Chapter 10:

The Mooch Goes Shopping

My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!


 "Let me get this straight: you don't want me to pretend I'm your long-lost sister or something?"

Asagiri and I strolled down our local grocery store's snack aisle. Colorful packages tempted me from every angle, but I focused on guarding our shopping cart in case Asagiri tried sneaking anything in. She kept a distance, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. 

"Nah, Noriko knows me too well," I replied, watching my freeloader girlfriend carefully. "She'd figure us out instantly probably."

Asagiri ahead in her burgundy outfit picked out a red box of Bockie from the shelf. "I'm still jealous another girl is coming over, ya' know? How about placating me with this?"

I scratched my black hair, annoyed. "I told you already, she wasn't ever my partner or anything. Just a close friend from high school."

"Feels like you two were a lot closer than just friends though."

"Eh. We were into reading and ate together sometimes, that's about it."

Asagiri stared a hole into me, so I looked off to the side to avoid interrogations. No way could Noriko be explained without diving into my old, depressive backstory. Worse yet, Asagiri might've even figured how suicidal I was almost becoming.

"Well, guess it can't be helped." She'd snuck up to the cart and leaned onto it without me noticing. "By the way, it's ok if I invite friends over sometime too then, right?"

"Sure? Just let me know in advance."

"Based."

We continued our slow stroll through supermarket aisles. I plucked various essentials into my cart while Asagiri skipped ahead and looked around.

There was actually a lot of history in this market, one I grew up with. My sister Chidori always joked that if I ever convinced a girl to go on a date, my dumbass would probably bring her here.

Hopefully grocery shopping doesn't count as a date . . .

Thinking of Chidori, what was she up to anyway? I hadn't even mentioned I had a GiG to her yet, or that said girlfriend had commandeered her room. Chidori would likely be back home for the holidays in a few months, and that was looming chaos just begging to happen.

Asagiri ahead waved towards me from a freezer aisle. Oh geez, what's she gonna try pitching now?

Multiple frozen treats and dinners peered at me as I strolled past their refrigerated prisons. Asagiri dashed over and held up a colorful box to my face.

"What is it?" I said, too close to make out details.

"What's it look like? Popsicles. They're like upgraded lollipops."

"I know what popsicles are, but you're sending mixed messages by picking out the most phallus looking ones possible."

"Heh." She grinned. "Win-win, right? I get something big to suck on, and you maybe reap the benefits in the future."

"Sorry, I can smell the snake oil from here. Put it back."

"Grrrr, fine!" Asagiri pouted and returned them into the freezer.  She hovered alongside me as we continued our trek through the supermarket.

Things were calmer on Saturdays, which is why I preferred them for shopping over Sundays. Old mental scars still made me uneasy around crowds, not to mention, DeLightfuls potentially camouflaging among the populace. Literally anyone could be a DeLightful even if they didn't look it.

I observed a nearby old man picking out apples from a bin, and then I glanced towards a little girl rummaging through cereal boxes. Was paranoia really what I'd devolved into? Pure delusions with no basis in reality? But I wasn't directly afraid of DeLightfuls, rather, I feared their dogmas sneaking back into me—taking root and steadily reverting me to my former self.

If only Noriko decided to see things from a different point of view befo—

I suddenly snapped out of my trance. A hand had gently interweaved itself into mine and enveloped me, spreading trace amounts of warmth.

"Hey, everything ok?" Asagiri asked with concerned eyes. Her intoxicating warmth spread through me as it revitalized my spirit. A single, delicate hand of hers was all it took to forget my doubts and worries. 

"Mmm!" I nodded, letting her massage her fingers between mine. "Thanks for the pick-me-up."

She looked conflicted. "I don't mind, you know, leaving while Noriko is home. Maybe it's better she doesn't know I exis—"

My arms shot out and wrapped around Asagiri, consequences be damned. "No. You're more important than her now. I don't want to hide you if I don't have to."

I waited for her to scream "Kill Switch!" or blurt out a screech, but nothing came. Instead, she sighed and leaned into me. Her eyes were hard to decipher their owner's true emotions.

"Big dummy," Asagiri said. "You’re what I needed back then, not him.”

“Huh?”

She broke away from my arms and ran down the aisle, smiling. “Nothing! Let’s get going, Nishikata!”

Well, never gonna be a dull day with her that's for sure. 

I pushed my cart forward as we made our way to a cash register line. Asagiri on my side peered at various snacks dotted alongside us. She picked up a pack of gum.

"Lemme get," she said.

"Aren't your lollipops back home enough?"

She fiddled with the one in her mouth. "Yeah, but you've barely bought anything for me today. Can't a girlfriend be spoiled a little?"

"But you're already spoiled."

"How so?"

I walked around our shopping cart and dug through its contents. My hand pulled out a single, red box of Bockie chocolate treats. "Figured you snuck something in while I was distracted. Didn’t think I’d check before paying?”

“Wind musta’ blown it in there." She tried hovering away from the scene of the crime.

This was probably how my mom felt whenever she took me shopping . . . I sighed and placed Asagiri’s Bockie on the moving conveyor belt.

“Huh? You’re still buying it?” she asked, surprised.

“You’re helping me carry groceries home, so I should give something at least.”

“Damn, guess no gum then.” She returned the item to its shelf. “Wouldn’t wanna break your bank.”

“You already did at the movies.”

“That was then, this is now. Don’t live in the past, Nishikata.”

That phrase had more underlying meaning than she probably intended, but I played along. "Never know. Someone's past could always catch up to them."

"Is that a declaration of retaliation? We gonna fight?" She took a defensive stance, chopping the air.

"Let's save the theatrics for bed tonight, honey." I said loudly. Other shoppers and the cashier stared in our direction.

"H-Hey! W-W-What are you saying, idiot!" Asagiri's face blushed as she tried to shrink herself and melt away.

"Just figured I'd give you a taste of your own medicine for once," I grinned. Embarrassing her for a change felt cathartic. 

"Nishikata . . . !"

With a gentle smile, I walked over to the gum pack she returned earlier and tossed it onto the conveyor belt. My girlfriend seemed placated, but still cutely angry. 

"Huh? Don't think you can bribe me with snacks! Ok, maybe a tiny bit of bribing is fine."

As we finished purchasing our items, I returned our cart to an indoor corral and handed Asagiri two stuffed bags.

"Here, they're not heavy. Can you handle them?"

"Making your girlfriend carry things, wow," she pouted. "Not very gentlemanly of you."

"I love equality. Besides, it's good exercise since you're usually freeloading at home."

"Mmm, I'll ignore that. Also, should I do anything special tomorrow? For Noriko?"

Yeah, should she? Probably not. "Just say hi and chat? I don't think you suck at socializing like me."

Her mouth opened as if to say something but stopped midway. She looked towards crowds of people within the store and paused to think.

"Let's just say we probably weren't that different at one point," she said with sentimental eyes. "Alright, now time to go!"

Asagiri scampered out the front door into rays of a beautiful, setting sun.

Isn't everyone the same at some point in their lives?

Whatever tomorrow brought, it wouldn't really matter. I wasn't living in the past anymore, but the future. Noriko and I chose different paths that day on the bridge; we'd simply be reuniting again under different circumstances, for better or worse.

I took a deep breath and grabbed the last of our grocery bags.