“Hi, Nathalie.” Marinette dropped a small bag of baked goods on the assistant’s desk. “How are you today?”
The stoic woman’s face broke into a smile upon spying the familiar bakery logo. “Buttering me up, hmm, Marinette? Let me guess, you want my help with one of your infamous plans, don’t you?”
“Shoot, you know me too well.” The young woman bit her lip, nibbling as she worked through the best wording for her request. “Adrien’s birthday is coming up soon. I really want to do something nice for him, but he’s being stubborn. Do you have any clues to what he’d want this year?”
Nathalie softened. “He’s happiest when you’re here. You make his lonely days brighter. I don’t think he’d asked for anything more than that.”
“Ugh, you always say that. There has to be something else he wants, too. It’s his seventeenth birthday.” Her teeth worried her lip more, her mind working faster through the many possibilities. “Maybe a scarf or something. I’ve been practicing my knitting technique, but I want to do something more than a scarf.”
Warm hands on her shoulders halted further rambling. Nathalie’s smile matched the warmth radiating from her soft grip on the younger woman.
“You’re a good friend, Marinette, and I know Adrien appreciates that more than you might think. I’m sure you’ll think of something.” Her hands dropped away, her smile turning secretive. “In the meantime, Adrien’s waiting for you upstairs. I believe he has a surprise of his own for you.”
“For me?” Marinette pointed at herself, her mouth gaping open and her eyes rounding.
Without another word, she took off, racing up the stairs. She didn’t notice or care about Nathalie’s quiet laughter following her. A surprise awaited her from her best friend. Nothing else mattered.
Not bothering to knock, she burst into his room. “You better be decent, Agreste.”
He chuckled. “Like I would dare not be when I’m expecting you, Mari.”
“True. Your mama raised a gentleman.” Her teasing banter gave way to a genuine smile upon seeing him at his computer. “So, I heard you had a surprise for me.”
Another chuckle followed her declaration, but Adrien made no move to come closer.
She stamped her foot, sending him a half-hearted glare. “Don’t torture me, please. I brought your favorite croissants and macarons.”
Her glare faded, giving way to another teasing grin. She held out the small box of pastries and waved it.
“Who’s teasing now, Mari?” He pushed away from his desk, standing to his full height. His eager steps brought him to her side. His smile matched hers as his eyes followed the box with avid interest.
Her gaze traveled upward and noted with some surprise at their new height difference. “When did you grow a full head taller than me, hmm? It’s not fair I have to crane my neck back.”
“Aww, poor Mari, what can I do to make it better?” He tapped his chin, a smirk replacing his grin. “Oh, I know. How about this?”
He dropped into a low crouch, his golden hair stopping at her midriff. His hands sat on his knees to keep him steady as he shot her a saucy wink.
“You’re impaws-ible. I think I’m going to eat these myself. You can keep your surprise.” To make good on her threat, she opened the box, giving him a peek. Her fingers danced over the perfect pastries she’d help make earlier that day.
His hands shot out, knocking his balance off and sending him sprawling across the floor. Air rushed out of him, but a silly grin assured her he hadn’t done too much damage. He managed to speak after a few gulps of air.
“I’m sorry, Mari. So sorry. Please, I need a croissant. I’ll tell you anything you want, but please, don’t let me starve.” He slid onto his knees, his hands coming together in a beseeching manner. “If you really want to know, I’m going to school with you tomorrow.”
The box tilted in her hand, threatening to spill its contents across the floor. She righted it at the last possible second, saving them from a horrible fate.
He nodded, his smile hopeful.
She eyed the plastic surrounding most of his room. The bubble had been part of their friendship since she could remember. She recalled the day they’d met with vivid clarity, the bubble being their first conversation.
Was he saying he’d be leaving the bubble? How was that possible? He’d told her about his illness and need for isolation. Had they found a treatment or a cure? Why hadn’t he told her before? Surely, he wouldn’t have kept that secret, would he?
The questions flew through her mind at rapid speed, but she shook them away. With her gaze retrained on him and her voice low, she demanded, “Tell me everything, Adrien, and don’t leave out a single detail.”
She sank into the chair she’d claimed long ago, her feet curling under legs. The pastry box remained forgotten in her hands, her attention focused solely on Adrien and this latest bit of information.
He chuckled. “I hope you’re comfy because I definitely have a tale for you.”
The next fifteen minutes passed in a blur as he laid out everything for her while she bombarded him with question after question.
She doubted her feet touched the ground later that day, her mind too full of the information she’d gleaned from him. He would be joining her at school. She’d finally be allowed to touch him, something she’d always been curious to test. Plastic would no longer separate them, including those awful arm-length gloves she had to use if they wanted comfort.
Never had she been more excited about school than she did that evening, barely touching her dinner.
Her parents had given her funny looks, but she couldn’t tell them. Not yet. She wanted to be sure it was really happening before she got their hopes up, too. She knew how they felt about Adrien as her friend. They’d been so proud when she’d befriended him so long ago, nudging her to visit him as often as she could until it’d become an almost daily occurrence.
Tomorrow, she thought, was going to be a wonderful beginning for her and her best friend.