By Deryn Goon

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“Oh. My. God. Al, you will not believe where he is taking me tonight.”

There was a long-suffering sigh from the other end of the phone line. “Let me guess. The Eiffel Tower?”

“Wh- no!” Lucy said indignantly, before pausing to consider the idea. “Although, now that I think about it, that would be the absolute dream-”

“Just spill it already.”

“Alright, alright,” Lucy let a silly, giddy grin spread over her face as she leaned back against the heap of pillows she was resting against in bed, daintily crossing her pyjama-clothed legs in front of her. “He’s taking me to…” She paused once more for dramatic effect, and only when she heard the beginning of a not-so-friendly threat being made over the line did she finally finish her sentence. “Il Circo!”

Lucy could practically imagine her friend scrunching up her eyebrows in confusion through the phone. “Il- what?”

“You know, that new Italian place down the block that opened just last month. ” Lucy explained with slight impatience, tossing her head back so her smooth, dark locks cascaded over her pillows as she stared up at the ceiling and listened to Al’s deadpan ‘oh’ over the line. Lucy rolled her eyes. 

“Yes, oh. They say it’s the most romantic place in the city, that every table has the most beautiful bouquet of roses that are hand-picked every morning, that the service is magnificent and so is the food. I’m going to wear that pretty black dress, you know the one. It’s just the right amount of not too fancy, not too casual yet just the right amount of perfect to knock his socks off. Maybe with a necklace, or even a-”

“Lucy,” An open, undisguisedly bored voice interrupted. “Lucy, you’re my best friend, and I love you, but the only being on Earth that has a worse fashion sense than I do is quite literally my cat, making me utterly useless to discuss fashion with. Speaking of my cat…” There was a sudden thump from the other end of the line, followed by a yowl, a muffled ‘Snowball!’ and an impressive recitation of colourful swear words. 

“I have to go. Call me tonight with all the details. Good luck on your date!” And with that, Al hung up. That traitor.

Lucy sighed. Not that it mattered anyway, she reasoned as she tossed her phone aside, hopping off her bed to head towards the bathroom for a shower. She’d be able to give Al a blow-by-blow account of her date later. As for now, she had to freshen up, finalise her wardrobe choices and primp herself to perfection.

The sun had just begun its slow, steady descent in the sky when Lucy received her usual ‘supportive pre-date text’ from Al. T-minus 2 mins. U ready?

Lucy gave herself a generous once-over in the mirror by her front door. Simple black dress with its hem just above the knee? Check. Hair lavishly washed and nearly impossibly soft as a result, pooling luxuriously over her shoulders? Check. Makeup, heels, and sparkly silver locket that Hugh had gotten her for her birthday? Check, check and check.

100%, Lucy typed out in reply. She’d just tapped ‘Send’ when she heard the sound of footsteps approaching her apartment door. Lucy hurriedly stashed her phone in her purse, clasping it shut with a deft click before turning back to the mirror for one last cursory glance. There was only time for one last flip of her hair and the tucking of a rogue strand behind her ear before the doorbell chimed, announcing her date’s arrival. Seven sharp ﹘ Hugh was always punctual.

Lucy turned the doorknob, swinging the door open to reveal Hugh in a fashionably untucked button-down and a pair of dark jeans. “Hey,” Hugh greeted with a grin, stepping forward to give Lucy a kiss on the cheek. “Well, someone looks particularly stunning tonight.”

“Only for you,” Lucy replied with a wink, and Hugh fake-swooned. Nailed it. “Shall we go?”

“But of course,” Hugh extended a hand in invitation, and Lucy took it, allowing herself to be led out of her apartment. She locked the door behind her and stowed her keys in her purse before turning to Hugh once more. Hugh shot her a dazzling smile, giving her hand a brief squeeze before leading her down the hallway towards the elevator.

The air outside was pleasantly cool, a gentle breeze lightly teasing at Lucy’s hair as it made its way by. The sky was a canvas a child had laid waste to with a myriad of colourful finger paints, streaked with a cocktail of warm yellows and pinks and oranges. Cirrus clouds bearing both the consistency and hue of the finest spun cotton candy drifted idly above, giving the world an almost fantastical feel, as if it was one pulled straight from the contents of a storybook rather than one of reality. Hugh’s hand fit nearly perfectly in Lucy’s as they walked side by side, talking about anything and everything on the way to the restaurant.

“Welcome to Il Circo, do you have a reservation?”

Hugh nodded to the waitress, giving her his surname. They were escorted to a table in the quieter side of the establishment, seconds later, where few other patrons were dining. Lucy giggled as Hugh pulled her chair out for her and she gracefully sat, mouthing her thanks in response. The two of them were handed their menus before being left alone with the assurance that their server would return in a few moments to take their orders.

Rather than perusing her menu, Lucy found her eyes being drawn to the interior of the restaurant instead. It was simple yet elegant, with mahogany hardwood floors and smooth, near-black walls, faintly lit with dim yellow lamps hanging from above. There was, as rumoured, an enormous bouquet of fresh red roses in a transparent vase near the edge of their table, a pleasant complement to the white tablecloth it had been placed on. Smooth jazz played softly in the background, giving the restaurant a relaxed yet classy atmosphere.

“So, are you even going to open your menu, or…?”

Lucy gave a start, having been jolted back into focus by an amused-looking Hugh. He grinned teasingly at her, and Lucy felt her cheeks warm as she quickly snapped her gaze towards her menu. “Shut up,” she muttered, fighting to keep the smile off her face. Hugh chuckled.

“It’s fine. Want to share that pasta you like?” he asked. Lucy perked up immediately, giving a hum of assent. The waitress returned and Hugh placed their orders, and in a matter of minutes it was just the two of them again, striking up comfortable conversation as the already indistinct hubbub of the rest of the restaurant faded into almost nothing in their ears.

It was hours before Lucy was home again, chivalrously accompanied to her door by Hugh. Lucy looked up at him expectantly as she rummaged around her purse for her keys. “Want to stay a while?”

Hugh frowned. “Don’t you have a class early tomorrow morning? I don’t want to keep you up.”

Lucy considered this as she slotted her key into the keyhole in front of her. She did want Hugh to stay, but she’d also already been late for six classes this semester. Her teacher had even threatened to deduct marks from her next exam if she was late again.

“Alright then,” Lucy sighed. “I’ll see you this weekend?”

Hugh smiled. “Bet on it.” One kiss later, Hugh was off on his way, and Lucy was shutting her front door behind herself with another, much dreamier sigh this time.

Pulling out her phone, she dialed Al. As she waited for her friend to pick up, listening to the phone ring on the other end of the line, Lucy raised her eyes to the heavens, a satisfied smile taking over her features as she replayed every moment of the most perfect night she’d had in all of existence.

I wonder if he’s thinking of me…

~~~

Hugh stifled a yawn as he stumbled into his apartment, tossing his keys into the bowl by the door and making a beeline for his bedroom. Finally. Being out with Lucy had been fun, but it was a bone-sagging relief to be home with all his creature comforts.

After changing into a more comfortable t-shirt and sweatpants, Hugh stretched, blinking away whatever drowsiness he felt as he sank into the swivel chair in front of his laptop. With a few clicks of his mouse, he settled back in his chair, plugging in his earphones and switching on his laptop charger in anticipation of a long, exciting night. Finally, finally. It felt like it’d been practically forever since-

“Hugh! You’re finally here! Got all that date stuff out of the way, huh.” 

Hugh found himself giving his laptop screen a weary grin, even with the knowledge that his webcam wasn’t turned on. He wasn’t here just to chat, after all.

“Yeah, I did. Want to get right down to it, then?”

“Yeah. League of Legends tonight?”

“You know it.”

Hugh clicked out of Discord, listening to his friend rattle on about which champion he wanted to use as he tapped the game’s icon on his laptop’s home screen. His body relaxed as he waited for the game to load, music eventually filling his ears as he selected his character and mentally geared up in anticipation of a long run.

It was finally shaping up to be a pretty good night.

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