The walk back to the city gates feels like it takes forever.
By the end, Kat can barely move. Everything hurts and she wants to go home to sleep for a week, more so than she usually wants to sleep for a week.
Even so, she feels a broad smile spreading across her face when she sees Amara and her family eagerly waiting for her.
Dunstana runs over to her big sister.
“Kat! Kat!” she exclaims. “Did you win? I knew you could do it!” Ginger follows carefully after her, delicately endeavouring to keep the circular box in her hands level and unjostled.
“I don’t actually know yet,” Kat answers. “They said they need to compile my test results.”
Jonas moves towards his niece. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Knowing you, I’m sure you aced that test.”
Suddenly, Kat is enveloped by a quick succession of hugs and congratulatory words from her mother, father, aunt, uncle, cousin, and about twelve from Dunstana.
After the hugs from her family, Amara walks over to her.
“I never doubted you for even a moment, Katherine,” she announces, before pulling her into the kind of smothering hug only best friends are capable of.
“Your hair’s different,” Kat notes as she hugs Amara. The Elf’s usually long, flowing hair has been cut unusually short.
“Isn’t it great?” Dunstana asks. “It looks like mine!”
“It does look nice,” Kat says. “But, uh, why are you sticky? It’s like hugging cotton candy.”
“Yes, well, it’s been a strange day,” Amara says.
Though Kat can’t see her face as they hug, she just knows Amara is blushing with indignation right up to the tips of her ears.
“We were baking you a cake,” Ginger explains, holding up the box in her hands. “We had, um, a couple accidents.”
“There was, ah, a mishap with the Ray of Frosting,” Amara says with a sideways glance to Dunstana.
Dunstana speaks up in her own defence, “It was an accident! Besides, everything is fine now!”
Amara sighs wearily.
“All’s well that ends well, I suppose. Eventually.”
She stares gravely at Kat.
“I hope you realise how lucky you are, Katherine, to have such a selfless, hardworking best friend, who is so willing to risk her own comfort, wellbeing, and even her very sanity to prove the depths of her devotion.”
“Yeah,” Kat answers simply. “Thanks, Amara. And you, too, Ginger.”
“You are quite welcome, Katherine,” Amara answers, feeling quite confident that the depths of her devotion have been well and truly proven.
“Yeah,” Ginger says. “It was a lot of —”
She was going to say fun, but she doesn’t think Amara would agree with that.
She decides on the much safer “I’m glad you liked it.”
“Hey!” Dunstana exclaims. “I helped, too!”
“Is it a carrot cake?” Kat asks cautiously.
“Of course not, Katherine,” Amara explains. “It’s supposed to be a celebration, not a punishment.”