“Ly? You there?”
Leo knocked on the bedroom door, not bothering to wait for an answer before he opened it. She had texted him, after all – if she wasn’t ready it was her own fault.
“Now, what did you-” he stopped, eyes wide.
“Don’t just stand there gawking! Come in before someone else sees,” she whispered, beckoning him forward.
“Lyra? What have you done?” he said, walking cautiously towards her.
“Isn’t it obvious? Sit down, you’re giving me a neck ache.”
“So, what do you think?”
“You’re very…” Leo racked his brain for a polite way of putting it, “…sim-like. What’s going on?”
“If I’m going to be a dancer, I need to get to the city, don’t I? So I decided to work on my disguise.”
Leo gawked at her. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”
“I… that is, would you stay like this?”
She tilted her head, frowning slightly. “What do you mean?”
He waved his hand vaguely at her body. “Like this, Ly.”
“I don’t think so. Once I’ve broken into the business, I won’t need it anymore. They wouldn’t get rid of me just for being Sixan, after all.”
Oh dear. How could she have so much belief in these people? He was comfortable in his own skin because he didn’t care what others thought of him, but she…
She was going to get hurt.
He looked up at her, startled to see her staring at him with so much concentration. “What?”
She pulled a face, and he snorted with laughter. Now that was an expression he hadn’t seen before.
“Lyra,” he said, “what is it?”
“Well… I was kind of hoping you would come with me.”
“Well, duh. Of course I will.”
“You’ll have to wear a disguise.”
“Like plum I will.”
“Leo, please. I don’t want to go on my own, and I don’t want people staring at us on the train.”
He sighed. Of course she didn’t.
“Look,” she said, “it won’t be for another year – I’ve just missed the audition period. At least think about it, ok?”
“I’ll think about it. What about our parents, though? They’ll want to come, too.”
“I’m not telling them.”
“And,” she continued, ignoring the interruption, “you aren’t telling them either. If you do, I’ll tell them about the thing. You know what I’m talking about.”
He really didn’t, but whatever it was sounded ominous. He’d probably done something at some point, if he was being honest.
What had he gotten himself into?
Lyra tore her gaze away from the woman on her posters, before turning towards the door. There would be posters of her one day.
“It’s open,” she called, quickly looking down at her hands. She’d remembered to take off her disguise, thank goodness. If Al had seen her, who knows what he’d have made of it. Her brother peeked his head around the door, and she rolled her eyes. “You can come in. I won’t bite.”
He grinned, barely making it into the room before he shoved his phone into her face. She blinked. Rude.
“Look, Ly! Look at what she sent me!”
Ah, now that silly smile made sense. She moved closer, peering at the screen.
Wanna go out?
“Well,” she said, looking at him. “Do you?”
“Well, yeah. But does she mean out, or does she mean out? Like, out out.”
“How should I know? If you want to meet up with her, just say yes already.”
He hesitated. “Can I… can I stay here while I text her? Just until I get a reply.”
Lyra grinned. “You’re just going to knock on my door again when she replies if I say no, so you might as well.”
Five minutes later, Al’s phone beeped. He let out an undignified squeak and almost fell off the bed, blushing madly as he picked it up.
Awesome! Civic Cliffs, 3pm?
Altair looked at her expectantly. “What should I do?”
“Say yes, you daft man.”
See you there 🙂
“So, are you ready?”
Al looked at her, smiling. Happiness seemed to be his default state when he was with Yaritza. It took a few seconds for her words to sink in. “Ready for what?”
She grinned, and his whole world lit up. “Come with me,” she said, taking off at a jog across the grass. “You’ll like it, I promise!” she called over he shoulder, waving for him to follow.
She stopped at a small picnic area, not far from the main road. It was tucked away out of direct sight, shaded by trees and surrounded by flowers.
“I bought some tofu dogs on the way here,” she said, smiling. “Now take off that disguise and I’ll start cooking.”
Al tensed. Take it off?
“Yari… I can’t. There’s so many people here. What if they see me?”
Her face fell.
“Al, you need to get past this. Its not healthy to hide yourself all the time,” she said, moving closer to him. “I worry about you, you know?”
He nodded, looking down at the ground. A warm hand slipped into his own and tugged him gently back towards the clearing. He was confused when they kept walking – past the tables, past the trees. He couldn’t even hear the road anymore.
“How about here? It’s just you and me, now.”
Al looked around.
“Please,” she said. “I want to see you. Properly.”
He closed his eyes, feeling his disguise fade away. He trusted her not to leave him.
“There,” her voice was warm, as if he could hear her smile. “Much better.”
He opened his eyes and turned to her. “Do you really prefer me like this?”
“Of course I do, Al. This is you. It’s like if I went around hiding behind a massive fake moustache all the time. It wouldn’t feel right to you, would it?”
Al laughed. “I dunno, it might suit you.”
She swiped at him playfully. “Shut up.”
“Don’t start wearing a fake moustache, Yari. It’d hide your pretty smile.” He blushed as he realised what he’d said. What if he’d screwed things up?
“That’s why I don’t want you to wear your disguise. It hides your pretty face,” she said, before turning and walking away. He just stood there, rooted to the spot. She’d called him pretty.
He shook his head to clear it, and started to walk after her.
She turned, grinned at him, and started to jog.
“Wait up! You’re-” he stopped. She was leading him back to the picnic area.
She put the tofu sausages on the grill and looked over at him. She held out her hand.
He took a hesitant step out from behind the tree. No one was paying any attention to him. No one but her.
He took another step, and then another. By the time she had finished cooking, he was standing next to her. She leant into him slightly, smiling against shoulder before picking up the plate and carrying it over to the table. His shoulder tingled slightly where her cheek had been.
“What do you think?”
Al swallowed his mouthful before replying. “It’s delicious.”
“I’m glad! Sometimes I only get one or two of them one properly, and the rest end up burnt or under-cooked. It’s properly done?”
“Well, that is high praise. May I see for myself?”
She moved closer to him, face mere inches away from his own.
She closed her eyes.
Altair’s brain froze. Did she want food? Did she want him to kiss her? He had absolutely no clue. He wanted to kiss her, he really did. But what if she didn’t want him to? What if she ran away?
Al did the only thing his brain would let him do. He picked up a fork, put a bit of tofu dog on it, and held it up to her lips.
“Good?” he asked as she opened her eyes. She was smiling at him, but she seemed almost disappointed.
She still hadn’t moved away. His eyes darted to her mouth. There was a tiny crumb on her lower lip. He moved his hand up and gently wiped it away with his thumb. Her lips were soft.
He really wanted to kiss her.
Her phone buzzed, and the moment was lost.
“I’ve got to go. Mum’s lost her keys again,” she said, sighing. She looked at him, seemingly waiting for something. He looked back at her, unsure what it was she wanted. His heart sank as she looked down at her hands, no longer smiling. “Never mind.” She got up and started to walk away.
“It’s fine, Al.”
“Al, why didn’t you kiss me?”
Well, he thought to himself, that answers that question. “I was worried that you didn’t want me to. I was-”
“There’s no reason to be scared. Not with me.”
He took her hands in his own. “I’m not.”
“Then why is it that whenever I feel like we’re getting closer, that fake moustache of yours gets in the way?”
He frowned, confused. “I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I.”