Lisa jumped up as he approached her table, throwing her arms out and dragging him in for a short hug. "Hey! How was the holiday?"
Ianto grinned, but inside, his feelings were a little more bittersweet and confused. His uncle - well, his dad's cousin, really, but Ianto viewed him and referred to him as his uncle – had taken him back to Cardiff for a week and a half after school was completely done with. The first time he'd properly been back since his father died. He'd taken a few day trips there, of course, mostly to visit his mother – even if she hadn't really recognised him in her last months – but never really spent time there.
Revisiting remembered spots from his childhood had been something he wasn't sure he had the words to describe; the maelstrom of emotions had hit him harder than he'd expected.
"It was… interesting," he told Lisa, and when her eyes softened and she smiled just slightly, he knew she'd understood everything he hadn't said.
Lisa was the only one of his friends to whom he'd been able to confess his nerves about the trip.
"Anyway," he continued, determined to re-lighten the mood. "Didn't you get my postcard?"
"Ah yes," Lisa nodded, her gaze shifting into middle distance as she looked faux-thoughtful. "'Dear Lisa, It may be July, but I'm getting wet. From Ianto.' You really gave me a lot of important and interesting information there, Ianto." She grinned cheekily. "And I'll have you know that it's been raining here too, so despite what you always say, Cardiff is not exceptionally wet."
Ianto resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her, but barely. "One day," he promised, "I'll take you to Cardiff myself, and then you'll see."
"You're on," Lisa agreed. "Did you get to spend much time with your sister while you were there?"
"A little," Ianto replied, remembering the slightly awkward afternoons he'd spent with Rhiannon, the first in a coffee shop in Barry, the second at a local ten-pin bowling arcade. Conversation had been stilted, and neither of them had quite known what they should be doing or saying.
"We… we don't seem to have much in common any more. And, apparently, a 17 year old brother isn't much cooler to a 14 year old girl than a 10 year old sister was to me as a 14 year old boy. Unless he has a car, which… well, I will, eventually. Just as soon as I've saved enough."
Lisa nodded. "I think there's a law somewhere that says siblings just can't get along in their teens; Carly and I were close, compared to some, and we're only just beginning to get along again now.
Ianto shrugged one shoulder. He wasn't sure he and Rhiannon would ever be able to regain the closeness they'd had as kids.
"And anyway," Lisa continued. "Not 17 for much longer. Only three and a half weeks to go. You given any more thought to what you're doing for your 18th? Or rather, who you're inviting on the night out that you don't have a choice about having."
He shook his head slightly. "Not really." Which was a lie. Well, a partial lie. In truth, he didn't really care which of his friends were or weren't there – although obviously he'd like to think that most of them would come if he asked – as long as Lisa was one of them.
He watched her eyes sparkle across the table as she continued to tease him over his lack of birthday celebration plans, and wondered if he would ever get the courage to say something to her. He wasn't usually excessively shy when it came to dating – he'd had a fairly steady stream of girlfriends and boyfriends over the last couple of years – but Lisa was different.
She already meant so much more than any of them had – which wasn't to say that he hadn't really liked some of them. But it had been Lisa almost since he'd met her, and now, all this time later… there was so much more on the line, much more he had to lose.
Caught up in his own thoughts, he didn't even notice that Lisa had stopped talking and was looking at him with concern until her hand fell on top of his. "Ianto? Something wrong?"
He shook his head swiftly. "No, nothing. Just… wool-gathering, sorry."
"Are you sure?" Lisa looked at him intensely, as if she was trying to see right through him. Ianto thought sometimes that she could.
"I'm sure," he told her, staring right back.
"Okay then." Lisa sat back, but her gaze didn't leave his.
It was Lisa who broke the connection, a few moments later. She drew her hand back too, drawing patterns on the cracked tabletop between them. "So…" she started, sounding a little uncertain, which wasn't like Lisa at all. "I've been thinking… well, I've actually been thinking for a while, only it wasn't the right time. But now it could be… well, I'm hoping it will be. But… and…I…"
Ianto blinked at the sudden torrent of words coming from Lisa's mouth, none of which were making any sense to him. "Lisa… what are you talking about?"
She took a deep breath and looked back up at him. He could see the resolve creeping across her shoulders, and began to worry about what she was trying to say. Was she trying to end their friendship? Or…? Ianto didn't want to think about the other possibilities.
"Okay then," Lisa nodded and clasped her hands together. "Do you want to go out with me?"
"Umm… we do that all the time." Ianto replied, baffled as to why Lisa had seemed so nervous if that was all she was going to say.
"No." Lisa screwed her eyes shut for a second and shook her head. "I…" She looked back into his eyes. "I mean on a date. Not as friends."
Ianto stared at her, his breath caught in his throat. "Did…" He swallowed hard. "Did you just say… date?"
"It's okay if you don't want to," Lisa added hurriedly. "I'm happy just being your friend, and I hope we can still be friends but… I had to ask, even if…"
"No, no," Ianto interrupted. "I'm not… I'm not saying no, I'm just…" He reeled a little. "Are you serious? You… you actually mean it?"
It seemed more than a little bit too good to be true. He had to be sure.
Lisa nodded. "I'm sure," she said quietly. When Ianto glanced down, he noticed that her knuckles were turning white where she was gripping her hands together.
"Then yes," Ianto nodded, biting his lip a little. "Yes."
Ianto fiddled with the sleeve of his dress shirt as he waited for Lisa to appear. He told himself it was ridiculous to be this nervous; he and Lisa had been out together – often just the two of them – numerous times in the last year and a half. He already knew they got on well – what was there to worry about?
And yet, the pressure felt so much higher. If tonight didn't go well, he could have lost his one chance at this. And he'd wanted this for so long.
He glanced at his watch again, noting that it had only been 15 seconds since he last checked. And there were still another four minutes before it would even be 'on time'.
There was a tap on his shoulder and he spun around to find Lisa smiling at him.
"Hi," she said, the smile not leaving her face.
"Hi," he echoed, taking in her simple summer dress and marvelling again that he was actually here, with Lisa, and they were about to be on a date. "You look… amazing."
"You too," Lisa replied, her smile turning a little shy. "So… erm… shall we?" She waved one hand towards the small restaurant they'd agreed upon for tonight. It was one they'd each eaten at before, with friends but not together, and they knew they both liked it – and more importantly, it was affordable.
Ianto took a breath and nodded. "Lead on."
After a few initial awkward moments wherein they just smiled nervously at each other, the conversation between them flowed just as easily as it always had. It wasn't until they were poking at a shared banana split, though, that Ianto managed to work up the nerve to make the confession he'd wanted to make ever since she'd asked him out.
"I've… wanted this almost from the day I met you," he said quietly as he chased the last bit of banana around the bowl with his spoon. "But at first you were tutoring me and then… the longer we were friends, the harder it got to say anything."
"You weren't the only one," Lisa responded, sucking a dribble of chocolate sauce from her spoon. "I… I tried to say it when I was asking you out, but… it all got a bit rambly. I've thought about this for a long time, but you were still at school, and it just… didn't feel like the right time."
"So if I'd ever managed to bring myself to ask you out before now, you might have said no anyway?" Ianto asked, sitting back slightly and putting his spoon down as they finished the dessert. "That… oddly, that sort of makes me feel better."
"Lisa chuckled. "I don't know. If you'd actually asked, my quibbles might have gone right out of the window, we'll never know. But we're here now." She reached out across the table, laying her palm flat on the surface.
"We are." Ianto tentatively stretched his own arm out, covering her hand with his own and revelling in the warm feeling in his chest her resulting smile produced.
"So." Ianto rocked forward onto his toes as they came to a stop outside the door to Lisa's building. "Here we are." It was far from the first time he'd walked someone home after a date, but his heart was pounding as if it were. He hoped Lisa hadn't noticed that his palms were sweaty.
"Yes," Lisa said, turning to him. "I… I was going to say 'I had a really wonderful night,' but that just sounds so cliché and fake. Even though I did."
Ianto grinned, the hint of their normal banter relaxing him slightly. "But if you don't say it, then how am I supposed to say 'me too'?"
Lisa shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe like this…" Without any further warning, she took a half step forward and pressed her lips to his. Ianto's heart stuttered at the first touch; this was nothing like kissing any of the people he'd dated since his first kiss all those years ago, it was a whole new experience – and so much better.
Sighing into the kiss, he brought his hand up to cup her cheek – his fingertips nestling in the short hair above her ear – and kissed back.
He couldn't have said if they stood there together for minutes or hours, kissing softly, exploring this new aspect of their relationship.
"I think this is the part where I say goodnight and promise to call you," he breathed when they eventually pulled back.
"Probably," Lisa murmured back, pressing one last chaste kiss to his lips. "I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"
Ianto nodded and stepped back. "Yeah, tomorrow."
Lisa walked backwards, smiling, until she hit her front door and had to turn around to unlock it.
Ianto watched her go into the building, and turned for home. The smile didn't leave his face the whole way.