Chapter One: Normality

I rolled over on my bed that morning, trying to savor my last few moments of sleep. Even though I was already awake, I still clung to the idea of rest, where I could just be still and comfortable without worrying about anything else going on in the outside world. Mornings were just so peaceful, and I wanted it to last as long as possible.

"Stephanie Hope, get your butt down here!"

I sighed, pushing myself up and forcing my soft blue eyes open. So much for peace. I turned my head to look at my clock, seeing that it was already 8:39 A.M. Wait, 8:39? I was gonna be late for work!

"You're going to be late for work!" my mom hollered from downstairs. Yeah, I know Mom. Thanks for telling me.

I jumped out of bed and went into the bathroom, hurriedly undressing and taking a four minute shower. I worked as a cashier on a street shop, so I was sure the customers would appreciate it if I didn't smell bad. When I felt as if I was squeaky clean, I put on my work uniform—a teal blue polo and tan shorts that went well with my tan flip-flops. Upon inspecting myself in the mirror, I realized that I didn't look too bad for just waking up. Still, my wet, shoulder-length brown hair was going to be a problem. I grabbed a pony-tail holder and threw it up as I hurried downstairs, going into the kitchen where my mother was staring at me.

"I know, I know," I said, moving past her and grabbing a poptart. "I should be more responsible, not sleep in so late, set my alarm, blah blah blah. You'll have to give me a lecture later. Bye Mom!" I exited the front door, leaving her gawking. She didn't like it when I acted so bold, but I didn't have a choice now. Not if I wanted to be on time to work, anyway.

I ran down the sloped path, noticing that the streets were pretty empty. And they should have been; it was too early in the morning for anybody sane to be out. It's summer vacation, for goodness' sake, I thought, sighing as I approached the store. I'm 17. I should be asleep right now, not opening some shop that hardly ever is visited!

Every morning I woke up to open the shop, I thought through those same things. But it didn't matter what I thought; I needed the money, and it was an easy job. All I had to do was keep inventory, work as a cashier, and not scare off customers. Not a bad deal, right?

I finished lifting the cover that had been over the front of the shop, opening my view to the outside world from my spot in the tiny shop. Scanning over it all, I didn't see anything unusual. Only a few locals who went running every morning, the stray dog that always came over and begged for food (which I hardly ever had), and the sun shining down over the marketplace.

I sighed, sitting down on my stool behind the counter.

Just a normal day in Twilight Town.

That was what frustrated me more than anything else. Because my life was so normal, I knew exactly how the rest of my day would play out. I would work a few hours, then eat lunch at 12:30, work till 4, and then check around to see if any of my friends wanted to hang out. Most of the time, they were already at the beach, and it was too late for me to go join them. So I went home, listened to my mom's nagging, and then listened to music until I fell asleep.

And then the next day, the same routine. Gosh, why did life have to be so mundane?

I set my elbow on the counter in front of me, lifting a hand and setting my cheek on it as I watched the boring town in front of me. I supposed that in some ways, a boring life was good. You rarely ever went through hardships. Sure, the boredom made people spread rumors and create drama, but compared to other troubles, I was willing to deal with that.

The seconds turned to minutes, and then the minutes to hours as my lunch time approached. It was an especially slow day, and I think I had only about fifteen customers in the past three hours. There wasn't much use for the items I sold, unless you were planning on doing something stupid or getting yourself into trouble. I sell potions, ethers, and tents. Every once in a while, everyone would stock up on their supplies, just in case of an emergency. Heartless appeared in our town, so it was good to be well equipped.

Sometimes, though, it was hard not to laugh at some of the customers. They looked panicky and shaky and ordered twenty potions at a time, saying that they could never be over prepared for Heartless. Personally, I didn't see the point of stocking up that much. Encounters were rare, and most people only saw them once or twice a week. And if they did, then it was only one or two at a time. There wasn't much of a threat if you knew how to defend yourself, and most of the town was able to do just that. Some did it with the sword and some did it with magic.

Me? I do a little bit of both. I have a broadsword that I can summon whenever I need it, but most of the time, I rely on spells. I don't like resorting to violence, but I know how to defend myself.

Surprisingly, the last time there was a Heartless uprising, I was called in to help. A group of six boys ranging from the ages of 17 to 25 and I fought off a swarm of Neoshadows while the rest of the town hid in their homes. It was…an honor, in a way, to be a part of that group, especially since I was the only female. But now people call on me to fight their battles for them, and that's just plain annoying sometimes. I'm not an exterminator, after all. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm just a shopkeeper.

I blinked, coming back to a previous thought. Lunch; it was lunch time. I turned around and looked to the ground, where I always sat my bagged lunch. The spot was empty. A groan left my lips, disbelief coming through in my features. I forgot it.

"Hey Sora, go see what armor they have here," a boy said off in the distance, capturing my attention. I looked up and saw two teenagers standing about twenty-five yards away. One of them had spiky brown hair and black clothing that, in all honesty, looked a little weird. The other one, the one who spoke, had long silver hair, blue long pants, and a vest that showed off his well-toned arms.

I looked down a little bit, surprised that I picked up on that detail so quickly. I never looked to see how well built a person was when I first saw them, but that feature was just something that stood out to me. That, and his voice. He sounded serious, but at the same time, he sounded relaxed. It was strange combination, and I couldn't help but listen into their conversation.

"I'm going to the Item shop." Oh my word; the tall, cute, muscular one is coming to my shop. I didn't know why, but I was freaking out on the inside. Of course, on the outside, I was calm and composed; I hardly ever showed more emotion than what was necessary.

The silver-haired teen started over, the brunet following him a few steps before he turned his head in the other direction. "Hayner! Hey!" Sora called, lifting a hand and waving it over at a blond kid on the other side of the marketplace. I followed Sora with my eyes, seeing him run off in that direction.

"Sora!"

"I'll catch ya later, Riku," Sora said over his shoulder. "You can handle getting everything, right?"

I turned my gaze to the tall boy, who was apparently named "Riku". It was strange name, but it suited him, in some weird way. I saw him scoff, but he didn't protest against his friend running off. Instead, he walked over to my shop, stopping in front of the counter.

"He sure is easily distracted," he muttered, obviously displeased.

I shrugged softly, looking up at the boy who was probably half a foot taller than I was. "Sometimes, distractions can be good though," I said. "I mean, being focused and so serious is unhealthy sometimes."

Riku's facial expression changed, expressing surprise. But then it subtly faded to a calmer look, the teen nodding. "Yeah, I guess you have a point," he said, his seriousness fading a little as his displeasure disappeared. "Still, I wish he wasn't such a kid sometimes."

"How old are you guys?" I asked, genuinely curious. Judging by Riku's demeanor and size, he seemed older than his friend.

"Sora's 16," Riku told me. "I'm a year older than he is; 17. Almost 18, though."

I smiled softly at the response; Sora was actually younger than I previously thought, as was Riku. "I would have guessed you were older," I said honestly. "You just seem…mature, I guess."

"Yeah, well, sometimes you're forced to grow up before you're an adult," Riku said seriously, his expression turning grave. He looked me in the eye for a minute before shaking his head, the harder expression fading away as he stuck out his hand. "I'm Riku."

I reached out my hand and grabbed his, looking into his aquamarine eyes as I shook his hand. "Stephanie."

"Stephanie, huh?" he said, shaking my hand firmly. Over the years, I learned you can tell a lot about a person through their handshake. Judging by his secure grip and how he held my eyes the whole time, Riku was a very confident person.

"You can just call me Steph, though," I said, pulling back my hand when Riku did. There weren't many people around that called me by my full name, and I was glad for that. It just didn't suit my personality, so I preferred my nickname.

My stomach growled at that moment, rather loudly. I blushed and lowered my gaze, in disbelief at the bad timing.

"Or I could just call you 'hungry,'" Riku said teasingly, a smirk appearing on his lips.

"Ha ha," I said sarcastically, rolling my eyes as I looked back at the teen in front of me. I was surprised at his joke; Riku had come across as somebody who didn't joke around a lot. But apparently my impression was incorrect.

"You hungry?" he asked, tilting his head as his smirk started to fade away.

"Starving," I confessed, setting a hand on my stomach. "I forgot to pack a lunch today."

Riku turned his head to the side, looking over at a hotdog stand across the marketplace. "I'll be right back," he said, a smile appearing on his lips before he ran off in that direction.

"You don't have to-" I started, though it was too late. He was already heading over toward the food stand. I kept my eyes on him, trying to figure him out. At first he had seemed really serious about something, but now he was running off to buy food for a stranger? This Riku guy is a curious fellow, I decided, seeing him purchasing some food. I wonder who he is.

Riku came back with a burger in each hand, approaching my tiny little shop quickly. "Here you go," he said, holding out one of them for me to take.

A grateful smile appeared on my lips as I reached forward, taking the burger and the plate out of Riku's grasp. "Thanks," I said, my eyes flickering back up to his. "You didn't have to do that, though."

He shrugged it off, using a hand to motion to the burger he had for himself. "I was hungry anyway," he informed me. "So it would have been awful of me to get food for myself and then eat it right in front of you," he said, a smirk appearing on his lips.

I laughed, shaking my head. "Yeah, that would have been torture," I said in agreement. I felt as if my stomach were about to growl again, so I picked up my burger and started eating, seeing Riku do the same out of the corner of my eye. It was strange; we just met, but we both seemed pretty at ease. I mean, I like making conversation with customers, but somehow, this feels different. I shoved it off, knowing that I was over analyzing this. After all, it would doubtful I would ever see Riku again.

"So Steph," Riku said, initiating a conversation when he wasn't eating his food. "Do I get a discount on whatever I buy because I bought you lunch?"

I lifted my gaze up to him, surprise in my gaze. But when I saw that he was smirking, I realized that he was joking. I finished chewing my burger, taking those few extra seconds to come up with a response. "That depends; how much are you buying?"

"Fifteen Potions, five Ethers, and two Tents," he said, his smirk turning into a sheepish smile.

My eyes widened slightly at the size of the purchase, but I didn't question the order. "Maybe I could give you two of those potions for free," I said, a soft smile appearing on my lips.

Riku's smile faded, curiosity appearing instead. "You're not going to ask what I need all that stuff for?"

I shrugged, at the same time shaking my head. "It's none of my business," I said honestly, setting aside the last few bites of burger I had left so I could speak. "Besides, I often find that when I ask questions, I get weird answers and I wish I never asked in the first place."

Riku chuckled, and I realized then that it was the first time I heard him laugh throughout the whole conversation. I smiled, thinking that it was a sweet laugh. "I bet," he said in agreement. "Let me guess: people buy potions and stuff so they can have dangerous fights with each other and not suffer from pain afterwards?"

"That's a lot of it," I said with a nod. "That, and a lot of people are overly cautious about Heartless. A lot of people stock up twenty potions at a time, and they do that once a week. I don't see how they can go through so many in such a short time; it's not like the Heartless are too common or dangerous around here."

Riku nodded seriously, folding his arms across his chest now that his meal was finished. "The Heartless can get pretty dangerous, though," he pointed out. "You never know when a larger group of them could attack."

I nodded once more, seeing the truth in what Riku said. Whether he knew it or not, that had happened a few weeks ago, when I helped the guys tame a large number of them. "I agree, but these people are just buying all these potions because they're paranoid; not because there's a real threat."

"Well, at least you get good business with them," he said, changing the conversation a little bit. Obviously he felt the need to be prepared for Heartless, but he didn't come across as somebody who was paranoid. Maybe he traveled a lot or something; maybe he ran into a lot of Heartless and actually needed the potions.

"You're right," I agreed, finishing my burger after I spoke.

Riku's eyes softened, the teen becoming serious once again. "You know how to defend yourself, Steph?" he asked quietly, his expression showing a little bit of concern. I couldn't see why he would be worried over me; we just met. But I decided to answer his question anyway.

"Yeah. I know a few spells. And I have a sword I use every once in a while." I didn't bother telling him about the Heartless uprising. The details seemed pointless; especially since I was so sure Riku would only be a one-time customer.

"That's good," Riku said with a nod. "Life's full of surprises; you gotta be prepared."

"Agreed," I said softly, my gaze lowering to the ground as I recalled something that happened recently in my life. I lost a friend to the Heartless. Not many people knew that, and I didn't bother telling them. But I was working on my fighting because of it, so that if the day came where I was in his position, I would be alright.

"You okay?" Riku's voice brought me out of my thoughts, and I nodded.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I said, forcing a small smile as I looked back up at Riku. "Just thinkin' about something."

The silver-haired teen nodded, though something in his eyes said he didn't completely believe that I was "fine." His concern startled me; why did he seem to care so much? "If you're sure," he said, accepting my answer. "What-"

"Hey Riku!" a voice called, the brunet boy coming out of nowhere and running up to Riku. Both of us turned to look at the kid—what was his name again? Sora?

Riku folded his arms across his chest, sending me a look before he turned to look at Sora. "That was quick, Sora," he said, looking down at his friend. I turned my head to look at the clock behind me, and I saw that it had been about half an hour since my lunch started, and when Riku came over.

Sora arched a brow shaking his head. "'Quick?'" he repeated, obviously unsure about that. "I was gone at least half an hour."

Now it was Riku's turn to be unsure. "Really?"

"Yeah, really," Sora said, nodding. "You get the stuff?"

Riku shook his head, turning back to me and offering me a weak smile. "You remember the order?"

"Fifteen Potions, five Ethers, and two Tents, right?" I asked, recalling what he had told me earlier in our conversation.

"That's right," Riku confirmed with a nod. I gave him a nod in return and turned around, taking a few steps back so that I could get them off the shelf. It was a lot of items, but they were in small containers so that people could easily carry them. I put the twenty-two items in a bag and then returned to the counter, seeing Sora and Riku waiting patiently. "Thanks," Riku said, bringing a hand forward and grabbing the bag. He then used his free hand to reach into his pocket, pulling out the necessary munny to pay for the hefty supply.

"Sure thing," I said, giving him a pleasant smile. He gave one to me as well, which made me feel warmer inside. I didn't know why, but it seemed like I had put Riku in a good mood, and that was what I always strived for when I was serving my customers. It felt good, knowing that I accomplished what I wanted.

"See you around, Steph," Riku said, giving me a casual wave with his free hand.

"Bye," I said, waving to him as well. I said "bye" because I doubted that I'd ever see him again; after all, I had never seen him before today. What were the odds that I would see him after this?

After a moment, Riku turned around, heading towards the armor shop. However, Sora stayed behind, coming up to my window with a curious look on his face. "Steph, right?"

"Yup," I confirmed with a small nod. Sora had an odd expression on his face, and I was just about to ask him why he was looking at me so strangely, but he spoke before I gave him the chance.

"Thanks for distracting Riku," he said with a smile. "I don't know how you did it, but he's not mad at me for running off on him. I owe you one," he finished, his smile widening as he jokingly winked at me.

I laughed, not thinking much of it. "No problem."

Sora nodded and offered me one last smile before running off to join Riku, who was already gathering his purchases at the armor shop. As he ran off to catch his friend, I couldn't help but smile.

So much for my day being ordinary.