Singles Awareness Day
It was one thing to be single, it was an entirely other matter to have awareness of it.
"Happy Valentine's Day!"
Nina blinked, looking at the red box of chocolates curiously tied with an equally red satin ribbon. She looked it up, down, and sideways before staring back at his unrelenting cheerful expression. It reminded her terribly of her baby cousin when she last gave him candy so he would stop crying.
"I don't like chocolate," she answered plaintively, handing it back to him with surprising ease and nonchalance.
Gino grinned, undeterred. "Just open it."
Nina frowned, regarding the red box once again like it would turn into acid and melt her hands off. "But…"
"Open it," he insisted, smiling wider.
Sighing, she tugged at the red silk bow and a hand flew to her mouth as she flushed horribly. Inside was red and white confetti, a small pack of cinnamon hearts, and the newest love simulator game freshly released to the sha—erm—markets.
Clutching it to her breast conspiratorially, Nina darted wary eyes around the (thankfully) empty classroom. "H-How did you—"
Winking at her, he grinned. "It's a secret," he answered mysteriously before turning off to walk away with a cheerful, "Happy Valentine's Day!"
Nina responded the same, but with more stuttering and wracked nerves.
Upon hearing his footsteps coming closer to her vantage point outside the empty classroom, Kallen panicked and, in desperation, pulled a book out of her bag and flipped it open to a random page.
Gino swooped in upon her, planting a hand by her head and leaning against the wall. "Stadtfeld! What a pleasant surprise! How's V-Day going for you?"
Kallen glared at him. "Go away, Weinberg. Can't you see I'm busy?"
"Of course, of course. Have you seen Milly around?"
"She's in the student council room. Working." For once, she didn't add.
"Great. Thanks. Oh, and one day you'll have to teach me to read upside-down someday! Must be an awfully handy skill!" he said as he waved at her over his shoulder.
Kallen blinked. Staring down she—
Approximately one week ago.
"So, are you doing anything for Valentine's Day?"
Kallen snorted. "That stupid, over-commercialized holiday? I don't think so. I'm boycotting it."
CC hummed. "Really? It's a great way to get free stuff from boys you know. This is Britannia, not Japan, after all."
"It's also an excuse to make single people everywhere feel bad about themselves and their single status."
"Then maybe you should stop being single and you wouldn't feel so bad about it. You know, get a boy to spend it with and do something."
Kallen groaned. "Are you doing anything for Valentine's?" she asked, eager to switch topics.
She hummed again. "I don't know. Depends if he's feeling romantic, since he doesn't like Valentine's Day either—despite having a hot girlfriend. Most likely just dinner and movies with Nunally. The usual stuff."
"You should do something with Gino."
Kallen's eyes darkened dangerously. "I'd rather drink poison."
CC sighed. "Oh, Kallen. He's clearly madly in love with you. Gino's a good guy. I don't understand why you don't just give in. Everybody thinks you two would look good together. Some people think you two are dating already."
"Just because it's popular opinion doesn't make it true," she spat. "Besides, I can't stand him."
"But you know he's not going to leave you alone for Valentine's Day."
Kallen smirked. "I know. And I'm going to be ready for it! I'll be so prepared to reject him so hard that he'll feel it until next February fourteenth."
CC let out a long sigh. "You will die a miserable old maid, Kallen Stadtfeld," she declared, earning herself a sharp glare. "With lots of cats."
"Why am I friends with you, again?"
CC giggled. "Because I'm dating the boy you were once madly in love with for the majority of your childhood life who is now your best friend. And dating me. Incase I didn't mention that."
Kallen gagged. "I kind of hate you."
"I love you too, Kallen."
"Because you're still single, and I'm still single, I think we should get together for Singles Awareness Day and be single together. Raise the awareness."
Kallen frowned at him. "So let me get this straight: It's Valentine's Day if you're in a relationship, and it's Singles Awareness Day if you're not."
He grinned boyishly. "Exactly."
"Then wouldn't being single with you make it Valentine's Day? That defeats the purpose. I think I like the idea of Singles Awareness Day better."
Gino shook his head with a sigh. "You don't understand. We'd be single together but not together together. And that would still satisfy Singles Awareness Day requirements."
"I didn't realize there were requirements. That's just a date then."
"But it's not!" he persisted.
Kallen sighed, rolling her eyes at him, before narrowing them sharply. "Look, Weinberg, I'm not interested. When will you understand that?"
"Oh, I understand perfectly well; I understand everything you just said except for the 'not' part. And when I think about it that way, I think I understand pretty well, Kallen Stadtfeld." He grinned, wagging his eyebrows.
"Besides, it doesn't change the fact that you're still single, and I'm still single."
"You don't know that."
"I could have someone to spend Valentine's Day with and you'd be left aware of your single status alone. How fitting."
Gino sighed. "Suit yourself, Kally, but I am always here if you need that status erased."
Kallen glared at him.
"Don't count on it."
For the entirety of Valentine's Day, Gino Weinberg had run around the school inviting just about every girl he knew on a date. From 'A' to 'Z' he had come, considered, gifted, made an appointment, and moved on to the next.
Just what was he up to?
Did he think something like this would bother her?
Well it wasn't.
She was better than this. She wasn't about to let some stupid scheme of his—for surely that's what it was—get the better of her. She wouldn't let the fact that he gave Emily Richardson her favourite expensive chocolates, or Tina Fisher expensive perfume.
She was better than succumbing to the lure of expensive gifts and over-priced packaging.
Kallen was better than that.
And she told herself every time she saw Gino give some random girl another gift, it was because she had only casually noticed it and wasn't stalking him today by any means.
Shirley got roses and a song.
Lily got handmade chocolates and tickets to a spa day.
Samantha got that waffle iron she always wanted.
(Everyone knew enough to just not ask.)
Milly was given an exclusive photo-shoot with Lelouch (who was blackmailed into doing it) dressed as a girl.
And a host of other girls were given expensive chocolate.
By the time the day was over, and Kallen was walking home alone because CC was spending the night with Lelouch and Nunally, part of her was sad, part of her was relieved, and part of her was downright pissed off.
So it came to no surprise that, when she got home, instead of putting the key in the lock and heading in like she usually did, she slumped her forehead against the door and growled loudly. It was only when she started to bang her head against the door that it suddenly opened, causing her to wobble slightly before holding onto the doorframe.
Inside was Naoto, glaring somewhat disapprovingly at her. "Did you forget your key again? Most people knock on the door with their hand, by the way."
Kallen grumbled, shooting him a quick, snarky remark before heading upstairs.
"Oh, by the way," he called, stopping her on the stairs as she was pulling off one of her socks, "Some guy called and said to dress nice for dinner at some fancy French place downtown."
She frowned. "Who?"
Naoto shrugged. "I don't know. He sounded nice."
Kallen frowned. It had been a long time since her conception that Naoto cared about any boys getting near his not-so precious little sister had been shattered. When Kallen realized that, she had promptly awarded his dereliction of brotherly duties with a bloody nose.
Sighing, she retreated back into her room, with only one sock on, sat down on her bed, and pulled off her other sock before throwing both into the hamper. Lying down on her bed, she sighed. It could be some creeper from school who had somehow gotten a hold of her number. And she could be putting herself at risk by going.
But at the same time, she was a seven-year strong kickboxing champion for her weight class and terrified most of the boys in her division. So maybe she would live life on the wild side and indulge herself to someone treating her to fancy French food.
It was Valentine's Day after all—boycott or no boycott.
Kallen ended up arriving late. A half hour late to be exact. She wondered if it was too late by then and she was only wasting her time by coming down here after all. After asking the hostess about a reservation under her name, as per the instructions Naoto had given her, the girl smiled and led her to the table.
The restaurant was filled with couples, both young and old, but mostly old. The restaurant wasn't all that ritzy, but could easily make a casualty out of the wallet. Kallen felt a little nervous and wondered if maybe whoever it was could be some rich, old pervert. That would be horrifying.
The hostess led her through the main dining room, up a spiral staircase, through another dining room, down a hall, and through fancy double doors to what looked like a private dining room with a single table set up in the centre. The only light in the room came from the flickering candles on the table, illuminating little else and making the shadows in the dark room look bigger and more ominous. Kallen clutched her purse closer to her, feeling a little nervous, and slowly walked over to the table, starting to feel a little anxious about all this and had already started calculating her escape.
Worst-case scenario was that she kicked him in the jaw and ran as fast as her heels would let her to freedom.
When her shadow from the hall light disappeared, Kallen whirled to find that the hostess had closed the door behind her and had most likely gone back to attend other things. After looking back at the table Kallen had quickly realized that nobody was even there and she was effectively alone in the room. Nerves dying down, Kallen sighed, wondering now if she should sit down and wait or just leave. There was something intimidating about being in a dark, unfamiliar, empty room.
"Hello?" she called out. Maybe he didn't know she was here and needed some prompting, but then again, did she want to know who it was after all? It wasn't too late to just leave and forget this ever happened. "Is… anyone else here? It's me, Kallen Stadtfeld."
Just then, the lights all came on and, dressed in impeccable white and brandishing the largest bouquet of roses ever, was Gino Weinberg, in the middle of what looked to be a dance floor.
Kallen didn't know what to say or do as Gino walked right up to her and fell to one knee, offering his bouquet of red affection to her with a, "For you, my lady." A blush the colour of the roses quickly found its way to her face.
And when she looked into those blue eyes full of adoration, she couldn't help but just be a girl about the entire situation and took the roses, as Gino rose to his feet, making her look up to him. Part of why she didn't like Gino was that he was just so damn tall. He was taller than Lelouch—who she was just a little shorter than. In fact, since Lelouch barely just came up to his shoulder, she didn't want to think about how she just barely reached his chest.
"You jerk," she said quietly, looking anywhere but his sparkling blue eyes. And that anywhere caused her to look at how the room was filled with fresh cut roses lining the walls, the service counter and even hanging from the ceiling.
Gino just laughed. "Aww, don't be that way. It cost me a lot of begging and dignity to get us this private room."
Now Kallen looked around to take a better look. The room was grand. It was more than grand—it was magnificent. She hadn't seen luxury like this since moving out of the main house to live with her mother.
"Gino… how did you—"
He grabbed her wandering gaze by the chin and turned it back to him, holding a hand out to her. "I've got a few connections. Well?"
Kallen seized up, staring from him to his hand and back again. Surely he didn't…
Gino just smiled. "Would the lady care for a dance? In celebration of Singles Awareness Day?"
Letting out a sigh, she smirked at him and took his hand, yelping a bit as he quickly pulled her tightly to him. She flushed, looking down at his chest in embarrassment, not wanting to meet his eyes.
Once he pulled her onto the dance-floor, music started and he started to spin them around in circles in a practiced waltzing motion and she was only vaguely aware of the live classical musicians unobtrusively providing the music. Kallen found that her dance classes as a child came in handy as her feet stumbled a bit but eventually went on autopilot.
And suddenly she was conscious of how Gino's hand was large and secure around hers and how his other around her waist was comforting, supportive, and not at all intrusive. It was a pleasant touch and dancing with him was awkward because he was just so much taller than her that putting her hand where it ought to be was hard so she ended up resting it along his arm, feeling like a child.
"You're a vision tonight," Gino breathed, craning his neck down so his forehead touched the top of her head. "I just want to remember what you look like right now for the rest of my life."
Kallen flushed. "Y-You don't have to say it like that! You're… not bad yourself, Weinberg," she returned, rather quietly.
Chuckling, Gino grinned. "What's that, Princess? I couldn't hear you. Did you just say I was the most handsomest creature you'd ever laid eyes on?"
She puffed her cheeks out, resisting the urge to ruin their pace and just smack him upside the head. "You egotistical pig!"
"I'm well and truly flattered." He breathed deeply. "You smell like roses."
"Th-That's because of the room, you idiot! Because of… all these roses you bought…" For me.
Gino laughed again and Kallen could feel it vibrating through his chest in a not entirely unpleasant way. "No, I mean, you somehow always smell like roses. It's nice," he murmured.
A deeper scarlet swept through her cheeks. "Pig!"
"What? That was a compliment!"
Kallen buried her face into his chest, to keep him from seeing it burning up. "I know," she said, although it came out muffled.
Suddenly, Gino surprised her and dropped her hand to quickly bend his knees so he could scoop her up around the knees. Kallen yelped, grabbing for his shoulders in reflex, finding herself sitting in his arms a good foot taller than him. She scowled down at him and was about to scold him when she caught the look of utter adoration in his eyes and any protest died in her throat right then.
Gino's eyes were soft, warm, fluid. They spoke of love and devotion, affection and fondness. It reminded her of how her dad would look at her. The same kind of goofy grin on his face because she was his princess and the same eyes. Even after her parent's divorce and her decision to stay with her mother she still visited every weekend. It was the quiet look of unashamed, content, and quiet love.
"Don't hide your face. You're beautiful. Let me see you," Gino said plainly, without preamble.
Kallen squirmed under his gaze, not wanting to be aware of how secure she felt in his arms, or how safe she felt, secure in the knowledge that he won't drop her. If it were Lelouch, with his slighter frame, she might be worried, but Gino was… Gino was just…
"…too damn tall," she muttered, knowing her face must be tomato red by now.
Gino laughed and adjusted her height in his arms, throwing her up a bit and catching her as she yelped, so they were face to face. "Sorry. Is this better?"
His face was too close now.
Kallen worried her lower lip, feeling all kinds of nervous now at seeing that warm gaze still looking right at her eyes unwaveringly. Hesitantly, with much red on her face, she adjusted her arms around his neck and tried not to think about how close he was to her—and about how this was the closest she had ever been to another boy physically in her entire life other than her dad and brother.
"O-Only a bit."
They stayed like that for a long while and neither of them quite realized when the music started to fade into quiet background noise. But eventually, after what seemed like not long enough, Kallen felt comfortable enough to smile back at his brilliant grin.
"Now there's a smile…" he whispered—and there was a hint of—of something—in his voice that was soft, and warm, and delicate. Like if he said it any louder it would break and go away.
Kallen squirmed a bit, pulling her gaze away from his eyes but smiling no less.
"Kallen…" he breathed.
Feeling a bit bold, Kallen locked eyes back with him and cupped on hand at his cheek, thumbing over his cheekbone. "Weinberg?"
The doors behind them suddenly opened in double-doored glory and three servers dressed to the nines in white and black rolled themselves right up to the table, drawing both of their attentions away.
Gino quickly set Kallen down on her feet like he'd been doing it all his life and casually took her hand without asking, leading her over to the table. He pulled out a chair for her and pushed it in before taking his own seat and rubbing his hands together in anticipation, looking at the servers, making Kallen giggle a bit at his childishness.
"What's on the menu for us tonight, garcon?"
The one Gino addressed smiled, expertly beginning to unscrew a bottle of red wine. "Oh no, Sir, you were asked to be surprised tonight. But the wine is a delicious Bordeaux from one of the finest orchards France owns. Full-bodied, very good."
"Wonderful!" he exclaimed, just as the two others placed the plates down in front of each of them and revealed the dishes at the same time before backing away discreetly. The third server began to pour them each a glass of wine without spilling a single drop and placed it discreetly on the table before making his exit with the other two.
Kallen just marvelled, watching them leave and close the door back behind them.
"Gino! This must've cost you a fortune!" she declared, looking at the meal from the silver cutlery—as if it were never used before now—to the crystal glass, and sumptuous meal in front of her.
He just laughed. "Believe me when I say it didn't cost me anything but begging and dignity. But even so, if it's for you, I'd bring the moon back," he said with a wink.
Kallen just huffed, rolling her eyes. "That's not impossible at all."
"But I get an 'E' for 'Effort,' right?"
Gino held a hand over his heart as if she had just shot him there. "What a hard marker!"
And then they both laughed at themselves before digging in, continuing the playful banter. Kallen felt relaxed, happy, and pleasantly buzzed from the wine by the end of the night. They were feeling a bit too warm and relaxed, so they opted to walk home instead of taking the limousine service. Well, Gino would walk Kallen home, that is—at least until it was time to call the limo back to go the rest of the way.
About halfway she started to complain about her feet hurting, yelling it as loud as she could in the cool evening air. Gino just laughed, trying to keep her quiet and ended up carrying her on his back. Kallen wrapped her arms around him tightly, amazed at how broad his shoulders were, nuzzling into the back of his neck, sleepy from the regular, rhythmic gait of his walk.
In fact, by the time they reached her house and he was nudging her awake, Kallen realized she must have fallen asleep up there. He set her down carefully and she, sleepily, still a bit drowsy from the alcohol, clung to him a bit, wobbling slightly.
His large hands were placed on either side of her shoulders and he steadied her. "Easy now, I can't have you falling down drunk on the couch so your parents can grab their shotgun and shoot me."
Kallen giggled, gazing up at the darkened windows of her house. "They wouldn't. Everyone's sleeping right now."
The silence stretched between them as they just looked at each other and Kallen felt her cheeks start to heat up a bit—although she wasn't sure if it was still the wine or… or something else.
Maybe it was both.
Gino's thumb was rubbing aimless circles on her shoulder and Kallen tilted her head into his touch when he moved the other hand to cup her face. The night was clear, but the only night jewels they were looking at were each other's.
Slowly, Gino bent down and forward, as if making to kiss her.
Flushing at the realization that he probably was, Kallen parted her lips slightly in expectation before closing her eyes when he was only an inch away. Gino moved in and then pulled back, hesitating. And then he chickened out, planting a quick, chaste kiss to her forehead. If Kallen was still buzzed from the wine and he took advantage of her like this there would be hell to pay.
When Kallen's eyes opened blearily, clearly confused, he just smiled contentedly at her. "Happy Singles Awareness Day."
Blinking, Kallen said a quick, dazed, "Yeah… you too," before he set her on her way up the sidewalk to her house.
An unpleasant feeling twisted in her gut then and she turned back around to—
He had gone.
A burst of adrenaline rushed through her system and, before she knew it, she was dashing back to find him walking away already, running a hand through his golden locks. She ran up to him, calling his name only moments before actually reaching him.
He swivelled around.
She jumped up at him, wrapping her arms around his neck while his went around her waist.
And she kissed him.
It only lasted a few seconds, and it wasn't much more than her lips pressed against his, but it was more than she could have ever hoped for in a first kiss.
When they broke apart, Gino looked more flushed than he should be and was just staring at her.
"Happy Singles Awareness Day."
The next day, Kallen found herself walking with CC again, listening to her detail out how Lelouch had decided to be spontaneously romantic and cooked all her favourites while they had a candlelight dinner together. CC suspected that it was Nunally's suggestion but Lelouch wasn't spilling so easily this time.
"So what did you do yesterday? Anything exciting?"
Kallen flushed, remembering last night. "Nothing in particular."
Just then, a familiar voice called out Kallen's name and they both turned to see Gino rushing towards them. They stopped to wait until he caught up, where he bent down, kissed her on the cheek, gave a quick salute, and continued to book it off to school.
CC's eyes narrowed and a smirk formed on her lips. "Nothing in particular, huh?"
Kallen felt her cheeks burn.
Happy Valentine's/Singles Awareness Day! How did you spend it? I spent my Valentine's Day with the love of my life Minute Maid Pure Squeeze and a term paper.
We've pretty much sworn eternal love.
In hindsight, you can all go throw up now at how sugary this was. I know I will - I mean. Uh.
- Minute Maid
Beverage of Queens.