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That Girl is a Goddamn Problem

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It's just a fucking cup of coffee.

I thought to myself for what had to be the millionth time since my shift had started. My grip tightened on the sharpie in my hand as I furiously scribbled inside the boxes as I half heard the mods being asked for. Mods, or modifications… otherwise known as the bane of my existence and every other barista's ever. Why the hell do people care so much about what goes into their ridiculously overpriced sludge water? It's not like these additions would do much, if anything, to improve the taste. Honestly, it was like the customers were just trying to make our lives a living hell.

"What'cha got there, Lizzie?"

Oh God. Not him. I barely had time to look up before the cup was lifted from my hand, the possibly intentional brush of his fingers against my skin causing me to jerk back and drop my pen.

"What do you think?"

I asked, raising an eyebrow once I noticed that the boy's grin hadn't even budged in the slightest. Blake had been working here for longer than I had, but it seemed like nothing could ruin his good mood. It irritated me, because how could anyone be that happy working forty hours a week dealing with shitty customers all day, every day? I had lost my patience for the job a long time ago, but he seemed to hold onto his good mood even now.

"Just read the cup yourself."

I said as I bent over to pick up the sharpie I had dropped. There was a lull in the never ending stampede of customers, giving us, the workers, some time to relax as soon as Blake finished dealing with that man whose order I had just taken.

It seemed as if that was too good to be true, though, because mere minutes after he had sent the customer on his way, the man was back, ranting and raving like a madman and leaning over the counter to get right in my space.

"Listen here, Elizabeth."

He snarled, and I instinctively looked right back into his hard gaze. His use of my given name (which was unfortunately printed on my nametag) caused my skin to prickle, and I knew instantly that I hated him more than any customer I'd had to deal with so far.

"I asked for caramel in this, not chocolate. You're lucky I'm not allergic, were you trying to kill me? Do you even know what kind of lawsuit I could bring against this establishment?"

I rolled my eyes and shrugged, feigning nonchalance.

"Maybe it's his fault. The kid with the blue hair made it, not me."

"Look right here!"

The man said, shoving his condensation covered cup right in my face. My eyes crossed as I tried to read what I had written, and unfortunately, he was right. Not like I cared, though. The muted giggles drifting over from Blake, who was still over on bar, definitely did not improve my mood at all.

"Get away from me, you gopher."

I snapped. I had had it. He was so close I could smell his foul breath and the stench that hovered around him, and I had already taken enough from him without him talking down to me like he would speak to a child. My hand came up and slapped the cup from his hand, sending it to the floor where the lid broke off and liquid splattered everywhere, including on his knockoff leather loafers. Folding my arms, I dared him silently to complain. We locked eyes, both angry and refusing to give in. Unfortunately, that's when he came over.

"What seems to be the problem here?"

He asked, looking between the two of us with such a wide unassuming smile I instantly wanted to smack it off. My manager, Kilik Rung, who was such a good person it made me sick. You'd think someone as nice as him would be a big fake, but the fact that his kindness was genuine actually made it worse. It drove me crazy. I didn't reply, intending to let him judge the situation on his own, but that was when our cleaning boy felt the need to chime in with his input.

"Blondie over there made a mistake and won't own up to it. Not cool, Lizzie."

I turned toward the guy standing there and scowled even as Blake howled with laughter behind us. Solon, that was his name, had probably come out of the back room just as the man had come up to me. He stood leaning against the doorframe now, a bucket in one hand and our one pathetic mop in the other.

"How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?"

I snapped, before turning back towards Kilik, who had shook his head as if I had deeply disappointed him (which I probably had). My manager began to placate the man, leading him away to a table, bringing him napkins and offering a free drink to replace the one that had been, in his words, lost. I knew it wouldn't be long before he'd have him under his thumb, and my predictions came true shortly as I caught a glimpse of a smile on the man's face. Blake whipped up a new drink, this one filled with so much caramel that it was practically diabetes in a cup, and then the man was finally leaving, loudly thanking Kilik and Blake and pointedly glaring at me as he went. I gave him the middle finger once he was out the door.

Solon was busy cleaning up the spilled mocha, but at least he had the decency to turn his head away as Kilik approached me. Blake, however, had no such understanding of politeness and hovered nearby, trying to catch every word.

"I'm not going to ask, because I can guess. But that's the third customer this week you've set off, and this can't continue. You know? It's bad for business, and you know that Deatar already has a close eye on you."

His stupid smile made my fists clench at my sides, and I exhaled slowly as I fought to keep my temper under control. I couldn't yell at the person who signed my paychecks, after all.

"Yeah."

I said finally, and continued even though I knew the words would come out sounding insincere.

"It won't happen again."

"Good."

He replied with satisfaction, disappearing back into his office. Being the manager, he had his own space in the back. Kilik worked the floor occasionally, but not often enough for him to really talk to any of us on more than rare occasions. Solon also went into the back, probably to empty the dirty water before going out to clean the cafe's floor. That meant only Blake and I were around when the little bell announced another customer's arrival. It was eleven o'clock, so it was still a little early for the lunchtime rush, but the girl who came through the door was clearly someone on break from work.

"Welcome to Deathbucks. What can I get you?"

I said flatly, not even bothering to pretend to be cheerful.

Before the girl even opened her mouth I turned to swat at Blake, who had come up behind me and was hovering with his hand on my shoulder. He looked back at me with a good natured grin and spread his hands.

"Let me take this one, Lizzie. You're due for a break, and honestly, it looks like you need one."

"Fine, but don't call me that."

I took off my apron and stuffed it onto the shelf under the counter. It was nice to get some time off, even if it was only because Blake liked the look of some girl's tits. I grabbed myself a cup of water as Blake took her order, his idiotic smile never faltering once. I moved out of the way as he made his way over to the bar, chatting with her all the while.

I took a seat behind him on a stool in the corner of the bar area and watched them disinterestedly. I wasn't really paying attention to their conversation, just waiting for Blake to screw up like he always did. This particular scene wasn't unusual; in fact, it happened at least once every shift I worked with him. He'd always offer me a break when pretty girls came in, and then- yes, there, he was doing it- he'd lean against the counter all casual like and try to chat them up. Normally the girls got weirded out, but it seemed like this one was either genuinely interested (unlikely) or more polite than average (more likely).

She was pretty, dressed in black business clothes with a string of pearls around her neck. Her skirt and jacket were absolutely, sickeningly, perfect, and I couldn't help but glance down at my own stained uniform in comparison. I could understand why Blake liked her on sight, even though I don't swing that way.

She was gone in a few minutes, and although I saw him make the universal gesture for call me as the door swung shut behind her, I knew that he hadn't gotten her number. The closest he had come was spewing his own in a long string of numbers without even taking a breath, and somehow he expected her to remember it?

The poor girl had had to excuse herself, saying her break was going to be over soon and she'd be late getting back as it was. One thing that did go in Blake's favor was that he had gotten a name out of her, and not only her first name. Tsu Nakatsukasa, or something long like that. Unfortunately for her, he'd probably look her up first thing when he got home and she'd regret giving away that much when he would begin to pester her online. It was just how Blake was; I'd seen it happen a million times already. He meant well, but it didn't mean it wasn't annoying and even borderline creepy. I would know, he'd tried it on me my first day.

"Lizzie, will you follow me out into the lobby?"

The cleaning boy, Solon, had come up behind me without my noticing while I was watching Blake. Solon had always weirded me out a little bit, but we had developed a mutual respect in my first week on the job… despite the fact that he refused to call me by my name.

"What for?"

I replied, crumpling the paper cup and tossing it in the trash bin as I stood up. He held out a rag and spray bottle as I pulled my apron back over my head, which I took with a slight sigh. Of course, it was time to bus tables, and of course, he wanted me to wipe them down for him on my break. But for all of my complaining, I secretly didn't mind much. It was better than dealing with customers, after all.

"Just c'mon."

I stayed just behind him, and watched as he began to take old dishes and cups from the tables and place them in the bin he carried. And once they were clear, I sprayed the tables and wiped them down. This was business as usual, a routine we had perfected over time. We could do it in our sleep, it was such an old habit. But what was new was the look Solon gave the girl sitting in the corner as he glanced at her every. three. seconds.

"Go talk to her."

I suggested as I leaned over to reach the far end of a table. Of course, I could have just walked around to the other side, but that seemed unnecessary because I could reach just fine, thank you.

"Huh?"

He replied oh-so intelligently, turning his head and blinking those freakish red eyes at me. I rolled my own eyes (they're hazel, if you must know) and gave him a little push in her direction. Luckily, he had just set down the bin of dishes for a moment, because when I did that, he went and staggered forward from the unexpected force. He had to catch himself on the edge of her table, almost knocking over a precariously stacked tower of books.

"Uh- hey?"

Solon tried, as I snickered from the table I was 'cleaning'. This was better than a sitcom after all; how could anyone come up with this genius?

"Hi."

The girl replied, as she looked up from the book she was reading. I caught her smile even from my distance, and instantly I felt jealous. Not like I had a thing for Solon (hell no, I didn't) but the way she looked at him… No one ever looked at me like that. No one I was interested in, anyway.

"I'm Maka. It's nice to meet you."

"Solon."

He stiffly extended his hand for a shake, and I couldn't help but actually laugh out loud. He was so awkward, it was pitiful. Had he never had a girlfriend, or something? I actually didn't know; I had never asked and he had never told.

"Are you a student?"

"Yeah. You?"

"Mmhm! I'm a Lit Major."

"Cool."

I listened to them chat for a few minutes, turning away to give them at least some privacy. When I spotted our manager coming out of the storeroom, I walked over to Solon and tapped him on the shoulder to warn him. He turned around with a minor look of irritation, but I just jerked my head in the general direction. He saw Kilik over my shoulder and nodded, before walking back over to his abandoned bin without even a word of goodbye to the poor girl. I glanced at her once more over my shoulder, shrugged slightly, and turned my back to head over to the counter.

"Elizabeth!"

Our esteemed manager called to me, and I walked over to him without complaint. I'd already gotten a warning today, so there was no use in playing with fire and risking another. I stood in front of him and waited for him to say whatever he was going to say. Could he have just spit it out and ended the discussion quickly? Probably, but of course he didn't. Kilik Rung wasn't that sort of man, after all. He loved to draw out our encounters, but I didn't think much of it- he was like that with everyone... or so I had thought.

"Crona called out. Their brother, Ragnarok, had another- ahem- episode."

"You want me to close, don't you?"

"Yeah."

At least he had the dignity to look sheepish. I had been at the shop almost all freaking day, and now he wanted me to stay late too? He held up a hand to halt my complaints before I even began them, and gave me a smile that again made me want to hit him.

"I'll stay too, and we'll close together. That way you can get out at a decent hour."

"Fine."

I returned to my usual position at the cash register, and continued mindlessly writing on cups, ringing up customers, and giving them change. I didn't smile once at anyone, which earned some disapproving looks, but I just didn't give a shit. I was tired, and not at all excited at the prospect of working with Mr. Rainbows-and-Sunshine. Although hours passed, it felt like almost no time at all had gone by before Blake was hanging up his apron and Solon was clocking out.

Kilik locked the front door and turned the sign to 'Closed' before heading over to where I was wiping down the bar.

"That looks good. You can stop."

I glanced at him briefly, polished one more smudge off the espresso machine, and then set my rag down.

"What do you want me to do? Stack chairs and pack up the display case? I don't usually close."

"That sounds good. I'll sweep and restock, and we can save taking out the garbage for last."

We worked in relative silence as he swept up the floor behind the bar and I put up the chairs out in the lobby. The only sounds were the gentle noise of clacking chairs and the mop brushing against the floor. We switched places once we had both finished our designated tasks, and I crouched down to pull the baked goods from the case. Two batches of muffins were slated to be thrown out, so when Kilik wasn't looking, I hid some in the bag I had brought with me that morning. It was good food, and I didn't want to waste it just in case I didn't have the money for proper meals that week.

We were done in under an hour, which I admit would have been impossible if I had been doing it alone. The only real complaint I had was that he changed the radio to a smooth jazz station, which I thought was nauseating but he seemed to enjoy. Jazz was one of the few genres I could not stand, so of course he had to pick it. To be fair, he didn't know that, but I also just wanted to go home; my patience was pretty low.

I emptied the trash cans by the condiment bar and the main door as he got all the others. Soon, he was shrugging on his jacket and I was grabbing my bag as we prepared to leave. Trash bags in hand, we left through the back door and threw everything in the dumpster which was thankfully still open (the button was so nasty that we just agreed to leave it as it was).

I turned to leave him with a quick, "See ya," when his voice stopped me with a stern, "Elizabeth."

"What?"

I asked, looking back at him. What more could he possibly want, I wondered, hadn't I gone above and beyond already?

"You're not seriously going to walk home, are you? You live pretty far out, almost on the other end of the city, right?"

I shrugged my shoulders slightly, hating his look of concern.

"I walk here and back every day. I'll be fine."

"Let me give you a ride. It's the least I can do since I kept you until after dark."

And that's how I ended sitting in the passenger seat of Kilik Rung's car as we sat without speaking, the radio blaring, again, a goddamn jazz tune. The only time we spoke was when he asked for directions and I answered with as few words as possible.

He pulled up in front of my apartment complex, a run down and rather dismal looking place. It was still home to me, though, and I couldn't afford any better even if I had wanted to move. For once, I was embarrassed of where I lived. Normally, I didn't care, but here was this upper middle class man, judging and even worse, pitying me.

"Don't say it."

I warned him before he even opened his mouth to say what I was sure he was thinking.

"Say what?"

He asked, turning in his seat to look at me.

"'You live here?' Because I am so tired of hearing that, okay?"

"I wasn't going to say that. I was just going to wish you a good night."

He replied with a wry smile and prolonged eye contact, and I couldn't help the involuntary shiver that ran through me.

"Are you cold? You can take my jacket for the walk inside, and give it back tomorrow."

"I'm fine."

I said shortly. I didn't want any of his things, because why the hell would I?

"Just take it. I insist."

Well, I was a little cold, and I really didn't want to argue with him at eleven o'clock on a Friday night, so I took the lined leather jacket from him when he held it out as an offer. I unbuckled my seatbelt and put my arms through the sleeves, shrugging it on as quickly and nonchalantly as possible. It smelled… good, I realized, like cologne and soap and something else.

"Thanks."

I told him, only half seriously. Why should I be any more grateful, I hadn't asked for it!

We sat in silence for a moment, before he spoke again, raising a hand to rub at one eye.

"Elizabeth."

"Yes?"

"Is everything… alright? I've been noticing some things, and I just wanted to let you know-"

I sat bolt upright and cut him off, infuriated.

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

I asked, indignant. I didn't even bother trying not to swear at him, I was that offended. At that moment, it didn't matter that he was my manager. What gave him the right to pry? And why did he care, anyway?

"Your boss?"

He responded, and rendered me speechless. What. The. Hell. Was Kilik Rung just sarcastic? I couldn't believe it; he had always seemed so mild and straightforward. I was so shocked, all I could manage was a short, "Bye," as I opened the car door and hopped out. I slammed it in his face and turned away, trying to forget the wry smile he was wearing as I ran to the door of the building.

I heard him drive away as I walked inside, but it was only then that I realized: I was wearing his jacket. Isn't that supposed to be a boyfriendthing? Did he really pity me that much? I was disgusted, but I still didn't take it off until I was ready to go to sleep…. which was still a few hours after he dropped me off. Hey, it was comfortable. What can I say?

I walked into the cafe maybe two minutes after my shift was supposed to start, but to be fair, I couldn't just hop in a car and get there with time to spare. I had to walk, and the fact that I was so close to being on time with the sidewalks as clogged with pedestrian traffic as they had been was a miracle in and of itself.

I immediately spotted Blake and Solon talking, the former behind the counter and the latter in front of it. They seemed to be up to something, their heads together as they whispered- and was that a giggle from Blake? They were like tween girls, I shit you not.

Heading over to them, I slipped behind the bar and grabbed an apron to wear for my shift.

"Morning boys."

I said flatly, and Blake pulled away to blink at me with owlish eyes as he gave me a little salute.

"Hey Lizzie."

Solon replied just as unemotionally. I rolled my eyes in acknowledgement, and instead of commenting on the sorry state of both of their hair (they looked like they had just rolled out of bed and came into work without bothering to fix anything about their appearances) I asked the question I was really wondering about.

"What're you so happy about?"

I asked, mostly directing the inquiry towards Blake since even though Solon seemed more amused than normal, he wasn't outright laughing.

"We're playing a game, and Solon just lost!"

Blake replied gleefully.

"Remember that bookworm he has the hots for? Well, that's an old friend of mine, so I dared him to get her number this morning. He took one look at her and bolted."

"Hey now-"

"So he has to give me his tips for the week!"

I looked at Solon with one raised eyebrow, since I doubted I'd get an actual response.

"So if you back out of a dare you give up your tips to the person who gave it to you?"

Well, this sounded interesting. I could do with some extra cash, and really, what's the worst that could happen? Before I could think better of it, I told Blake that I'd join the game.

"So, we have to think of one for Lizzie now! How about she has to lick the underside of each table."

"That's a healthcode violation. And also too easy."

"How about she has to lick my shoes?"

"Still too easy."

"How about the urinals in the men's room?"

"No, that's probably some kind of violation too. And frankly, that's just nasty. I wouldn't wish that upon my worst enemy- well, actually I would, but that's beside the point. And what's with you and licking?"

"Fine, you come up with one."

Solon paused to think about it, but it wasn't long before a mischievous smile occupied his usually blank face. It was startling to see an expression other than mild irritation on him, and for a moment I was genuinely scared. For a moment, I wondered if this was a bad idea. I wanted to brush off the irrational surge of fear, but before I could, the words sealing my fate spilled from his lips.

"You have to ask out the manager."

"...WHAT?"

Blake roared with laughter, slapping his leg as if Solon had said something absolutely hilarious.

"Seriously? THAT'S the best you could come up with?"

I asked, frustrated. Still, I couldn't afford to lose my tips; they were what allowed me to make rent. Inwardly, I was praying to God (even though I'm not religious) that Kilik would say no. The last thing I wanted was for him to take me seriously, and God forbid, actually take me out.

"Fine, where is he?"

"In the office."

Solon replied, jerking his head in the general direction.

"Good luck."

I stalked over to the door on the far end of the shop, head held high. I wasn't about to lose the bet, uh-uh, no way. I reached up to knock, but just as I did so, the door swung open to reveal Kilik himself.

"Oh, uh, hey."

I said, looking anywhere but at his face. I glanced from my shoes, to my hands in front of me, to the wall on my left, and back again as I stood there awkwardly. I didn't know how to 'pop the question' without making a complete fool of myself, and it was harder than I thought to sacrifice my pride for the sake of a couple extra bucks.

"Good morning, Elizabeth. I was actually about to come looking for you, there's something I wanted to ask you."

"Yeah?"

I replied, shaking my head to toss my hair over my shoulder.

"Would you like to go out tonight?"

"What?"

I interjected before I could even think of stopping myself. What the hell, was this some sort of weird dream? I thought there was no way my manager had actually just asked me out. It was a reflex to want to say 'No' immediately, but I couldn't have even if I wanted to. Because before I could even open my mouth he was already speaking again.

"I thought I was pretty clear the first time, but would you. like to go on a date. with me?"

Kilik said with a shrug of his shoulders. I wanted to hit him (as usual), but this time the expression I wanted him to drop was even more awful than the one he normally wore. That wry smile of his… ugh. It was downright infuriating.

"Yes."

I mumbled, head down. Well, I guess I had gotten out of asking him myself (Blake and Solon didn't need to know who initiated this date). I rubbed the back of my neck with my right hand, awkwardly staring at the floor as I waited for his response.

"I'll pick you up at seven, then. Bring my jacket, would you please? I'm off today, just came in to get my paycheck, so I'll see you tonight."

With that, he pushed past me and walked out the door without looking back. I stood there for another few seconds, dumbfounded, before making my way back over to Blake and Solon.

"So?"

Solon asked, leaning back against the counter as he spoke.

"I got a date."

I said as calmly as I could, which for your information, was not very calm at all. My thoughts were racing a mile a minute, and my heart was pounding almost as fast. I tried to breathe normally as Blake stared in disbelief.

"No way!"

Blake exclaimed.

"I never thought he'd actually take you out."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

I demanded, instantly adding 'furious' on top of my pile of emotions which included both confused and surprised. Thinking back on it, I hadn't felt that intensely about any one thing in a really long time.

"You just don't seem like the kinda girl Kilik would go for."

Blake tried to defend himself, all the while sporting a crooked grin.

"Shut your trap."

I finally snapped back, effectively ending the conversation- or so I thought. Because that was when Solon decided he had to add his oh-so-intelligent input.

"Go easy on him, Lizzie, won't you? Not Blake, he's an idiot who deserves what he gets. I mean Kilik."

As Blake yelped and protested with a look of absolute betrayal on his face, I stood there frozen and blinking as I tried to process what Solon had just told me. Was he warning me? Advising me? I had no idea, but I was honestly so sick of the conversation by then that I wasn't willing to ask for him to repeat himself.

"Yeah, yeah. Don't you have some tables to clean?"

I asked, heading behind the counter. Not that I was eager to get to work, but I just wanted to move on and put this ridiculousness behind me.

This, however, proved impossible because all I could think of was my goddamn manager. The way he smiled, the way he said my name with the stress on the second syllable, and the way his eyes had softened when he looked at me awkwardly in the car the night before. A sudden thought struck me- if he had wanted to make a move, that would have been the perfect time. I wondered if he would have kissed me if I hadn't stormed away, and then I wondered if I would have wanted him to kiss me. I had to cut that train of thought short though, because I could legitimately feel my face turning tomato red.

The day actually seemed to fly by, which was both good and bad. It was a relief to not have to deal with customers anymore, and anyway, I wasn't scheduled to close so I was able to get out at a decent time. But on the other hand… I had a date that night. A real one, for once. It was the first real one in a really long time. I suspected strongly that Kilik would be different than many of the other men I had been out with, and the idea made me vaguely uncomfortable. How was I supposed to dress? To act? I had no clue, and that set my nerves on edge.

Back home, I stood in front of the mirror in my too small, too dark bathroom and looked myself over after I had changed out of my work clothes and into something more presentable. I yanked a brush through my hair, started my makeup, and then the buzzer to the apartment rang. I glanced at my reflection and gave in, realizing that what was already on would have to be good enough.

I went to the door and placed a hand on the knob. It took a good twenty seconds of hesitation before I actually turned it, but once I did and pulled the door open, I was so tempted to slam it shut.

On my doorstep, looking infuriatingly good in a button down and a clean pair of jeans, was my manager with an unbelievably serene smile. He looked so calm, like he did this kind of thing every week and had absolutely nothing to be nervous about. Now that I thought about it, though, it was entirely possible that he did. It's not like I knew (or cared) what my manager did in his free time. Maybe this date was just one more in a long line of dates for him.

"Elizabeth."

He said plainly, as I stood just inside the doorway absolutely incredulous because I had just noticed that not only was he actually here, he had brought flowers. Who the hell brings flowers to a date anymore? And what was I going to do with them? It's not like I owned a collection of vases for this specific purpose. In fact, I didn't even think I had one vase, let alone a collection.

"Kilik,"

Came my automatic response in a voice so dry, I thought I could have passed for genuinely bored. Unfortunately, it seemed I was wrong again- I knew the moment that his lips quirked up in an effort not to laugh.

I looked down at the bouquet with a fascination that embarrassed me. I'd grown up a city girl; what would I know about flowers? They were yellow, and orange, and red- fall colors. I supposed that was appropriate, since it was November after all.

"Is that for me?"

I asked, cringing internally at the sound of my own voice. I sounded weak, the one thing I had promised myself I would never become. No, this wouldn't do, and I tried to cover my mistake with an expression I supposed could pass for haughty.

"Of course it is."

He replied easily, so easily I wanted to punch him in the goddamn face, but instead I took the flowers that he held out to me and brought them up to my face to smell. They had such a nice scent that I barely managed to hide my smile in the bouquet before he could see. I was actually kind of touched, not that I'd ever admit it though.

"I'll just put these inside?"

I shut the door with a 'Click!' and went to the kitchen. As I mentioned before, I didn't exactly have anything to put them in, so this led to a frantic search through the cabinets and recycling. Eventually I found a bottle that had probably held some sort of liquor with a mouth that looked wide enough to get the stems in. I filled it with water, shoved the flowers inside, slammed it on the counter, and rushed to the door where my date had been waiting for probably somewhere on the upwards of ten minutes. Maybe I shouldn't have kept him waiting? The flowers were bound to wilt eventually, so had there been any point in attempting to prolong their life?

I opened it just slightly out of breath, and dared him to comment with a sharp glare.

"Ready?"

He said, and I only responded to that with a nod. Side by side we walked out of the building and to his car, Kilik stopping at the passenger side to open the door for me. I didn't say anything, just climbed inside silently and settled into the comfortable leather seat.

I could feel my heart pounding, and for a second I wondered if he could hear it too. Of course, that was a ridiculous thought, so I pushed it out of my head as quickly as it had come. I didn't know why I was so nervous, why I had even bothered to go out with him in the first place… Oh, wait. Those two idiots, Blake and Solon, had to give me their tips. That almost made it worth it, I guessed. At least I would make money off of this.

Silence filled the car for the first five minutes, but then of course Kilik had to turn on the radio. At least it wasn't jazz this time, since he had apparently switched to a classic rock station, and I actually didn't mind. A song from a band I recognized played through the speakers at a tolerable volume, and I allowed myself to relax somewhat. At least he wasn't trying to talk to me, though I shuddered to think about what dinner or whatever he planned would be like.

I fell into a stupor as we continued to drive, allowing the music to wash over me. I stopped paying attention to my surroundings and just let myself concentrate on the music. Finally he pulled into a parking spot, and I took the time to comprehend where we were. It was one of those places with mini golf and go karts and crap like that with a restaurant and bar attached. I looked at him incredulously, only to find him smiling and clearly suppressing laughter.

Rolling my eyes, I pushed open the car door and hopped out, welcoming the chill evening air. It was a nice change after sitting in the car for over a half an hour, and I stretched my arms over my head to crack my back.

"After you."

He said, gesturing towards the main building. I took that as an invitation to start walking, not even checking to see if he was keeping up. To his credit, he easily kept up with my brisk pace, even overtaking me slightly before slowing to let me take the lead again. Kilik opened the door for me and I stepped inside, blinking as my eyes adjusted to the warm light.

It was a nice little place, mainly teenagers and people around our age since it was already almost eight o'clock and the families had already gone home. It was still busy though, and there was a wait for the counter where you could choose your 'activity' for the evening. At a loss for what else to do, I got on the line.

When I finally reached the front, the man behind the counter smiled at me and then at Kilik, who had come up on my left. The board above his head had prices listed for the different things to do, and I glanced to my side at Kilik. Was he seriously going to make me choose?

Taking pity on me, he suggested we try out the mini golf since he'd never gotten to do the course. Not wanting to argue, I agreed.

I hesitated when we were told the cost. That was kind of… pricy, or so I thought. Still, I went to reach into my pocket for my wallet, but before I had the chance, Kilik was sliding his card over the counter and telling me that he would get it. I didn't want to make a scene so I didn't bother arguing, just picked a blue golf ball from the rack and rolled it around in my hand. Part of me wanted to protest and insist I could pay for it myself, but part of me was touched that he was offering. He reached around me and selected an orange one, holding out a club to me with his other hand. I took it, and headed for the door to the course, Kilik close behind.

I stopped by the sign for the first hole, and hesitated. I'd never played mini golf before, but how hard could it possibly be? I put my ball down on the little stick thing, gripped the club in my hands and took a swing… only for the ball to shoot through the air and land right in the water next to the green with a plop. I was embarrassed, and Kilik's quiet chuckling didn't help either.

I whirled on him, face burning, but he just offered me a crooked smile and put his own ball down on the tee or whatever it was called. He lined up the club with the ball, and carefully tapped it. And then, of course, the ball rolled across the artificial grass and neatly dropped into the hole.

"You've done this before!"

I accused, nearly stamping my foot in frustration and just barely catching myself in time. He shrugged as if to say 'What can you do?' and looked at me as if he were trying not to grin.

"I'm going to get a new ball."

I grumbled, turning and stomping my way back to the building. I picked up the first one I saw on the rack, a sickeningly bubble gum pink ball that was probably for little kids, and headed right back out to the course. Like hell was I going to let him show me up!

He was waiting for me patiently, his hands shoved in his pockets and his club on the ground laid next to mine. I put the new ball on the stand and went to take another whack at it, but he stopped me with a gentle hand on my arm. I resisted the urge to jerk away, and instead stared at him stonily.

"Be gentle with it."

Kilik suggested, moving to stand behind me. He gently pried my fingers open from where they were clenched around the club, and carefully molded my hands into the correct grip. I felt my heart beat faster as I became acutely aware of his chest against my back, and his breath on the back of my neck. I wanted to throw him off, to jump away, but something kept me rooted to the spot. He wrapped his larger hands around mine, and helped me draw back my club and hit the ball. It missed the hole by a few inches, but it was a hell of a lot closer than I had been the first time.

"Uh, thanks?"

I said uncertainly, breaking away to go over to where the ball was resting.

"Like this?"

I asked, showing him my hands on the club. He nodded, smiling slightly. Kilik looked almost proud, and I turned my head away so he couldn't see my blush even though the lights along the side of the course probably weren't bright enough that he would have noticed anyway.

"Now line it up with the ball and give it a little tap."

He suggested. I did as he said, and sure enough, it fell into the hole with a clunk. I couldn't help but smile myself, and this time I waited for him to collect his ball and club before moving onto the next hole.

We both seemed to loosen up a little bit after that, laughing and even joking to each other as we made our way through the course. I learned a little bit more about him as we went: he was twenty one, had gone to college for business at Death City University, and was currently taking care of a pair of twins affectionately nicknamed Thunder and Fire for their dispositions. I had seen the two kids around the store before, but had never really thought to ask about them. He didn't mention how he had come across them (whether they were family or something else) and I didn't even bother prying. If he had wanted me to know at the time, he would have just told me.

In return, I told him that I was nineteen (almost twenty), had a younger sister, and lived alone. That was pretty much it. I felt a little bad that I didn't open up any more, but at the same time, none of the rest was his business anyway. He seemed satisfied with that much and let it go, which I was grateful for; I didn't need anyone prying into my business.

By the time we finished the eighteenth hole, I was shivering and so was he. Kilik suggested we head back inside and grab a drink, which I agreed to immediately. We gave our equipment back to the man at the counter and headed over the the bar. I took a seat on one of the stools and he settled down next to me. It wasn't long before the bartender came over to us, her eyes taking us in somewhat suspiciously.

"Can I see your ID's?"

She asked in a voice so nasally I wanted to cover my ears. Kilik fumbled for his wallet and produced his driver's license, which I got a look at before he tucked it away again. It had a picture of a slightly younger Kilik, wearing what could quite possibly be the shirt he had on tonight. It was a good picture, I had to admit. So unfair - most driver's licenses were terrible by default!

The woman looked to me next, and I reached into my pocket. Obviously I had a fake ID, made for me by one of the friends I had back in Brooklyn. It wasn't the best picture since it had been taken years ago, but it was good enough to pass her inspection.

Kilik gave me a sideways glance but didn't comment, for which I was grateful to him. If he had ratted me out, I probably would have gotten up and walked home to drink in peace, date over.

He ordered a malt beer, which I supposed seemed appropriate. He did strike me as that kind of guy, after all. But what I didn't expect was his splutter of incredulity when I ordered my usual:

"Whiskey, neat."

He gave a low whistle under his breath and muttered something that might have been damn, but I couldn't be sure. Regardless, he looked impressed, and I couldn't help but revel in it.

Our drinks were made and brought to us in no time at all, and I immediately reached for my glass. He reached for his as well, and our hands brushed on the way, causing me look away and snatch my hand back. He chuckled and passed me my drink before taking his own, pulling out his wallet to pay for both of them. I waited until the bartender had moved on to help another couple further down before turning to him.

"Cheers."

I said, raising my glass in his direction before taking a sip. It was good; not the best I'd had but not the worse, either. The alcohol burned a comfortable path to my stomach and I couldn't help the smile that crossed my lips.

We sat in silence enjoying our drinks, and I noticed with a start how comfortable we had become with each other in such a short amount of time. The air between us wasn't so stale and awkward anymore, and I found myself relaxing and allowing myself to enjoy my time with him.

Kilik placed his empty glass on the table, swallowed his last sip of beer, and turned to me as I finished up my drink.

"Do you want to do something else here?"

He asked, and when I looked at him questioningly, he clarified.

"Well, there's go karts, and an arcade. I'm happy to do something else if you want to."

I stood up from my stool and gave a small shrug. I didn't really care, but as we had come all this way, I felt we might as well take advantage of the place.

"I've never driven a go kart before."

"It's not that hard. You'll get the hang of it."

And that was how it was decided, apparently. We were going to go out in the freezing cold again, just to drive around a track a few times. It seemed somewhat pointless, but hey, he was paying, so who was I to say no?

He got us bracelets from the guy at the counter that would let us go as many times as we wanted, and handed me one as we headed outside. The engines of the karts were rumbling loudly and the air stank of gasoline, but at least the line wasn't long. We only had to wait for about five minutes before we were led to our own vehicles.

I clicked my seatbelt into place, and waited for the light above the starting line to turn green. As soon as it did, I put my foot down on the accelerator… and immediately drove right into the side of the track. Kilik, who had started in the lane to my right, burst out laughing as he sped past me.

"Oh, hell no."

I called out, pushing down on the gas more slowly and maneuvering away from the wall. I was back on track and determined not to let Kilik beat me at this. I came up behind him as he was rounding a curve, and nudged the back of his kart with the front of mine. He glanced over his shoulder and grinned when he saw me, and I couldn't help but return it. It turned out that driving a go kart was exhilarating; even better than driving an actual car, since there were too many rules involved in the real world. Out here, with the wind whipping through my hair and the lights around the track illuminating the whole thing, I felt free.

I tried to get around him, but he bumped me hard enough with the side of his kart that I went off to the side again. He was laughing and so was I, even as I struggled to get back on course. Obviously he beat me, but I came pretty damn close. We pulled back into our respective lanes, out of breath from adrenaline and laughter.

"Can we go again?"

I blurted out. The attendant looked at us, then the nonexistent line, and shrugged.

"Just get out of those and pick one of the karts at the front first."

We ended up going two more times, Kilik beating me in the first race but not the second. The entire time I was shrieking with laughter, my hair whipping around my face and constantly getting in my eyes. Kilik was laughing too, and I realized with a start that I really did like the sound of it.

When we finally left the go karts behind and headed back to the car, I was actually kind of disappointed that we had to go. But it was already approaching eleven, and the place was closing down, so it wasn't like we had a choice.

Kilik started up the car, and I was grateful once the heater came on. My hands were practically frozen, but I didn't even mind that much. It was worth it, considering how much fun we had had.

We actually talked on the way back, and Kilik didn't even bother turning on the radio since the car was already filled with the sound of our voices. He was telling some story from high school about a time he and his friends had broken into a country club and gone swimming, and he had me laughing at the image of a teenage Kilik running from police in just his swim trunks.

The ride seemed to go faster this time, and before I knew it, he had pulled up in front of my apartment building. A heavy silence fell over us once he shut off the engine, as we both hesitated.

"Thank you."

I said, surprising both myself and Kilik. I hadn't known what I was going to stay until I did, but I didn't regret acting on impulse for once. I had actually had a really good time, and figured that that was the right thing to say.

"You're welcome."

He replied, and when I turned my head to look at him, he was smiling. Our eyes met, and I swear I felt sparks fly between us as we just took a moment to really look at each other. When he leaned in to kiss me, I was already moving to meet him halfway.

His lips were soft, not chapped like I had expected, and my senses were flooded with the scent of his cologne, which was potent but not too overwhelming. He had a hand cupping my cheek and I leaned into his touch involuntarily, wanting him even closer.

He pulled away a few short seconds later, drawing an indignant noise of complaint from me that immediately made me flush because where had that sound come from? But it seemed to get my point across, because he pecked me on the cheek almost like an apology.

"I should really get going."

Kilik said, though he looked just as unwilling to leave as I was.

"Why don't you stay?"

I asked, before I could change my mind. His eyebrows shot up so fast it was almost comical, but he nodded slowly. Kilik pushed open his door before walking around to open mine. He offered a hand to help me out and I took it, mainly because I was craving more of his touch since I was more than capable of getting out of a car. We walked inside together hand in hand, and up to my apartment.

We barely made it inside the doorway before we were kissing again, my back against the wall and his arms around my waist. He was a good at it too, his lips applying just the right amount of pressure to mine. I honestly didn't think I'd ever had a kiss that literally made me go weak at the knees, so I supposed it was a good thing he was holding me so tightly against him- I was at a severe risk of sinking to the ground right then and there.

"You never gave my jacket back."

He mumbled against my skin, pressing a gentle kiss to my shoulder that made me shudder. I laughed a little though, I couldn't help it. Here we were, about to hook up, and here he was, being ridiculous as always.

"Shut up and kiss me, Rung. No slacking off."

I said playfully in reply. It was almost embarrassing how breathily my voice came out, but it was worth it when his eyes met mine with such intensity that I could actually feel my heart beat even faster.

"Are you my boss now?"

Kilik inquired, his voice rumbling deep in his chest as he slid a hand around the back of my neck, tangling his fingers in my hair. He leaned in to kiss me again, but paused when I placed my palm flat on his chest in the universal gesture for stop.

"I always was, you just didn't know it."

I joked, grinning triumphantly when he chuckled. I broke away from his embrace and retreated a few steps toward my bedroom, before turning back to where he stood, hands shoved in his pockets. I don't know why he tried so hard to look so cool, since it wasn't like I was about to change my mind. I beckoned him with a crook of my index finger, and then turned tail and fled.

I heard him laugh, and then his heavy footsteps as he ran after me. I squealed when he caught up to me, grabbing me around the waist. I deliberately went limp in his arms, dragging us both to the floor laughing, and we both rolled onto our backs in the narrow hallway shuddering with mirth. Eventually we both quieted, and I turned my head to look at him. As soon as our eyes met, we were both cracking up again. We weren't drunk, and nothing was particularly funny except maybe how surreal it was that we were together. Now that I think about it, maybe we were drunk on each other. Ugh, that sounds so cheesy, but it's true and there's no other explanation for why we were laughing like lunatics on my (filthy) floor at midnight on a Sunday.

Once he'd gotten himself under control, he looked at me with an expression so serious that it immediately halted the giggles that had continued to spill from me until that moment.

"What?"

I asked as I pushed up on my elbows, a bit self conscious now. Had I done something wrong? Was there something else he had to tell me? My questions were answered when he sat up too, one warm, calloused hand reaching out to tuck my hair behind my ear and leaned over to whisper in my ear.

"You're beautiful."

Kilik told me, and when I stiffened and my eyes widened, he drew back looking a bit sheepish.

"It's okay if you don't say anything back. I just wanted to tell you."

I responded by lunging forward and kissing him forcefully, with so much pressure I was afraid my lips would bruise. No one but my sister had ever thought I was beautiful before, and since she was my sister, it didn't count. And if I was being honest, she was definitely going to be much prettier with me when she grew up. Men had always found me attractive, sure, but I was only a means to an end for them, a way for some sleaze to get some pent up tension out. Even my last boyfriend (if you could even call him that) had never complimented me so sincerely. But I could tell that he really meant it now, since sincerity practically oozed from every pore in his body, and always had. No, Kilik Rung thought I was beautiful, and therefore I was.

I felt him chuckle a bit before returning the kiss with just as much passion. We broke apart after only a few moments, too impatient to wait any longer for the good stuff. We stood and I pushed open the door to my bedroom, letting him inside. I honestly hadn't anticipated him coming home with me, thinking that the date would be sufficiently awkward to keep either of us from wanting to be together afterwards. Obviously I had been wrong, and now I was kicking myself for not cleaning up just in case.

"Sorry."

I muttered, piling the clothes and random crap that had accumulated on my bed into my arms and setting them down in a corner of the room where hopefully nothing would be stepped on. When I straightened up, Kilik was watching me, his eyes so warm that any worries about the state of my bedroom melted away instantly.

I sat on the edge of the bed, and he moved to perch next to me. He leaned in first, but I met him halfway again, closing my eyes to meet him in the dark. My hands wandered to his chest and I began fumbling with the buttons there. My fingers were actually shaking a bit, from nerves or maybe excitement, so he gently pulled away so he could undo them himself.

I watched his deft fingers work over the fasteners, and reveled in the way his eyes dropped from mine almost shyly as his bare shoulders were revealed. Once the shirt was unbuttoned, I reached to slide it from his arms and then threw it onto the floor somewhere as I leaned in to reclaim his lips.

"You're beautiful, too."

I whispered between kisses, but he immediately pulled back with an affronted expression.

"Excuse me?"

He asked, with a look so incredulous I actually started to wonder if I'd done something wrong.

"The word beautiful is reserved for fair maidens such as yourself, Miss Thompson. For brave knights like me, the proper term is handsome."

I was stunned into silence, but not for long, because then I was laughing again so hard that I doubled up.

"Oh my God."

I gasped out.

"You may look handsome, but you're really just a dork."

"The two aren't mutually exclusive, you know."

He grinned at me, and I whipped off my shirt JUST so I could throw it in his face. As he pulled it off of him and tossed it on the floor, he began to laugh too, and we both fell back on the bed on our backs, just like before in the hallway. The sounds of our chuckles echoed slightly in my darkened bedroom, and it was the first time in a long time that that had happened.

"Only for you, Lizzie."

Kilik said, turning his head to look at me, a smile still playing over his lips and causing the corners of his eyes to crinkle up adorably.

"Only for you."