Chapter 41: The Sidekick and Chocolate Overload (Part 2)
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It was incredible how oppressive the chill in the air had become from this morning until now. Pulling my hood and scarf closer around my face managed to narrowly keep the chill at bay. Unfortunately, there was little I could do about the unending flurry of snow pelting me. Although it wasn't quite a blizzard, I still struggled to make out my surroundings in the blur of white that assaulted my vision on all sides. I squinted, bringing my gloved hand up to shield my eyes from the oblivion of the snow. The intersection we walked up to had some cozy homes lining it, punctuated by the unblinking walk sign staring at us. Amelia pointed off into the distance, and I could vaguely make out a corner store in the distance. I pressed on, aware of how much she was shivering as we crossed. Picking up the pace, I hoped she would be encouraged to match mine. It worked, and soon enough we were through the automatic doors into the warm store.

The store employee manning the cash register greeted us with a friendly smile, and we gave her a brief greeting of our own. We walked past a stand of magazines, grabbed a basket on our way past, and went right down the food aisle. I wasn't certain why we picked a corner store instead of a retail store. The prices were gouged and it was doubtful that any of these brands were of higher quality than anywhere else. The only thing it had going for it was the closer proximity to our school, which admittedly, was a win in my book.

Beside me, Amelia shook as she searched the shelves for flour. I felt bad for her, knowing she must be freezing in her flimsy sweatshirt. It would be easier for her if I gathered all the ingredients we needed.

"Hand me the basket," I coaxed her.

She gave it up with little hesitation. I grasped the handle of the basket, swinging it to and fro while I searched the shelves for what I needed. I found a small glass jar of cocoa powder and a tinfoil pan below it. "Do you need milk and eggs?"

"We have eggs at home, but we could use some more milk."

I nodded, going over to the fridge stocked full of a wide selection of beverages. She mentioned when we were in school that she wanted my help to make brownies. There was nothing wrong with that–other than the fact that I sucked at cooking, which she assured me would not be a concern–so I had agreed to help her. Although that was the furthest I was going out of my way for her. If she planned on confessing to Ethan, I would play no role in it. It didn't seem to me that he viewed her in a romantic sense, and I wasn't about to force him into another situation where he had to turn someone down.

Not after seeing that pained expression of his when we were talking in the courtyard.

Grabbing milk with the best date, I bumped elbows with someone else. Honestly, I had to start paying more attention to my surroundings. The apology on the tip of my tongue faltered when I noticed who it was. Her tanned skin and sun-bleached hair done up in braids were unmistakable after seeing her again at the volleyball game.

Katy dropped the carton into the basket dangling from her forearm and examined me with a grin. "What’s the chance we run into each other here? How’ve you been?"

I thought about what to say for a moment, trying to come up with an answer that could sum up everything I'd been through since switching schools. While I didn't want to get into everything with her, especially not in the middle of a store, she was the one person from my previous high school I was happy to see. She was the only one to not betray my trust, and the only one to make me feel better about the entire situation.

"Much better recently. How have you been?" I asked, my voice a little gruffer than intended, but I couldn't pinpoint the reason for it.

"Fine until you guys decided to crush us in volleyball. This was our year to go to nationals, and you guys totally ruined it!"

"Sorry about that."

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Jeez, you still don't know how to take a joke. Lakewood's team was obviously better than us. Nothing we can do now, except train harder and harder to crush you all next year!" She placed a finger on her chin and winked. "But I bet that's not all you want to say to me, huh? Why don't you go ask your friend if I can steal you away for a cup of coffee? It'll only be for half an hour at the most."

The contrast between her from last year to this year was too much and had me stunned. For as much as her outward appearance had changed, her personality had gone even further beyond. Gone was her shyness, replaced by the loud, brash confidence she now carried herself with. It was clear becoming the captain of the volleyball team had given her charisma that demanded the attention of the room. Attention that Amelia was more than willing to give, in subtle awe of the girl towering above her.

This didn't escape her notice. "Hey, beautiful. Name's Katy. And you are?"

There was no shot this was happening right now. She flirted? And she was good at it?

"I'm Amelia. Charmed I'm sure," she said, looking uncertain whether she meant it anymore.

"Personally, I think I'm much more charmed to meet you because goddamn are you hot. I bet you're told that all the time though." She wiggled her eyebrows at me as she spoke. "You're a lucky guy."

I'd consider myself even luckier if we could skip right past this conversation, thank you. Sadly, life didn't come with the option to skip past dialogue scenes, so I remained rooted in place. The dopey smile stuck on my face was a pathetic attempt to give myself some semblance of understanding of where this conversation was coming from.

"Anyway, Amelia, can I borrow him for a little bit? We have a lot of catching up to do."

Amelia glanced at me, and I shook my head. I would stay with her. 

“We’ll have to catch up another time,” I said. “I’m helping Amelia with something right now.”

“Gotcha. You got any plans this Friday?”

“I don’t.”

“Let’s meet up on Saturday then,” she said, taking out her phone. I took out mine as well, and we exchanged numbers. “I know an awesome coffee shop nearby Lakewood, so I’ll meet you outside the main entrance once school ends.”

My brow scrunched up in confusion. “Asheville ends later than my school, so aren’t you going to be super late?”

“Nope.” She slammed a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t mind the small details. Just make sure you’re ready for the best cup of coffee you’ll ever have. Catch ya later!” 

And just like that, she scampered off to the woman behind the checkout counter, slamming her milk on the counter with a hearty laugh. I groaned into my scarf, my hot breath washing over me. It was like dealing with a double-ganger of Rika who may have been somehow worse than the original.

“She was rather eccentric, wasn’t she?” Amelia asked.

“Katy wasn’t always like that,” I said, figuring I’d defend the honor of her past self. “Anyway, we better follow her lead and get going. I can’t imagine the snow’s going to get any better.”

I brought the basket to the checkout counter, taking a glance out the automatic doors to confirm my suspicion. Unfortunately, the snow may have gotten worse, the world outside draped in a white sheet. That sucked, but I was still glad I ended up tagging along. 

A chance to start to repay Amelia and a chance for Katy and me to reconnect were a small price to pay for having to trudge through such horrible weather.

Big thanks to Harem-Fan for helping improve this chapter!

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