Typical overbearing mother...Ayame's words resonated strongly with Hana. "Oh, I know how that feels. I live alone now, but how many years did I waste pretending I didn't have a private life, unable to fully enjoy my hobbies or even think to talk about them?" He stopped and stared into Ayame's smiling face for a few seconds. It was true; he had never shared this much about himself with anyone before. But he did tonight, just as easily as if he had been doing so his whole life. What changed so suddenly? Whatever it was, it was certainly a change Hana welcomed. The only sad thing was that their date was just about at an end. "...Thank you for tonight. It really was wonderful to be able to talk with someone about all this...talk with you. I don't suppose you'd...like to do it again some time?" he said, subconsciously reaching for the check when it came.
Ayame chuckled. At least his mother wasn't constantly trying to introduce him to eligable young women. Ugh, Ayame was just about fed up with the constant stream of rich young men her mother wanted her to marry. Nope. Wasn't happening. Ayame wanted a NORMAL family. She certainly could make ends meet on her own. She wanted her own little apartment but couldn't quite bring herself to leave her mother alone in that house just yet. Her father was rarely home.
"I'd love to do this again," she stated, "...maybe next time you could cook for me?" She reached out and took the check before he could grab it. "That is, if you're willing to risk burning your kitchen down again." A slight tease, but with the cheeriest of smiles. She waved the check back and forth in her hand. "I'm the one who dragged you out here, so my treat." She handed the check and her card to the waiter.
"I'm not going to burn anything down," Hana insisted defensively. Of course Ayame had been joking, but unfortunately the ability to read her face and derive that bit of information was lost on him. "But I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want me to cook for you anyway. You'd have to come over to my house, for one thing." And as he was well aware, that was far too good to be true. He had already pushed his luck far enough this evening, having somehow managed to make his first actual friend in perhaps forever. No need to get greedy now. Or so he had to tell himself, at least.
He was about to protest when she snatched the check from him, but eventually decided against it when she gave her argument. "...Well, if that's how you want to put it, then thank you; I appreciate it. But next time, it'll be my treat; I owe you one." Once their meals were paid for, he stood up and let Ayame step down first, this time eyeing her more calmly and discreetly as she put her shoes back on. There was no doubt about it; he definitely found her attractive. He had to wonder how far he could potentially get with her if they kept going out like this. But of course, he had no idea where to start now that there was actually a real opportunity in front of him. He decided maybe he would have to go back and rewatch some anime or replay some games for ideas, though most of the games and anime he had were about high school students falling in love. Where could he look for middle-aged romance stories? Perhaps Maison Ikkoku...or Dream Club...
Hana followed Ayame out of the restaurant and stopped once they were out on the street. "Um, I guess this is where we part ways for the evening...?" he asked. Though he kind of didn't want the evening to end, he did have a lot to think about and figured some time alone to reflect would do him some good. Regardless of the nonexistent alternative. Of course there was no way anyone was going back to anyone else's house after only one date.
Ayame winced a bit when he got defensive. She hadn't been trying to be mean, but he seemed to take it that way. She let it go, though. Perhaps he wasn't used to people joking with him? She raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure your home is better than mine," she pointed out, "...less parents in your face giving you the third degree." Speaking of which, she was going to GET IT when she got home. She wondered if she could convince her cousin to stop by and rescue her from the brunt of it. Probably not.
The sun had gone down by now, but the lights on the street were bright enough to see clearly. Her car was a little ways away, back near the editor's office. She wondered if she could convince him to walk her to her car, then decided against it. It would be too much to hope and it might lead to something the both of them weren't ready for yet, but might be desperate to find in their loneliness.
This is NOT a novel, Ame. Stop it.
"I guess so, but we'll see each other at work tomorrow. Maybe we could have lunch together," she offered. It would be nice to have someone to talk to, rather than spend her lunch with her face stuffed in her computer.
"Well....good night." What was the proper way to say goodbye? A hand shake? A bow? A hug? She settled on planting a kiss on his cheek, needing to stand on her toes in order to reach him.
And it was over. A normal date. A night of not being ridiculed for her strange behavior. It was all gone in that good bye. She would have to go home and face her parents for ditching them. She wondered if he would treat her differently tomorrow...or with the indifference the rest of the staff had come to expect from him. She reached her car and leaned against the door, hugging her purse to her chest. She closed her eyes. In that brief moment, when she'd kissed his cheek, she could smell his cologne. Had it been cologne? Or just his shampoo? His hair was long enough. Still, it had been a nice scent.
Was that weird? It probably was. She opened her car door and slid inside, sliding the key into the ignition. She had no one to talk to about something like this. Had she done the right thing? Had she gone too far? She found herself playing the night over and over in her head as she drove home, wondering what tomorrow might bring.
"Too good to be true" got much harder for Hana to convince himself of when Ayame didn't seem to take his hint in the direction he'd been expecting. He had expected that she would take up the idea of them going out to eat again. Instead, she had stuck with the idea of her going to his house by contrasting it with him going to hers. Perhaps he should have been delighted to be the object of such attention, but it made him more than a little wary. It was just weird for anyone to be so friendly with him, considering who he was. As well as their evening had gone, he certainly would never have dared to use it as an excuse for anyone visiting anyone's house. Did she really mean to be sending him so many signals? No, he was probably reading too much into it. Who was to say some people weren't just that friendly.
That train of thought had left his mind by the time he was standing outside the restaurant with Ayame, trying to decide on the best way to decisively end the date. (Visual novel) experience would have had him settle with a polite goodbye and turning and walking away, but before he could do that, he noticed Ayame acting strangely. She was closing the distance between them. Her hand was on his shoulder. And now she was leaning up, her eyes closed, her face creeping closer to his cheek...
It was too much for Hana's mind to process at once. He stood there in a daze, giving no visible reaction to what had just happened. Not that Ayame had stuck around long enough to see it had there been one. He was dimly aware that his cheek was tingling, his whole face was burning, and he could no longer feel his feet touching the ground. Ayame must have been halfway out of sight by the time he lifted a hand to his cheek, the reality of what had just happened finally sinking in. ...She kissed me. She kissed me! He couldn't begin to comprehend how or why; it was a move he would've expected about 10 or 20 flags further down the route. And to think, he had been the one worrying about how to move things along! Was it really just that simple? Of course not; had he been the one to try that on her, he would've been worried about scaring her off. But evidently she wouldn't have minded? Come to think of it, it was fairly obvious if he thought about the rest of their date. Between sharing secrets with him, showing him that novel, talking about coming over to his house so casually, and asking him out on the spot in the first place...yeah, the poor girl couldn't have been sending more signals if she was a radio tower. She must really like those romance stories, was the most rational explanation Hana could come up with. What does that make me? Just a character in a story to her?
Then again, how was that any different from the way he envisioned social situations as familiar game scenarios to make them easier for him to deal with? Besides, he couldn't deny the decidedly euphoric feeling the kiss had left him with. The blood coursing through his vessels delivered a pleasant, internal full-body massage as it radiated outward from the tingle on his cheek. Maybe that's just what we both need, he thought to himself; just to be a love interest in a romance story for each other. Considering how much they seemed to have in common, he couldn't consider it an entirely unreasonable assumption.
Still, as he finally turned and began walking back to his car to head home, he remained at a loss as to precisely how so much could have changed so quickly. The beginnings of a possible romance notwithstanding, even making an actual friend could be considered a monumental accomplishment for him. One minute he was his usual, outcast self; the next, he felt like he could actually be worth something. How??? Though he didn't have the answer yet, there was something nagging at the back of his mind. If he replayed the evening over in his head, he could almost see it...like pieces of a puzzle slowly coming together
Those words had come surprisingly easy to him...
For everything she says, it's so easy for me to find something to say back...
Not even his usual inhibitions were doing much to keep him quiet about himself now...
I didn't even do anything. All we did was talk...
He could see the details of the individual pieces sliding into place, but he couldn't see the big picture of how they all fit together just yet. But that was fine for now. Just like any math problem, he knew it would make more sense the longer he worked with it and studied it. He was looking forward to spending more time with Ayame - yes, actually spending time with another person - and if it was true that she was as well, then hopefully they'd both have all the time they needed.