Chapter 10:

Mooch Goes Snack Seeking

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

The wheels of the shopping cart glided over pearly white tiles, guiding me along an aisle of colorful packaging that tempted me from every angle. I'd already stuffed our cart full of food and household necessities, but my eyes remained vigilant. Asagiri nearby was rummaging through a candy shelf—always checking over her shoulder to see if I'd let my guard down.

"What if Noriko wants gobstoppers when she visits?" Asagiri said, a box of sweets in her hands. "You won't get laid if you can't feed her."

I sighed. "That's not why she's coming over."

"Well why else would a girl come over to a lonely dude's house?"

If only you knew. I'd already informed Asagiri about someone named Noriko planning to visit, but I hadn't mentioned many details about our pasts. Some things were just better left untold.

I stared blankly at my elbow resting on the shopping cart handle. I was wearing a brown, checkered flannel that was reminiscent of Noriko's old style. If she wasn't lazy to change out of her school uniform, flannels were the only thing she'd ever wear outside school. Maybe I'd grown fond of the aesthetic, or maybe it was just desperate yearning for times gone by. 

Out of the corner of my eye, the red of Asagiri's jacket snapped me out of my stupor. Her arm was trying to sneak into my blind spot and slip snacks into the cart. 

"Hey! What did I say?" I yelled.

She scampered away like a cockroach exposed to light. "Nishikata is a big meanie! A little junk food never hurt anyone!"

"Yeah, it hurts my wallet though!"

Her cute, pouting face made it hard to stay mad, and soon she returned the items to their proper shelves. "Well whatever. I'll let it slide if you tell me more about Noriko."

"No, just talk to her yourself," I said. "Make some friends."

"I have plenty, I'll let you know!" Asagiri started counting her fingers one by one, but quickly stopped at her third finger. "If I include you, that's at least three friends! See!"

Well that's probably more than me at this point. "Just be yourself and maybe Noriko will be your fourth then."

"Humph, I'm not that desperate for friends." She rejoined me by the cart as we turned a corner into the next aisle. Spices and canned foods stared down at us from their high shelves.

"Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures . . ." I just said whatever to continue our small talk.

"Yeah! That reminds me!" Asagiri dashed ahead of the shopping cart and pointed her finger at me. "Let me get this straight: you don't want me to pretend I'm your long-lost sister or something? When Noriko comes?"

Well that's a bit intuitive of her. "Nah, Noriko knows me too well. She'd figure us out instantly."

"Hmmm, sus." Asagiri ran to the end of the aisle. She picked out a red box of Bockie from the shelf and yelled for my attention. "Hey! I'm still jealous another girl is coming over! How about placating me with this?"

Another shopped behind us stared in our direction. I gestured Asagiri with my hand to lower her voice as I approached her. "I told you already—Noriko wasn't ever my partner or anything. Just a close friend from high school."

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

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

Asagiri's eyes narrowed on me like pincers, so I looked off to the side to avoid interrogations. No way could Noriko be explained without delving into my old, depressive backstory. Worse yet, Asagiri might have even figured how suicidal I was almost becoming.

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

"Sure? Just let me know in advance."


We continued our slow stroll through supermarket aisles. Asagiri and I worked in tandem to find our last remaining essentials, then I sent her ahead to find us some ice cream.

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 . . .

But what was my sister 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, she's gonna try pitching something weird isn't she.

Multiple frozen treats and dinners peered at me as I strolled past their refrigerated prisons. Asagiri sped over to me 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." Her face was giddy with excitement. "They're like upgraded lollipops!"

The box art showcased a blue popsicle in the shape of a space rocket. However, their girth shape gave away my girlfriend's joke. "Did you really need to pick 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.  After I picked out some ice cream, she hovered alongside me as we continued our trek through the supermarket.

Things were calmer on Saturdays, which was 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 reverting me to my old former self.

Thoughts were engulfing me, like a torrent of emotions. If only Noriko decided to see things from a different point of view befo—

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

"Hey, everything okay?" 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'm not gonna hide you if I don't need 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 glittering, blue eyes were sending me mixed messages.

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

“Huh? Him?"

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

My face was more confused than the spectator's around us. Well, never gonna be a dull day with her that's for sure. 

I pushed my shopping cart around a vegetable aisle as we made our way to the checkout lane. We passed by a small family of three before snuggling into line. Over on my side, Asagiri was peering at various snacks displayed on a small shelf. She grinned and picked up a pack of gum.

"Lemme get," Asagiri said in a commanding tone. "See? They're not lewd shaped either."

"Aren't your lollipops back home enough?"

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

"But you're already spoiled."

"How so?"

After a tired sigh, 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?”

“Oh, uhhh, wind musta’ blown it in there, haha." Her lips tried their best to whistle nonchalantly. The attempt was cute if nothing else.

This was probably how my mom felt whenever she took me shopping . . . I sighed again 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 treat you to 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 at the air like a karate kid. "Catch these hands, Nishi."

"Let's save the theatrics for bed tonight, honey." I loudly said. 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 hide herself from onlookers. "It's just a joke, haha . . ."

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

"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. 

"Don't think you can bribe me with snacks!" She crossed her arms and pouted. "But maybe a tiny bit of bribing is fine, okay?"

"Fine, fine." I tossed our last items on the conveyor belt then finished paying. Asagiri helped put our bags back in the cart before we headed towards the exit. There was an indoor cart coral I scooted our cart into, unloaded our items, and then handed Asagiri two light weight bags.

"They're not heavy. You can handle them, right?"

"Making your girlfriend carry things, wow." She tested out their heft. "Not very gentlemanly of you, but I'll manage."

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

"Mmm, I'll ignore that." Asagiri started heading for the doors. "Let's bail then."

"Right."I grabbed six heavy bags that made me heave as I lifted them all. For a short distance it wouldn't be bad, but needing to carry so many things all the way home was gonna wear me out. Dang it, how am I gonna do this without looking like a total pushove—

Asagiri's hand came out of nowhere and nudged two bags out of my grasp, granting me instant relief. She tested their weight again by lifting the bags up and down.

"This is about my max. You can carry the rest yourself, right?" she asked in a concerned tone. 

Marrymemarrymemarrymemarryme, I joked to myself. But in her rare moments of empathy, I couldn't help but appreciate her existence in my life even more. 

"Yeah, you're a lifesaver," I replied to her. "I'll buy you those popsicles next time for sure."

"I don't forget what's owed to me." She stuck her tongue out at me. "Oh and before I forget: should I do anything special tomorrow? For Noriko?"

Hmmm, should she? Probably doesn't matter. I'd forgotten all about Noriko's impending visit. "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 you and me probably weren't that different at one point," she said with sentimental eyes. "Alright, 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 though, 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 followed my loving girlfriend out the doors.