13 | A New Doorway

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Books clattered to the floor, making Evanna whirl around in a panic. "Nelly!"

An nine-year-old girl, who looked somewhat small for her age, bent down in a hurry. "Sorry!"

Evanna scanned the books from her perch on the bed, trying to detect any damage. Satisfied there was none, she went back to reading Down a Rabbit Hole.

Bright afternoon sunlight poured into every nook and cranny of her black-themed room. The luminosity around her seemed to mock the inner melancholia that had stubbornly refused to dissipate since swimming class. She had looked forward to some alone time after school. That was not to be.

Manel Attygale, whom Evanna had nicknamed Nelly, had been delivered to her for babysitting. She was like a younger, more energetic version of Marilda. She lived next door, and Evanna was occasionally tasked with babysitting, though the kid showed up to hang out with her nevertheless.

The mattress sagged when the bundle of chubbiness that was Manel jumped onto the bed with a book in hand. "Unnie?"

Evanna turned for what felt like the umpteenth time. Manel had started calling her "unnie" after picking up the word from the romcoms she had started watching.

"Unnie," she said again. "Can't I play Arcana for a bit?"

Evanna shook her head. "Nope. You have to be, like, thirteen to play it, I think."

"But why!"

"I dunno." She sighed. "It's got some grown-up stuff."

"Like what?"

"Like fighting—I told you this before!"

"You're not a grown-up either."

"Hmph. I'm way more grown-up than you. I'm seventeen this year."

"Okay to fight when you're grown up?"

"Nice try, Nelly." Evanna surveyed Manel's smug, pouting face and let out a laugh. "It's not random fighting—it's for your faction or you fight monsters or whatever."

"Fine." Manel's brow scrunched up in thought. "By the way, can't we make some tofu nuggets? I like your tofu nuggets."

"Thanks," Evanna said, taken by surprise. "But not now."

"Tofu in my mouth!" she said in a sing-song voice.

"What?"

"It's a song from Teen Titans Go!" The kid wriggled closer. "You should watch it—it's got science facts too."

"Cool! But it's kids' science stuff, I guess."

Manel seemed to deflate. "What sort of science stuff are you into then?"

"These days, I've been learning some quantum physics."

"Oh..."

"Yeah." Evanna resumed reading.

"Shoot some electrons through a double slit, what do you get? What do you get?" Manel burst into a rap, jabbing her finger up into the air to the beat.

Evanna straightened up and goggled at her. "Huh?"

"Electrons can be in many places at once!" The kid puffed up her chest. "I know stuff."

On another occasion, she would have pursued the conversation, but she turned back to her book.

Without missing a beat, Manel poked her. "Why are you not—um, talking much? Is there a word for not talking much?"

"Reticent?" Evanna tried to tone down her impatience. "And no, I'm not reticent—I'm just trying to read."

"You're somehow gloomy today."

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