Arc IV: A Proper Confession

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ARC IV PART II: A Proper Confession

Aoto Aihara paused outside the tea house door, his eyes searching the inside of the room. It was a full house today- not exactly ideal conditions for what he had planned. Through the frost-tinged glass, he smiled at the familiar sight of Lills with her nose buried in a book and her brown hair falling over her face like a curtain, completely oblivious the chatter around her. Aoto squared his shoulders and pushed open the door before he could talk himself out of it.

After exchanging pleasantries with Imlach and old acquaintances, Aoto slipped into the seat across from Lills. When she did not acknowledge his presence, Aoto chuckled and reached across the table, gingerly pushing the book down from her face with one finger. Annoyance flickered through her cat-like eyes as she stared at his hand, only for it to turn to horror as she realized who the hand belonged to. Lills tried to hide her surprise a little too late.

"You know, in this tea house it's a crime to interrupt someone while they're reading," she teased, but Aoto could sense the nervousness in her voice.

"Oh dear," he said. "What would I have to do to be pardoned?" Aoto leaned against the table, trying his best to keep Lills at ease. If he could just keep her mind occupied, then perhaps she wouldn't say anything about the other night- at least, not before Aoto could.

"Drink a cup of Lipton green tea, and we'll be even," Lills said, the corners of her lips curling upwards. Good. His plan was working so far.

"That punishment is a crime in itself!" Aoto remarked. "Surely you wouldn't do that to me, Lills. Please, I'm begging you for mercy." He clasped his hands together in a pleading gesture, which earned him a laugh from Lills.

"How about I just let you off with a warning this time?" she said.

"Thank you, you are too kind," Aoto replied, shifting closer. Lills' eyes scanned his face.

"You got your glasses back, I see," she said.

"Yes, and the finger too," Aoto said, holding up his hand. "Please excuse my clothes. I took my grandparents to see Thelonious Monk in 1954, and I didn't get a chance to change before I arrived."

"Ah, I was wondering why you looked like a beatnik," Lills said. "Though the turtleneck suits you. Actually, come to think of it, weren't you wearing that when we first met in that museum back in 1955?"

"I don't know," Aoto said. "That was ages ago." It was, actually, and Aoto had made sure to wear it for that very reason. Lills pursed her lips, and Aoto knew that she was gearing up to ask him some questions. Now was his chance.

Aoto pulled his chair closer to Lills, trying his best to completely remove any traces of the mask she so greatly disliked. "Lillian, would you go on a date with me?" he asked softly.

Lills eyes widened, and her glasses slipped down her straight nose. "What?" she stammered. "N-no, don't be daft!"

Aoto's face fell. By default, he tried to force a smile, but he was unable. "Oh," he said, swallowing. "I see."

Lills rubbed her temple as she tried to make sense both of what he had asked and what she herself had said. "I'm sorry Aoto, that came out wrong. You just caught me off guard."

"Does that mean that you do want to go on a date?" he asked.

"I don't know," Lills replied. "Like I said, I wasn't expecting this!"

"Not even a little bit?" Aoto asked. He tried once again to smile, but no matter how hard he willed it, the edges of his lips would not turn up. Like most of the Westerners he encountered, Lills was an open book, and it generally required little attention on Aoto's to discern her emotions and react accordingly. But that night in Venice was the first time Aoto hadn't been able to read her.

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