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“Wait up, Mandy,” she whispered under her breath, her footsteps clapping against the wet paving stones. I heard her call out, but I didn’t dare break my stride or turn around looking. I did slow my pace though, ever so slightly, and soon the familiar sound of her footsteps fell in beside mine.

“I love when it rains like this.” I didn’t turn to look, but I could hear her smile in the words. And such a smile it was. Soft around the edges, with a genuine touch of warmth, and perked up at one corner. She shared her smile with everyone, from teachers to classmates, but it always seemed wider when it was pointed at me. But still I didn’t turn to see it.

“You know this is a bad place.” I said to the back of the girl in front of me, watching her black woollen jacket swish across the top of black boots. “The citadel is right behind, we’re in plain sight out here.”

“But that’s the best part,” She said lightly, “Let them look out here, and you know what they’ll see?” She paused to let me jump in.

“Just a sea of black umbrellas.” She finished, nonplussed by my silence. And now my feet did miss a step at the implications. I tripped on the stones, sending papers flying to the flooded sidewalk.

Biting back tears, I scrambled for the papers before the rain soaked them through, snatching them out from the unyielding paths of black boots. When the last soggy assignment was shoved into my bag, I glanced about for my umbrella. A hand held it out over my rain-drenched head as it’s partner offered me a boost. Her warm smile greeted me, shielded from prying eyes by her own black umbrella. I took her hand cautiously, like one might take a live wire, and she pulled me to my feet. And if that grip lingered a moment or two too long beneath the watchful eyes of the citadel, then no one could see a face as we scurried back to the crowd. Just two nameless black figures, huddled against wind and rain.

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