Author's Note: For High School Bingo over at LJ. Prompt/square: shopping.
"What about this one, Roy-boy?"
Hands in his pockets, eyes focused resolutely elsewhere, Roy grunted.
He shuffled a bit closer to a large stack of printer paper and leaned against it. It was about as far away from his mother as he could get before she waved him back over to ask for his input on something else. Unintentionally, he caught the eye of a cashier, who grinned at him, amused. Roy averted his gaze, displeased that his attempts to fade into the scenery were clearly not working.
He turned back towards the display of backpacks his mother had been inspecting—a huge red sign over them declaring the storewide Back-to-School sale—just in time to see her tossing one into the shopping cart. It stared up at him from the nearly empty cart, bright blue and green, a triceratops emblazoned across its front pocket.
"Mom, what are you doing?" Roy demanded, voice squeaking with his distress.
"You love dinosaurs," she declared.
"I did when I was like nine," Roy countered snatching the backpack from the cart and trading it for a much less offensive plain black and grey model.
Chris watched him studiously as he did so, in that way she'd taken to recently that made him feel like she was either going to hug him or start laughing at him at any second. He didn't know which would be worse at the moment.
"I could do this myself you know," Roy mumbled for the ninth time that day.
"I know, I know," she replied lazily as she started pushing the cart towards the sprawling aisle of notebooks. "But you'll be as grown-up as you think you are soon enough."
She grinned at him as she eyed him askance, then shot out one hand and ruffled his dark hair.
"Just let me have this one, kid."
Roy huffed in irritation as he combed his fingers furiously through his hair, attempting to fix the damage. It had taken him nearly forty minutes to get it right before they left that morning.
"I'm going to get pens," he declared and stomped off towards the other end of the store before his mother could object.
Roy cut as quick a path as was possible without drawing even more attention to himself, but still couldn't shake the feeling that everyone was staring at him. He felt like that a lot lately.
Once he was a safe distance from his mother, he took a detour through the electronics section. It was early, so that store wasn't especially crowded. There was just one bored looking woman manning the counter and a father being begged for a portable DVD player by his daughter. The absence of people with any interest in him whatsoever was a relief and after checking out the laptops and looking at accessories for the latest gen iPhone—about which he'd been hinting at his mother for weeks on end—Roy felt marginally better about his day. At the very least, his irritation with being considered incapable of a trip to Staples by himself at age fourteen had faded to a dull bristling at the back of his thoughts.
He made it all the way to the pen aisle before his day was upset in an entirely different way.
Roy stopped after exactly three steps into the aisle and, instinctively, his right hand flew up to adjust his hair yet again. Riza Hawkeye was standing at the other end—four yards of pens between them.
Roy cleared his throat as he approached her with a studiously casual stride, but when he spoke his voice still cracked.
She looked up from the two packs of pens she had been contemplating. Surprise immediately softened into a small smile and Roy swallowed thickly.
"Hi," she said as she met his eyes. Roy held the gaze for approximately two seconds before looking away when, with great horror, he felt heat rising in his face.
"It's been a while," he said lamely, glancing at their shoes.
"Yeah," she agreed solemnly.
Almost a month, in fact. Riza's father, a college instructor with about seventeen different degrees to his name, had been tutoring Roy ever since his elementary school teachers had figured out that at least part of his acting out was because he found much of the coursework easy to the point of being boring. The lessons were year around and regular as the sunrise, but this summer Mr. Hawkeye had been busy with a program for the scientifically gifted students over at Central University. So, despite his firm and oft-stated belief that learning should not be seasonal, both he and Chris decided to let Roy off of the hook just this once.
A summer of freedom would have been a great proposition if not for two things.
Thing number one was that Roy actually enjoyed his lessons with Mr. Hawkeye. The man was an extremely strict and unforgiving teacher, but he was also the smartest person Roy had ever met. And Roy really did have a head for science, which Mr. Hawkeye had assured him was the only reason he agreed to take him as a pupil. He had no plans to admit it to anyone, but not being able to study with the freedom to which he'd become accustomed was driving him crazy. In particular, Roy loved chemistry most and missed it terribly. Especially since his mother didn't share his affection for it—or at least for the experiments that Roy concocted in their kitchen. Back in May, Mr. Hawkeye had also been making noises about starting Roy on physics, which would now have to wait until some time in the fall.
Thing number two was that not going to the Hawkeyes' place three times a week meant that he didn't get to see Riza all that often. She didn't really go out a lot and apparently Roy's free pass for the summer didn't apply to her father's lessons for her. Most of the time when he managed to catch on her on IM—or gather the courage to actually message her, but Roy didn't like to split hairs—she seemed like she had so much to do, both academically and around the house, that he didn't think she had time to spend hanging out with him.
A few times he considered going over there and just doing something at her house, but Roy had spent years listening to Mr. Hawkeye rant about his easily distracted and hormonally-driven students. By the time he was old enough to understand, he was also old enough to be terrified of Mr. Hawkeye getting the idea that Roy was so dedicated to lessons because he had designs on his tutor's daughter.
Which wasn't the case at all. They'd just known each for a long time. Riza was his friend. His very pretty friend. His friend whom sometimes recently he'd found it really hard to talk to. Or look at. His friend whose smile made him feel lightheaded. His friend about whom he increasingly found himself wondering what it would be like if he kissed her. Just a little.
"Are you school shopping?" she asked, breaking the awkward silence.
"Yeah," he confirmed too quickly, relieved to have something to say.
Riza looked at him dubiously, eyeing his empty hands and total lack of shopping cart or basket. Despite the fact that Riza knew Chris and all that entailed, it suddenly felt of dire importance that Roy not admit to the fact that, two weeks from his first year of high school, his mother was still taking him shopping. He cast about for another topic of conversation and his eyes alighted on Riza's shopping cart.
In the basket at the front, a piece of paper with a familiar masthead was clipped to a notebook. Roy couldn't stop himself from grabbing it, his heart leaping into his throat.
"You're going to East?" he asked her as he confirmed the East City High School emblem at the top of the page and the Freshman Suggested Supplies list that was identical to the one folded up in his pocket.
She made a sound of assent before tossing a package of pens into the cart, then plucking the list out of his hand in order to cross them off.
"My dad decided a few weeks ago," she said, setting the list back down.
"That's great!" Roy effused, too excited to care about how eager he sounded. For as long as he'd known her, Riza had been home-schooled by her father. She'd told him once that she went to a private elementary school when her mom was still alive, but given that Riza's mother had died when she was in the second grade that wasn't really saying much. "You must be excited."
"I am," Riza agreed, though something about it still sounded pensive. It hung in the air for less than a second.
"What's wrong?" Roy asked immediately, taking a step closer, unthinking. He wrapped his fingers around the handle of the cart beside hers, where she was holding it in place. They didn't touch, but their hands were close enough that Roy thought he could feel the heat from her skin.
Riza pursed her lips and, with her free hand, smoothed back her bangs. Her hair had even grown since the last time he saw her, flyaway blonde strands beginning to curl around her ears and look slightly ragged at the nape of her neck.
"Nothing," she replied.
Unconvinced, Roy was about to ask again when a voice cut between them.
"Oh, there you are," his mother called. Roy let go of Riza's cart, jumping back a few steps as if burned.
"Mom!" he moaned, though she hadn't really done anything.
Chris ignored him as she pushed her cart closer, her eyes falling instead on Riza.
"Riza!" Chris said, smiling. "It's been a while since we've seen you. How are you, sweetheart?"
Riza returned the smile while Roy crossed his arms peevishly. "I'm fine, Ms. Mustang."
"She's school shopping, Mom," Roy interjected hoping to hurry these pleasantries along before his mother got a chance to embarrass him further. "Riza's going to East High too."
"Roy was probably pretty excited to hear that, wasn't he?" Chris said conspiratorially to Riza as though Roy wasn't standing right there.
Riza mumbled something that was probably very diplomatic, though she was clearly fighting off a grin. Roy, however, had wrested control of his mother's cart and, face red, was attempting to urge her onwards.
"Mom, Riza's obviously busy so we should leave her alone, right?" he pressed.
It was rare that Roy found himself so eager to leave Riza's presence, but things were going to be different now. In two weeks they'd be going to the same school for the first time. He'd be able to see her five days a week, every week. He still didn't relish leaving, but he didn't have to guard each moment so jealously anymore. And letting this one go in the interest of avoiding his mother saying something that would make Riza think he was crazy or weird or just a complete loser seemed like a reasonable trade-off.
His mother seemed to have other ideas, however.
"Calm down, Roy," she said, waving her hand dismissively in his direction. "I just want to say 'hello' to Mr. Hawkeye."
Riza shook her head apologetically.
"My dad's not here."
A very triumphant "I told you so" built at the back of Roy's throat—not least because Riza was even younger than him, still thirteen—but the look on his mother's face made him swallow it.
"He let you go shopping by yourself?" she asked.
"Yes," Riza answered immediately before reconsidering and backtracking. "I mean, well, he's out of town. There's a conference…or maybe a seminar. I'm not sure. It's out in Aerugo City. He said he'd be back in a few weeks." She picked at the end of her sleeve. "Less than a month, definitely."
"Who are you staying with?" was Chris's next inquiry and Roy wished that she would stop. It was obviously upsetting Riza and, besides, even when her father was around Riza mostly just took care of herself.
"Mrs. Houghton next door is looking in on me," Riza offered. "I usually help her out around the house during the day. She just had a baby."
Arms crossed, Chris's gaze was piercing.
"But at night you're in that big house all alone."
"I'm mostly sleeping then."
Roy's mother shook her head and, with a sinking feeling, Roy got the impression that a decision had been made in that instant without input from any of the other parties involved. He recognized that expression.
"Honey, you're staying with us," Chris declared.
Roy's mouth dropped open.
"What? Mom!" he exclaimed, but to no avail.
Chris glanced at him and made a loud shushing sound, apparently completely insensible to the position in which she was currently putting Roy. Other people's mothers didn't do this. He was certain of it. Who else's mother would just invite their…friend to stay over at their house for weeks without even so much as asking if maybe that wouldn't be a little awkward or inconvenient or completely horrifying for their son. Or at least giving him a chance to prepare. Roy wasn't sure exactly what he would prepare or how, but it just seemed like common courtesy.
And this was just how she acted in public. Now, he realized, leaden weight in his belly sinking even further, that Riza would very likely get to see the At Home version.
Roy found himself desperately wishing that none of his sisters were planning to visit any time soon. There needed to be at least some hope of eventual recovery of his image.
"Riza, does your father have his cell with him?"
Riza, while not frozen in shocked dismay like Roy, still looked both surprised and unsure.
"Yeah, but Ms. Mustang you don't have to-"
Chris waved her hand.
"It's not problem at all, sweetie," she said. Then, she took a few steps down the aisle away from them, phone to her ear.
Roy chanced a glance at Riza, which was a dangerous proposition because she was looking at him as well. He felt pinned by her eyes, huge and brown and serious.
"I don't have to-" she began as though either of them would have any choice in the matter when his mother had so clearly set her mind to it. "I mean, if it's going to be weird I-"
"Why would it be weird? No. No, it's cool," Roy assured her thinly, putting on his most nonchalant smile. "I mean, if you want. I come to your house all the time, right?"
Of course, that wasn't for days and days on end. And he didn't sleep there or shower there or wake up there in the morning or just generally be present at all times and all hours of the day. But Roy thought he could detect an infinitesimal amount of relief in her expression, which as it turned out made him feel a lot better than he thought it should.
"Sure," she said. "I do. If you-"
"Yeah." This time when he smiled, he didn't have to force it.
Riza looked away, pushing her bangs back again, but Roy could still see the curve of her mouth.
"Okay," she said.
"Well," Chris announced at an unnecessarily high volume, walking back towards them. "Riza, honey, your dad's fine with it. So…" she paused and gave them both an odd look. "I'm going to go across the street and order us some Chinese for dinner. You two can finish up in here and I'll wait for you in the car. Then we'll swing past your house to get your stuff. Okay, Riza?"
Riza nodded as Chris pressed a handful of bills into Roy's hand. He stared at his mother openly. Her sudden change of heart about their shopping arrangement was beyond suspicious. But she just looked back him, entirely innocent, with that "Oh, what do mothers know?" look that he hated because the answer was always: Far. Too. Much. Roy didn't really want to consider the way that she had been looking at him and Riza or what that might mean for his immediate future. Still, he let out a sigh of relief as his mother disappeared around the corner at the end of the aisle, leaving him and Riza and their half-filled shopping carts.
"Thank God," he muttered before turning to Riza, who was swinging her cart around next to his. "She tried to buy me a backpack with a dinosaur on it."
"You love dinosaurs," Riza said. He paused in the middle of tossing pens into his cart to look at her indignantly. She was straight-faced, and if he'd been anyone else, he might not have known that she was teasing him.
"I was nine!" he exclaimed, intentionally bumping his shoulder into hers as they walked.
"You were eleven," Riza corrected him. Skillfully, she nudged his cart with her own, knocking it slightly off course. Roy was forced to swerve to avoid a display of highlighters.
"Hey, watch it, kids!" called a guy pushing a trolley of boxes past the aisle. It would be just his luck if the staff at Staples decided to report his misconduct to his mother, then he'd be on a kid leash and shopping at her side until he was twenty.
"Sorry," Roy called back sending an accusing look at Riza out of the corner of his eye.
Riza mostly ignored him, feigning interest in a set of multicolored erasable pens. The ruse would have been perfect had she not been laughing softly under her breath. Somehow, though, Roy found it hard to hang onto his annoyance.