Thank you so much for the reviews :) I absolutely love getting them.
I hope you enjoy this new chapter. I feel morally obligated to tell you that I was wearing a blue plaid shirt when I wrote this :D
Snow clouds were swirling thick and grey in the sky, sending fat white flakes whirling thick and fast to the ground, and Emma thought of Jenny. Just like every other morning since she had seen her. It was a curious thing – she couldn't seem to focus on anything without her thoughts drifting back to that chance encounter in the street: the cold hard shock of hitting the road, the weight of Jenny's hand against her shoulder, her eyes bright and sharp beneath the dark flick of her eyelashes, her inimitable scent as she leaned in close ... all moments that were now somehow indelibly seared into Emma's mind.
Emma scowled, her hands shoved deep into her pockets and her bag banging enthusiastically against her thigh as she walked. It was early and the first signs of daylight were struggling to penetrate the thick snow clouds. The streetlights that lined the road still shone their ephemeral white, highlighting the snow drifts on the pavement as if the snow itself was glowing. Emma looked up at the indifferent faces of the buildings she walked past, their windows dark, the spaces behind them motionless. Some people were still sleeping. She couldn't keep from wondering where Jenny lived...
Emma frowned and shook her head. It was Jenny's stupid fault that she had to walk to work in the first place, her bike reduced to an obsolete cage of twisted metal slumped dejectedly in her hallway. She scuffed at the snow angrily, thinking about the cost of the repairs, and the irony of the fact that it was Jenny's company taking away her only source of income. But that was what Jenny did best, Emma thought bitterly – she just turned up unannounced to turn your whole world upside down, and then left again just as quickly as she'd arrived, leaving you alone and uncertain and wondering if maybe you'd imagined it all in the first place. She made you fall in with love her ... and then she rejected you.
Emma scoffed audibly at her own ridiculousness. It wasn't love, she scolded herself, just infatuation. Jenny had been exciting – all new and dynamic – and Emma had just let herself become swept up by her energy. And maybe, just for a second (though she'd deny it if she was asked), all the energy and hype and magnetism had confused her just enough to make her feel like she was in love. Well, it had certainly hurt like a broken heart when she found out Jenny had slept with Ben...
Emma sighed, pushing away the unwelcome influx of adolescent heartache that suddenly washed over her. It had been a good thing Jenny had slept with Ben really, as Emma had told herself at the time, when the tears had finally stopped and the pain had ebbed to a sort of dull apathy. Jenny had proved that she wasn't worth risking everything for, and Emma had pulled herself together so she could quite rightly redirect her attention to her friends: to Timo, and to Luzi, who had far more pressing problems than a juvenile crush that had gone sour. Besides, Jenny had clearly done alright for herself, Emma thought, if she was busy erecting hotels all over the city.
Emma trudged through the snow for what felt like hours, her eyes narrowed against the keen wind and thickening snow that flurried frenetically around her. The street sweepers appeared eventually, scurrying along beside her, trying their best to clear away the snowfall before it was turned into that grey and brown sludge churned up by car tyres. Emma exhaled in relief as the bookstore came into view, her hot breath curling into the air in front of her. Her toes were numb and her nose and ears stung from the cold. She stamped her feet vigorously against the doorstep to dislodge the compacted snow before pushing through the door into the shop. The bell tinkled optimistically as Emma shoved the door closed behind her and leaned heavily against it, siphoning off the blustering wind that tried to accompany her into the shop.
Two faces looked up sharply upon Emma's sudden entrance. One was Hotte. And the other was ...
'Jenny,' Emma said, reflexively, before she could stop herself. What was she doing here?
Jenny nodded politely at Emma before turning her attention back to Hotte.
Emma felt the familiar twist of anxiety in her stomach at Jenny's presence. She stood frozen to the spot, watching the pair's interaction from her position by the door. They were smiling as they talked, and Jenny laughed girlishly at one of Hotte's remarks. Emma watched through narrowed eyes as Jenny touched him lightly on the arm as she leaned in closer to look at the laptop screen in front of them. Her gaze flicked back up to Emma momentarily, and her mouth twitched with an uncertain smile before she looked back down again at the screen. She withdrew her hand from Hotte's arm and slid both flattened palms slowly along the surface of the counter until she was leaning even further forward, her weight resting on her straightened arms. Emma's gaze travelled instinctively to the cleavage Jenny's position revealed, until she internally admonished herself and looked pointedly away.
Emma shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other, inwardly debating whether to try to involve herself in what was going on, or to remain a safe distance away from it. She sighed heavily, knowing her curiosity would break her resolve in the end, and tentatively moved towards the counter.
Jenny looked up and smiled as Emma edged hesitantly closer. 'Hi,' she said, standing up straight.
'What are you doing?' Emma asked, peering sceptically at the laptop screen.
'Oh, haven't you heard?' Jenny asked with a smile. 'Hotte's got a new business plan for the shop.'
'He has?' Emma asked, squinting at the laptop as Hotte scrolled through a bunch of brightly coloured graphs, followed by endless tables of statistics. Emma frowned as the indecipherable information whizzed across the screen. 'What does any of that mean?' Emma asked him.
Hotte sighed. 'You'd know if you'd taken any interest in helping me,' he huffed.
Emma glanced uncertainly at Jenny. 'I ... I didn't think you were being serious,' she admitted quietly.
'I'm deadly serious,' Hotte told her, his expression sober. 'This is our chance to fight the power and corruption of capitalism.'
'With graphs?' Emma asked cynically. She saw Jenny try to stifle a smile.
Hotte huffed as he looked back at the screen. 'Well Jenny thinks I'm on to something,' he muttered.
Emma glanced at Jenny suspiciously. She avoided Emma's gaze, taking a sudden interest in the chipping paint of her fingernails. 'I see ...' Emma said. 'Well I'd be careful about handing over too much of your vital statistics to the corrupt capitalist if I were you Hotte,' she warned.
Rather than rising to the antagonism, Jenny merely looked up at Emma and smirked, her cheeks dimpling and her eyes shining with mischief.
Emma looked away, unable to hold the gaze.
'These returns are certainly impressive Dennis,' she heard Jenny say. 'You'll have to keep me posted.'
'Oh don't worry,' he said enthusiastically. 'I will. We could meet about it next week?'
Emma rolled her eyes but jumped in alarm as she felt a hand close gently around her forearm. She looked up astonishment to see Jenny staring earnestly back at her. 'Come outside with me?' she requested in a quiet voice. 'I've got something to show you.'
Confusion settled around Emma's features. 'What?'
Jenny smiled and tugged a little more forcefully at Emma's arm. 'It's a surprise.'
Emma slowly withdrew her arm from Jenny's grip. 'A surprise?' she repeated.
Jenny nodded, biting her bottom lip as she reached out a hand and gently brushed some snow from the peak of Emma's hat.
Emma physically recoiled from the gesture, stooping to avoid Jenny's touch.
Jenny merely seemed amused at Emma's mystified face. 'Don't look so frightened,' she assured her. 'It's a good surprise.'
Emma eyed her warily, unsure if any surprise from Jenny was ever a good surprise.
'Trust me?' Jenny asked softly, her eyebrows raised in expectation.
Emma frowned, unconvinced. She'd learnt the hard way not to trust Jenny with anything. But as Jenny turned and pushed through the door, Emma found herself obediently following her outside.
Jenny hunched her shoulders against the cold as she led Emma around to the side of the building. She stopped in front of the metal railings of the cycle parking and turned back to face Emma. 'See?' she said, gesturing to a brand new bike chained modestly to the railings. 'A good surprise, right?'
'What's this?' Emma asked, her eyes wide with surprise as she looked from the bike and back to Jenny.
'It's a bike,' Jenny said before frowning with concern. 'Maybe you hit your head a bit too hard in that crash ...'
Emma shook her head in frustration. 'OK I know it's a bike,' she clarified, 'but ... why is it here?'
Jenny smiled. 'Well I couldn't just leave you with that wreck of yours,' she said. 'Besides, working out all the insurance for the repairs would've taken ages and seeing the crash was my fault ...' she shrugged, 'it was a lot easier just to buy a new one,' Jenny explained nonchalantly, as if it all mattered very little to her.
'But ...' Emma looked back down at the bike, 'this is a much better bike that my old one,' she protested. 'I've seen these in the shops. They're really expensive.'
Jenny shrugged again. 'I don't really know much about bikes,' she said. 'I just got what looked good.' She smiled and tapped the frame lightly with her hand. 'See? It's red.'
There was a long pause.
'I can't accept this,' Emma said quietly.
Jenny's smiled faded. 'What?'
'It's ... I ...' Emma struggled to articulate herself. 'I just can't. I'm sorry. Please just ... take it back.'
Jenny's shoulders slumped in dejection. 'I ... I don't understand.'
'No well ... you wouldn't,' Emma muttered.
Jenny frowned and she folded her arms defensively. 'What's that supposed to mean?' she asked.
'You can't just buy me off with some ... bike,' Emma said, gesturing to the inanimate object.
Jenny looked taken aback by the suggestion. 'What? Emma I'm not–'
'You can't just turn up out of the blue to destroy the business I work for,' Emma continued, ignoring Jenny's interjection, 'and just flash your money around when you know we're doing all we can not to lose our jobs. It's just so ... it's so ...'
'Endearing?' Jenny suggested.
'Insensitive,' Emma told her angrily.
Jenny sighed. 'Look Emma,' she said calmly, 'I'm just trying to make things right.'
Emma glared at her. 'You want to make things right?' she asked. 'Then just leave us alone,' she told her. 'Leave the shop alone.'
Jenny gaze darted to the floor. 'I'm afraid that's out of my hands,' she said.
Emma sighed in exasperation. 'Fine,' she said. 'But I'm not accepting this just to make you feel less guilty.'
'Guilty?' Jenny asked incredulously. 'I'm not guilty of anything. Jesus Christ, Emma, it's just business.'
'Yeah?' Emma asked. 'Well it's more than just business to me.' And with that she turned from Jenny and stormed back into the shop, leaving deep, heavy footprints in the freshly fallen snow.
Jenny stared after her in disbelief before looking back at the bike. 'I knew I should've got the blue one,' she muttered.
'I mean can you even believe her,' Emma ranted at Hotte as he jabbed disinterestedly at the keyboard of his laptop.
'I don't know what you're making such a fuss about Emma,' he answered. 'You got a free bike out of it didn't you? I'd just accept it and move on. Unless you fancy walking to work every day.'
Emma emitted a wordless growl of frustration at Hotte's statement. 'That's not the point,' she told him agitatedly. 'She can't just bribe people like that, just because money's no issue for her.'
Hotte sighed. 'That wasn't bribery,' he assured her. 'That was just Jenny giving you what you were owed. If she wrecked your bike she should be the one that pays for it,' he reasoned.
Emma just shook her head. 'Well maybe I don't want her to pay for it,' she objected. 'I'm giving the goddamn thing right back.'
'Oh for god's sake Emma,' Hotte said, snapping his laptop shut, 'can you not just drop it? We need Jenny onside if my business plan's ever going to work.'
Emma laughed a harsh sarcastic laugh. 'Are you kidding me?' she asked. 'You don't seriously think she's ever going to go for that, do you?'
Hotte opened his mouth to justify his claim but Emma spoke over him.
'Let me give you a little piece of friendly advice Hotte,' she said. 'The only thing that motivates Jenny Hartmann is the acquisition of things. And this shop? It's just another conquest.'
Hotte crossed him arms. 'And how would you know that?' he asked.
'Trust me,' Emma said, 'I just do.'