Chapter 8: Lonesome Picnic

It was a new day filled with many possibilities. Carolina looked out the balcony window pondering just this. Church fragmented onto the display unit and looked outside in contemplation. "So, today is the day off. Got any plans?"

Carolina mixed her morning coffee and took a small, yet comforting sip. "Not really, I didn't think about what I would do today."

"Let me guess," Church crossed his arms and tilted his head towards her in a disapproving manner. "You will drink lots of beer and get hammered."

Carolina smirked a little at his words. She knew he was being condescending, but she still smiled at his playful nature. Church shook his head throwing his arms up in the air. "You are supposed to be angry! You don't smile when people are assholes to you!"

"Well, you never know how people will really react until they do," Carolina stood up to retrieve her toast and spread some butter on it. "Humans are complex after all. Everyone is wired differently."

She opened her fridge and saw some ham lying in there. It has been a while since I got this. She inspected the meat with a keen eye. Good, it's still fine. Then what can I do with you? Before she could say anything, Church held up his hand to stop her. "I know what you are thinking, and it's a great idea."

"I thought you didn't like going outside for these sorts of things Church."

"What can I say? I guess you rubbed off on me," Church looked towards the cupboards and then back outside. "So, what time do we leave and where do we go to?"

Carolina took a deep bite of her toast and began to preparer her lunch. "I want to stop by somewhere before going to the park. I guess that's where we will spend most of our day off. We will leave as soon as I prepare the lunch."

Church sat down as he saw Carolina doing her best to prepare her meal. She sure is concentrating hard. Church chuckled to himself at the glimmer in her eyes. She really is looking forward to this. I am glad things have changed for the better, at least during these moments. He turned his attention to the birds out on the balcony. The two birds sat on the railing, and made various noises as they looked at one another. This kind of reminds me of the guys bickering back and forth, kind of strange but funny. I hope they are doing well. Tucker better be taking good care of Caboose, can't leave that kid to do serious things on his own after all. I wonder if Grif is busy taking a nap right about now, or maybe he is getting a good beat down from Sarge and his good old shotgun.

Church was broken out of his thoughts as he heard the metal spatula fall to the ground. "Are you alright sis?"

"Ah, yeah," she rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment. Church let out a noticeable laughter causing Carolina's cheek to become even redder. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing, I was just thinking that it's a nice change to see your clumsy side. Yeah, nice change," Church turned back towards the birds who had long since flown off from the noises. Where did the birdies fly off to? Did they go to find a new spot to sit in, or are they in the middle of a journey like us as well? Church laid back with his arms behind his head. Yup, these moments aren't so bad at all. Slow, peaceful and best of all calm. Hopefully the guys have these moments as well from time to time.

Carolina put on the last bread on her work of 'art' and packed it into the food basket with the other sandwiches. "Okay, time to go take a bath and get ready. Then we will head out Church!"

"Yeah, yeah," Church waved towards her in an effort to get her to hurry up. "Just go take your bath already."

Half an hour later, Church transferred his consciousness back into Carolina's neural implants. He merged back with what little he had left behind in her and felt whole again. Okay miss driver, where to? Church inquired from within her mind.

"Cut it out with that driver stuff," she replied waving her hand around in embarrassment. "We will go to the bakery first. I think it was down the street to our right."

Give me a second, Church's voice echoed in her head. Using what little resources he could, he pooled together a map in a sub-routine and planned the best and most efficient route to take. Head right from here and take a left at the first intersection. Surely enough, following his instructions got her there fast. Carolina bent down to look at the digital board with various deals on them. "Oh, they have the chocolate donuts on sale today, lucky!"

Don't eat too much, or else you will start to grow the bad kind of belly. Carolina's face comically turned sour at Church's words as she shouted. "I know!"

"Welcome!" she heard upon entering the store. One of the attendants of the store stood behind the counter with a smile. She smiled back instinctively at him and rushed towards the donuts. The attendant was quick to pick her interest up and motioned towards all the varieties. "All of these are on sale today. Did you have anything in mind?"

"Yes, I was hoping to get the chocolate donuts."

"Give me one moment please," the attendant searched the trays for chocolate donuts. After a few seconds of searching, his face became puzzled. That's strange, they are usually here. Are we all out? He stood up straight and gave an apologetic smile to Carolina. "I'm sorry, but could you wait there a while longer miss? We don't seem to have any here so I will just go and check if any are prepared in our kitchen or not."

"Sure," Carolina answered with an enthusiastic smile. "The day is not going anywhere without me after all."

A few minutes later, the attendant came back out with a fresh batch of chocolate donuts. "Good news miss, these are fresh so they should taste even better. How many were you thinking of getting?"

"Hmm, let's go with fou- no make it five."

The attendant worked quickly to prepare her order and complete the transaction. Just as she was leaving she heard the attendant's happy voice wish her a good day. She waved back with a wide smile stretching from one ear to the other. Church stirred up in her consciousness and commented. You seem to be having fun.

"There would be no point in this if it wasn't fun," she strolled in big strides towards the park and setup a cloth mattress in the perfect spot. Half off the mattress was exposed to the sun, while the other half was covered by shade. Setting the picnic basket onto the mat, she opened up the cover to take out the donuts.

Donuts before lunch? Real classy sis. Carolina took one out and enthusiastically bit into it. "So good!"

She opened the other cover to take out the sandwiches she labored hard on. Cooking was not her strong point, so even something as simple as sandwiches was considered an achievement for her. But the taste should no longer be surprising now considering how efficient she had gotten at making them. Un-wrapping a few she bit voraciously into them. Church worried for her, remember to chew!

"You don't need to worry so much Church. I'm not a little kid."

Says the person eating sandwiches like a mad woman in the middle of a park.

"That was mean," Carolina pouted surprising Church. He had a sudden thought, a question he felt the need to ask. A- Are you trying to be spoiled? Carolina froze up flustered. "Well even I deserve to spoil myself sometimes don't I?"

Bwhahaha! Church laughed hysterically causing Carolina much grief. Sorry, I didn't mean to be so loud all of a sudden. But you have been a little strange since this morning. Now I get what this was about. It's rare to see this side of you sis, but it's not so bad. Carolina sat with her knees together and looked at the mattress in embarrassment. "Not a word of this to anyone."

I know, I don't want to burden myself with the trouble of explaining this to others, Church explained as he again began to sink back into the deep recesses of her mind. A gentle breeze blew causing her hair to dance like the ocean waves. She rubbed her shoulders together to warm up and looked up at the tree leaves. Winter will come soon. It will be my first winter on Earth. I can't wait!

She noticed a flower petal fly by. Soon a few others followed in a pack as if to migrate from one location to another. In the gentle breeze of the wind the petals danced around one another playfully. The purple mixed in with the yellow created a stark contrast, an attention stealer. She followed the trail back to the spot these petals originated from and was left speechless at the flower garden waist high by her legs. "Would you look at that? The new things you learn every day. I never even knew these were here."

She bent down to notice the wide variety of flowers planted in long and wide bushes. Church took an interest in them and pulled p his knowledge database. I think the one to your right is called a tulip. Carolina looked in the direction Church sent through her brain. "Yes, you are right."

She bent down for a smell and the wave of ecstasy invaded her mind. Church was overwhelmed by the sudden smells. I didn't expect them to smell like this at all. Hey sis, could you go smell those roses over there?

"Taking an interest in flowers now are we?"

It's not like that! He rebutted and then quietly added that this was for 'research' purposes, and to expand his knowledge database. Carolina laughed at the image of a flushed Church. "It's nothing to be ashamed of Church. After all, everyone needs a hobby."

A ball suddenly landed by her feet creating an echo of sounds in her ears. She bent down to pick it up and heard the cries of young children. She bounced the ball on the ground as she walked towards the kids. "Is this your ball?"

The kids were stunned by her beauty as the two boys quietly nodded. Isn't that cute? You have admirers now, Church joked as he got another good laugh out of this. Shut up before I pull you Church. She held the ball up high in the air and prepared to throw it. "How about this? I throw the ball and you guys fetch, if you can catch it in mid-air, I will let you have the ball back for good."

"Aw but that means that you might not ever return our ball to us!"

"Don't worry, I am not that mean," she waved her hand around with an innocent smile. She threw the ball high up into the air leaving the kids frozen in their spot and flabbergasted at how far it flew. Whoops, I guess I threw it too hard. "I will get it, wait here you two."

A good two hours went by with Carolina playing ball and the kids doing their best to outdo her. One of the boys panicked at the time and waved goodbye to his friend. Carolina threw the ball up into the air and caught it with a smile. "Want to keep on playing?"

"Sorry, but I have to get home soon. It was fun playing Miss Carolina."

"Yeah, don't forget your ball," she answered with a happy smile stretching from one ear to the other. She went back to her mattress and lay down. Before long she noticed a moist object sniff her legs. She raised her head to see a small puppy wagging its tail. "Are you lost little one?"

The young pup rushed up to her face and barked energetically. Carolina let out a small and kind laugh at the creature's excitement. She held out a hand for the young pup to smell and gain his trust. Overhearing the voice of a young boy, perhaps in his teenage years she stood up and began to guide the dog back to its owner. "Excuse me, would he happen to be yours?"

The teen turned to face her and was immediately happy to see the little fellow. "Yes, thank you so much!"

"No problem," she answered with her hands up in the air and a sluggish smile. "He made for good company."

The puppy however did not seem ready to part from Carolina as he walked in between her legs with a loud bark. The teen boy apologized all the while trying to fetch his little companion. Carolina reached down in between her legs and picked up the dog only to have it lick her cheek. The boy was astonished to see the pup be so accepting of a new stranger. "He never allows new people to pick him up easily. He must have sensed a very positive and gentle aura from you."

Gentle huh? I wonder about that considering the things I have done. She walked back with the teen and the pup to her picnic mat. The boy looked around with excitement slowly building in his eyes. "This is the first time I am sitting down in this area."

"Do you come to this park often?"

"Yes, I always take Pochii here on our walks every day. But I don't normally deviate from my routes. That only happens when he becomes a little straggler like today."

Carolina gently smiled towards the boy causing him to blush a little. Sure, why not tease the kid a little more while you are at it Sis? Epsilon sarcastically noted as he took some amusement out of the boy's reactions. She placed the puppy on the mat, and he began to run in circles begging for the two to play with him. The boy took out a ball and threw it a few meters away. The dog chased after it like the hunter he believed himself to be and caught his prey. The pup brought the ball back proving his superior training and impressing Carolina in the process. She clapped her hands and rubbed the pup's neck. "You are a smart one aren't you?"

The boy was happy to see his little friend having so much fun. "It has been a while since I have seen Pochii behave like this. It's refreshing to see it once in a while."

Carolina continued to rub his neck and playfully moved down to his back. "He has beautiful fur. It's rare to see dogs with white fur as pure as his."

"Yeah," the boy rubbed the back of his neck grateful for the compliment. "I hear that quite a bit."

He looked up at the sky prompting for Carolina to follow his gaze. The clouds hovered at a low altitude, low enough to give her illusions of grandeur and flight amidst them. One of them looks like a duck, she pondered studying the puffy outline from the beak to the flaps. She soon let out a relaxed sigh. This is truly bliss.

The boy stood up and attached the leash onto Pochii's collar. "It was nice talking to you. I have to take my leave now."

"Don't hesitate to drop by if you see me here again," she waved goodbye to them. The teen stopped to look back one last time with a wide smile, but cheeks painted in red. "S- Same to you."

Carolina watched the crowd walking past her from one side to another. She once again smiled in an unspoken happiness. It would be great if I could just remain here forever, and keep this happy feeling from leaving my chest. But her expression quickly turned neutral upon Church's words. Is that because you don't want for the thoughts of your guilt to come back from the past?

"I…," she bit her lower lip. He was right, and she knew that time won't stop just because she wanted it to. The world will still keep on rotating with or without her. "I guess I just want to shed this dirty skin and find a new light in my life."

She licked her lower lip of the blood that escaped the confines of her body. "Hey Church, tell me something. Is this simple day to day life the answer to that? Is this bliss the answer?"

Don't ask me, I am just a collection of data and algorithms, he answered in a confused voice. Carolina let out a little snicker at the comedic follow up Church had planned. "Yes, you are right. This is something that I may just have to figure out on my own I suppose."

A/N: How was this chapter? This one is more akin to slice of life genre that I really wanted to delve into with Carolina, to show her journey and growth. There will be more of these types of chapters in the future. But that doesn't mean I am forsaking the action, there will still be some of it in this season entry!

Feedback is always appreciated. Thanks for reading!

Catch you all in the next chapter.

~ Monty