Chapter 12:

chance of rain

A Study on the Stand-In Love Interest

A part of him was tempted to skip out on the trip to the clinic altogether. There was no way he’d be able to keep up the pretenses in a place where the original Orion Magnaolia practically spent all his time. He’d fluked his way through an encounter with Aries somehow, but that was unlikely to happen again. If someone was going to sniff him out for being a fraud, it was going to be at the clinic. He was sure of it.

But the Entity that had watched him struggle miserably at the town hall in silence suddenly decided to give him instructions on how to act when he arrived. And so with a voice in his head feeding him just the right amount of awkward and earnest, he was able to pass as Magnaolia to the unsuspecting staff. Nice.

Though he was essentially on autopilot throughout it all, he gathered a lot of empirical data about that guy. Dr. Fuchisia, the clinic’s chief physician, only had good things to say to him—Magnaolia really was just a nice, hardworking guy. He was even more bland than the heroine, actually. But maybe his Halie was into that.

His world’s Halie, Orion corrected himself, glad that she wasn’t here to make a snide comment. He could already imagine the smug expression on her face, demanding him to say that again. Magnaolia really was such a nice guy. No wonder she was so excited whenever he said anything remotely disagreeable.

For a world threatened by contaminated water that corroded away living flesh, it was a surprise to find that all of the clinic’s patients were here for mundane things. Sick kids and the elderly mostly, and the occasional workplace injury. It felt like he was back in the real world, volunteering at a normal, understaffed walk-in clinic. The work was dull, but there was some sort of satisfaction to it, Orion supposed. Lots of people derived joy from helping people without anything in return.

He wasn’t one of them, but he could see it.

Magnaolia had the sort of unsurprising tragic backstory that explained why he cared so much about the clinic and helping the kids here. The great floods had left him an orphan at a young age which was way too common in this world for anyone to give him a second glance. His requests for assistance from the council went unanswered for years, which could’ve easily turned him into a very different character type.

It wasn’t until Dr. Fuchisia decided to make him her problem that he had the opportunity to spend what was left of his childhood in a warm home. And so Magnaolia too, turned out warm and gentle and kind, instead of the coldhearted badass he could’ve been. Wasted potential for his character design.

Orion really couldn’t see what Halie saw in this boring-ass guy. The original heroine might be a good fit for him, actually. Bland and bland, a perfect combo. But his Halie was plucky and ridiculous and full of herself. Half the words out of her mouth were nonsense while the other half bordered on harassment of an usavoury sort. Someone as softhearted and kind as Orion Magnaolia would probably be scared of her.

That was the only thing he could think about actually, as he helped dress wounds and take temperatures and watched Dr. Fuchisia scrawl down prescriptions on a clay tablet. While he was doing unpaid labour, Halie was out there enjoying the festivities with that Leonis guy. It left a bad taste in Orion’s mouth, and made it difficult to concentrate on anything else.

Why did the Entity specifically request that he come here? To give that other guy a chance to win Halie’s heart? He supposed he had an unfair advantage, coming from the same place and having the right face and all. But where Magnaolia was bland, Orion couldn’t say he was any better, either.

It didn’t actually matter then. Why was he trying so hard, huh? The Entity’s affection meter had reached well over halfway, which would keep him safe from a bad end already. Not only that, the affection just kept going up even though he wasn’t doing anything special. He wasn’t in danger anymore. He shouldn’t have to care anymore.

Only he did, and that was what bothered him so much. Orion couldn’t stop thinking about how she acted in front of Aries Buragandy, and he couldn’t stop imagining how she would act in front of Leonis Coabalt. And what about Gideon? Would Orion inevitably have to watch her navigate the delicate path to sidestep between each of the love interests until the start of Magnaolia’s route or something? What if that 55% was a 55% chance for her to pick him?

“Who’s this Halie you keep muttering about, Orion dear?”

Dr. Fuchisia’s concerned voice drifted across the clinic, and he glanced up guiltily from doing nothing for the past five minutes. She was carrying an armful of clay tablets—about half a dozen of them, so Orion quickly pulled himself to his feet and rushed over to help. Idly, he wondered if the digitalization era just never happened here, or something. The council using these impractical tablets was bad enough, but even here in the medical field?

“Sorry,” Orion said, holding out his arms to take the stack of tablets from her. “It’s nothing. Where do you want me to put these?”

“I’ve never seen you so distracted before,” she said. Behind her thick reading glasses, there was a mischievous glimmer in her fuschia eyes. Orion was reminded that this person was basically Magnaolia’s adopted mother, someone that could probably read that guy’s expressions like an open book.

If it was Orion Magnaolia, he would never let himself be this distracted. But he was just Orion, and he didn’t even know why he was thinking about this so much because the alternative was the unthinkable.

“Here, Orion Magnaolia would lay bare his heart and ask for advice.”

The doctor was someone that Magnaolia trusted with his life, after all. And none of the Entity’s suggestions had taken him down a wrong path yet, so he blurted out what he was thinking without thinking.

“What would you do if you think someone likes you?”


Orion found Halie waiting just outside the town hall, beneath the wide, slanting roofs. The muted sunlight from the orange-lit sky set her hair on fire. She’d tied it in a loose side ponytail just after leaving Magnaolia’s house, and strands of hair were already curling out of place. Only two of the belts on her oversized coat were buckled properly, making her look like she was wearing a poncho.

For someone who’s original design showed a strip of her midriff, something about the large, baggy jacket made Orion feel something. He wasn’t sure what yet. But it was…something.

Halie waved when she caught sight of him in the distance, which threw him into a turmoil for a brief moment. It wasn’t until he’d gotten close enough to see her frowning at him that he realized he never waved back. So he raised both hands—still wearing a pair of Dr. Fuchisia’s nitrile gloves—and waved feebly.

“Ah, Orion Magnaolia’s hot in lab gloves too,” she said dreamily, which was less of a gut-punch now that he was getting used to her antics. “Did you meet Dr. Fuchisia? She’s soooo cool. Love her fit. Love her personality.”

So Orion didn’t actually notice any of that. He’d been distracted all morning and if someone asked, he couldn't even tell you what the doctor looked like.

“Then you should’ve come with me,” he said without thinking, regretting it the instant Halie raised an eyebrow at him. “So uh, how did things go?”

With the sheer number of belts and buckles and straps that made up the outfit of an average person, Orion didn’t realize she was wearing a backpack until she twisted around to show it off to him. It was a faded pink colour, with an embroidered strawberry at the center. A relic of the past, or something.

“Ta-da! Got this bad boy at the market,” she said gleefully. “And Leo’s tablet is safely inside, obviously.”


The glint in Halie’s green eyes was almost malicious. “Leonis scene complete! Hey, hey, are you jealous yet?”

“Stop trying to—” But the automatic retort died in his throat, as he remembered the Entity’s suggestions and Dr. Fuchisia's advice, and everything he learned about Magnaolia today. That guy was so full of himself actually. He’d probably deny that 55% to the end, wishing Halie good luck when she went and picked another guy.

Orion couldn’t do that. He wasn’t that noble. He couldn’t let her exploit that 45%—he needed her to pick Orion. He needed to be sure.

“Yeah,” he said. “I am jealous. What are you going to do about it?”

Steward McOy
Dhamas Tri (dmz)