Pavement met fog met sky in a haze of January grey that made Lissa feel vibrant. Her coat was a deep, forest-y green, but it was positively neon compared to the gloom that had settled over the city. She shifted the grocery bag on her hip, paper, not plastic, and picked up her pace. Passing black coat after black coat, Lissa felt confident in her wardrobe choice, and in her life choices in general. She had just bought hummus. On purpose. She had even considered kale, but figured her coat took care of her daily green requirement.
Lissa was halfway home, cutting through Maude Park, or Maudlin Park, as she dubbed it after one too many encounters with certain inebriated gentle-bums, when her vision darkened and her stomach lurched as she was filled with someone else’s fear.
Not fear. Excitement. Please, God, not that kind of excitement, she prayed. The shadows cleared, and she made her way to a nearby bench. She sat on the freezing metal and cradled the groceries just as she was plunged into darkness and the return of the excitement, maybe tinged with nerves.
The black gave way to the interior of a coffee house. Lissa watched through someone else’s eyes as they scanned the coffee house for someone else. The interior was cute. Light and airy, with those little Pinterest-y Christmas lights strung all around. Lissa wondered whose nerves she was Zoning into. It kind of seemed like a date, so unless Margaret was stepping out on Thad, that left Roger and Chris. Although last time Lissa was Zoned into Pete, he and Becky were fighting a lot, so it could be Pete.
Poor Pete. Becky had been with Pete longer than Lissa had. Becky had seen him through the car crash. Lissa liked Becky, though sometimes she agreed with Pete that Becky could chill. Pete loved Becky, though. Lissa hoped she wasn’t Zoned into Pete, unless this wasn’t a date. Then it’d be fun if it was Pete.
Nervous Person checked their watch, Lissa along with them, and Lissa took note of the man’s hand in the field of vision. Definitely not Margaret. Good for Thad. Either Roger or Chris, then. Or Poor Pete.
Lissa’s vision, her real vision, returned and the park came into focus. That was short. Lissa pulled back the top of her mitten then curled it back around, leaving only her pointer finger exposed to the elements as she played on her phone. She waited, making sure she was done Zoning in, vowing to Google smart phone gloves as soon as she found quality WIFI.
The park faded and the nerves and coffee place reappeared through Nervous Guy’s eyes just as a beautiful blonde lady was walking up. Way to go, Nervous Guy.
“Sorry I’m late,” the blonde said, smiling and taking a seat. “Did you order your coffee?”
“No problem, Carrie. I don’t mind waiting for you,” Nervous Guy said, and though Lissa couldn’t quite recognize the voice, she thought he was pretty smooth. Maybe Chris smooth. “What do you want? My treat.”
Carrie smiled. “Can I get a vanilla latte? The bigger, the better.”
Amen, sister, Lissa thought.
Nervous Guy stood up, and promptly looked down Carrie’s shirt. With a small twitch of her gag reflex, Lissa recognized the Zoner. Roger.
“Be right back,” Roger said, moving toward the coffee bar, which slowly faded from Lissa’s view as Roger’s nerves dissipated.
Lissa sighed, her own view of the park returning again. She looked around her, making sure nothing was out of the ordinary. No gentle-bums were rooting through her groceries, her phone was still in her hand. Another Zone into a Roger date. Gross. She hoped Carrie saw through Roger’s crap soon enough. Lissa felt a small, teeny pang of guilt. Roger was lonely, too. Maybe Carrie was The One. Weddings made everyone nervous, so Lissa could totally Zone into the wedding.
Lissa put her cell back in her pocket and fixed her mitten. She was scooping up her groceries when her sight plummeted, fast, into a jarring, shaking view of trees. Was this Zoner running? Exercising? Who the heck was exercising? Pete couldn’t really run after the crash, not like this. Margaret wasn’t likely, but maybe it was a New Year’s Resolution? Roger was busy, as she regrettably knew. Maybe Chris. Hard, scream-y, metallic music blared in Running Person’s ears. Lissa preferred to work out to Queen Bey. Something felt weird with this Zone. With Lissa’s own fear creeping in, the Zone started to clear, her park bench landscape coming back into focus, but the Zone fought to hold on. Lissa took a deep breath to calm herself, and surrendered to Running Person’s point of view.
This was not normal running. This was about getting rid of an emotion. The way Lissa liked to eat her emotions away, preferably with chocolate or some cheddar popcorn. This was intense. Sadness, maybe? Who was it?
Running Person took a quick cut through some trees and burst onto a path that Lissa recognized as Maude Park. And in front of Running Person, on a bench, sat a girl in a green coat, holding groceries.
Lissa’s own fear jolted her back into her own reality, and she locked eyes with a sweaty, bull of a man barreling toward her. Grey shadows danced in her peripheral vision, and an image of her own shocked face flashed in front of her as she was looking at the guy. Running Person. A Zoner. A new Zoner. He kept looking at her, slowing his pace and coming to a stop in front of her.
He panted, she stared. He stared, she realized her mouth was open, and closed it.
“Do I… Do I know you?” he asked, still panting.
“I don’t know, do you?”
“That’s vexing,” he said, wiping his eyes with his sweatband. It was kind of gross. But he was kind of cute.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be vexing,” she said, smiling. He didn’t smile back. Grump.
“You just seem familiar, somehow.”
Lissa saw a clean white bandage wrapped down his forearm. “Were you recently at a hospital, perhaps?”
He looked at her, searching her face for some clue. “Do you work there?”
“Heavens, no.” She smiled again, trying to lighten the mood, but he didn’t take the bait.
“A patient? A volunteer?”
“Not exactly, no.”
He ran his hand over his face, frustrated. “A visitor?”
“Something like that,” Lissa said, unsure of how to dig herself out of this one. She had never met a Zoner before.
“Something like that,” he repeated. “What are you, one of those T.V. car crash lawyers that chases ambulances?”
“No, but I wish. I’d totally have given you my card.”
“I wasn’t in a car crash.”
“No, but maybe one day.”
A small smile flashed at the corner of Running Guy’s mouth. “Always the opportunist, huh?”
“Silver lining-ist, actually.” She smiled back, glad she had finally broken a bit of the tension.
The conversation lulled, and he stared at her some more.
“Please, tell me how I know you.”
“I honestly don’t think you do.”
“But the hospital?”
“You have the bandage on your arm,” she said, becoming increasingly panicked. There was no way she could explain Zoning in. Especially not to a Zoner. Plus, she didn’t even know this guy. He was probably a murderer.
“What’s your name?”
“Lissa. Okay, I know this is weird, but I swear I know you somehow. And it’s going to drive me crazy. Do you want to maybe go grab coffee and talk?”
Lissa’s heart lurched. Was he asking her out? It was weird. But also kind of not weird. If you didn’t count the whole Zoner thing. Calm down, she chastised herself. He probably wasn’t asking her out. Don’t be so freaking desperate.
She smiled and shrugged her shoulder. “Sorry, but I have all these groceries.”
“Oh, right. Sorry, I didn’t notice them.”
“I just kind of enjoyed the scenery for a while, but I have to get home.”
“Well I’m sweaty anyway.”
“And all these bums come to the park after dark. And I didn’t mean to rhyme.”
The Running Guy just looked at her, and Lissa felt some heat creep into her cheeks. Wow, was she actually blushing?
“Well,” he finally said. “I really should finish my run.” He moved to put one of his ear buds back in.
“I could give you my number, though. If you want.”
His face lit up with a huge smile, and something tickled the inside of Lissa’s stomach.
“Totally. Give it over.”
He frowned. “I don’t have my phone. Do you have a pen?”
“No. But here, just text yourself from my phone, and then we’ll have each other’s numbers.”
“Stop saying really.” She handed him her phone, and he typed a quick message, then handed it back to her.
“Hey?” she read, wrinkling her nose.
“What were you expecting, a sonnet?”
“Maybe a haiku. And what should I save your number as? ‘Running Guy?’”
“Sorry,” he said with a small laugh that echoed in the flutters in Lissa’s stomach.
“This is not going well. I’m Daniel. Dan, if you’d rather.”
Lissa typed his name into her phone and saved the contact. “Well, Dan Rather, I have hummus to get home, so if you’d excuse me,” she said, standing up.
“Nice to see you again, Lissa.”
He smiled a little and Lissa found herself smiling back and kicking herself for not going to get coffee with him.
“I’ll text you later,” he said,
“Hey, can you do me a favor?” she asked, glancing toward her apartment building.
“Could you meditate or think happy thoughts or something for approximately ten minutes?”
“Uh… I can try.”
“Thanks, Dan! There is no try, only do. Be your own Zen master.”
Lissa started walking away, her cheeks still feeling flushed. Hopefully he would give her enough time to get home before his heart started pounding again.
He jogged up beside her and gave her a little wave before putting on a burst of speed and leaving her behind.
“Oprah says live your best life!” she called after him, hoping he didn’t hear her.
Lissa rushed home, a little peeved that now she was having to exercise to get home before she Zoned back into Dan. Or Roger, if his date went well. Shuddering at the thought, she unlocked the door to her apartment, and threw her hummus and other perishables in the fridge. She grabbed her cheddar popcorn and settled on the couch with some trashy but amazing reality TV, waiting for another Zone. None came, but about two hours later, her phone buzzed with a message:
Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don’t make sense
Lissa walked to Dan’s table, a two-top in the window of a busy Starbucks.
“Hey, Dan,” she said, just as the Frappacino blender cut out, making her greeting embarrassingly loud. Great, she was already being super awkward.
“Hey,” he said, smiling. “I went ahead and got a coffee, but only so people would think I meant to be alone in case you stood me up. What do you want? I’ll grab you a coffee.”
“Can I get a Venti Mocha? My body’s screaming for sugar.”
“Sure thing. Sit tight.”
Lissa sat, willing her pulse to slow down and contemplating fake-texting someone to look popular. High school, much?
He returned a few minutes later with the gorgeous green lady.
“I got you whipped cream on top. Hope that’s okay.”
“Beyond. Thanks so much.”
Dan sat down and took a drink of his coffee. Lissa followed suite, and burned her tongue a little. Worth it.
“So, how are you?” she asked, feeling a little uncomfortable, not entirely because Dan was looking amazing in his jeans and button down. His deep brown eyes were making her feel interesting things. Plus, you know, she’d probably have to try to explain Zoning to a Zoner.
“I’m good, you?”
“Good. Great, really.” She took another sip.
“Yeah?” He asked. She thought he at least sounded genuinely interested.
“Discovered I don’t like hummus, even on pita bread. And I got a new client at work.”
“Awesome. What do you do?”
“Well, assuming you’re asking about work and not hummus, I am a graphic designer.”
“Don’t ‘neat’ me. I may have the organic, spunky demeanor of someone from L.A., but my business sensibility is all New York, baby. I’m the in-house designer for a big marketing firm.”
“That’s still neat, but very impressive. Congrats on the new client.”
“Thanks. And you?”
“And me? I don’t eat hummus. Not on purpose.”
“That’s totally what I told my mom!”
A dark look crossed over Dan’s face, and Lissa’s vision glimmered with grey at the edges. Okay, don’t talk about moms. Or hummus now, probably.
“Thanks for the coffee,” she said, taking another sip. Change the subject. We’re losing him, Doctor.
“Sure. Thanks for coming. I know this is weird. And that I’m acting weird. But seeing you again, I’m even more sure that I know you somehow. Not just saw you, but know you. As if we talked before, but I don’t remember you. Except somehow, some part of me remembers you. And I feel like I would remember you.”
Lissa smiled at him, her nerves dancing up into her lungs.
Dan sighed. “I’m not making any sense.”
“I probably just have one of those faces, you know. Like the cast of Pretty Little Liars.”
“Exactly! They are literally all the same.”
“I don’t follow the metaphor, but maybe.” He flashed a little half-smile and Lissa relaxed a little.
“Maybe you’re face-blind.”
“No, not face-blind. I’m pretty good with faces, usually.”
“Then I don’t know what to tell you.”
“How did you know I was in the hospital?”
“I told you, I saw the bandage.”
“And you immediately jumped to the hospital conclusion?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I watch a lot of dramatized hospital reenactment shows.”
“Come on, Lissa. You’re not being straight with me.”
Lissa picked at the corner of the cardboard heat-protector sleeve on her cup. “Can I ask you a question?”
Dan nodded, waving his hand for her to ask away.
“How did you hurt your arm?”
“It’s a bit embarrassing. I slipped using a saw.”
“While building a model.”
Lissa grinned at him. “Neat.”
“I should’ve seen that one coming. I was working. I’m an architect, and I was making a model office building for a client presentation. My miniature flagpoles weren’t to scale, so I went to the saw, and the metal on metal was a dumb decision, and I slipped and my shirt sleeve got caught and I sliced the hell out of my arm.”
“So it was deep?”
“Marianas Trench deep. Lost tons of blood.”
Lissa’s heart rate skyrocketed. She was one hundred percent Zoned into herself. For now.
“So you got a blood transfusion?”
“Yeah, I did.” Dan studied her. “You’re sure you’re not a nurse? Or an EMT, maybe? My boss overreacted and called an ambulance. Though she probably just didn’t want me to bleed in her Jag.”
“Sure, in between designing Logos and internet ads, I like to hop in ambulances and save some lives. Keeps me young.”
Dan frowned. “I’m just trying to figure this out.”
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude and evasive. I promise. I’m just nervous. And I’m not sure I can trust you.”
“Are you in Witness Protection or something?”
“That sounds pretty good right about now.”
“You can trust me. I’m an architect. And a notary.”
Lissa did trust him. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe because of Zoning into him. Maybe because she liked him. Maybe because she was stupid. But she trusted him. She took a deep breath.
“Okay. I’ll be straight with you. But for the record, I like you, and I’m not sure if this is a date, but it totally could’ve been a date. So it’s fine if you hate me or whatever, but just know how I’m feeling right now, before. And now I’ll tell you the truth.” She took a giant gulp of mocha, to steel herself.
“To be fair to myself, I have been honest. I don’t know you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before. And I really don’t think you know me.”
“How is that—“
“Let me finish, please. So, in 2008, I was a freshman in college. And one day on campus they had this big blood donation bus. You got a free t-shirt and also this girl I knew, Sherri, she totally got out of class because she told her professor she was feeling lightheaded. So I hatched a master plan and gave blood and then went to Econ and told my professor I was feeling lightheaded because I hated Econ. But my professor told me that if I left, I wouldn’t get my attendance point.”
“Majorly harsh. So I told him that if I looked unconscious it was because I passed out, not because I was sleeping through his class. Anyway, fast forward a few months, and something weird started happening.”
Lissa looked at him. He was following along so far, but she was sure he was about to flip the table and walk out on her at any moment.
“Yep. And this is when you start hating me forever. Also for the record, I have never told anyone this. I’m trusting you.”
“Okay. You can trust me,” Dan said, setting down his coffee and giving her his full attention.
Lissa gulped. “You can’t tell anyone.”
“I won’t,” he said, and moved his hand toward hers. Lissa panicked and yanked her hand away from his before he could take it. Dan frowned, a brief glimmer of hurt in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, just let me get this out, okay?”
Dan nodded, moving his hands into his lap.
“So, I refer to it as ‘Zoning In’ because it’s like I’m zoning out, except instead of staring into space, I’m like, in someone else’s head, seeing someone else’s sights.”
“No, that would be way too cool. I still think my own thoughts. I can’t hear what that person’s thinking, but I hear what they hear and see what they see. Kind of like a movie. I don’t smell their smells, thank God.”
“And can you control your not-mind-reader powers?” He smirked just enough to annoy Lissa.
“I’m going to ignore your tone, and no. It happens to me. I have frighteningly little control.”
“And that has to do with the blood story, how?”
“Because I think that when I Zone in, it’s to someone who’s received my blood.”
Dan blinked a couple of time, and Lissa watched him connect the dots.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t, I guess. But it only ever happens to me when the person is worked up about something. Like, heart pounding, tears or sweat falling, super intense kind of stuff. Like where the blood is really pumping.”
“And you think I…?”
“You ‘zoned in’ to me?”
“Last Saturday. When you were running. Right before we met. You were, I think, sad, maybe. Definitely upset. And running, so the heart rate was going. I saw myself through your eyes. And it was super weird and so my heart started pounding and I Zoned back into me. And then we talked, and, well, you were there.”
“So every time I go running, you’re going to be in my head?”
“No, no. It doesn’t seem to happen just with the heart rate. There has to be serious emotion behind it too. I’m assuming you run often, but that was the first time you were ever a Zoner.”
“That’s what I call you guys.”
“There are other guys?” Dan looked mad and Lissa had to fight not to smile at his indignation.
“Whoa, calm down, Edward Cullen.” Her attempt at a warning joke did not seem to faze him. He kept his super serious face.
“How many are there?”
“It’s kind of early for the ‘numbers’ talk, but whatever. First, there was Pete. A couple of months after I donated. He was in this terrible car crash. I’m pretty sure he was driving under the influence of any number of illegal substances. He’s the drummer for a rock band. Now he mostly just smokes pot, so I rarely zone into him anymore, because he’s always mellow. Mostly it’s just fights with his girlfriend, Becky. Or sometimes at a really good gig, and then I get to pretend I’m a rock star.”
Dan didn’t say anything, but sipped his coffee.
“Then, a year or so later, there was Chris.”
“Guy or girl?”
“Topher. Guy. Not that it matters, sir. He’s a steady dude. Don’t get much from him, either. He’s a stock broker, so I almost always zone in when he’s at work. I really just learn a lot about random stocks. I could probably use insider information and become super rich, but I’m not crooked like that.”
“Then, after that, was Margaret. She’s cool. She’s a stay at home mom. Married to Thad. I usually zone in when one of her kids has done something terrible or wonderful or terrifying. Makes me appreciate motherhood in a different way.”
“I bet.” A touch of ice was on Dan’s tongue and Lissa’s vision shimmered silver again. Crap. She had forgotten about the mom thing. She took a swig of mocha and rushed onward.
“The last was Roger. About two years ago. He’s this kind of pathetic guy in his thirties, and he’s half romantic, half lecherous. And he goes on all these dates and he’s always super nervous, so I just have to sit through these horrible first dates and they’re so awkward, and he always looks at their boobs, which is the worst. I think he’s like a bank teller or something. I’ve never seen him at work or at home, just on dates and at sports games. Dude loves the Red Sox.”
Dan stared at his coffee cup. Lissa’s stomach plummeted somewhere near her toes and she felt suddenly and horrifically ashamed, though she didn’t know why. She felt completely naked.
“Then there was you. And all I know is that you were running. And then you ran into me. And your name is Dan. And you’re an architect with a clumsy side.”
“You gave blood seven years ago.”
“I don’t know why it was still around. My blood is good stuff, you know. I helped a lot of people.”
Dan looked at her, but she couldn’t read him. A few seconds that felt like hours went by and Lissa felt the threat of tears burning somewhere behind her eyes.
“Okay, then. That’s my secret, and my theory, and thanks for the coffee. I’ll do my best not to Zone into you. But you really should think about that meditation thing. You know. A good offense is the best defense. I don’t even like sports. Anyway, bye, Dan Rather.”
Lissa stood and grabbed her purse, tears welling in her eyes, which was alarming. She didn’t know why she was upset. She had not expected this to go well, though there was a version where they ended up making out.
“Lissa,” Dan said, his voice low.
She blinked away tears and looked back at him. “It’s okay, Dan. I shouldn’t have come. Stay away from saws.”
“Lissa,” Dan said, louder.
She left anyway, holding back the tears until she was out of earshot of the whirl of the blender.
Lissa was three blocks away when her vision clouded. No, nononono, no. She pressed her back against a building and sat down, pulling her legs into herself just as she Zoned into someone jogging down the street. Dan. Great. Running. Toward her.
Lissa overrode the Zone, nervous, just as Dan came up to her. She held out her hands for him to stop, and he did.
“Thanks a lot,” she mumbled, rubbing her head.
“Yeah, in the middle of the street. What did I tell you about yoga?”
“Nothing, I don’t think.”
Lissa crossed her arms on top of her knees and put her head down. Go away, stupid, cute, annoying boy.
“Lissa, can we talk?”
“We talked,” she said, her words muffled by her arms.
“You talked. I’m still trying to absorb.”
She looked at him, hoping her eyes weren’t red. Conceal, don’t feel. “You don’t have to make excuses. No strings, bro.”
“I don’t make excuses. Look, you just sprang some voodoo on me and I’m an architect. I like straight lines and fake trees, because they don’t aggravate my allergies. I just need some time to digest. And probably a beer.”
Lissa smiled up at him. “Tequila.”
He smiled back. “Want to grab a drink?”
“Can we get some food, too?”
“Sure. Anything to aid in digestion.”
“Do you like tapas?”
“Never had them.”
“A little too curved line for you?”
“You’ll like it. Come on. We’ll stay away from anything roasted and stick to fried. Mac and cheese balls, hello.”
“Sounds delicious,” he said, and held his hand out to her.
Lissa took his hand, and her vision burst into white, with little gold flecks floating around and she felt like she was flying, but realized Dan was pulling her to her feet.
“Whoa,” Dan said. He looked down at her, his long eye lashes framing those brown eyes. Like chocolate, Lissa thought, her heart pounding. She pulled her hand away from his, and took a step back.
They looked at each other, and then Dan held his hand out again. She placed hers in his, and little pinpricks of gold appeared, almost like seeing stars, and she felt warm and tingly.
“Whoa,” she echoed.
“We’ve got to talk this out,” Dan said, staring at their hands. He looked up at her. “Come on, Voodoo Lady.”
“That’s Voodoo Queen to you.”
“So, if I drink, does it make your BAC go up?” Dan asked, finishing off his third or maybe fourth glass of wine.
“No way. If that were the case, Pete would’ve landed me in jail a long time ago.”
“Isn’t it dangerous? You were just kind of slumped against the building and on the park bench.”
“Yep. But if I am really afraid, my own panic overrides the Zone. When it first started happening, I’d get so scared by the very process of it, that I didn’t see anything for a few months. I thought I was having eye seizures or something.”
Dan laughed. “Eye seizures?”
“I told you I don’t work at a hospital. I’m an artiste. Deal with it.”
“Gladly,” Dan said, pouring her more wine. “These fried polenta sticks are incredible.”
“I told you.”
“You did. You told me a lot of things.” They clinked glasses and Lissa took a big sip of Cab.
“You’re handling this pretty well. For an architect.”
“Just needed to digest. I think I can handle it. I mean, it’s kind of cool.”
“It is?” Lissa’s smile spread easily over her face, one of those smooth, velvet wine smiles.
“Yeah. If I was getting mugged, you could call the cops.”
“Totally. I would totally call the cops for you, if you get mugged.”
“Or you could see me pile drive the mugger into the ground and be really impressed.”
Dan topped their wine off again and ate another stuffed mushroom. “These are good.”
“I know good food, O Danny Boy. Stick with me.”
They smiled at each other, and Lissa felt the tingly thing happening again. It was probably the wine.
“So,” Lissa said, running her finger along the wood grain of the table. “You know my deepest, darkest, but I don’t really know you.”
“You’ve been in my head.”
“Not really. I heard your gross emo music and felt you be sad, and saw the park as you ran.”
“Avenged Sevenfold is not emo music.”
“Noted. So now I know one more thing. Architect, notary, not emo. Got it.” Lissa ate a fried mac and cheese ball and tried not to moan.
“What else do you want to know?”
Lissa raised an eyebrow at him and he smiled back sheepishly.
“Besides everything, of course.”
“Will you tell me why you were sad? The whole reason I Zoned at all?”
Dan stared at her for a second, his eyes peering into hers. He nodded once, slowly, and took a big drink of wine. Grey shadows swirled in Lissa’s peripheral. She put her hand on his forearm, and the gold flakes mixed in before everything faded away. Weird.
“My mom has been sick for a while, and her tests were inconclusive. She has to go in for more tests. No one specifically mentioned cancer, but it’s in the back of all of our minds. I guess maybe a little more in the front of my mind. Obviously.”
Dan smiled the smallest, saddest smiled Lissa had ever seen, and her heart shattered into a thousand pieces. She wanted to crawl into his lap and cuddle him until he smiled a happy smile again.
“Dan, I’m so sorry. I know the inconclusive thing is annoying, but it also means they ruled out every bad thing they were testing for in the first place.”
“That’s what I’m trying to focus on. Though maybe I should try your meditation suggestion.”
“Thank you for sharing. I shouldn’t have pried. I’m so nosy sometimes.”
“It’s okay. It’s actually kind of nice to have someone to talk to about it. Besides, you might be along for the ride, depending on how the tests go.”
“Well, if you ever need to talk, just give me a call or send me a haiku. I’m happy to listen.”
“Thanks, Lissa.” He looked into her eyes, in this way that was really different to Lissa. Like he was actually seeing her. “You’re sweet.”
Lissa blushed all the way to her toes and pointed to the last mac and cheese ball. “You gonna eat that?”
“It’s all yours. I like the mushrooms better.”
“Pffffft,” Lissa scoffed, shoving the mac and cheese in her mouth.
“Hey,” Dan said, glancing down at the table, then back up at her. “Do you want to go out tomorrow?”
The food lost its flavor and Lissa swallowed quickly, her heart beating fast. “Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.”
“All the restaurants are going to be booked.”
“Don’t worry about it. I know a guy.”
“I better not be second choice because someone better already canceled on you.”
“First choice. Only choice.”
“But, Valentine’s Day.”
Dan reached across the table and put his hand on Lissa’s, and little gold flakes danced in her peripheral vision.
“Well,” he said, leaning toward her with a conspiratorial smirk, “we kind of already share blood and brains and secrets. We might as well share dinner. And, for the record, it’s a date.”
“I’d love that,” Lissa said, smiling at him and his chocolate eyes.
A knock sounded on her door and Lissa gave her curls one last fluff and the hem of her red dress one last tug. She smiled, opening the door to Dan. Dan looking amazing in a dress shirt and slacks.
“Be still, my heart,” he said, smiling.
Lissa raised an eyebrow. “I can tell when you’re lying about that, you know.”
He leaned in a placed a brief kiss on her cheek. “You look beautiful,” he said as Lissa saw faint champagne showers fall around his head.
“Oh, this old thing?” Lissa said, glad she had bought the dress.
Lissa stepped out of her apartment and locked the door behind her.
“Where are we going?”
“Do you like steak?”
“Not like. Love. Love steak. Might be in love with steak.”
Dan laughed. “I thought you would. You’re going to love tonight, then.”
“Where are we going?”
“All in due time.” Dan took Lissa’s arm and tucked it into his. Lissa thought he was trying to distract her.
“I’m allowed to keep some things from you.”
“Everyone? Just let me surprise you.”
“Okay, but it better not be TGI Fridays.”
“No worries there.”
They walked arm in arm, in comfortable silence. The pink and red of the sunset dipping lower behind the buildings of the city, the twinkling lights of nightlife slowly starting to shine. Lissa felt Dan’s eyes on her and she turned to look at him.
“What?” she asked, a small wave of embarrassment creeping over her.
“There’s just something about you. I can’t describe it. But I like it.”
Lissa blushed, and her stomach tightened in a delightful and almost scary way. She smiled at Dan, batting her lashes.
“That’s how I feel about steak.”
Their laughter echoed around the buildings as streetlights switched on and cast a golden glow over the city streets. Lissa was thrilled that she was finally Zoning into something good.