Lydia wrapped her coat around her and stepped out into the sunlight outside, taking a first tentative step. Under the various layers she was wearing she was boiling alive, but better safe than sorry.
Instinct, as usual, kicked in and Lydia shrunk back into the doorway. Emma walked quickly across the pavement, looking purposeful. Lydia had nightmares about this. Not Emma specifically, of course, but otherwise this was spot on.
“E-E-E-Emma,” she just managed to stammer out the word, “wh-what are you doing here?”
Emma stopped, still smiling but a little confused.
“Just -uh- coming to visit a friend. I suppose I can call you a friend?”
Lydia nodded as fast as she could.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” she said, “yes. I’m so really very sorry about the whole thing with Lee and the – the – the – the…”
Emma slapped her on the back. Lydia’s whole body stiffened and she felt the desperate and instinctual urge to make herself look as big as possible. She evidently managed to fight it because Emma appeared not to notice.
“No,” Emma smiled sadly, “I’m the one who should be apologising. I can be a bit of a jerk sometimes. Still, no hard feelings I hope.”
“No,” Lydia grinned weakly, “of course not.”
“Anyway,” Emma was evidently trying to steer the conversation away from this unfortunate subject, “how are you? I heard you had an… accident. Were you in hospital? I wasn’t expecting to see you here, they must have shifted you out pretty quickly.”
“Oh yeah,” Lydia grimaced, “I got hypothermia.”
“It’s still the summer!” Emma narrowed her eyes, “how on earth did you manage to get hypothermia?”
“Fell in a lake,” Lydia looked embarrassed, “my body is very sensitive to cold, what with the whole… you know, cold blooded thing. The lake kind of knocked me out, didn’t wake up until yesterday. I’m fine now though.”
“Good,” Emma nodded, “well… that’s great. Really glad. So good to hear you’re okay. Hah. You’re so brave…”
“You want to get something out of me don’t you?” Lydia raised an eyebrow. Emma felt herself go cold. Well, too late to go back now.
“Yes,” she said, “it just so happens that I made a new friend recently. He’s got something he wants to say to you… an apology of sorts.”
She turned around and shouted to the end of the street.
“You can come out now!”
Peering cautiously around the corner came a mop of messy hair. A large, luminous pair of wonder-filled eyes followed it. Alexis moved carefully around the corner and walked towards them. He had a nervous, shuffling gait. Emma heard a sharp intake of breath from Lydia. She decided not to look at her, just in case her face with filled with wrath. Adelaide had briefed her on the potential perils she might face. She suddenly realised that when she’d said she was ready for them, she’d lied.
“Hello,” said Alexis nervously, “I’m so sorry for… telling you that you’re beautiful. I didn’t mean it.”
Emma felt the need to groan aloud and slap her forehead. She’d told Alexis exactly what he should say. Evidently he hadn’t been listening to her explicit instructions. Evidently he too had also realised his grievous error, because he immediately paled and tried to backtrack.
“No,” he murmured, “That’s not what I meant. I meant you are beautiful. Really beautiful. Stunning in fact.”
There was a long, awkward silence. They appeared to be flavour of the month. Alexis had noticed something so fascinatingly interesting about the pavement below him that he was entirely unable to tear his eyes from it. Emma risked a glance at Lydia. Her expression was utterly unreadable: stony, scaly and still. After what seemed like a millennia, she finally opened her mouth to speak.
“Th-thank you,” she said, “no one’s ever said that to me before. Ever. I… I… I…”
She folded up like a towel, hands shielding her face, and began to sob quietly. Emma was about to put a hand on her shoulder, but before she could Alexis had rushed forward and put a comforting arm around Lydia’s shoulder. He looked up at Emma, wide eyed and slightly terrified. She gave him thumbs up.
“Thank you,” Lydia repeated with a sniffle, appearing to recover. She looked up at Alexis, “when you said it the first time… I didn’t know what to say. I thought you were joking, I’m sorry I ran. Actually that was why I’m in the state I am,” she gave a weak chuckle, “wasn’t looking where I was going. Ran straight out of the school and fell in a lake.”
Alexis nodded and released her shoulder. He glanced over at Emma, who was trying to fit the words ‘do it, do it now, ask her you fool,’ into a series of gestures. Surprisingly he seemed to get the message.
“Oh,” he murmured, “right yes. Well, listen… I realise we haven’t had the best start but… I don’t really have many friends. I was wondering whether you might possibly like to be my friend.”
Emma nodded, satisfied. That, she decided, was the closest Alexis was ever going to get to asking someone on a date. Her mission, it seemed, had been a success. Another step on the long and difficult path of getting Anna to like her again. Only three thousand million more, or something like that anyway.
“Yes,” Lydia said, nodding quickly, “that sounds like a really great idea.”
“Cool,” Emma smiled at them as brightly as she could, “well if you two have done all that you need to do, built some bridges or whatever, then I will just be heading off to… do some stuff. High-end, important stuff.”
“See you then,” Alexis nodded distractedly, staring at Lydia like a small and awe-filled puppy dog.
“Yes, bye Emma,” Lydia looked up, “no hard feelings, right?”
“Course not,” said Emma, then turned and dashed off as fast as she could.
Lydia turned back to Alexis.
“Actually,” she said, “I was just heading down to the library. Would you like to come with me?”
Alexis, wondering whether the fact that he always carried his library card with him made him seem cute or a little creepy, nodded.
“Oh right,” he said, “sure. That would be nice.”