by China DeSpain
Cassy drummed her fingertips on the tabletop. She swirled the straw in her drink. She checked the time on her phone. And then she made eye contact with Kendrick, who smiled broadly and made her grimace.
First dates were nerve-wracking enough without your older brother chaperoning from the shadows. Kendrick was behind the coffee bar, steaming milk, but still, he was too close. He looked busy enough, but she could feel him keeping tabs on her. Ugh, couldn’t she have gone on this date anywhere else? She stuck out her tongue when her brother turned his back.
She’d been dying to go on a date with Kaori for two whole years, and now it was finally coming true. But Kendrick had only agreed to it if the whole thing went down at Vine and Bean, where he could keep watch, lurking like a wary-if-pleasant vulture. Which was dumb. She was 16, totally old enough to make her own decisions. Totally old enough to go on a date.
But protective older brothers made that impossible.
As she sat, frowning, another soda appeared in front of her. “How ya doing, Cass?”
She turned and grinned at her favorite bartender. “Hey, Bradley. I didn’t know you were working tonight.”
“Somebody’s gotta keep an eye on that brother of yours,” he said.
She laughed. Bradley and Kendrick were good friends, and Bradley was like a surrogate brother to her. One who didn’t butt into her business at every opportunity. “Do me a favor? Keep him distracted. I have a date and I don’t want him ruining it.”
He winked. “You got it.”
He went back to his post at the bar, and she sucked down Coke and thought about the first time she had seen Kaori. It had been freshman year, back when Kaori had first transferred to their school. Kaori had looked small and lost, and all Cassy had wanted to do was show her around. Forever.
“Have you been waiting long?” Kaori’s voice interrupted Cassy’s thoughts, and she sat straighter in her chair.
“Not at all. Only like five minutes.” Okay, it had been closer to fifteen, but when it came to Kaori, she would have waited for an eternity.
“Good.” Kaori—she of the glossy hair and perfect skin—slid into the seat opposite her. “Hi.”
“Hey.” Cassy felt tongue-tied all of a sudden, and was grateful that her brown skin hid the blush currently blazing across her cheeks.
“I have a confession,” Kaori said. “I’ve never been on a date before. I’m not really sure what to do.”
Cassy relaxed into her chair. “Me either. I guess we figure it out together.”
Just then, a waitress Cassy had never seen before swooped in and set a plate piled with French fries on the table, along with a soda for Kaori. “Courtesy of Kendrick,” she said, flitting away.
Kaori smiled at Cassy, and it was that sweet, shy smile that Cassy liked to think was reserved specifically for her. “That was nice of your brother.”
“Yeah, sometimes he’s okay.” Cassy plucked up a fry and popped it into her mouth.
It was a delight.
To her, French fries were a delicacy, and deserved to be treated as such. She had no patience for the greasy, mealy fries served up at fast food joints. But these were something else. Crisp on the outside, tender inside. A slight sweetness from the coconut oil they’d been cooked in, and a hint of spice that she thought might be sweet paprika.
“Ohmygod,” she mumbled, her mouth full of potato. “You have to try one of these.” She extended a fry to Kaori, who delicately took it with her lips.
Kaori closed her eyes, savoring the flavor, and chewed slowly. Cassy was captivated by the way she ate. Instead of shoveling food in her mouth, Kaori ate with care, bite by bite, really experiencing food. It was sexy.
Kaori finally swallowed and opened her eyes. “The flavors are perfectly balanced on the tongue.”
Slowly, with relish, the two girls fed each other fry by fry. They whispered to each other, finding their rhythm as the nerves fell away. Kaori talked about her childhood vacations to visit her grandmother in Japan, and Cassy told her all about how Kendrick had raised her after their parents died.
By the time the plate was empty, they were brimming with each other’s secrets and stories, as if they’d known one another forever.
“Are you still hungry?” Cassy asked. She felt electrified and full, and it had nothing to do with the food.
Kaori shook her head.
“Do you want to go somewhere else? Maybe take a walk?”
“I’d love that.”
Cassy nodded and tossed a few bills onto the table. Kendrick would have covered the cost, but she didn’t want him paying for her first date. This was special, and she wanted to do it right.
She glanced at the bar, where he watched, and blew him a kiss. He frowned and started to come around the counter, so she hustled Kaori out into the warm evening.
“I have an idea,” Cassy said. “Let’s go this way.”
They walked toward the river, and Kaori slipped her soft palm into Cassy’s. Cassy’s skin buzzed at the point of contact, and a warm feeling fanned out through her body.
She’d never held Kaori’s hand before, and this was a hundred times better than she’d imagined.
She led her date down to the waterfront, to the tiny park few people knew about. In the center was a gazebo wrapped in what seemed like thousands of twinkling fairy lights. Between the lights and the dancing fireflies, the entire park seemed magical, like something out of a Miyazaki film.
Cassy led Kaori to one of the benches in the gazebo, and they sat, Kaori resting her head on Cassy’s shoulder.
“How was your first date?” Cassy asked.
“You say that like it’s over,” Kaori murmured.
Kaori sat up and shook her head, a secret smile playing on her lips. “Don’t you know?”
“The best first dates never end. They go on and on, forever, for a lifetime.” She leaned in and pressed her rosebud lips against Cassy’s fuller ones.
Cassy’s heart soared with wonder, and when they pulled apart, she stared deep into Kaori’s dark eyes. “You mean that’s what’s going to happen for us? This date will never end?”
“Not if we don’t want it to. This date can last a lifetime.”
“I’d like that.”
With the scent of honeysuckle dancing around them, the two girls kissed again, sure in the knowledge that they were two parts of one soul, destined to love each other forever.
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