Can’t Look Away

03: You Can Already Rule That Out?

“You know, I really think this is probably going to be your most terrible idea yet”

Sasha grinned as she flicked through her wardrobe, shaking her head amusedly. “You realise I just invited the man out to dinner, right?” she countered “I didn’t propose to him or anything” she added, turning to look at her room-mate who was sat in the middle of her bed.

She hadn’t hesitated in telling Cassie. The morning after the wedding, Lionel had texted and asked when she was available, and as soon as they’d made the plans, Sasha had told Cassie, wanting to talk to someone about it. She didn’t have any expectations, Lionel's history with Leila was more complicated than he’d let on and Sasha knew it, but she didn’t see the harm in the two of them spending time together. It didn’t have to lead to anything, and Sasha got the sense that having someone to talk to was something Lionel needed as much as she did.

Holding a hanger in front of herself, she showed off the dress she’d picked out, only to huff when Cassie wrinkled her nose.

“I know” Cassie mused “I just can’t fathom why you’d want to get involved with a guy you think might still carry a torch for your sister” she added.

Sasha thumbed through a few more outfits before she lifted her shoulders, shrugging slightly. “I don’t plan on getting ‘involved’ with him” she replied “He just...he got it, you know? I know that that sounds vague, and a little like I am inevitably going to get ‘involved’ with him, but honestly? It was refreshing to talk to someone who understood where I was coming from, and I liked it. It really is going to be just dinner, Cass” she added, glancing back at her friend.

Cassie’s smile was sympathetic as she nodded. “I just want you to be careful” she mused “I love you, but you have terrible taste in men” she added.

Sasha scoffed out a laugh. “Because your taste is so much better than mine” she retorted.

Cassie laughed before she climbed off of the bed and padded towards the wardrobe. Leaning over Sasha’s shoulder, she retrieved a dress from inside before she placed it into Sasha’s hand. “This one” she mused “It’s cute, but not cute enough that he’s going to be desperate to get you out of it. It definitely says that this dinner is just between two ‘friends’” she added.

Sasha toyed with the material between the tips of her fingers before she nodded, offering Cassie a grateful smile. “You’re my favourite person” she quipped impishly.

“For now” Cassie retorted, already halfway out of the door.

Sasha laughed to herself before she moved to get changed.

Smoothing down the front of his shirt, Lionel looked down at his watch briefly before he glanced back towards the restaurant door, waiting for Sasha to stroll through it. He knew that she was on her way. Only minutes after he’d sat down at their reserved table, she had called to let him know that she was running a little late, but he couldn’t stop himself from worrying that she had backed out. They hadn’t put a name on it. Neither him nor Sasha had called it a ‘date’, but it felt like one. The way that Sasha had asked, the way that she had held his hand and smiled, it had felt like she had been asking for a more than just a dinner between friends, and the thought made Lionel nervous. It’d been a while since he had been on date, even longer since he’d had one with someone he knew as little about as Sasha, and he was incredibly worried that he’d say something to ruin it.

Shaking his head to himself, he moved to take a sip from his water glass before he caught sight of her. Quirking a small smile, he watched her for a moment before she noticed him, her own face brightening with a soft smile. Climbing out of his seat, he watched her walk over to him before he let out a bashful laugh, not quite sure whether he should try to kiss her cheek, hug her, or do nothing at all.

Sasha stood in front of him, waiting to see if he moved, before she shook her head amusedly. “Hi, Leo” she greeted.

“Sorry” Lionel replied “I just wasn’t sure how to greet you” he added.

“Words are normally a good start” Sasha quipped “I chose ‘hi’, but hello, hey, they’re both good alternatives” she added.

Lionel’s lips twitched with a grin. “Hello, Sasha” he mused.

Sasha laughed gently before she stepped towards him, hugging him lightly.

Lionel's arms wrapped around her slowly and held onto her for slightly longer than necessary before he ducked away, looking down at the table shyly. “Have you been here before?” he asked.

Sasha, who’d been hanging her coat over the back of her chair, shook her head. “I haven’t” she mused “I hear it is good, though” she added.

“It is” Lionel confirmed, retaking his seat.

Sasha smiled as she slipped into her own seat. “You’re nervous” she mused.

Lionel let out a slightly surprised laugh. “What makes you say that?” he asked.

Sasha offered him a nonchalant shrug. “Just a feeling” she quipped “You don’t need to be, though. It’s just dinner, Leo” she added.

Lionel wanted to ask if it was more than that, to ask if the signs he’d seen when she’d asked him to dinner were just in his imagination, but he stopped himself when he watched Sasha grin at him gently. “We’re just here to eat” she mused warmly “We’ll talk, and you’ll offer me a ride home, but I can tell you now, you’re not going to get a kiss goodnight” she added.

“You can already rule that out?” Lionel played along, only to be greeted by a slight wobble in Sasha’s smile.

Sasha fixed it quickly, pushing down the slight knot of disappointment which had lodged itself in her chest.

“Sasha?” Lionel prodded gently.

“I’m OK” Sasha mused.

Lionel looked at her dubiously, but Sasha dismissed it with a shake of her head and another smile that, Lionel noticed for the first time, didn’t quite match the others she had thrown at him since they’d met. He briefly contemplated pushing it, but stopped himself. He didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. “You think I’ll give you a ride home?” he asked.

Sasha’s grin grew more natural. “It’d be the polite thing to do” she played along “I mean, I have taxi fare, but if I don’t have to use it...” she trailed off, laughing gently along with Lionel who kept watching her, sure that there was more to her than he’d seen at the wedding. She had been vulnerable with him then, admitted things that were bothering her like they were old friends rather than relative strangers, but he sensed that there was more. He sensed that she was deliberately trying to keep herself back from him.