“This is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone, ever, in history.”
“Yes,” David agreed, deadpan, not looking up from his phone. In costume, he was Lynx Lad—though he’d been trying to drop the ‘lad’, now that he wasn’t a sidekick anymore. He was sprawled on the futon in Carrie and Andi’s apartment, his feet in entirely different zip codes, skinny legs in skinnier jeans.
“I don’t know how to be hot,” Andi complained, pouting at her own reflection. She didn’t have anything between ‘too frumpy’ and ‘too wholesome’.
“Don’t try to be hot on a date with Ghost,” Carrie said with disgust. She’d pulled her carroty curls into a ponytail to keep them out of the aloe slathered on her shoulders, a consequence of her day spent in a tree.
“I’m allowed to want to be hot!” Andi said, disappearing into the bathroom again.
“I don’t think that’s the problematic part,” Bug said. Their alter-ego was Chronofist, which they’d picked themselves when they were twelve and never regretted. They were sitting on a counter with a laptop, wearing a shower cap as they refreshed the green of their hair.
“It’s the Ghost part,” Carrie confirmed. She was distracting herself from the situation at hand by making tiny pancakes for her hamster, Penny.
“I can’t just not be hot,” Andi said. “Have you seen him?”
“She has a point,” David said. “He’s stupid hot.”
“He’s gross,” Carrie said.
“No,” Bug said, “he’s definitely hot.”
“He’s a creepy old psycho,” Carrie insisted. “He’ll probably stab you by accident.”
“He can stab me on purpose,” Bug said, waggling their eyebrows, and David laughed.
“Seriously,” Carrie said. “Are you guys messing with me?”
“You’re too asexual,” David suggested.
“I can still tell when people are hot.”
“Not everyone. Ghost has, like. An aura.”
“A sexy aura.”
“That’s not real.”
“It’s sort of real,” Bug said. “You might be immune to the sex vibes.”
“Vibes aren’t real.”
“I don’t know,” Andi said from the bathroom. “I think it’s the way he carries himself, or looks at you, or something. Where you end up thinking: this guy could totally do some stuff.”
“Sex stuff,” David agreed.
“Those are the vibes,” Bug said with a nod.
“I still think you’re all messing with me,” Carrie said, carefully arranging Penny’s tiny plate for maximum aesthetics.
“What about this?” Andi asked, emerging from the bathroom. She’d tried to de-frump an embroidered floral sweatshirt by pairing it with a swishy skirt and scrunchy thigh-high socks. “Is this anything?”
“Cutesy sleeves?” Bug asked, and Andi held up her hands to demonstrate, hidden inside sleeves long enough to dangle from them. “Excellent.”
“This is cute, though,” Andi said. “I don’t want to be cute.”
“I don’t think you have a choice in the matter,” Bug said.
“You’re cute,” David confirmed.
“If he wasn’t into cute, he wouldn’t have asked you out,” Bug said.
“Opposites attract,” David added.
“Gross,” Carrie muttered. Penny nibbled on tiny pancakes as Carrie took pictures.
“Are you gonna try to hit it?” Bug asked, and Carrie made a sound of disgusted horror as Andi covered her face. “What? We were all thinking it.”
“No we weren’t,” Carrie said.
“We sort of were,” David said.
“He doesn’t know my secret identity,” Andi sighed. “It wouldn’t be right.”
“Call if it turns into a trainwreck and we can come get you,” Carrie said.
“Call if you need us,” Bug corrected. “It’s definitely going to be a trainwreck, but that’s not a bad thing.”
“We’re superheroes,” David agreed. “Everything’s always a trainwreck.”
Some trainwrecks were worse than others.
For instance, if there’d been some kind of fight, or runaway Ferris wheel, that might have been cool. Assuming no one was hurt.
Getting ghosted by a guy named Ghost would be too apropos to be anything but hurtful.
He wasn’t late, yet. Andi had been early and was left to wonder if she was waiting in the wrong spot, the way she always did when she was early. She was always early.
The sun was setting behind the city, but Andi was watching the ocean. Being near the ocean filled her with the irrational desire to leap into the ocean, regardless of what she was wearing. She assumed this was universal.
“Hello, Miss Bravo.”
His voice was hot in her ear, and she spun around to see him. Ghost was standing further away than she’d expected, and her breath caught. He was wearing blue jeans and a cable-knit sweater in white, which left him looking far more normal than felt allowed. Except for the hair. Which was down around his shoulders, wavy and tousled and clearly illegal.
He held up a rose, and she clutched the strap of her purse. “You bought me flowers?”
“One,” he said with a shrug. “Easier to carry this way.”
She accepted it with careful fingertips. “I didn’t know they sold roses that still had thorns,” she said.
She contemplated the thorny stem with suspicion but didn’t ask the obvious question.
He offered her the crook of his arm, because of course he would. “Shall we?”
She started toward the boardwalk herself instead of accepting, still contemplating her rose. “You’re really…”
“Charming?” he suggested, walking alongside her.
“Old-fashioned,” she corrected.
“You are surprised?”
“I guess not.” She was trying to unpack the idea that this was what Ghost Devlin did in his free time, asked shy girls on dates and bought them flowers.
She wanted it to go well. She wanted him to be someone who took girls on nice dates. It felt important, that he be that kind of person.
She didn’t like lying.
“What would you like to do first?” he asked, looking out at the booths and rides available to them.
“I’m not—funnel cake!” Her answer changed as soon as she saw the booth, pointing with her rose and rising up onto her toes with the force of her enthusiasm. “Can we get funnel cake?” she asked, bouncing.
“As my lady commands,” he said. He took her so seriously that she tried to take him seriously in turn, clutching the rose in front of her to keep from waving her hands around.
“Do you come here a lot?” she wondered. “To the waterfront.”
“Not often,” he said with a shrug.
“When you were younger?” she suggested. There was his life before Atlantis, but there was also the life before that, the one that wasn’t on wiki pages.
“I lived in New York then,” he said. He paused. “There is still a New York?”
“… yes. New York is still there.”
He nodded. “Good.”
She bit her lip as he bought her a funnel cake. It was so hard to avoid fraught questions. Wasn’t it normal for a date to ask questions? She didn’t know how much her view was colored by the knowledge that she was undercover. Or, her own idea of undercover.
She tucked her rose carefully into the loop where her bag attached to its strap and accepted the funnel cake he offered her. Her fingers were immediately coated in powdered sugar she’d never touched. “Do you want some?” she offered.
“No, thank you,” he said. The wistful way he was looking at her was making her squirm.
“Okay.” She held the funnel cake closer but didn’t take a bite yet. She didn’t want to eat with him watching her. “Thank you,” she remembered to add. “For this.”
She tore a strand of cake away with her fingers, thinking this might be a less messy way of eating it. She was wrong, but she felt better about it. Less sugar on her face. “What do you want to do?” she asked, between licks of her fingertips.
“Many things,” he said. She couldn’t tell if he was being deliberately provocative but turned red as a precautionary measure. “Let’s walk,” he suggested, “and you can tell me about yourself. Andi Bravo.”
He didn’t offer his arm again but stayed close to her as she took small steps forward. Compared to his usual stride, this was barely moving. She kept her eyes on her funnel cake. “I’m pretty normal,” she said, as all normal people did.
“You are a student?” he asked. “Or do you work?”
He was much better at this than she was. “I… I work. From home. Data entry stuff. Nothing cool. It pays the bills.” She paused. “It doesn’t,” she corrected. “Carrie’s hamster—you know Carrie.” He nodded. “Her hamster is famous. Technically the hamster pays the bills.”
“An industrious rodent,” he said. She couldn’t tell if he was genuinely approving, or mocking her. It was always hard to tell with him. She thought that might be half his problem. He had resting villain snark. Maybe she could raise awareness. He doesn’t want to fight you, he just sounds like that.
“What about you?” she asked, eager to change the subject from herself.
“I’m the King of Atlantis,” he said, deadpan.
“I live off royalties,” he added, deigning to give her something closer to a real answer. “I used to write books.”
“I know,” she said, around a mouth full of funnel cake.
“Do you?” he asked, surprised.
Most people didn’t, she remembered, swallowing. “My grandpa,” she explained. “He had the magazines. The old ones.” The pulps with the drawings on the covers, Ghost Devlin punching Germans and getting attacked by anacondas. 100% True Tales of Terror written in a large red font that no one was meant to believe, From the Journals of Ghost Devlin. The spines were worn out and the pages were all yellowed, and they smelled like rotting paper and tobacco smoke. She’d read through the whole collection when she was young, ruined more than one of them reading after the shower with her hair still wet and dripping on the pages.
Even then she’d read something special in them, not in the action but in the tone. There was a self-deprecating wit that the other stories lacked, and they made his adventures seem more real. Personality infused every word, left her feeling like she knew him long before she learned he’d become better known as a supervillain. Made it hard for her to believe that he’d ever been a villain.
She didn’t think she’d tell him that part. She’d never told anyone that part.
“Aaah,” he said. “The magazines. Not the books.”
She shook her head. “He said those weren’t as good—they changed too much.”
Ghost grinned. She wondered if she could ask him what had happened to his teeth. “I like him already,” he said, as if it were inevitable that he’d be meeting her family someday. Andi finished her funnel cake, crumpling the dirty paper into a ball.
“What happened with those?” she ventured to ask. “The books.”
He shrugged, grin fading. “Made a bad deal,” he admitted. “Didn’t read the contract too close when I sold those stories, not that I’d’ve cared much at the time. I just needed the cash, didn’t expect anyone to read ’em. Guess they thought the originals weren’t interesting enough for paperbacks. Agreed to give me royalties, so I can’t complain too much.”
His accent lost some of its sharpness when he talked about old times, loped longer over his tongue. More like the cowboy he’d once been, before everything.
It made him sound snuggly. She wouldn’t be telling him that, either.
“At least you learned a lot about contract law,” she suggested, throwing the paper away as they finally passed a bin.
“Nah,” he said. “Still don’t read shit.”
“If the lady will pardon my language,” he added as an afterthought, but this time she was sure he was teasing her.
“It’s fine,” she said, wondering if she should curse more. That would distinguish her from Coatimundi, surely. Flinging all kinds of cusses every which way.
She liked to save them for special occasions, was all.
“Are you going to win me a dinosaur?” she asked, pointing to a carnival game. What the plush dinosaur lacked in accuracy, it made up for with a pleasing roundness.
“I don’t shoot,” he said, and she laughed.
“It’s a squirt gun!” she said. “Squirt guns don’t count.”
“Nah,” he said, and she tried not to admire his dedication to the gimmick. He killed plenty, she reminded herself. Just not with guns.
“I’ll win it for you,” she decided.
“Will you?” The amused tilt to his mouth gave her a frisson of indefinable something. Want, but not in any of the obvious ways.
“Yes,” she decided, determined now. She pulled a small change purse from her larger purse, shaped like a red panda, and counted out dollar coins to earn her place at a squirt gun.
“You’re very good at that,” Ghost observed as she took out cardboard ducks with precision strikes of water.
“Don’t distract me!” she warned. The game was rigged, but she compensated with speed. Her victory was inevitable, but still worth a gleeful clap.
Claiming the large ball of dinosaur, it occurred to her that this was stupid.
She shoved it at Ghost, eclipsing his face so she wouldn’t have to see it. “This is your problem now!” she announced, as if being annoying were an affectation she put on as a joke. She was turning red.
“I will treasure it always,” he said, taking it from her more gently.
“Sorry,” she said. “You don’t have to keep it.” He would, after all, now have to haul around what was almost a bean bag chair for the rest of the day. “Even if I think it’s really awesome.”
“I like it,” he said. He held it over his shoulder by one of its tiny arms, like a sack of gifts. His other hand touched hers. She froze. He took her hand in his, slid his fingers between hers, and she nearly fell over.
This was fine. Normal date stuff. Extremely normal. Her brain went into overdrive trying to remember the appropriate response to innocent hand-holding.
Except that it didn’t feel innocent, the way his fingers parted hers with the tips of them pressing friction into the seam between digits, big hands and rough callouses.
She was red, and he was grinning, and she wanted to scream.
I am an adult, she wanted to shout. I’ve had casual sex and hangovers after parties, she could have told him. She didn’t know if he’d believe her, because now she was undone by his fingers through hers and all the knowing in his mouth.
“What happened to your teeth?” she blurted.
His smile left. The tip of his tongue ran over the points like remembering. “Atlantis,” he said finally. That seemed like the answer to a lot of questions.
“How much do you know about Victorian dentists?”
What an absolutely wild thing it was, to hear the word ‘Victorian’ and remember that he’d known a time when it was only ‘now’. “Were they bad?”
“Terrible,” he said. “Mine were crooked to start with. I smoked a lot, got socked in the jaw plenty. Jolene had ’em fixed for me.”
His dead wife, his lost queen. Andi had more questions, and she didn’t ask them. “That’s cool,” she said instead, like that was better. He nodded. “Wanna go on the Ferris wheel?”
“Miss Bravo, you have read my mind,” he said. His thumb stroked the side of her index finger.
“Cool,” she said again, as they walked hand-in-hand. It was not cool. “So you were there when these things were invented, right?”
“I was alive,” he said. There was a hint of exasperation in it. “I wasn’t there. I was in the Amazon by then, I think.”
“Do people think you saw all the history happening because you were alive for it?”
“Do they ask you about people like you would have met them?”
“So you didn’t punch Hitler.”
“Only a clone.”
He didn’t answer until he’d paid for their ride, and they’d situated themselves inside. He set the plush dinosaur across from them to claim the seats, allowing them something like privacy.
“I remember it happening,” he said. “It might not have, now.”
“Oh.” She toyed with the hem of her skirt. “I don’t know what that means.”
He looked out the window of the Ferris wheel car, and into the middle distance. “I have existed outside of time,” he said, “and am no longer subject to its whims.”
“Right,” she said, in that way that meant he hadn’t clarified anything.
“There are creatures in this world with the power to travel through time,” he said, “to change both the things they intend and the things they do not. The timeline changes, but I remain.” The wheel was turning, raising them higher.
“Like… time travelers?”
“Something like that.” He looked at her, green eyes dark. “You remember New York?”
“You remember Metro City?”
“Y—no? Is there… where is that?”
He sighed, leaning back in his seat. “There used to be a Metro City. It was in Oklahoma.” His fists clenched in his lap. “I remember it.”
“I believe you,” she said. She believed that he believed it, which wasn’t the same thing.
“You would have lived in Metro City,” he said wistfully.
“In Oklahoma?” she said doubtfully.
“No one would choose Midton,” he said scornfully, almost to himself. “Not if Metro City were a choice. So it isn’t.”
Andi wrung her hands a little. “That sucks,” she offered.
“It does,” he agreed. “Do you think I’m insane?”
“No,” she said firmly.
“I am,” Ghost said, and smiled. “I’ve always been, a little. Not about this.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, about a lot of things.
“My journals haven’t changed,” he said. “The things I wrote. Don’t know why. It’s all in there. Metro City. Punching Hitler.”
“Hitler’s clone,” she reminded him, bringing back his grin. “Did he have Hitler’s memories, or—?”
“No,” Ghost said. “Only his genes.”
“Wouldn’t that make him just a guy with an unfortunate face?”
“He was an asshole,” he said. “He was raised by people who thought it would be a good idea to clone Hitler.”
Ghost rested his hand on hers, which rested on her thigh. His fingers brushed her leg in a plausibly deniable sort of way, and she didn’t call him on it. “This must be strange for you,” he said, “normal girl Andi Bravo.”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s very weird, and. Different. All this superhero stuff.”
“Not so different,” he said, worryingly. “Your roommate is the good friend of Coatimundi, isn’t she?”
“Yes.” Andi paused. “I don’t—we’re not friends, though. I don’t hang out with Coatimundi. Even though I would. Because I think she’s cool. And kinda cute. Like, her costume is cute. I think. I don’t know if you think her costume is cute.”
“Cute enough,” Ghost shrugged, which was completely fair but also hurt her feelings a little.
“Do you not like it?” she pressed.
“It isn’t for me,” he said.
“Right.” She sat back a little. “That’s a good point.” They were at the highest point on the Ferris wheel, so she looked out the window. “We’re so high up!”
She turned to look at Ghost and found him looking intently at the ground outside his window. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
“I know him,” he said thoughtfully.
“Yeah?” Andi leaned closer. “Who is it?”
“I killed him,” Ghost said, putting a chill down Andi’s spine.
“That’s not good.”
Ghost started to slide his upper body out of the car window. Andi squeaked and grabbed him by the belt. He untangled her fingers from the leather, this time all business and no gentleness. She resisted before remembering that she shouldn’t be able to resist. She was a normal girl, after all.
“Get back in here,” she asked, her heart pounding. Ghost seemed to have forgotten her entirely, fixated on his target. Hanging on the outside of the car, he jumped. She went to the window as it rocked, watching him catch spokes of the ride as he dropped to the ground.
And she couldn’t follow him, because she was a normal girl.
Being a normal girl sucked.
“Dangit,” she said, sitting back down. She contemplated the round dinosaur. Could she fit a transformation sequence in here? Even if she could, it would be pretty noticeable. She’d have to wait for the Ferris wheel to complete its rotation, get out, and find somewhere out of the way to transform so that she could catch him. She’d talk him down, and then… he’d try to introduce her to his date?
She could talk her way out of that. Unless he wanted her help finding his date, not knowing it was her. Or what if he thought it was suspicious, that she was so close at hand during his date? She didn’t want him to think she was spying on him. Even if she was. Secretly. Undercover. As his date. Which was actually, now that she was thinking about it, worse in every conceivable way than just following him around. He would find stalking a relatable hobby.
This had been a bad idea from the start.
Andi picked up the abandoned dinosaur and gave it a hug, smelling it. It smelled like factory and corn dogs. She wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting. It was new.
“Hey,” said the ride operator as she got out. “Did your date jump out of the Ferris wheel? Because you’re not allowed to do that.”
“He used to be a supervillain,” she explained. “He’s still working on rules and stuff.”
“We’re not allowed to let supervillains on the rides anymore.”
“Did you ever find him?” Bug asked.
“No,” Andi said, her voice muffled by the dinosaur because she was facedown in it on the floor. She turned her head so that she could talk. “No one called the cops or started screaming, though.”
“Oh, good,” Carrie said. “He got him to a second location before murdering him.”
“He didn’t murder anyone,” Andi said. “Probably. He implied that he’d murdered him before, but it obviously didn’t stick, so I don’t think that counts.”
“I think that counts,” Bug said.
“Yeah, it definitely counts,” Andi agreed with a heavy sigh. “It’s not like it’s news that he’s killed a guy.”
“It isn’t,” Carrie agreed, “which is why you shouldn’t go on dates with him. Because he’s a murderer. You shouldn’t date murderers.”
“We know a lot of people who’ve killed a guy,” Andi pointed out, as if that were a defense.
“I’ve killed a guy,” Bug said cheerfully.
“Punching a guy so hard he was never born doesn’t count,” Carrie said.
“Debatable,” Bug said.
“How much do you know about time stuff?” Andi asked, rolling onto her back.
“I know some stuff about time,” Bug said.
“Do you think the timeline changes sometimes?”
“I know it does. Because I do it. With my fists.”
“Big stuff, though,” Andi said, looking up at where Bug sat upside-down on the futon. “Like, whole cities never existing.”
“It could be happening all the time and we’d never know about it,” Bug shrugged. “Time’s weird. Don’t start worrying about people who never existed, that’s a fast-track to crazytown.”
“He said he remembers,” Andi admitted. “Not just his memories, he said there’s things from other timelines in his journals. People who don’t exist anymore. Cities.”
“That might make sense,” Carrie mused, leaning over the kitchen counter toward the living room with her hands on a mug of tea. A good mystery always interested her more than trying to protect Andi from her own bad taste in men. “Normally, if a timeline changed, we’d all change with it. We’d all be native to that timeline, in a way. We were always here. If Ghost still remembers the way things used to be, there was never a Ghost to write anything different. Right?”
“Whatever happened in Atlantis might have knocked him out of sync,” Bug suggested. “Time doesn’t work right for him.”
“That seems like it would suck,” Andi said.
“Murder still isn’t cool,” Carrie added.
“I never said it was,” Andi said.
“I think it’s cool,” Bug said.
“That’s because you’re a contrarian,” Carrie said.
“I wonder if I’m different,” Andi said, looking at the ceiling. “If there was a different version of me that he used to know.”
“Goth Coatimundi,” Bug suggested.
“You wore one of those stretchy bodysuits with the underwear on the outside,” Carrie countered.
“That’s the worst,” Andi said, sitting up. “This sucks. I wanna go fight crime.”
“Don’t take your feelings out on crime,” Bug warned.
“That’s the best use of feelings,” Carrie said. “Feelings are dumb. Solve a mystery with me.”
“Do you have a mystery?”
“I have a ton,” she said, setting down her mug, “but most of them are nasty serial killers.”
“Yeah, it’s not really your scene,” Carrie admitted. “There’s been a series of robberies, and all they take is butter knives.”
“I’m pretty sure Stabbsy’s back.”
“Stabbsy uses real knives,” Bug protested.
“That’s what he wants you to think,” Carrie said.
“Yeah, I’ll get in on that action,” Andi said, standing up. “I like Stabbsy, when he’s not stabbing.”
“I’m not comfortable with how many people that’s true of,” Carrie said.
“Like me!” Bug said.
“That was one time.”
“That you know of!”
Andi clapped her hands together, warmth spreading through her body as her skin started to glow. Her ears and her tail phased back into reality, the dark band reappearing around her eyes and down her nose. Her clothes phased out, replaced by the frills of her costume. There were noises of protest from everyone she hadn’t warned, but she ignored them, throwing her hands up over her head.
“Let’s go help Stabbsy with his stab-fever!”
Carrie leaned closer to Bug on their way out. “I’m still not convinced that’s a real medical condition.”
Coatimundi didn’t expect to see Ghost on her way home, but she never did. Ghost was sneaky. It was one of his things.
“Hello, Pizote,” he said from a fire escape, nearly startling her into falling off a building. She knew for a fact that he didn’t live there, so why he was using a stranger’s fire escape for a smoke break was a mystery Carrie wouldn’t be solving.
“Hey,” she said, trying to be super-casual about it as she bent over the rail of a fire escape landing above him. “Up to anything I should know about?” she asked. Like re-murder, she did not ask.
“No,” he said, which could have meant anything if he didn’t think she should know about it. “Or perhaps Miss Davenport has told you.”
“Told me what?”
“My date,” he said. “With her roommate.”
“Right,” she said. “She said something about that. About her roommate. She seems pretty…”
“Normal?” he suggested.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Extremely normal.” Coatimundi turned around to sit on the railing, and then hang upside-down from it. Her pigtails and their ribbons hung toward the ground. Her skirt flipped inside-out, but between the petticoats and the bloomers, it revealed less than nothing. “How’d it go?” she asked.
“She seems nice,” he said, and she bristled at being damned with faint praise. “Might be too nice for me.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” she said.
“You didn’t see her blushing when I held her hand.”
Coatimundi started to turn red and hoped she could pass it off as the blood rushing to her head. “That doesn’t mean anything!” she snapped, ears pinned back and tail lashing behind her. “Some people blush, a lot. And maybe you did it weird.”
“Did it weird,” he repeated.
“Held her hand weird,” she said. “Like… in a sexy way. A weirdly sexy way.”
“Because she’s had boyfriends,” she added. “Carrie told me. She has boys over all the time. Some of the time. A normal amount of times. I don’t think regular hand-holding would have made her blush. You must have done it weird.”
“What are they like?”
He took a drag on his cigarette. “Her boyfriends.”
Coatimundi sat upright. She rubbed at her ears, trying to get them to look neutral. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know her that well. You’d have to ask Carrie.”
“You think she would tell me?”
“Probably not.” Coatimundi felt her cheeks to see if they’d cooled down at all. They hadn’t. “Did the date not go well?” she asked.
“She went home.”
He was not going to make this her fault. “What happened?” she pressed, looking between her knees and through the landing at the top of his head.
“I saw someone I thought I knew,” he admitted. “I got distracted.”
“You ditched her,” she accused.
“She chose not to join me.”
Coatimundi had to struggle to find a way to contradict him without making it clear that she knew exactly what had happened. “Are you sure?” she asked finally. “Because sometimes you do parkour. Old-timey parkour. Automatically, without thinking about it. Jumping off of buildings, and stuff. Normal girls can’t do that.”
Ghost ashed into the street. “And she’s a normal girl,” he said.
“Yeah, exactly. Totally normal.”
“Maybe too normal.”
“Not that normal. She agreed to go out with you.”
Ghost laughed. It was a rare sound, a kind of high-pitched bark filtered through a ragged throat. She loved it when she made him laugh. It felt like she’d won a fight he hadn’t known they were having.