There was something ever so comforting about Yaritza’s presence, Altair decided. It didn’t matter what state of mind he was in before she arrived – he couldn’t help smiling.
It didn’t seem to be one-sided, either, if her laughter was anything to go by.
Being around her was like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold day.
“You’ll have to tell them sooner or later.”
Well… most of the time, he amended.
“Do they need to know, Yari? Things are going so well, now. I don’t want to mess it up.”
She knelt down in front of him, forcing him to look at her. “Al. You’re a wonderful guy. If they can’t see that just because of your genetics, then they don’t deserve you. Do you want to be in hiding for the rest of your life?”
Al shook his head, sighing. “No. I just… I’m scared.”
Her hand pressed gently onto his, and she murmured, “I don’t want you to hide anymore. You’re better than that. Besides,” she said, smiling, “you’re way cuter than anyone else there.” Yaritza stood up and walked over to the book case.
She said I’m cute~
“Are you purposefully this obtuse, or is it natural?” Lyra asked.
Al stood up, shaking his head. “You’ve been listening to Leo too much, Ly – you’re beginning to sound like him.”
“Al, don’t walk away from me.”
>She fancies you, you idiot!<
“Ouch! Warn me next time. Or, you know, talk instead.”
“Would you rather I say it out loud?”
Altair rolled his eyes. She had a point.
>Lyra, this isn’t any of your business.<
>You fancy her too, don’t you?<
>Please, Ly. Leave it.<
“How much clearer can I make it?”
Leo fought the urge to laugh as he re-read the conversation. “Honestly, I think for him to believe it you’d need to get Date Me, Altair tattooed on your forehead. Anything else,” he gestured at the phone, “seems to not be quite strong enough.”
She laughed. “Is it bad that I’m tempted?”
“Man, you really have got it bad, haven’t you? It’s his hair, isn’t it? All swooshy and flicky and glossy.”
“I just… I dunno. He’s so wonderful. Why can’t he see it?”
“Don’t worry, lass. We’ll knock some self-esteem into him eventually.”
“Yari? Do you like fruit salad?”
“Speak of the devil and he will come bearing chopped up fruit,” Leo grinned.
“You don’t think he heard us, do you?”
“Nah, you’re fine. Now stop blushing, or he may get the wrong idea. Don’t want him thinking you’re after me, do you?”
Not that I’d blame you. I mean, look at these muscles.
“It’s a shame I’m not a vet, because these swans are sick!”
A snort of suppressed laughter came from the sofa, and he spun around. “Dad? How long have you been there?”
“Long enough,” Malik said, shoulders shaking. “These swans are sick? Really, Leo?”
Leo walked over and sat down next to him, rolling his eyes. “What’s it gonna cost for you not to tell anyone you saw that?”
“Mix me one of those fancy drinks of yours and we’ll call it even.”
“Hey, fruit salad’s ready,” Al said, walking around to the front of the doll house. “Want to eat it inside or out?”
“Any good movies on?”
“Ummm… the ‘Dusk’ films are on.”
“I said good, Al,” she laughed chucking the doll, playfully at his legs.
“Argh, my shins! You’ve wounded me, and now I have no choice but to sit here and play dolls with you.”
She raised an eyebrow at him as he sat himself down on the floor and passed her a bowl. “I thought you didn’t like playing with dolls anymore?”
“But you do,” he said, smiling as he picked the horse and carriage. “Now, where are we off to today?”
“Ellie, what the-”
“I’m learning to dance. Shea’s teaching me,” she said, grinning. “I mean, just look at her.”
“Well,” he said, turning back towards the house “as fun as this looks, I’m going to head inside.”
Of all the things that could have distracted Lyra from her homework, a text from her brother was not high on the list of things she was prepared for. It was only a few words long, but it sounded important.
Can we talk?
She put down her book, pouting when Ellie coughed pointedly. She picked it up again and walked outside. Apparently, she was taking her homework with her.
There he was, sat on the bench. Alone.
He looked up, grinning when he saw her. Her shoulder sagged in relief – it couldn’t be anything too bad if he could still smile like that.
“It’s Yari,” he said, looking down at his hands. “Do you really think she… fancies me?”
Lyra wanted nothing more than a solid surface to bang her head on. So this was what he’d gotten himself all worked up over.
“Yes, Al. She was definitely flirting with you, and those looks she kept giving you…” Lyra trailed off, teasing him.
“Like she’d gone all melty inside, like an ice-cream. The same way you look at her.”
His face fell. “You noticed, huh?”
“It was hard not to. What were you two talking about earlier, though? She sounded… upset.”
Al dropped his face into his hands. “She wants me to stop disguising myself. I don’t know if it’s because it confuses her, or what. But I can’t.”
“Why not? We’ve all got your back. You do know that, right?”
“I know. But you shouldn’t have to.” He stood up and walked inside, his head lowered.
Lyra sat outside for a while longer. It was her turn to be alone.
Ellie looked over her shoulder at the house. The last light had gone out.
Step 1, complete.