Grabbing his bottled water, Barnaby gulped down the icy water like a man who'd crossed a desert. It felt like heaven going down, and because he was close to overheating, he poured the last amount of liquid onto his sweaty chest.
Kotetsu, the Asian in his mid thirties, offered him a friendly smile. "Taking a break? You know she'll see it as a victory on her end."
Barnaby stood there appraising Amelia Walker, currently running a marathon on the treadmill with flushed cheeks. She was a perfect example of imperfection-ism; she's slovenly, selfish and lazy. From that fiery-red hair tied in a clumsy bun, to the vivid shade of dark ocean-blue eyes, highlighted by lush, black lashes, down to her legs ending in worn out sport shoes she was everything short of attractive—at least, in his opinion.
"You will collapse if you continue this ridiculous attitude, Walker."
Amelia snorted in defiance.
"Whatever," she huffed and puffed. "Just get off my back, Mr. Gracious, I know what I'm doing."
"There's no sense telling a kid to stop playing," Kotetsu laughed.
Amelia snapped, "I'm not a child!" and simultaneously her sneaker lace loosened, resulting in a slippery downfall off the treadmill.
Locked in place like a pretzel, Keith offered her a hand. "You must be careful, Silver-kun. Shall I accompany you today just to be safe?" Amelia dusted off her shirt and persisted that it wasn't necessary to follow her around.
"It's no trouble at all! Why, you remind me of John when he was but a small pup! He was always getting himself into trouble," Keith laughed animatedly while Amelia rolled her big eyes.
"I'd say she's more like a stiff-necked goat," Barnaby walked past with his towel hung around his neck; she came close to strangling the life out of him with the cloth. Keith managed to hold her back before it got out of hand, her arms flailing about in anger.
"Let's get you outside for some fresh air. Hopefully it'll cool down your temper some," the Asian mumbled the last line under his breath.
Amelia—now calm and collected since Barnaby left the picture, eyed Kotetsu strangely. He shrunk under her sharp gaze. "You must have worked up an appetite," he said, a tad bit nervous. "Ah! Tell you what, I'll pay for dinner!"
His offer was extremely suspicious; every fiber of her being screamed not to trust this man. "I'll drive. Suit up and meet me outside." She walked off without another word and left a dumbfounded Kotetsu in her wake. He was so sure she would turn down his offer, after all.
After getting freshened up they decided to go to Bella's, her favorite restaurant in Sternbild. Amelia glanced at the reflection in the rear-view mirror of her car. Kotetsu was clearly cramped in the back; his legs poked her seat searching for sufficient space, twisting this way and that.
"Your car really is too small for me," he stretched for emphasis and chuckled heartily, "I can't feel my legs anymore." Amelia mentioned that he was just too tall in general, especially his legs. "I'll have you know that Bunny is four inches taller than me."
"Then I guess I can take him for a spin in my car."
Kotetsu laughed; a cramped little Bunny is certainly not a happy one.
They made their way through the crowded parking lot and into the busy restaurant. The waitress, a woman in her mid-twenties, offered them a friendly smile. "I'm sorry. It'll be a bit of a wait. We're a little shorthanded."
"That's alright," Kotetsu told the waitress. "We can wait."
"Alright then." The woman reached for a notepad. After they ordered, the waitress left them to wait in the entry.
Amelia hoped she wouldn't bump into anyone she knew; she wasn't in the mood to answer questions about how she was feeling and where she would go from here. She was still coming to grips with the loss of her best friend and true love, Connor Reynolds.
Six months ago their relationship ended. He fell in love with Helen Walker, her older sister by three minutes. It had forced Amelia to reevaluate her life.
"I'm fed up with waiting," Kotetsu moaned.
She rolled her eyes. "Get over it, Kotetsu. You're the one who said we can wait so stop nagging like a child."
And the award for mother of the year goes to, that trouble-making corner of his head retorted. He pouted, stood on his tippy-toes and peered inside impatiently, afterwards fidgeting with his hat and then peering inside again.
Amelia sighed. It seemed that everyone she knew was in a hurry. Helen and Connor certainly didn't wait to get engaged. It hurts to see him; yearning the man who she still loves to this day but doesn't return her love is a recipe for more heartache.
The waitress returned and drew Amelia from her musings when she said: "There's one last table in the courtyard. Apparently, the couple I'd seated there earlier decided it was too cold and went into the lounge to eat."
"Great, thank you!" Kotetsu wrapped his arm around Amelia's shoulders in a friendly manner and dragged her away before she could protest altogether.
Dinner had been unexpectedly nice. Amelia wouldn't take any further advantage of his offer to spring for dinner when he was already trying to feed his ten-year old daughter. She ordered something cheaper instead of the hearty—and more expensive—char grilled steak she'd decided on earlier.
There was no way she'd let him pay a hefty bill when a smaller one would do.
"So," Kotetsu averted his attention from his now mayonnaise-stained empty plate to the woman sitting across from him. "How come you're so eager to beat Bunny?"
Amelia rolled her eyes—again. She was quite proficient at it, too.
"It's not only Bunny. You're competing against everyone." Amelia grimaced when Kotetsu started picking his teeth. "I thought we were supposed to compete against each other," she shot back.
Kotetsu stroked his beard. She did have a point there.
"That's… true," he said slowly. "But we're also there for one another when times are rough, and I have yet to see that from you. It's like all you think about is the competition."
Utterly bored, Amelia plopped a piece of bread in her mouth. Kotetsu's shoulders slumped; she's not gonna talk. "At any rate…" He said tiredly while reaching across the table, placing his hand over hers, and the gesture stirred up nasty thoughts in her head like, gross he was picking his teeth a minute ago.
"Try to open up more. You have a friend in all of us, even Bunny. You'll feel better once you stop seeing us as mere rivals and more as family."
She smiled sarcastically, revealing a pair of dimples that he didn't notice before. She hated his optimism, she hated the faint sparkle in his golden orbs, and she hated herself for joining him for dinner.
"I'm not gonna take any chances. I'm fine with where I am now, safe and secure in my position," she answered.
Kotetsu sighed. "You really are a stiff-necked goat with that stubborn attitude." He yelped when her foot connected with his shin under the table. "No sense of humor whatsoever…" The man grumbled.
At that moment his cell phone rang. It was Antonio inviting Kotetsu over at the bar for a drink.
"Want me to give you a ride?" Amelia offered when they reached the parking space; the least she can do is give him a lift after he paid for dinner no matter how much she disliked his eating habits at the table.
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" Kotetsu smiled. The ordeal with her car being too small was troublesome indeed. "I might lose the ability to walk before I even start drinking," he joked.
Amelia managed a small smile after unlocking her lunar black and white Tata Nano. "Don't blame my car. You're the one with the weak spider legs, after all. Maybe you should consider working out at the gym for once, instead of dozing off."
She slammed the door shut the minute her rear hit the seat, and the rumbling vehicle started to trot away on the road. Kotetsu waved after her with his hat and unfortunately for him, the wind blew it out of his grasp.
Amelia looked at the rear-view mirror and laughed heartily; Kotetsu was running after his precious hat and no doubt cursed when it landed in a puddle of rainwater.