A shopping trip
Together, the three friends laughed while entering the bookstore. But as she turned her attention to the magazine rack, Karina couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief. It had been a rough couple of months, for the other heroes as much as for herself. None of them expected to lose one -- let alone two -- of their colleagues in such a short order. Though they weren't really gone, their absences from her everyday life required serious adjustment.
But few were allowed to know about what she had experienced. Especially not Emily or Jane.
* * *
The life of a hero
Still, part of her appreciated that her other life was such a secret. It allowed her to unwind at school without having to worry about talking crime fighting tactics, point scores, or ratings. Sometimes she even enjoyed hearing everyone talk about Blue Rose. Their candor felt refreshing and allowed her to develop certain ideas to take back to her management. They may think that the public isn't in the mood for a ballad or for her to stay clear of upcoming trends, but her unofficial market research almost always said otherwise!
* * *
A shopping trip part 2
“Hmm...I haven’t noticed a difference,” said a voice from behind. “How about you?”
“No real changes,” said Jane, “but it’s all so different. All the heroes have their own sense of flair, but it’s kind of boring without them.”
“I can agree with that.” Karina struggled to keep a straight face. “They certainly kept things interesting.”
Emily leaned against Jane and the two dreamily sighed, “Oh Barnaby!”
Karina could only laugh. “That wasn’t quite what I was thinking.”
“Really?” asked Emily. “What’s wrong with Barnaby?”
“He’s just not my type,” she said with a shrug.
* * *
A month earlier
“You miss him.”
Karina kept her eyes forward, focusing on her last few reps. She knew that Nathan was just teasing her but she wasn’t in the mood to take the bait. Enough time had almost passed for her to no longer find the sudden absences from the training room jarring.
Carefully, she leaned forward and placed her head in her hands. A sharp rustle brought her eyes up. Nathan stood before her holding a towel. “Thank you,” she said softly before grabbing it.
“Do I what?”
“Do you miss him, dear?”
She turned and walked toward the locker room. Karina could hear familiar footsteps follow but didn’t bother to speed up. She actually slowed a bit, hoping it would make her movements seem more natural “I don’t miss him more than anyone else.”
“I don’t believe that for a second.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“I’m just wondering when you’re going to admit it to yourself.” Nathan stepped ahead and held the locker room door for her. “Because even though I’ve figured it out, a few of our friends can be a little dense about these things. And when they figure things out…”
“I think I’ll be fine. Absence doesn't actually make the heart grow fonder”
* * *
A shopping trip part 3
Karina looked up and around. Jane and Emily were engrossed by news on the latest pop idols. She gave sharp, cursory glances to her left and right. She saw no one else she recognized. So she turned again to her magazine.
Though they have only been gone a few short months, the absence of Barnaby and Wild Tiger is still being felt. The point score has become more chaotic than ever. And the amount of collateral damage has dwindled to a few thousand a month…
Again, Karina looked up. This time a sudden movement from a few rows forward caught her eye. She put down the magazine and quietly crept up the aisle. Her eyes scanned down each side of the rows until she found a man with his faced buried in a history of Sternbild City.
“Excuse me, sir.” The man turned to her and smiled. “Kotetsu!”
“One in the same! It’s great to see you.”
“Of course. It’s, just, what are you doing here?”
He smiled sheepishly. “Funny story. I can tell you all about it while we look.”
* * *
A month later
The single father will come in many forms: young and old, wealthy and poor, widowed and divorced. Regardless, his defining feature will almost certainly be his love and devotion for his child or children. That feature may have been what drew you to him in the first place.
“This can’t be what passes for advice,” she said, pen in hand.
Karina already regretted her purchase. The book possessed and odd and dehumanizing tone about its subject. Kotetsu -- and, she assumed, other single fathers -- was more than just a code to be cracked.
Yet, she had no clue as to how to approach him about anything other than work. Now work wasn't something they had in common. They didn't even live in the same city. What did they have in common? What would they even talk about?
Those questions kept her digging.
And it’s that love that you will have to learn to understand. If you want this relationship to last, you will have to learn to like this child and get him or her to like you in return.
“As if you had to tell me,” she said as she tossed the book to the side. She like Kaede based on what little she knew of the girl. She just didn't know her well.
* * *
A shopping trip part 4
“But why come all the way to Sternbild?”
“Kaede knows her hometown like the back of her hand, “explained Kotetsu, “I can’t just get her something and expect her not to hear about it.”
Karina nodded, though with a bit of uncertainty. It was as good an excuse as any. “But do you think this is the right place to do it?”
“That’s kind of the problem...I’m not quite sure.” He paused before adding, “But I saw you going into this store and I thought I’d come in and ask for you advice.”
For a brief moment, Karina’s heart soared. He needs my opinion on this! But just as quickly, her confidence started to plummet. She didn’t really know where to start either. “Well, what does she like?”
“I’m not quite sure.”
“Really?” she asked, brows creeping higher.
“We can save the judgement for later. I just need some ideas.”
“What are some of the things you've seen her do?”
His hand shot to his chin and his eyes drifted upward. “She seems to like to draw.”
“There’s an art supply store just a few blocks from here!” Karina rifled through her bag until she pulled out a pen and paper. She scribbled out the address before handing it over to Kotetsu. “Is there anything else? Does she have a favorite subject in school?”
“Well, I hear she’s hit a wall there and …”
“I've used a correspondence-style course to help me when that happens. If you can give me your address, I can send you their information.”
“If it’s just that simple.” Kotetsu took the pad and pen and jotted out the address. “Any help would be greatly appreciated,” he said while handing back the pad.
Karina could only smile. “Anything to help.”
“Well, I've got to head out and check out that store. Would you be able to come?”
“I couldn't blow off my friends. But thanks for the offer.”
“Fine. I’ll see you later then?”
Kotetsu held out his hand. Tentatively, Karina latched on and gave it a tentative squeeze. “Don’t forget about those courses.”
“Then I’ll talk to you later.”
Karina watched a bit sadly as he walked out the store.
“Who was that?”
Karina turned to see Emily and Jane looking at her, eyes wide with curiosity. What could she say? “He’s just a friend.”
“He’s kind of old.”
“You wouldn't want older friends?”
“There’s a limit, Karina,” explained Emily. “I swear: there are some things you just don’t understand.”
Jane slipped in beside her, linked their arms together. “It’s a good thing you have us to teach you these kinds of things.”
Karina looked to her other side to see that Emily had taken her other arm. “I guess so,” she said.
With that, the three of them turned and left the store.