but each time he braves to look back she perks up as if zapped. The Elly he remembers, a noble guardian tragically warped by his curse, is now supplemented by this spritely, purehearted, and afflicted girl. He likes her more than ever, more than only a pedestal to look up at. My friend. What he did to deserve that title he cannot imagine, but now it is his, and he will do his best to prove his worth.
In contrast, dried blood sticks to Elly’s face and hair. There is no excuse for making Elly’s personal hell worse. Schütz does not plan to make excuses.
“Elly,” he starts on habit.
“Blood. On your face - all over you. Are you dirty?”
“I’m not dirty, and I can’t be dirty. I’m Elly,” she instantly replies.
“But your dress?”
“Am I a dress, Schütz? My dress is dirty.”
“No.” He remembers the times he has touched Elly; she never complained. It is only when he violated her dress that she reacted.
“Then I’m not dirty.” She pauses, then notes: “I am covered in garbage.”
There are times when Schütz accepts what Elly says. Her perspective, after all, is what makes Elly Elly. However, Schütz does have limits, and they end at accepting that Elly is covered in garbage and not dirty. But what can I do, tear her dress off? In his second, surprising bout of self-awareness, he finds in his hands a pair of scissors. ‘Snik snik,’ they snikker. It is the sort of sound a pair of scissors makes when they are in the mood to part red cloth. Schütz, too, is in the mood to cut red cloth; he has been for a long time now. Can I really? Snik snik,’ the scissors encourage him. A swift decision is made. He will have Elly’s dress off, and replace it, even!
After a long period of silence, made not awkward by the fact Elly is naive to the concept of awkwardness, Schütz declares: “ … Elly.”
“Schütz?” She transitions from staring to speech without ponder.
“You deserve better.”
She did not say no. That is enough to bolster him. When he tries to answer, the words catch bitterly in his throat. He swallows. For all the scissors encourage him, he cannot be sure. Certainty in Schütz is a state reserved not even for death. That does not stop the barest traces of confidence gathering, so he allows this much: “Right. Better.” That much was a mistake. The confidence keeps flowing; try as he might to stop it.
Elly makes a pitifully confused whine.
He wants to answer her, but to do that he needs proof - proof that these scissors are right. Determined, and daresay almost--partially-confident, he breezes past her. “Just. Better,” he tells himself. His steps are light. Hopeful is an expression happy to meet Schütz for what feels like the first time, and very likely to be the last time. He makes the best of it.
Elly follows, sometimes physically moving, other times spontaneously appearing before, behind, and around him, inspecting from every conceivable angle for an explanation.
The hunter comes to the table of ‘breakfast,’ and grunts a disinterested dismissal to the flood of memories associated. All is as it was left: two plates, a mound of vegetables thereon, two chairs, and the red bundle beside on the ground. The only new addition is flies. Schütz, unwilling to remain idle and therefore weak to introspection, gets to work. Cold vegetables are eaten, plates are cleared, and the table is made to a workshop. He perches on top.
He brandishes his ‘vorpal’ scissors hesitantly, as if they might shatter in his hands. Are they real? Pressed suddenly headfirst to the spike of paranoia, he slashes at the spare red cloth. It parts effortlessly. “Ha. . . Haha ha. Real!” That concludes his celebration. There is no excuse for him to delay, and delay he does not. He has all day, but he will not need long. The dress only needs a few finishing touches.
===== Time: Early Morning | Curse: ~~~ =====
Covered in dust, Schütz coughs and coughs. Dust gets everywhere, and apparently everywhere includes inside his lungs twice over. Still, he persists, buried in the dust of the thoughts he hoped to bury. He prefers to call it love, as Sister said. Love is more pleasant to choke on than crushing doubt.
The kitsune’s blood was made dust not long after he started. Only its spit remains, safely tucked in gourd. He takes a break to drink the God’s drink. He briefly wonders why Gods like the taste of kitsune spit, and he concludes that is is probably the same reason as him. It tastes refreshing.
He goes back to work. Rains ceased, the desert of his mouth returns.
Meanwhile, Elly watches as Schütz’ humanity is gradually eroded by the object he designated ‘thing.’ Unknown to her, she is not happy.
===== Time: Morning | Curse: ~~~ =====
Before him is a dress. The dress is finished. No, the earth did not swallow him, the sky did not fall, and he did not topple from a heart attack at the last moment. The dress is finished without a single hitch. Too easy, he judges mindless of the fact he had to take his scissors back from the mutilated paw of a kitsune to get this far. He checks over his shoulder to behold nothing, no monster waiting to ruin everything. Then, with heart fluttering, he turns back to the dress - and, no, it did not cease to exist when he looked away. It is done.
You were right, he admits to the scissors. ‘Snik,’ they respond their own form of ‘duh.’
He takes the gift in his hands, and with an explosive smile presents it to his audience: “Happy birthday, Elly!”
Elly, who bears an expression much too complex for her simple, twisted face, reacts with a low rumble of metal. ‘Crik.. Crikik.. Crik..’
“It is a dress. For you! I made it.” Dust trickles between his fingers as a little waterfall. The dress dines on a rare emotion.
‘Cr-IK?’ Her jagged, vicious maw grinds. Individual ‘teeth’ slide between each other like interlocking saws. The scythe poises in the air as a snake to strike, but at what she does not know.
“Elly? My. . . friend? Right, my friend!” He jumps off the table. “I did it! I made you a dress. Look! Look!”
‘Crik,’ Elly ticks mechanically. She stares at the dress, specifically, the dust that flows from it. Conflicted is to put her reaction lightly. “Schütz?” she manages a word, her favorite word.
“Do you like it? Elly?” His excitement is brim, but he is poorly adapted to handle genuine happiness.
Usually, Elly hangs on his every word, but when his words are being devoured before her eyes she finds paying attention difficult. Elly watches the dust fall, and the red culprit at the spring. On impulse she tears the dress out of Schütz’ grip, pivots slightly, then drops it on the ground beside her. All at once, she relaxes; her posture, her face, and her serpent twisted in upon itself in search of a threat invisible goes slack. She turns back to Schütz, whose existence is no longer molested. “What did you say?”
He marvels at his empty hands. “Ah, you dropped it,” Schütz blurts out, devoid of appropriate reaction. In the baffled daze between excitement and ignorance, he bends down to take the dress again. Just as his hand meets cloth, and the grains of dust begin the dribble from his fingertips, he hears it: ‘Crik… Crikik.. Crikikik.’
Is that how she sounds when she’s excited? Dress in hand, he asks again with a dopey, bright smile: “Do you like it?” The flow of dust matches the beat of his words.
“Elly? My friend?”
Again, she takes the dress, pivots, and drops it on the ground. She turns back to Schütz, smiling as sincerely as she is oblivious. “What did you say, Schütz?”
“You… Dropped? It?”
Schütz is forced to stop and think for a moment. She still thinks it’s a ‘thing?’ He puffs up. “The dress,” he proudly corrects. “That I made.”
Elly looks to the ground, empty eyes wide in a facsimile of shock and a heavy dose of fascination. “It’s a dress today?”
“I made it for you! I promised, I did it. Do you like it?”
“It’s clean,” she says, transfixed on the twice strewn dress.
All is suddenly forgotten as it dawns on her. “Schütz made me a -” Her voice does not crack, it shatters. What follows is different from her usual sounds, torn from the rusty bowels of an underwater hell; it’s symphonic, rhythmic, growing in pitch by the second.
“E - Elly? — Oh.”
Keeled over, Elly laughs hysterically. It is the serpent that laughs, though the attached body quakes as if it were not. Soon, her symphonic laughter turns giggle, and the giggle perverts to a gravelly grind, and that grind settles to a rumble. The monstrous voice has returned. On recovery, she faces Schütz blindingly and horrifyingly with an impossibly wide smile. “I realized, today, and again, that I like Schütz!” she cheerily notes with a voice like glass to the ear.
Already off balance, those candid words knock him to the proverbial ground. This is what he has been waiting for, but he never planned to the point of receiving it. Assuming the worst has that downside. “O - oh. Thank. You. Yeah.” He swallows, thinking he should say something else. “I like Elly? Right. I like Elly. So I made her a dress. Ha ha… ha”
“A new dress, and a clean dress. How did Schütz make it without hollowing out?” She closes in, serpent and body both.
“I - uh, I made it. With special cloth. And love?”
“Love?” Elly eagerly probes.
Schütz pauses a moment, then nods. “Right. Love.”
He shrugs. They are Sisters’ words, not his.
“Try it on,” he suggests in lieu of explanation.
Elly, still mystified, looks down to the dress. She strips. Her former dress falls off like heavy smoke.
He must suppress a gag when he sees what lies beneath her dirty red dress. His plastered-on smile only maintains its curve by sheer, stubborn force of will. Today is a good day. Today is Elly’s birthday. He will make this a good day.
Her body, or the lack thereof, is but a pair of rods bound in red cloth at the intersection. Lovelessly impaled on the tip of one rod is her head, a decorative pale globe affixed with the twin accessories of a hat and hair. Nobody bothered giving her eyes or nose, and a jagged, furious scribble is the only attempt made at a mouth. Her ears are simple and pointed, and without holes - more decorations. Where Elly supposedly ends the leviathan begins. The snake is always vivid, animated, and bouncing and bobbing in the air as it speaks with its ear-violating voice. The imitation of a body follows its every move without delay, but it is never a question who is the one speaking.
“Elly.” I need this.
“Schütz?” she leans in.
He pokes her nose. The warm nub bends under his finger. He pinches it lightly, then releases. “Ha. Ha. Right. Nothing.” Tap, tap - but she’s still alive. “Nothing.” He shakes off the vile thoughts, but they refuse to leave; they only recede for the moment. “The dress. Right, the dress! Think about the dress.” He does not know who he is talking to.
In response, Elly diligently slices the most minute of cuts into Schütz’s nose. “Even. — But that’s besides the point.” She bends over, picks up the new dress in an unseen hand, and worms her way into it from above. Clothed, she beholds herself. Her new apparel loosely drapes over her, and reveals only the contour of her rods. Her bust is no more, a relic of a former dress. “Schütz’ clean love dress, and it’s my own, truly?” she asks, suddenly conflicted.
“Y - yeah.” Schütz smile remains hanging like a dead body from a tree. “Truly.”
Elly pinches the dress’ hem and spins it about to watch. “It’s mine,” she says. She laughs at the impossibility of it. Her old dress lies in a pile on the ground.
I did it - and now look at her. He grits his teeth on a physical and mental level. This is not about what he thinks. Breath hisses through clenched jaw as it is released on promise of good behaviour. “Happy birthday, Elly. You deserve it.” This is better. It must be.
Elly is absorbed in awe, but goes attent at his words. “Birthday?”
“It is your birthday. Right.”
“Oh. Birthdays. People get gifts on birthdays, I think.”
“But I’m not a person. I’m Elly?”
“Oh.” Schütz thinks for a moment. “Happy . . . Elly… day?” He nods, satisfied. “Happy Elly-day, Elly.”
Something tugs at the back of his mind. A message? Now? Knowing it would only haunt him if left unchecked, he addresses it.
/ ~<>~ \
>[MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM: CITRINE | T:8:24]
>[FOUND A CUTE CAT!]
>[GIRLS ARE PREPARING. PLEASE WAIT WARMLY.]
\ ~~~ /
The meaning eludes him up until the point he remembers youkai are meaningless, and Ran somehow especially so.
“Elly-day,” Elly repeats, graciously returning him to reality.
“Today,” he affirms.
“This is when I receive a gift?”
“Yeah.” — “It is a birthday, but Elly."
Elly is churns with thought. With her new dress, Schütz can see her internal rods shaking to the sound. She draws in close to the hunter, and shares her findings: “Then I have had many Elly-days, and I didn’t know it until Schütz told me.”
“Oh. Then — happy Elly-days you had… then?”
Fortunately, he is not given the chance to reflect on his fluency, for Elly picks up right after. “It’s interesting, Schütz. I was happy then.” The scythe near pierces his forehead, but her expert handling would never allow that without purpose. “You were there, yesterday, Elly-days.” Her smile is plain, and her empty eyes are tight with a nameless focus.
“I - was? That is good? Right,” he blurts out; the right words unattainable in a hundred years regardless.
Elly hums. “Good was a gift I received on my first Elly-day.”
Schütz takes the time to think before he speaks. “I said the truth.”
She reveals her beautifully hideous smile; the dimpled one that curves her abyssal white eyes into crescent moons. “I like Schütz’ truth, and I believe Schütz’ truth.”
If nothing else, Schütz is proud to have made this difference in her. “Hm. Good. Believe it.” — “And the rest? The rest of the Elly-days. What were those ones?”
“Then on the second Elly-day I got Schütz.”
The serpent tilts in the air, an absurd variant of screwdriver. “Schütz is Schütz.”
“Me. Right. — What?”
“#?” His confusion confuses her. “You are my friend.” She then stresses: “My.”
It is obvious to her, but to Schütz? He still has difficulty grasping the fact Elly can tolerate being near him.
“Oh,” is his initial reaction, soon followed by his own, gurgly laughter. “Yeah. We are friends.” How? The question probes, likely to never receive a satisfying answer. However, oddly, he is fine with that. It remains that Elly is his friend, and she likes being his friend — one impossibility is a manageable thought, two is not worth the effort of thinking.
“Then on the third Elly-day I got Schütz,” she continues.
“Elly,” he awkwardly interrupts.
“Oh.” — “Why?”
“I got Schütz, but the tomorrow after the today he became my friend.”
“. . . Right.”
“Then on the fourth Elly-day I got Schütz.”
“Why?” he tentatively asks.
“I got Schütz, but the tomorrow after the tomorrow after the today he became my friend.”
Schütz takes a breath, opens his mouth, holds it, then reconsiders.
Elly continues. “Then on the fifth Elly-day I got Schütz.” — “Then on the sixth Elly-day I got Schütz.” — “Then on the seventh Elly-day I got Schütz.” — “Then on the eighth Elly-day I got Schütz.” — “Then on the ninth Elly-day I got Schütz.” — “Then on the tenth Elly-day I got Schütz.”
The ear-rupturing ballad leaves an impression on Schütz: two red cheeks and a supreme lack of recourse. All he knows that he is uncomfortable, but not resistant. He may also not be uncomfortable; that would be a first. In his infinite wisdom, he utters only a stunned and stupid: “Uh.” He swallows nothing. “Thank. . ? You? Or - you are welcome?” This masterpiece and many more like it are waiting on the tip of his stupefied tongue.
“Welcome to what?”
Please do not ask questions. I do not have answers. Too late, he must improvise. “. . Me? I think?”
“I already have Schütz, and I can’t escort two.”
“Oh.” In retrospect, he should have gathered that from her litany. “Right.”
Elly is smiling. Schütz discovers he is too, despite the fact he is looking at a dress draped over an intersection of sticks. The longer he remains idle, the more he’s forced to face the monster. The fish, trapped. Breath hisses through now-clenched teeth. Must I do this to myself? No, not if he gets distracted.
“Elly.” He tangles himself in another conversation for dear life, though his voice is calm.
“Schütz.” Elly is more than happy to oblige.
“Sorry.” It is a good start because ‘sorry’ for Schütz could lead to practically any end.
Now he has to find a thread to tug, and he looks no further than the dress at his feet. “Sorry for dirtying your dress. Before. Yesterday.” Now that he is started, it is no longer an excuse to speak.
Elly laughs. “I wouldn’t know about Elly-days without Schütz defiling my dress and making a dress. But, if it makes Schütz happy I will get—”
“Hap-?” The rest of his words are squeezed out of his lungs by shock and force.
The distance between them is closed. Elly consumes all his vision, and all of Elly’s vision is consumed by his. Warmth surrounds him, and liquefies his will to escape in its confines. “Even,” she declares the action to be. But, no, this is a hug. The Elly he cannot see, but certainly feel, wraps around the paranoid, broken mess of him as if it were something special. She must be lost. Regardless, she is happy where she is. The naked Schütz is wordless; even the dumbest of voices inside him silenced. He stands stiff and still, accepting the embrace as a tree would. Can I really. . .? Tentatively, with eyes shut tight, he returns the hug. The expected resistance never comes. What meets his arms is warm and soft, and real, very real.
Dust pours beneath Elly’s arms.
“Schütz?” It begins quiet, probing, and awkward. “Elly?” he replies, but she doesn’t hear.
Blindly, she feels for a sign of life. Her findings are clear. “NO! SCHÜTZ!?”
Warmth becomes terror. She tears away from him with a ripping sound. Suddenly without support, Schütz stumbles forward
“E - Elly?!”
“#S#C#H#Ü#T#Z#” Vicious, ear-violating noise tears through the air like a rusted blade.
Schütz’ instincts emblaze. Shock is turned into movement. He runs to her. “Elly!? Wh-”
“Sch#ütz i#s not d#estroye##d.”
His stomach meets the handle of a scythe. Winded, he sputters and falls. His head collides with the earth in a flare of white. Elly?! Strangled gasps replace words.
“. . . Schü#tz,” she replies.
Why would she -? Why did she -? He forces air into his lungs to little success. Questions boil over in his mind without vent.
The blade whines. “#No. I alm#ost destr#oyed Schütz, and I ##believed I destroyed Schütz.”
He feels some air return to him. His first attempt at words, nothing, his second, nothing, but his third: “Elly. Why?”
“######” The sound is supernal, a shriek in the same tone as her laughter, and infinitely worse.
Through the pain in his head and ears, he sees Elly; she is a mess. Her eyes stare through and at him at once, and her limbs tic to an uneven beat. He cannot see her breathe, but he imagines it, he feels it; the frantic, hoarse throws of hyperventilation. Schütz knows fear. He has lived in it since his earliest. Elly is scared. That cannot do. Schütz picks himself up, and stumbles forward only to meet the head of the snake.
“Elly? I - what did I do? I am sorry. I swear. Whatever I did-”
The blade whines. “No. I a#lmost destroyed Sch##ütz.”
He bites his tongue, and fills his lungs with air. “. . . Right.” He understands nothing. That has yet to stop Schütz. “Explain. I will help you. I swear.” She recoils at his words. He tries to step forward, but the blade will not let him. It matters not. He extends his hand, denies the serpent, and grasps the organic handle of a scythe. It shivers under his hand. “####” The scythe shrieks.
His mind throbs with the pain of her outbursts as he follows the scythe to its source. He does not touch her; he only stands before her. Any closer and it looks like she would explode in terror. “Elly? Please. What is wrong?”
“#” She tugs limply at her scythe, once, twice, then gives up when she realizes it will not come without bisecting Schütz with it.
She deliberately looks away, but she is a poor actor of indifference and rejection. Slowly, she turns back to face him. “. . . Schüt#z. I don’t want to##### destroy Schütz.”
“Elly. You would not. If you did not want to.”
“I did - I did - I######### -” She interrupts herself with a sharp whine. “I wanted to be fair, and be even, and make### Schütz happy. Then you stopped existing.” She shakingly points the blade at him. “If you stop existing # # ###-” She stops, and devolves into a mumble of noise.
It feels like his mind is bleeding. He does not pay attention to it, and with what attention he has he uses to talk. “I am here. Look at me. I am here, Elly.”
Elly goes silent. Then, quiet, too quiet for her, she says: “Schütz?”
“Elly?” His reply is cautious, as if talking might cause the shrieking, mind-violating noise to continue. Still, he does reply.
“What if you’re not.”
He thinks, then answers best as able: “It will not happen.”
“What if it does?”
“I will stop it.” He makes a promise he does not understand. Anything to stop the noise, no, no, anything for Elly. Selfish thoughts are squashed.
Elly whines. “Good.”
“. . . Good?” He sighs with relief. “Right. Good.”
Elly looks no better. She squirms, and whines before he can inquire: “Schütz?”
No, no, please no. Fortunately, Schütz never listens to the voice of self preservation. He keeps to Elly, and asks: “Elly? What is wrong?”
“The dress was destroying you.”
“. . .Oh.” The dust.
“I did not know what to do. It’s my clean love dress made by Schütz, but it destroys Schütz. Then Schütz said he will stop it, and he knows everything I don’t. Will you stop it?” she blurts out in a stream.
“O - oh, I -” He steadies himself. The dress destroys him; ‘It dusts thoughts and their forms,’ Sister said. He knew from the start the dust was ‘him’ on some esoteric level, and to that he concluded that if it benefits Elly, then why does it matter? The answer is here: because it makes Elly sad. “Sister said you would love it, I … I am sorry. So sorry. Elly.”
“Yuuka did this?” There is a strange edge to her tone.
“No! No - I made the dress. Sister just… she said that…” She lied? “It does not matter. It does not. The dress destroys me. Right. Then it is easy. Do not touch me.”
A silence well appreciated by Schütz follows. It will not last, he knows.
“Do you like the dress?”
“Oh - I. I made it. For you. So -”
“Do you like it?”
“I -” He stops himself. He will not lie. “No. Elly. But it does not matter. It is your dress. You deserve it. Truly.”
Elly’s eternal-grin twitches. She look down, down to the waters. “I deserve a dress Schütz does not like, and I deserve a dress that destroys Schütz? Why? What did I do#?” Her eyes begin to waver around the edges. A celestial sob hints at the edge of her mechanical voice.
“No, no - nothing. Elly, you have done nothing wrong. Please understand me. I mean - I only -” He grabs his face, as if to tear away the pain from inside his skull. “Please. Let me rest.” Selfishness leaks out. “Please.” He does not resist. Slowly, he lowers himself to the ground, grabbing and massaging the hurt in his mind.
“Sorry. Elly. Please keep your voice - no, it does not exist - so, please do not cry. I will not cry if you do not cry. I swear, I think.” He breathes. “Let me think.”
She is quiet.
Elly hates the dress. I hate the dress. Elly’s cries hurt. Sister lied. Nothing is real. He finds that laying out his problems have not solved any problems. In fact, he feels like vomiting. He does not. Today is a good day. Today is Elly’s - Elly… day? Right. Her day. Not mine. But she wants me to be happy, too. Why? No answer is found. Fine.
“Schütz?” She hesitates not to reply.
“Take off your dress. Please.”
Without a word, she slides out of the dress like water, revealing her disgusting form beneath.
“Thank you. Now. Put on your old dress. Please.”
She does that. Her form conforms to the dress as it should.
He nods. “I love it. Your old dress. Thank you, Elly.”
His words act as sedative to her. She is still on the spot, staring down blankly at the old, disgusting dress adorning her.
“Love it?” she groans out in an off tone.
“Yeah.” - “Does not turn to dust, too. Good,” he notes.
She stares, and stares, and stares. “The old dress is good.”
“It is covered in me, but-”
“- Because it is covered in Schütz,” she interrupts and continues.
“Oh” - “Ha… ha ha.”
She appears perplexed, but finds it in herself to laugh along. A moment ago, Elly was close to tears. She’s smiling now, that he knows.
He ignores the horrible pain in his mind and chest, and asks: “Are you feeling better?”
“You felt sad? Or scared? Unhappy. Right?”
“I, unhappy?” Elly tests the idea. “If Schütz didn’t exist, I would be before I met Schütz. Is that unhappy? I don’t want tomorrow to be like yesterday.”
“I make you happy? I - then? Right.” This is not the time for him to fumble. “Yes, Elly. If you don’t want something and that something happens, it makes you unhappy, I believe.”
“I didn’t know I could be unhappy.” She ticks quietly to herself in thought. “Schütz knows so much. I’ll believe it.”
“I don’t want you to be unhappy. So if I make you happy. . . somehow? I do not understand. But - right?” He pauses. “REGARDLESS!” “I will be here to do whatever it is that makes you happy.”
“Exist,” Elly offers.
“Right. Exist. I will exist. To make you happy.” — “It would be better if I could do more than exist,” he points out, but it is more like a plea.
“Right. I can talk too. What else?”
“Oh. Like existing?”
He sighs, then nods. If that is all. “. . . Right. I will exist twice over for Elly, and talk.”
She beams at his lame proclamation.
. . .
“Elly. Come here.”
“#?” Her whine is her ordinary, mechanical pipe - nothing that could make him want to scoop the insides of his skull out, just his ears. Regardless, she bends down on pole to meet him.
“Doing this. Then. Again.” He hugs her. “Sorry. I think?” Once the feeling sinks in, he quickly reconsiders. “No - I am not sorry. Sorry.”
She gets even and hugs him back. “Dirty,” she comments.
“Is that fine for you?”
“Then - I will not stop until you make me,” he admits.
In less than a minute, he stops, feeling too strange to continue.
“#? Schütz stopped? What did I do?”
“Something. Not important. It is not.” Rapidfire nothings are his only ammunition.
Elly is not equipped to sort nothing from something, and is easily rebuffed.
“Thanks, Schütz!” It comes a sudden.
“. . . For?” he genuinely questions.
“The clean love dress.”
“Oh.” - “But you hate it?”
“Schütz made it for me, and it’s mine. Why would I hate it?”
“It - it… Never mind.” After everything she still . . .? “I’m happy you like it, Elly.”
She smiles her dimpled smile.
Today Schutz made the mistake of thinking she did not care. He will try not to make it again.