Sam slid to a stop on wet linoleum tile as he entered the grocery store and scanned the wall-to-wall mass of people, collectively abuzz with the latest weather report. Twenty inches. I heard two feet. It's supposed to continue until Sunday. Snowed in for a week. Sam dared a step forward, out of the puddle of melted snow that had spread under his feet, and searched for Ainsley, who had already disappeared.

"Ainsley!"

"Over here, Sam!"

Sam swiveled in the direction of her voice and noticed her hand as it waved above the bobbing sea of knitted hats.

He steeled himself and dove into the throng to meet her. "I agreed to walk you home, Ainsley, not help you restock your pantry in the P Street fun-house."

Ainsley sidestepped a cluster of shoppers, each one bundled in scarves and hooded parkas as they swept an arm's length of canned goods into their carts. She never glanced at the shelves. "I'm here only for essentials, Sam."

Sam excused and pardoned himself as he followed her, squeezing through the crowd, his face warm with embarrassment (for whom, he wasn't sure). "Essentials?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. "My father already called to inform me that there is snow on the ground in North Carolina. Five inches and still falling, which is more snow than North Carolina has seen, or is bound to see, in many years, Sam, and I imagine that this area will receive twice that amount. So I'm here for essentials." Ainsley weaved briskly past the eggs, milk, and cases of bottled water, navigating her way directly into the bakery section.

"Ah! Bread," Sam said, nodding toward the racks of baguettes, pumpernickel loaves, cornbread. He considered choosing a loaf for himself and edged closer to the selection as he added, "I'll get it. What kind do you-Ainsley?" She'd disappeared again. She'd been tempted, no doubt, by the sweet aroma of pumpkin-spice muffins or glazed doughnuts. When he spied her adrift along a shelf of boxed pies, Sam sighed, his shoulders falling. He joined her at the shelf as she leaned forward to read the tiny oval labels on each of the boxes, apparently in search of a particular kind. "Pie?" he asked.

"Ye-e-es," she said, the word drawn out in a slow, disinterested drawl.

"Pie is essential?"

Ainsley offered him an over-the-shoulder smile before she claimed a cherry pie and cradled it against her body.

"Of course pie is essential," Sam whispered to himself, struggling against a grin as he followed Ainsley to the registers. "Of course."