L.A. Ashton © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Kaito adjusted the cinch of his tie.
The ice shifted in his glass before condensation trembled down the side, pooling atop the polished cherrywood of the table. Throughout his career as a journalist, Kaito had become accustomed to places like these. Hotel restaurants, hotel bars, hotels, hotels, hotels.
And while this hotel restaurant wasn’t unlike the others, the situation was different. That’s what had Kaito adjusting his tie every thirty seconds and fidgeting against the creaking vinyl of his seat. He put his head in his hands. Was he sweating? Had he worn enough deodorant to disguise the smell of fear he was most definitely emitting?
Cristian Alvarez is a man, not a supernatural predator.
Kaito checked his phone for the umpteenth time, then flipped it facedown onto the table.
Even if Cristian wasn’t a predator, Kaito almost always felt like prey.
At least this place was pretty. The hotel was done in soft reds and golds, and the lighting was warm. It was bright enough to feel good to the eyes, but dim enough to render everything in gorgeous softness and shadow. Smooth jazz drifted from unseen speakers, building ambiance around piano keys and sultry notes of brass.
His gaze flittered to the entryway, checking once again to see if the inward swing of the door brought with it a figure skating champion and the subject of Kaito’s adoration for his entire adult life.
He looked down at the puddle left by his drink and tapped at his distorted reflection. Dark almond eyes hid behind thick-framed glasses and a splay of dark hair. He wasn’t notable—just a nearsighted guy who loved cats and figure skating. How he’d nabbed an interview with his childhood idol, he wasn’t sure. But he couldn’t turn it down, and he couldn’t run away, so at this point he only hoped he didn’t make a fool of himself.
The floor outside the curved wall of Kaito’s booth was wide open and lit with chandeliers. It was probably meant for banquets and gatherings, but the unoccupied space as it stood now looked meant for dancing.
Kaito trapped the straw of his drink with his lips. Kaito’s childhood obsession with ballroom dance was how he’d discovered Cristian in the first place. He’d watched professional dancers all his life, and it felt so natural for that interest to bleed into ice dancing and figure skating. Even if Kaito would never attempt the sorts of stunts they performed on the ice, their passion and interpretation made his heart long to tell its own stories through performance. Cristian, in particular, had inspired him—he moved like his limbs were propelled solely by the music, like he could hold it tangibly in his hands and spin it into a stunning waltz.
Kaito took lesson after lesson of ballroom dance, and eventually taught his two left feet to interact gracefully. He had never been truly outstanding—there was always a threshold of talent he couldn’t quite breach. He could impress a room full of untrained people, and as painful as the resignation was, he realized it had to be enough.
He missed it though. He stared at the open floor and imagined his feet carouseling over one another, turning smoothly to the piano and violin. He hadn’t danced in a long time. It would be nice…
“Are you Kaito Watanabe?”
Kaito rocketed out of his seat so fast he knocked against the table and almost spilled his drink. “Y-Yes,” he answered, compulsively pushing up his glasses. “And you’re”—he extended his hand forward, and even as he stared right at him, the words sounded like a dream—“Cristian Alvarez.”
Cristian’s smile splashed across his face like it was the easiest thing in the world. Dark curls fell over his forehead, forming perfect glossy spirals. He was tall, three or four inches taller than Kaito, with broad shoulders that made Kaito feel small.
You know that already; you know his height and weight like your own phone number.
But it was more mesmerizing in person, to be forced to tilt his chin up toward that face. “Yes,” Cristian answered, taking Kaito’s hand in his. “Thank you for the invitation.”
“Thank you for accepting.” Cristian’s hands were soft. His handshake was firm. Kaito mimicked the pressure, neither meek nor confident enough to do anything else.
“I hope your flight went well,” Kaito said as he withdrew his hand and settled back into his seat. He was a twittering ball of nerves, and he felt the stark contrast between his panicked motions and Cristian’s naturally graceful ones.
Cristian shrugged off his coat before sliding in across from Kaito. “Yes, it was quite pleasant. An easy ride.”
“That’s good.” Kaito became far too flirty and sharp-mouthed when he drank, but he also became less of a stuttering mess. He leaned forward to take a sip of his drink, intent on finding a balance.
“You’re quite the journalist, Kaito Watanabe.”
Kaito almost spit. Instead he coughed, covering his mouth politely. “Excuse me? I mean thank you. But you’re too kind.”
Cristian canted his head to the side. “Hmm, am I? Publishing articles in English and Japanese, procuring a large following from your blog alone, freelancing for many major outlets…” He set his chin in his palm and smiled. “I was impressed.”
Kaito folded his hands in his lap to hide the tremors running through his fingers. “All journalists have to work to make their voices heard, I believe…”
“But you write beautifully,” Cristian said. Thick dark lashes framed the bronze simmer of his eyes. Kaito went absolutely motionless, as if he were on the verge of shock or death. He can’t be saying—
“I read a lot of your pieces,” Cristian said before chuckling. “The ones in English, anyway.”
Oh my god, that’s what he’s saying.
Horror and excitement worked in equal parts to send earthquake-level tremors through Kaito’s limbs. Cristian Alvarez had read his work?
“Wow, I had no idea—” Kaito swallowed. “Whi—” Don’t ask which ones; it’ll seem like you’re asking for proof. He pushed his glasses up on his nose. “What, uh—” Don’t ask what he liked about them; it will look like you’re fishing for compliments. “Why—” Don’t ask why he looked you up; it’s because you were scheduled to interview him!
Kaito cleared his throat and beamed across the table. “I really don’t know what to say.”
Cristian seemed unfazed by Kaito’s sputtering. “You don’t have to say anything. Your writing makes every entry a pleasure to read.”