I enjoyed waking early.
Since I was a little kid, I'd loved rising before everyone else. I felt as though I saw things no one else did, like I was saving time somehow. Sleep was nice, but it was less important than spare time. Or, I suppose, the sunrise.
It seemed that Marco felt the same way. I met him at the motel's measly little outdoor pool before the sky turned light. He found me dipping my legs in the water, swishing them back and forth, half-afraid someone would try to mug me (it's happened before).
"So you're an early bird too," he said. I started at his voice. He smiled and rolled up his pant legs to join me. "I would've guessed as much."
A smile found its way to me, too. "Early birds do get the worm," I said. "Wouldn't want to miss it."
"So what's your worm?" he asked.
"What's your worm?" he repeated. "Your drive? Why are you an early bird?"
"Oh." I shrugged. "I guess I just like the time I save. What's yours?"
"Memories," he answered without hesitation. "when my dad was around, he liked to wake me up early for these dumb little adventures. It was fun, yeah, but I mostly loved it because he'd chosen me. I have two siblings. But he only ever took me with him. I felt...special."
"What did you guys do?"
His smile grew wider. "Dumb things, like I said. Errands. he'd grab some coffee, hot chocolate or milk for me, and we'd set off. Somehow, he made even something as dull as picking up dry-cleaning an adventure. He'd call it our 'mission', like we were secret agents or something."
I could see it. Little, chubby, freckled Marco hopping into the front seat of his dad's car, the excitement in his face brighter than the absent sun. His father's urgent, breathless and melodramatic voice laying out their directives for the morning. It was something I would wake early for, too, even after it stopped happening.
"He liked telling me stories," Marco continued, completely lost in the memories. "I learned a lot about when he was a kid and teenager. He liked to exaggerate. I loved to listen. He called me his little man. Again, out of all of us- Marie, Mason, and Marco- my dad chose me. Being the middle child in my family, I usually got the short end of the stick. I loved my dad for picking me. He made me feel like an individual. Noticed."
Though I felt like I might have been prying, I asked, "What happened to him?"
Marco's smile disappeared. I immediately wished I hadn't said anything.
The air was cool and just a little humid. The sky was dark, almost dangerously so. I noticed that both of us had stopped swishing our legs.
"Remember how I said he liked to exaggerate?"
I glanced at him. His eyes were closed. He was still.
"Yeah," I said. "I remember."
"You know how close exaggerations are to lies?"
Marco sighed. It was a long, drawn out sound. His nose whistled a little as the air went in. I couldn't tell whether he was holding something back or keeping something out. Maybe both.
"Mom kicked him out. Marie, my older sister, never forgave him. Mason, my little brother, hardly even knew him."
"And what about you?" I asked.
"Me," he murmured. "He tried to take me with him. I think that's when I was sure he loved me best. You're not supposed to pick favorites, but he did. Mom wouldn't have it, though. Court said I was hers."
"But-" I stopped myself. Way too personal, I thought. Still, looking at him, I felt like I had to ask.
"What about you? How did you feel? You've told me how everyone but you reacted. Do you even know how you felt?"
"No, I don't," he said, opening his eyes. He stared into the water. "Back then, I didn't know that the people I loved could be as terrible as the criminals on TV. I didn't understand any of it. I loved my dad. I loved the rest of my family. I just kind of let myself be pulled back and forth , not even caring if I was ripped apart in the process. It's not like I personally had a choice, but if I did, I would've been screwed. So I just blocked it all out while it was happening. I ignored it.
"Now I guess I resent him, but then I do what I just did. I think of him and smile. I remember him as my crazy, fun dad, not some terrible person that broke my mom's heart and ruined my family. Yet I still hate that person. I can't make the two coexist as a single guy. I feel stupid."
"It's not stupid," I assured him. "And your situation truly is a tough one. All in all, I'd say that everything you're feeling is natural and human. Just don't dwell on it. As long as he's not part of your life, I don't think it matters. Maybe it's something you should let lie for now, at least until you feel you're mature enough to really understand it. I think that would be your best bet."
"I guess you're right," he said, finally looking at me. "Thanks. And, uh, sorry for just dumping all that out on you. It feels good to get it off my chest, though."
"That's good," I said. "And I'm only too happy to help. I've never really had family problems myself, but I can imagine it much be rough. They're supposed to be the ones that shield you, after all. It's downright betrayal."
Marco nodded and looked away. I realized my mistake as soon as he did.
"Hey," I began, trying to redeem myself, "tell me about the time when Jean farted loud enough for the neighbors to hear."
He laughed. The sun started to come up.
"Can I start calling you Grandpa Armin?"
"Excuse me?' I asked, looking up from my breakfast. Eren had a joking grin on his face and a bad case of bedhead.
"I was thinking, and you're pretty much an eighty-year-old in a teenager's body."
He pointed at me. "That's exactly what I mean. You talk like an old man. You dress like one, too."
"No, I don't!" My cheeks began to warm. Eren was my best friend in the world, but sometimes I just wanted to strangle him.
"Yeah, you do. No normal guy wears button-downs and slacks as often as you do. Not to mention your food."
I glanced at my breakfast. Raisin Bran, milk, and vitamins didn't sound like "old people food", did it?
"I hate to agree," said Jean, "but he's got a point. Where's your sense of youth?"
I glowered at the two. "Youth is already innate in me. Why should I feel a need to emphasize it? I like what I like, regardless of whether it's associated with what the elderly enjoy."
Eren snickered. "So what are you saying?" he pressed.
I stood up, surprisingly almost his height, and narrowed my eyes.
"I'm saying that I can play bingo and shuffleboard and watch Jeopardy, dangit, and you can't stop me."
Both Eren and Jean burst into laughter.
"What's with all the laughing?" asked Mikasa, who was sporting a towel on her head. She'd probably just come out of the shower. I'd run into her earlier that morning; she'd been all dressed up for a run. She was a bit of a health nut.
"Yeah, let me in on the joke, too," grinned Marco, sitting across from me with his own breakfast.
"It's nothing," I said, shooting Jean and Eren a silencing look.
"Too bad," said Marco. "I enjoy a good joke. But anyway, what's our game plan for today?"
"Our resting point today is El Paso, Texas," I said. "I've already made reservations at our motel. Mikasa's driving today."
"What?" Eren whined. "Why not me?"
"It's one thing if you endanger Mikasa's and my life. It's another if you kill these two in the process."
"What happens when she gets tired?" Jean asked. "Who's going to switch places?"
"She never gets tired," I assured him. Then I looked at Mikasa and asked, "But what if you do?"
She shrugged. "Guess you'll drive."
Eren groaned. "Please, not again," he begged. "We'll be driving until the apocalypse. Armin drives slower than a turtle walks. Minivans pass us up. It drives me crazy."
"Why? Because I'm careful?" I challenged.
"There's a difference between careful and sissy," he shot back.
"You know what?" Marco said, probably unsure of whether we were really mad at one another. "Supposedly, Mikasa never gets tired, anyway. So that's that."
Eren rolled his eyes and went away to get some breakfast. I returned to mine, eating quickly so I could get a head start on things.
As for whether we were mad, it was complicated. Eren tended to be a bonehead more often than not, so I'd grown quite used to his less rational opinions and ideas. So I suppose I technically was a little irritated, but it's the kind of irritation I'd imagine you'd get from a sibling. I'd seen it with Mikasa and her little siblings, as well as Eren and his older brother. You forgive and forget soon enough, I'd learned.
Mikasa was a much steadier driver than Eren, which I'd already known. She was very focused, responsible, and even polite. Somehow, she also managed to drive quickly. That was pleasant.
Jean and Eren, meanwhile, were bickering over who got control of the music. Though they had similar preferences, each claimed the other's musical taste was terrible. To settle it, Marco had suggested that they have trial periods. He, Mikasa, and I would decide whose music we liked better. The winner would get to play their music for the rest of the day.
It was Jean's trial period. So far, I was enjoying his music, though- again- it wasn't too different from Eren's. Marco especially seemed to like it.
Every now and again, Marco would tell Mikasa to stop, and we'd pull over so he could get a good shot of some mountains. Both Jean and Eren found it annoying, but I could see why he would do it most of the time. He really had an artistic eye; most of the places he asked us to stop at took my breath away.
Once, he literally screamed, "STOP. NOW."
Everyone, including Mikasa, jumped. She pulled over.
A shaken Jean cursed at his friend. Marco didn't hear him. I watched his gaze, curious as to what could have possibly turned him this way.
On the side of the road sat a mountain like any other. The sun blazed above it, hurting my eyes. I looked back to Marco in confusion.
He kneeled and snapped a picture. Then he turned back, his eyes shining, and hopped back into the van.
Grumbling, Eren shut the door. Mikasa hit the road again.
Marco stared at his camera, grinning madly.
"So…..what was the picture of?" I asked, wondering if I'd missed something.
"The world," he answered. "Life as we know it."
"Cut the pretentious crap, Marco," Jean snapped. "You bursted our eardrums to take a picture of a giant rock. I would say I'm pissed, but I guess I should be used to that by now."
"Maybe it is pretentious," he admitted, "but it wasn't the mountain that made me excited."
"You pronounced maniacal wrong."
Marco shot Jean a glare. "I'm serious, man. I just thought about how time continues. It flies so fast, too. It never stops. You can't rewind it. This second will never pass by again. Neither will that one. And, I don't know. I just got the urge to get one picture of life as we know it in this moment. That mountain's going to change. Maybe tomorrow, maybe long after we're all dead. Maybe it's changing right now. I'm just glad I got that second captured."
"Dude, we realized this in the third grade. Most people do. You just ignore that mess; it's not worth thinking about." Jean shrugged and turned away.
He was right. But the look on Marco's face said that he'd realized something else, something much more important than what he'd told us. Out of sympathy, I decided to give him the opportunity to try again.
"Was there more to that?" I asked.
"Actually, yeah," he said. "But I don't know how to put it. I guess I sort of….re-realized what I said. Like, it moved me." He frowned. "You know what? Nevermind. That didn't sound right, either."
What's the point?
"No," I objected, "I know how you feel. It's embarrassing, to say the least. But it- it feels important, right? There's no way to really explain it."
He was grateful that I'd understood him; he made that obvious. Still, there was an air of frustration and awkwardness between us, which irked me. I liked understanding and comforting people. I hated the barriers between minds, sometimes. Sometimes, I wished there was a way we could open our minds to others.
As Marco looked away from me, however, I didn't make an effort to reach out again. I probably wouldn't have gotten any further. You can't win them all, I suppose.
"Frick, where's P?"
"Look and maybe you'll find it."
"Dude, the only things I've found in this town are ugly stores and old white people."
"You say white like you aren't."
"No, I say white like it's an insult. And it is."
"How so? Anglo-Americans aren't inferior to any other race."
"What the heck is an Anglo-American?"
"How do you not know that?"
"Because I'm white trash."
"Hate to break it to you, buddy, but we're all white here."
"Marco, you're only three quarters Mexican. Get off your high horse."
"Mikasa's half Jap."
"Is is racist to say Jap?"
"That is the exact kind of question a racist Anglo-Mexican-American would ask."
"I don't think it's racist to say Jap. My mom never had a problem with it."
"See? Not racist."
"I think I'm, like, part Amerindian or something."
"What's with the 'might's? You probably aren't."
"Then what's with his skin? No Colorado white kid has skin that dark."
"Actually, Eren, you are a quarter Native American. Your dad told me."
"Suck it, Frenchie."
"Who said I was French?"
"But aren't you?"
"Well yeah, but how'd he know?"
"Your name sounds like one of the rats' from Cinderella. Anyway, why are you so unhappy with your race?"
"'Cause white people generally suck, man. Just look at history."
"Yeah, you got a point."
"Also, we can't dance or sing. The majority of us are prejudiced. And too many white celebrities are complete douchebags."
"Untrue. I'm a pretty killer bassist."
"I never said anything about instruments, idiot. But while we're at that, you've got the whole Indian thing going on. Your opinion doesn't count."
"Now that was racist."
"No- I didn't mean it like that!"
"Anyone else notice that Jean's the only purely white person here?"
"Look who's the minority now?"
"Okay, that was racist, too. Admit it."
"Racism against white people doesn't exist."
"Um, it actually does."
"Oh, I forgot about Armin. He's purely white, too."
"But seriously, racism applies to everyone. I don't feel that it should be a joking matter."
"Says the Brit."
"Okay, for real. He's got a point."
"I actually agree."
"No more racist white jokes?"
"I never agreed to that."
"It doesn't count if we ourselves are white."
"So now we're all white again?"
"Everyone but the Asian and Mexican."
"Is it racist to say Mexican?"
"What? I was just ask-"
"No, not that."
"Are you messing with me?"
"I found it."
"Do I win?"
"Not until you get to Z."
"Where the eff is Q?"
In the end, Eren won the music contest. Jean threw a fit, but he'd (more or less) won our alphabet game twice in a row, so it wasn't as bad as it could've been. According to Marco, that is. Jean, it seemed, hated losing.
Speaking of Jean and losing, my suspicions were confirmed concerning his attraction to Mikasa. This was perfectly understandable, of course, but that fact didn't make watching him any less embarrassing.
He started by trying to initiate a conversation. I wasn't sure how much he had thought his strategy through, but he obviously hadn't thought as much as he'd needed to.
We'd stopped for a bathroom break. Jean had run off as soon as we'd come to a complete stop, and Mikasa was close after him (considering how well she kept herself hydrated, I wasn't surprised).
They came back with a considerable gap between them. I stayed in the car, perfectly fine for the next few hours. That decision was rewarded (or punished, depending on how you look at it) with a little scene between my asocial best friend and one of our traveling buddies.
There was a heavy silence, first. I knew Mikasa noticed it, because she turned to face Jean before he'd even made a noise.
He froze for a second, but shook it off quickly.
"Uh, hey," he said.
"Hi," she said back. "Did you want something?"
He swallowed and averted his eyes. I almost felt sorry for him. I'd seen this scene a hundred times before.
"No, not really," he admitted. "You're, uh, a really good driver. And you hair is- it's- its-" he cleared his throat "-r-really pretty. Just wanted to say that. Felt like I should. Ma always says that if I had something nice to say, I should say it, 'cause all I ever say is not-nice stuff." He laughed nervously. I cringed and turned away, unable to stand it.
I wanted to laugh, but I wanted to cry. This hurt in so many ways.
"Thank you," she said. "Were those compliments intended to help me see you in a romantic way?"
Harsh, I thought. But she had said she didn't like him all that much.
Still, even for Mikasa, this was rough. Way too direct. Almost offensively defensive.
Jean gulped. "Uh, y-yeah. I guess," he said, his voice faltering.
She nodded and looked him in the eye. "I'm flattered," she said. "But-"
She stopped. I caught her gaze, startled. Had she even known I was here?
"What is it?" Jean demanded.
I sighed and nodded. I know, I mouthed. She blinked in surprise.
"I…..have a boyfriend," she announced hesitantly, both to me and Jean somehow.
Jean scowled. "Who? Eren?"
"For how long?"
She looked at me again. "A couple of weeks. We've known each other since we were babies. We're really serious."
Jean scoffed, his shoulders sagging. "Fine. Whatever. Thanks for being honest, I guess."
With that, he slumped into the seat in front of mine, crossing his arms and sinking into himself.
When Eren came back, Mikasa said something to him in a low voice. He glanced at Jean and me in surprise.
Though I felt bad for ignoring Jean, I smiled and gave the two a thumbs-up. They smiled back and nodded their heads in thanks.
When Eren took his seat in the passenger's chair, he and Mikasa shared a quick peck on the lips before she hopped back behind the wheel. He glanced back at me, as if to gauge my reaction.
I was actually very, very happy. Almost overjoyed.
Jean looked like he might murder someone.
Thankfully, my best friends had the decency to be discreet about their affections. It wasn't that I would have been bothered by it, but I was worried about Jean. As was Marco, who noticed the change in both his and the couple's behavior.
He nudged me. "Armin," he whispered.
"Yes?" I whispered back.
He made a gesture to Mikasa and Eren. "Are those two….."
"Oh," he said, looking back at Jean. "I figured. Did, um- did Jean try to…."
I sighed quietly. "Yes, he did. It was a nightmare."
Marco reached forward, as though he was going to comfort his friend, but he pulled back soon enough.
"He probably wants to be left alone right now," he murmured, more to himself than me.
We continued to drive in silence.
After a while, I noticed that Jean wasn't quite staring out his window.
His head was turned, but his narrowed eyes were focused on someone. Eren.
"Can someone please turn off the music?"
Jean's voice was loud enough to pull me from my half-asleep state. The next thing I knew, we were all looking at him. Eren was glaring.
"I won this right fair and square," he snapped. "You'll get your turn tomorrow. Quit acting like a two-year-old."
"You can only say that because you're the one in favor here."
Eren started to rise, but Mikasa grabbed his arm.
"Eren, we're still moving. Put your seatbelt on."
"Who's the two-year-old now?" Jean taunted, not even a trace of a smirk on his lips. He was almost scary.
"If we weren't in this car, I'd pummel you," Eren growled.
Jean scoffed, bitterness in his every move. "Please, kid. I'd bash your face in."
"Jean," Marco finally snapped. Jean ignored him.
"Mikasa, stop the car," Eren demanded.
"No," she said. "Quit acting like a child, both of you."
"Who put you in charge?" asked Jean angrily.
"Listen to yourself, Jean," Marco said, sounding almost disappointed. "I thought you were above this."
"You're not my mom, Marco. And neither are you, Ackerman."
Eren was visibly restraining himself. "Don't talk to her that way," he snarled.
"Guys," I said, my voice wavering.
Jean turned on me. "You stay out of this too, Armin. Quit protecting him."
"No one's protecting me."
"Don't lie to my face, punk!"
"It's like you want to get hurt!"
"Eren, sit down!"
"Stop the car!"
"Why'd you stop?" I asked, dizzy.
"I didn't," Mikasa said, sounding confused.
"Now's our chance, Jaeger. You wanna go?"
"Nothing would make me happier."
The door closed. Mikasa, Marco, and I all scrambled to collect ourselves and get out of the car.
Jean ran at Eren, but Eren landed a solid punch to his throat. Jean began to wheeze.
"Eren, stop!" I shouted. Marco rushed over to help Jean, but he shook him off.
"Stay out of this, Marco," he snapped, his voice hoarse. "I can handle myself."
"Obviously not!" Marco argued, his voice shrill. Just as he was about to go and help again, however, Mikasa called him. I turned.
The van was in the middle of the street. It wasn't a busy road, but we couldn't just leave it there.
"I want to stop them as much as you do," Mikasa said, "but this is a bigger problem. Come help me. Armin, do you best with breaking them up. We both know you won't be much help here."
That didn't even hurt. I nodded and jogged over to Jean and Eren, who were really tearing at each other at this point.
Eren was winning, which didn't surprise me. Still, Jean got whatever shot he could, and he was holding his own. He kneed Eren in the gut, and then kicked him in the chest, causing him to fall. As he took the opportunity to catch his breath, I ran over to Eren and checked his head for any bleeding. Thankfully, there was none.
He started to use me to get up, but I took his hand from my arm.
"Stop it," I said, an unexpected surge of anger bubbling through me. Eren's eyes widened. I stood up, acting as a barrier between them.
"Out of the way," Jean panted. "You're not the one I'm pissed with, Armin."
"That doesn't matter," I replied. "Neither of you are going to finish this. If you want to force your way through me, be my guest, but if I can help it, no one's going to get hurt anymore."
Eren, whom I hadn't seen get up, pushed me behind him.
"You lay one finger on him and you're dead, Kirschtein. You understand?"
"No, he's not," I insisted, pushing Eren back. "You both are going to stop this. Now."
"Armin, I'll hurt you if I have to," Jean warned, moving closer. "Don't think I won't."
"You hurt him, I break you," Mikasa called from the van.
"Jean, quit being a douchebag and call it off!" Marco yelled. "You're the one at fault here, anyway!"
I think we all froze then.
"What did you say?"
Marco looked over from behind the van.
"This. Is. Your. Fault. Jean."
"Who gave you the right to decide that?"
Jean sounded like he was about to break something.
"I'm not your parent, Jean. But sometimes, I feel like I have to act like it. It's like you don't even know the difference between right and wrong. Everything is always everyone else's fault to you. I want you to stop that right now. Apologize and come help us get this van out of the street so we can call somebody to fix it, get back in the car, and go home."
Even from a distance, I could see the intensity in Marco's face.
"No," Jean said, resolute. "I won't."
"Jean, you're only pissed because you like her! Don't do this, okay?! You're only embarrassing yourself!"
"What?" barked Eren.
"Marco, shut up!"
"You started all of this because-"
Jean turned on Eren.
"Yeah, because I like Ackerman! But of course, she's stuck with you, isn't she?"
"You hardly know her! You hardly know me!"
"Did that change the fact that I got so pissed I had to sock you in the face? Maybe it should have, but it didn't, okay? I don't care if I'm acting like a kid. I just really, really hate you, and I want to beat you to a pulp."
Eren's entire body tensed.
"Glad we feel the same way."
They started to run at one another again, but I rushed to get in between them, my body moving faster than my mind.
I was on the ground, and my nose was bleeding. Tears sprung to my eyes. I clutched my face, moaning.
"I- I'm sorry-"
"Yeah, you really are."
"No, I didn't mean t-"
"What the hell, Jean?!"
"He was just there, I didn't-"
"You know what? Pummel him all you like. I won't stop you."
"Save it. I'm done protecting you."
There was the sound of skin hitting skin.
Jean sputtered in pain.
"Stop," I tried to say, feeling sorry for him. "It isn't his fault. I got in the way."
A tissue was pressed against my nose. Mikasa helped me up.
On the ground were Eren and Jean. One was cowering, and the other was simply beating him.
I pulled away from Mikasa and ran to Eren, trying to pull him off of Jean.
Of course, he struggled. But when he saw it was me, he relented, breathing heavily.
"Hit him again. See what happens."
I'd dropped my tissue. A drop of blood landed next to Jean's head.
I extended my hand.
"Sorry," he said quietly. "I was bluffing earlier. I didn't- I didn't mean to- now, even Marco-"
"If I can forgive you, they can, too," I reassured him. He took my hand and stood up.
I hooked his arm around my neck, using whatever strength I had to help him stay up. He had a black eye, a busted lip and eyebrow, hair full of dirt, a scraped knee, and a bit of a twisted ankle.
"Eren went easy on you," I half-joked, pinching my nose with my fingers. "There was this one guy, once, that got a couple of teeth knocked out by him."
Jean shuddered. "Does he work out or something?"
"He trains in hand-to-hand combat. It's part of his anger management. I'm unsure how well his parents thought that one through. Still, you held your own pretty well."
His posture slumped a little more. "If you've ever seen a little kid get mad at the kid that took his snack, you can understand where my strength came from."
I sighed as we reached the van. Eren helped them push it into the grass. After they were done, everyone ate lunch while Mikasa attempted to call someone (a tow truck, maybe?). I stuffed a chunk of tissue up my nose to free my hands. No one looked Jean in the eyes.
I pulled out the first aid kit and asked Jean to sit in the grass. As I cleaned his cuts, he asked, "Armin, do you think I'm a loser?"
I chuckled a little. "Not really."
"That's nice to hear."
"Maybe it's just because I don't know you that well."
"That's a good point, but it's still nice to hear."
I threw the bloody cotton ball in the plastic bag I'd brought, rolling up Jean's jeans to wrap the gauze around his knee.
"Why do you ask?" I wondered.
He watched me bandage his scrape. "I just get it a lot," he said. "Marco's right about me. I act like a baby."
I shrugged and moved on to preparing an ice pack for his eye.
"You're immature, sure. But that's not all of who you are, is it? From the 18-odd hours I've known you, I can tell at least that much."
He snorted. "Well, from the 17 years that Marco's known me, he can tell that I need constant supervision."
"I doubt that Marco's really done being your friend," I said. "Relationships like that don't just end because you get fed up with the other's flaws."
"What about divorce?" Jean asked. "What about brothers that stop talking once they get their own families? That's exactly how those relationships end."
"Those relationships aren't as strong as your's and Marco's, then."
"Yeah, right," he said. "Look, I appreciate the advice, but you're overestimating us. Relationships like yours and Eren's and Mikasa's are the kind of things that you're talking about. I don't think Marco and I are that strong."
I dusted the dirt from his hair. "It's not like we've never fought like that before. Once, Eren and I didn't speak to one another for a whole two months. I'd reported something he'd done to his parents. I told him I was sick of his irrational and impulsive behavior, and he told me he was sick of my weakness. We only made up because Mikasa pointed out to us what we were throwing away."
"And what was that?"
"A brotherhood. A friendship that lasted a lifetime. Someone who knows you in a way you never can know yourself. A chosen sibling."
I handed some Vaseline and a cotton swab to Jean. "For your eyebrow and lip," I said.
He applied the Vaseline. "You think Marco and I have that?"
"Of course I do," I said. "Those kinds of things are hard to miss."
"You could be mistaken. You don't know us that well."
"I could," I agreed. "But I'm pretty sure I'm not."
He rubbed his lips together to spread it, handing the jar back to me.
"Well, thanks," he said. "Especially after I busted your nose."
I grinned. "It's not that big of a deal."
"To everyone else, it was. You're like their damsel in distress."
"It's just human nature. Not many people like seeing the weak get hurt. Eren and Mikasa especially hate it."
"In a way, it's like you're in charge here."
I blinked. "I wouldn't say that."
"It's always been a cooperation between the three of us. Supposedly, I'm the brains. Mikasa's the muscle, and Eren's the heart."
"Smart, strong, brave," Jean muttered. "Ya'll make a good team."
I stifled a laugh.
"Did you just say 'y'all'?"
Jean looked confusedly at me.
Soon enough, someone came to help us. I wasn't sure what the problem was, but according to Mikasa, it was getting fixed.
Both she and Eren had carefully avoided Jean this entire time. Marco, however, seemed to be struggling with his silent treatment.
He kept looking over in Jean's direction. He would make a move to stand, but quickly stop himself as soon as he'd started.
After an hour of this, I finally decided to push him out of his grudge.
"Hey, Armin," he said as I sat down. "What's up?"
"Nothing much," I answered. "Aren't you lonely sitting all by yourself?"
He shrugged. "I guess. I've had time to think, though."
"What I said to Jean. I mean, it was true, but I feel like-"
"Go make up," I interrupted. Marco looked at me with surprise.
"Jean already feels more than guilty. You've done your job. You don't even have to apologize; just be yourself again."
He smiled and tousled my hair. "You know, I'm really starting to like you."
Then he sat next to Jean on the ground. I took my seat back in the van, opening my journal to write.
So much has happened today, and lunch has barely passed.
Where should I start?
Well, first of all, Mikasa and Eren know I know about them.
Jean likes Mikasa, and he's jealous of Eren.
They got in a fist fight when the car broke down.
In that fist fight, I was hurt, which prompted everyone to completely turn on Jean (including Marco, who'd already been fighting with him).
Eren beat the snot of out Jean.
I helped clean him up and make him feel like he wasn't a complete jerk.
I also helped him and Marco make up.
We're going to hit the road again soon.
Also, it's been established that racism against white people exists, and I'm apparently an old man in a kid's body.
So what did I learn today?
I stopped, thinking.
Thinking turned to daydreaming, and once we hit the road, I forgot what I was supposed to be doing.
I closed my notebook and laid my head down.
I would learn later. Right then, I needed a solid nap.