Grace reads the magazine with such focus, sitting cross-legged and back slouched on the couch, so much so that she doesn’t hear the living room door opening up, and the heavy sound of Sarah’s boots traipsing closer to her.
“Is that porn?” Sarah says, next to her ear. Grace yelps from shock, and tries to punch whoever has invaded her privacy on the nose. Sarah, old as she may be, is still a professional fighter, so she grabs Grace’s hand with an easy whoa there, tiger.
Grace blinks up at her from the sofa. “You startled me.”
“Yeah. Sure. ‘Startled’.” Sarah snorts, and Grace yet again reflects on how it’s possible for Sarah to be able to air quote words without having to actually do the air quoting motions. “Also, why the hell are you reading about how to court someone? Who even uses that word anymore? Court.” Sarah makes a face. “Ugh. Saying that makes me wanna puke.”
Grace’s face flushes into a pink hue. She wants to ask Sarah so what if she wants to use that word? What if she uses the word court? What even is wrong with the word court?! It’s a sublime word.
She doesn’t, though. That would be suicide. Sarah is the Goddess of teasing. It’s no joke what she can do.
“Why the hell are you so nosy?” Grace glares at her to let her know she won’t cave in and tell Sarah who she plans to ‘court’, if she’s too much of a coward to do it.
Sarah pales, all of a sudden. “Oh God. It’s not Diego, is it?”
“What?!” Sure, Grace has learned a lot from Diego about how to live in the past that is her present after she’d saved him, but he’s far from her taste. He’s too goofy. Too much of a loud mouth, and a bragger. Grace doubts he’s any girl’s taste.
From a simple ‘what’, she unwittingly gives Sarah information. Sarah trudges to the kitchen with a hum, opening the fridge as she says, “Thank all the lord that is holy. I’d go back to the past and shoot myself in the head if that were the case.”
Grace doesn’t know how to answer that, other than with an ummm…
Sarah grabs a large coke bottle from the fridge, hefts it up, and puts it on the table. She has to stand on her tippy toes to grab three glasses from the cabinet, and Grace once again thanks her parents for giving her tall genes, unlike some people. “If it’s not Diego… Is it Carl’s kid? What’s his name again? Matthew? Mario? Luigi? Waluigi?”
“Mateo,” Grace deadpans.
“Is it him?” Sarah carelessly pours the coke to the glasses. Grace rolls her eyes, and doesn’t answer, and that is enough of an answer for Sarah. Sarah walks back, three glasses in tow, and flops herself down on the couch next to Grace. “Not him, then. So…” She winces. “Carl?"
Grace stares at her blankly.
“What?! People sometimes have a thing for older men! It’s a thing!”
Grace stares harder.
Sarah rolls her eyes. “Eh. Worth a shot.” She takes one of the glasses, sips, and gestures towards the rest of the glasses. “Help yourself, shithead.”
Grace stares at the glasses, processing and unable to find a solution as to why there are two of them.
Her answer comes in the form of light footsteps, and a lighter laugh.
It comes in the opening of a door, and a cheery hooola and a cheerier smile.
“Heya, kiddo.” Sarah nods down to the glasses. “Help yourself.”
Dani smiles at them both and jumps down to the couch, her thigh brushing against Grace’s. Something in her chest does a floppy backflip. She’s sure it’s her heart. “Why thank you, Sarah!”
Dani’s accent is more noticeable. Grace has come to learn that it means she’s either really sad, or really angry, or really happy. The keyword is ‘really’. The more emotion she’s feeling, the more her accent shines through.
And judging by the way she’s humming a tune to one of those hit pop songs—Selena Eilish or Billie Gomez or Beyonce Kardashian or whoever—Grace is willing to bet she’s in the ‘really happy’ category.
“So! Guess who just got a promotion!”
Dani looks at them expectantly. All Sarah does is blink, then blink again, so it’s up to Grace to smile widely and say, “That’s great, Dani!”
She expects Dani to cheer and sing and never stop smiling for the rest of the day.
She should’ve known to expect the unexpected. It’s Dani she’s talking about here, after all.
Dani hugs her, and pulls themselves off of the couch, laughing and twirling like it’s Christmas. Grace has to balance both of them to keep themselves from any unnecessary injury. She didn’t expect Dani to have this much upper body strength.
Grace isn’t used to being supportive and doing ‘wholesome’ things (as Diego calls them), but she tries for Dani. When Dani tugs her into a hug, she’s immobile for only 0.2 seconds, which is an improvement. She pats Dani’s head and considers kissing it, then decides the more safe, optimal option would be to nuzzle into it, so she does.
Dani pulls away, and the world slows down. Grace does know what color Dani’s eyes are, but she’s only started to notice how rich, full of color, wide, and pretty they are. Grace wants to stare at them, and keep on staring, and when she couldn’t stare anymore, she’d still stare at them.
The moment disappears with the buzz of Dani’s phone. Alongside it bursts out an old Mexican song. Que Bonita es Mi Tierra, Dani has told her once. It’s a song of pride and joy. Pride for how ravishing the singer’s land is, and how he endears it.
“Diego,” Dani says, her grin brightening. “Yes! Yes! I did get the job!”
Dani skips away, not without stealing a glass of coke Sarah has generously provided. She gives Grace one last smile Grace doesn’t dare call coy before she leaves, and Grace can’t breathe.
“Jeez, kid. You have it bad.”
Grace can only agree with her.
Grace knows she must be all kinds of desperate to come here, but she has no other choice. It’s either this or Sarah, and she’ll die before she asks any advice from Sarah.
She knocks on the door, and scrutinizes her reflection on the window, making sure if she looks presentable enough. Growing up in the war means she doesn’t know how politeness and presentability works, but she’s getting there. Maybe. Hopefully. Dani seems to think so.
The door unlocks.
Carl blinks, his features unmoving and mechanic. “Grace, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
It’s insulting and humiliating to know that an old terminator from the 90s has better social grace than her (pun unintended), but Grace swallows her pride down. She needs his help with something vital. Something life-threatening. Something important.
“You wish to learn how to better present yourself as a mate for Daniella Ramos?”
Fuck. Maybe Sarah is the better choice.
Insert sigh... No backing out now. Grace nods. “Essentially, yes.”
Carl leans back into his chair, his hands resting cozily in his armrests as he ponders.
“Human beings aren’t as complicated as they make themselves out to be. If you were to read their body language as opposed to their words, it would tell a lot; what they think of you, what they feel towards you, and how much they feel towards you. Letting them know how much they mean to you, or flirting, as people call it, might be of use.”
Grace perks up at that. “Oh, yeah! I read about that!”
Carl glances at her. “In porn magazine?”
“It’s not- Why does everybody keep saying that?!” Does she seriously look like the kind of gal who enjoys porn?! She’s a soldier, for Christ’s sake!
Carl doesn’t blink. “Sarah.”
Grace sighs and lets her head hang down. “Of course.”
Carl gives her advice reigned through his decades with his wife, Alicia. There are so many tips and warnings and little tricks that it confuses even Grace’s enhanced brain.
Apparently, girls will make cues that means they want your attention. These cues are subtle, and encrypted, and it’s up to you to figure out what these cues mean and how you’ll make your girl not feel ignored and abandoned.
Girls will also cue to when they need compliments. What to do when they ask for attention and compliments are two different beings entirely, and you should be very careful of separating them both. If you were to misread their cues, you will be in grave danger.
It’s absurd, and terrifying, and Grace has a hard time believing Dani is anything like this, but Carl is insistent.
“You can never treat your lady unjustly. They are precious, and they are a gem, and you should strive to be nonpareil for them.”
That, Grace can agree on.
After many hours of calculations, weighing Dani’s enjoyments and hobbies, the subtleties of attraction that are shown through the activities chosen, and overall what would make a good evening for them both, Grace comes up with an answer.
What’s the answer? Simple.
And not just any kind of movie.
“You want to see Titanic?” Dani has a smile to her face, but Grace detects a hint of confusion and awkwardness to it, as though she’s out of her element. “I thought you hated cheesy romantic movies.”
She does. “I heard it’s a very phenomenal movie, that it’s revolutionary to the history of human entertainment.
Grace wonders if that’s too mechanical and stiff of an answer, but when Dani rolls her eyes, grins, glides her fingers through Grace’s cheek, and utters a soft of course you do, Grace finds herself not minding. Not one bit.
Carl has insisted that mints, more than anything else, is the most paramount object to bring on a date. That, and money, because letting Dani pay for stuff is so ungentlemanly it hovers over the ‘douchey’ criteria.
So, as they leave for the evening, the first thing Grace checks is whether or not she has those mints, which, of course, draws Dani’s attention.
“What are you doing?” she asks, a chaff smile on her lips making Grace wonder if she knows about her feelings and her plans for the day.
Grace shrugs, mumbles a small nothing, nothing, and ushers Dani out of the house.
The chilly breeze is a welcome exchange from the lack of air and humidity from the future that is her past. Grace thrives in it, closing her eyes and exhaling a breath. She smiles up at the trees, and at the carefree people running about around them.
This is nice , she thinks.
Dani doesn’t feel the same way, hugging herself and shivering. Grace remembers Carl’s words about cues, and wonders if this is an instance of it. She peels off her jacket and lends it to Dani. Dani blinks up at her and thanks her. Grace waves it away, not forgetting to smile at her.
Social grace, Grace. Practise it.
They make it to the cinema and fight about who pays. Grace makes a mental note to go to the cinema beforehand and bribe the employees not to take any cash from Dani next time they do this. They end up splitting the bill for both the tickets and the food and drinks.
Grace buys herself the quintessential theatre snack; popcorn, while Dani opts for a more adventurous route, choosing french fries.
The movie is horrendous, and Grace cringes every second Rose and Jack interact on-screen. She tries to hide her cringe, though, not wanting to spoil Dani’s fun.
As the movie resumes, Dani’s arm finds Grace’s. It’s a slip-up. Dani only wants some of Grace’s popcorn, she explains hastily. But even after she’s gotten what she wishes to acquire, her hand refuses to leave Grace’s.
Grace overanalyzes about what this means.
As Rose and Jack start to see each other in a more sensual light, Dani starts to lean into Grace. At first, Grace thinks that Dani may find the movie so boring she’s beginning to fall asleep, but when Dani whispers a bewildered whoa as they profess their love for one another, Grace inquires something else may be at play.
On the screen, Jack is sacrificing himself to save Rose, even though after an intense calculation regarding the size of the thing keeping her afloat, Grace has deducted that they could have a chance at survival were they to share the space.
That’s when Dani inches closer, so much so that her breath tickles Grace’s neck. Grace carefully turns her head to look down at Dani, whose eyes sparkle.
“Y’know, I used to wonder what Jack’s appeal was,” Dani says. Her accent is palpable even to the untrained ear, and Grace muses what kind of ‘really’ Dani is feeling. “Why Rose loved him for saving her. Why everyone loves the hero who saves the distressed damsel.”
Grace shifts her gaze to stare unseeingly at the screen. The credits will soon roll. “People love to imagine themselves as the hero.”
Dani forces her to look back at her by cupping her cheek and— oh—
This is it. This is it.
Grace swallows. She needs those mints. Now.
She subtly pats her pants, trying to feel for those mints.
She doesn’t find them.
“Grace? What’s wrong?”
Grace doesn’t answer. She mumbles an excuse to go to the bathroom, and bolts the fuck out of there.
Outside the entrance door of the cinema, she rummages through the contact list of her phone, and curses when Carl doesn’t answer. She looks through it again, and finds that she has little social life, judging by the fact that her only contacts are Alicia, Mateo, Diego, and (ugh) Sarah.
Yeah, there’s no way she’s going to call Sarah, of all people. Absolutely no way in hell.
“The fuck do you want, kid?”
“Look, I need you to do something for me. It’s important.”
There’s a groan from the other end of the line. “I am so going to regret asking this, but what do you need?”
“I need you to pick up some mints and drive it to the cinema where I’m at. ASAP.”
“The closest store is two kilometers away, and I don’t have any means of transport other than by foot, and if I do that then Dani will notice. I have less than three minutes. You’re a fast driver. You can work with that time, I’m sure. You’ll need to take shortcuts, and I can send you the—”
“Holy shit, kid, what’ve you been smoking?”
Grace growls, and wishes Sarah is right in front of her so she could throttle her. “This is serious!”
“Right. Mints are serious business.”
“I need to make sure my evening with Dani is perfect! I can’t let anything ruin it!”
There’s silence. Then, heavy sighing. Then, a small kid, I— which leads to nowhere. Then, a smaller, more controlled sigh.
“You really love her, don’t you?”
“I do.” There’s no use denying it. Not after everything. “I really do. And I don’t think I’ll be able to handle it if I were to ruin it.”
More silence. More sighs. “Kid, cut the crap about this ruining everything shit.”
“If you really love her, then you wouldn’t have to rely on fucking mints for this ideal perfect date you want to achieve. And if she’s remotely interested in you, then she wouldn’t give a damn about your mouth odor.”
It’s Grace who bears the silence, this time.
How can she explain to Sarah that it’s not about the mints? How can she make her understand that it’s about what Dani deserves? And what Dani deserves is the best. And Grace can’t give her that without those mints.
Grace never replies to Sarah, because a finger pecks her shoulder. And spinning around, Grace finds that it’s Dani who owns that finger, grinning mischievously.
“Looking for something?”
Grace frowns, but her unasked question is answered when she sees what Dani is holding; a small bottle of mints.
Grace’s eyes widen, but more of her questions are answered when she takes a look at Dani, and realises that she’s wearing Grace’s jacket, where she’s put those mints in the first place.
“Oh.” Of course. Grace’s cheeks heat up, and she struggles to come up with an adequate excuse as to why she’s bringing that to their evening out.
Something tells her whatever excuse she’ll whip out won’t work. Something that relates with the way Dani inspects the bottle in her hand, and shakes it as she pockets her other hand. She looks good in leather, Grace realises. The jacket is oversized, but that only adds to the appeal.
“Y’know, Diego did this once,” Dani says, kicking at the air. “He had a crush on this girl in middle school. Must’ve been, like, fourteen. He wanted his first kiss to be special, so he swallowed a bunch of mints to make sure it’s absolutely perfect.”
Dani walks over to her, until their chests almost touch, and their noses almost touch, and their lips almost touch. Almost. Almost is never enough.
“He was so worried about how the kiss was going to go, it didn’t occur to him to think about whether the kiss was going to happen or not.”
Dani is so close. She isn’t close enough. Grace’s hands twitch, pleading to touch her, but fearing her touch will drive Dani away.
Her fears are terminated when Dani grabs her by her scalp and pulls her into a chaste, long kiss.
Everything comes naturally to Grace.
Sliding her hands into Dani’s thighs to keep her balanced is natural.
Pushing their lips close and their bodies closer are natural.
And smiling against Dani’s hum is the most natural of all.
Grace would like to hear Dani make more of that sound.
They break apart, and the real world comes back. Grace is happy to find that they’re in the more secluded parts of the place, so they won’t have to deal with shocked, irritated, or worse, joyful and suggestive glances from any of the movie patrons.
Grace rests her head against Dani’s. She smiles at the fact that Dani has to lean into her since she’s standing on her tippy toes. Confirmed: Short people are the cutest.
Grace then plants a kiss on Dani’s forehead, for no other reason than because she feels like it.
“Well, did it?” Grace asks against the black roots of Dani’s hair.
“Did it what?” Dani’s words tickle her collarbone.
“Did the kiss happen?”
Dani coaxes Grace to look back down on her by snaking her hands around her neck, and pulling. Grace looks down only for Dani to catch her off-guard by planting a kiss on Grace’s lips, airy and fun and sending all kinds of buzz on her stomach. “That’s so not the point.”
(They get an earful from Sarah about responsibility for coming home late that day, and another earful about PDA when she notices how dishevelled both of them are.)