For Jen, who's waited oh-so-patiently for this to come out

For Jen, who's waited oh-so-patiently for this to come out.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

First love. A sweet, sorrowful experience, no? Is there anything as lovely—or as tragic—as your first taste of love?

I remember being eight years old, and drawn to him. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's my instinctive need to heal. I do like to fix things…people, rather, that are hurt. And Matt was. So maybe it was that. I could feel his pain, and I wanted to fix it, so I developed a crush on him. Makes sense.

But I don't fool myself into thinking that the initial attraction and fascination was love. I was just a child back then.

I don't quite know when it turned to love; I certainly never obsessed over Matt, though I never forgot him. I'd always thought I'd wind up with TK, though.

I did not want to get with Davis.

So then it happened. One day, I saw him and then without a doubt, like a flash of lightning, I knew that I was in love with him, and I saw no use in fighting it.

Don't misunderstand me. It wasn't the kind of love you build a lifetime on. But it was my first taste of that first love that so many underestimate.

So my seventeenth birthday was coming up.

A party with all my friends and me. TK was staying with his father, so Matt came to pick him up. But TK was enjoying a fight with Davis and got Matt to agree to stay a little while--probably until we needed to call the ambulance.

We--Matt and I--wound up on the balcony together. I always blush with embarrassment whenever he teases me about what happened next. My only defense was that I saw myself as quite grown up now--I was seventeen--and Matt was a real adult, the only kind of person I could now associate with.

Ever notice how those attempts at sophistication just wind up making you look stupider?

But, adopting a formal, mature tone, I said, and to this day, I'm not quite sure why, maybe I thought reminiscing was a very adult thing to do, "Do you know, Matt, I had a mad crush on you when I was younger?"

He turned to me, eyebrows raised. "Did you really? Well, you were absolutely adorable back then; you should have tried something."

"Oh, la," I replied. I'm not quite sure where I picked up that expression. I dropped it very soon after this incident. "Back then, I was too tongue-tied to do anything but stare. And don't you think I'm adorable now?" And I did my best to assume a flirty, pouty expression.

He looked slightly uncomfortable. "You're a very beautiful young lady," he replied.

Never mind; I do know why I started the conversation. I wanted him to admit an undying passion for me. Gotta love those seventeen-year-old-girl-fantasies, don't you? I begin moving subtly, or so I thought, towards him.

He stepped back.

I stepped forward.

We did that for a while, then I just blurted out, "Would you like to kiss me?"

To his credit, he didn't laugh or scoff or let any amusement show in his eyes. He just looked down at me and shook his head. "Kari, you've a very attractive, smart, wonderful girl, but you're still just a girl. When you finish growing up, give me a call." And he headed inside.

I felt my world crumble at this considerate yet callous rejection of me and my feelings--and it does feel like that, by the way. When everything you rely on to stay steady suddenly isn't, you feel like you can't even stand. In desperation, I blurted out something I really shouldn't have. "But Matt, I love you!"

He froze, then turn around. "Kari," he said gently, "you don't know what love is yet."

"Yes, I do," I protested.

"Not...the kind of love you're talking about here. Kari, you should grow up first."

At that moment, I hated him more than I've ever hated anyone in my entire life. I understand what he was saying now, but that doesn't change my humiliation then.

I guess he could feel it, because he just said, "Good night," and grabbed TK.

I got a steak out for Davis to put on his black eye and rather forcefully thrust Matt from my thoughts.

The afternoon we met again, I was lost, trying to find a restaurant my fiancé had told me to meet him at. I ran into Matt, quite literally, as I looked at building numbers. I would have fallen if he hadn't caught me.

"I'm sorry, miss," he said.

"No it was my--" I looked up and my jaw dropped. "Matt?" I exclaimed before I could stop myself. I didn't want to think about him. Just seeing him brought back the pain and hurt of that night--and the exhilaration I'd always felt when his eyes met mine.

He gave me a puzzled look. "I guess you have the advantage..."

"It's me, Kari," I told him reluctantly.

"Kari! How could I have not recognized you? You--"

"Yeah, well, it's been a while; five years, I think," I interrupted. "Um, how've you been?" A businesswoman 'til the end, I forced myself to get on with the polite trivialities.

"When was the last time you saw me?"

Rubbing salt in the wound, then? I thought. "My seventeenth birthday, actually," I got out.

"Oh." Apparently he remembered the night, too. "Well."

"Well."

"So, where are you going?"

"I'm meeting my fiancé--" I couldn't help throwing that at him "at Reynaud's...if I ever find it."

"I hate to tell you this, but you're headed in entirely the wrong direction."

"Figures. Do you know where exactly it is?"

"Allow me to escort you."

"I couldn't," I demurred, trying to get out of this as delicately as possible.

"Sure you could. I work there and I'm on my way now. So why not?"

"Oh. Um, what do you do there?" I asked as he took my arm and guided me through the sidewalk.

"I waiter."

"You waiter?"

"Yes. It's an honorable occupation."

"Yeah, but it's for smiling, congenial, friendly people."

"Ouch. But I guess you're right. As Yamato, I'm not waiter material. But as Mathieu--"

"Math-yoo?" I repeated.

"Oui. Mathieu is trés, trés charming. He makes...how you say...good tips," Matt told me in an outrageous French accent.

I burst out laughing.

"Why do you laugh, chérie? I speak only the truth!" he declared.

"I'm sure," I managed to get out. "Where did you learn that French?" I demanded.

"I spent some time in France a while ago...surely TK told you about it? I take it I sound authentic?" He raised an eyebrow and looked me straight in the eyes.

And with that movement, that gesture, all those feelings I'd so carefully locked away and truly thought were gone came rushing out and flooded my heart. In an adult way. It wasn't just the adolescent puppy love I'd had before. "Uh...uh...mais oui," I mumbled, looking away. Good Lord, woman! You're on your way to meet your fiancé and you're mooning over some childhood crush? Control, Kari, control.

"Well, merci, mademoiselle," he said with a bow. "And here we are."

"Thanks," I murmured and attempted to find Akio.

He spotted me first and waved me over--less than enthusiastically, now that I think back on it. "Hello, Kari," he said uncomfortably.

"Hi, Akio. You sounded worried on the phone," I said as I set my purse down. He helped me with my chair.

"Er--yes," he said. "But maybe we should order first?"

"Okay, sure."

I didn't think anything was wrong. Akio was a slightly nervous person all the time and I was thinking of the presentation I was going to be giving in an hour, so I didn't even really focus on him, finding nothing odd with this behavior.

What I did find odd was the person who was heading for us. Dressed in white slacks, a red shirt, and a kicky blue beret with a French flag on top, Matt looked as ridiculous I'd ever seen him.

And I'd seen him in some ridiculous positions. Remember Puppetmon?

"Allo. My name is Mathieu. 'Ow may I 'elp you?" he asked in a tone so French, I double-checked to make sure it was really him.

"What are your specials?" Akio asked.

"Ah, oui." And Matt rattled off a list of dishes so fast, neither of us had any idea what he'd said.

"Right," Akio said blankly. "Um, how about just water for now? Kari?"

"Yeah, that's fine."

We sat in silence until we got our water.

"So, what's up, Akio? I have a meeting at one thirty..."

"Yeah, I know." He took a deep breath. "Kari, it's over."

I stared at him. "What?" I asked uncomprehendingly.

"It's over. We're not getting married."

"Really."

"I'm sorry, Kari, but I can't marry you. I just don't love you."

"What?" I repeated.

He sighed. "I got a job offer in America. I would have to leave next week. I accepted it. I realized what I'd done, that I'd taken it and I couldn't because we're getting married, but when I tried to call back to decline, I realized I didn't want to. I'm relieved to get away from all this. I'm excited to go...I'm excited to leave you."

I felt like I'd been slapped at that last bit.

"I'm sorry, Kari," he finished.

I couldn't react. He didn't sound sorry at all; he sounded like he'd just rambled off a list of reasons to do his laundry today as opposed to tomorrow. I felt like I was missing the punchline of some joke.

"Kari? Say something?"

I threw my water in his face. I didn't mean to. Just his tone when he told me to say something...my hand picked up the glass and threw it before I could do anything about it.

He face hardened. "I had hoped we could be civil about this, act like adults. Obviously, I was expected too much of you. Good day, Miss Kamiya." And he stalked out the door.

I sat there, stunned. Finally, I looked at my left hand, where the diamond ring rested. It was a nice ring, fairly large, stylishly designed. Shiny and perfect...like Akio. But when it came down to it, did it have any substance? Did he?

I took it off and set it on the table. I could leave this for a tip...Matt could sell it or something...I bet it would cover the water.

But I couldn't move somehow. The shock of what had just happened overwhelmed me. I just kept replaying the scene. He was relieved to be leaving? He was excited to be away from me? Why had he ever asked me to marry him...why had I ever accepted?

"Kari?"

Matt was standing behind me. "Hi, Matt," I replied numbly.

"Um...care to order?" he asked hesitantly.

I considered it. "Wine would be good. No, scratch that. I have a presentation in an hour; it just wouldn't do to be drunk." I looked up at him. "Do you suppose you could shoot me?"

There was an astonished silence. "What just happened here?" he finally asked, sitting down in Akio's chair.

"You know, that's what I'm wondering, too. I walked in here, thinking I was going to be married in a couple months. But now I seem to be strangely fiancé-less. That will make it difficult; not having a groom and all, don't you think?"

"Oh. Oh, Kari, I'm so sorry." He touched my shoulder lightly.

"And it was over a job." The numbness was rapidly being replaced by anger. "Over a job! Another woman, okay, I could understand that. Another man...that'd be weird, but still understandable. But a job! That's just insulting to me!"

"Um, why is the seat wet?" Matt asked.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I believe I threw my water at him."

"You believe?"

"I'm very angry right now."

And then I began to cry.

"I can tell," Matt said dryly, but sympathetically. "Would you like something to eat? On the house?"

I shook my head. "I don't even like French food!" I sobbed.

"What do you like, then?"

"P--pizza."

"Our mortal enemies, the Italians. Of course." Matt grinned. "Then let me buy you the best pizza you'll ever eat."

"I--I couldn't. You're working, besides." I dabbed my eyes. "I'm over it now," I said in what I hoped was a steady voice. "It was just the surprise, that's all."

"Well, be that as it may, my boss told me to go home--you can ask him if you don't believe me--and I'm going to get some pizza. I'd be honored if you'd accompany me. Really."

"I..."

"Come on. I'm starving, and isn't it cruelty to animals to make them wait to eat?"

I couldn't help laughing at that. "Okay. Thank you, Matt."

"What are friends for?" He handed me my ring. "Don't forget that."

"I'd rather," I muttered.

"Nah. Something else to throw at him, and it'll probably really hurt."

I had no idea why Matt was being so nice. For the next thirty minutes, he listened to me rant and rave about what huge jerk Akio was without one word of complaint. Well, I don't know if he really listened, but he said, "Yeah," "Uh-huh," and "How terrible," and "I can't believe it," in all the right places.

I finally ran out of steam. "Is it me?" I asked quietly. I've noticed people often go from anger to self-blame.

"You? What do you mean?"

"Akio was my only serious relationship. I've never gotten close like that to anyone else. And I've said 'I love you' to only two guys and they both rejected it." That was a semi-calculated move. Even in the depths of my self-pity, I wanted to hear him say what a wonderful person I was, and I knew he would.

Matt looked like I'd hit him. "Kari, Akio was a jerk. I know, I've just heard you tell about everything he's ever done. He was a moron. A buffoon. He threw out your love, which has to be the best thing that's ever happened to him."

"If that's true," I said, "then why did you?"

He waited a long time before answering, until I finally looked up at him. "Kari," he said quietly, "you were still a child back then, no matter how you don't want to hear it. 'I love you' means two entirely different things to a seventeen-year-old girl and twenty-one-year-old guy. Your feelings were real, I don't deny that, but you didn't--you couldn't--mean it in the way I needed you to for us to have a real relationship, and I couldn't take advantage of that, no matter how much I may have wanted to."

"H--how much you may have wanted to?" I repeated in an incredulous whisper.

"And do you now despise me for even having that desire?" he asked.

"Not at all."

"Then when you get to feeling better about all this, do you think you'd like to go out sometime?" he asked hopefully.

"Yes, I think I would."

We were smiling at each other and things might have gone further, but then I noticed the time.

"I'm going to be late. Thank you, Matt for a wonderful lunch and letting me unload on you. I really appreciate it."

He gave me a little salute, then leaned over and kissed my cheek. "See you later?"

I knew I was bright red. "Yeah. See you." and I made good my escape.

I managed to keep from daydreaming about him until I got home. But then I couldn't stop, and the big bouquet of flowers he had delivered to me didn't help matters any.

I know I fell asleep smiling.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I discovered the most annoying thing about having your betrothed jilt you is the way everyone stops talking the moment you enter a room. If I'd still been desperately in love with Akio, I wouldn't have noticed. But we'd had a talk, he and I, the night before he left.

I gave him back the ring--very civilly, I might add--and we talked it out. Neither of us really wanted to get married, at least not to each other. As he put it, "Our relationship was in a rut, I think, and neither of us knew how to get out."

"You apparently figured it out."

"I wouldn't have if not for that job...and I'm sorry I acted the way I did," he added. "That wasn't the most sensitive way to break it to you."

"Well, I'm sorry I threw water in your face."

"Justifiable female reaction." He grinned. "I'm just thankful you didn't slap me with that ring on."

"That would have been painful. Good luck, Akio."

"Thanks, Kari. You, too. With that waiter?"

To my absolute horror, I felt myself begin to blush furiously. "You saw that?"

"I left my jacket at the table," he explained. "I saw him come over and comfort you, then you both left. You looked angry, but happy, too. It's hard to explain."

"Oh, Lord."

He laughed. "Well, I've got to get up early tomorrow..."

"I recognize a polite dismissal when I hear it. Goodbye, Akio."

"Goodbye, Kari."

I tried explaining that to my friends, but they all just told me I didn't have to be strong in front of them. Finally I gave up and considered perhaps getting a hat with black netting on it.

I hadn't heard from Matt since that day. Finally, after a respectable time of two weeks, I went seeking him out.

"Kari, I thought you hated French food," he said when he saw me sitting at Reynaud's.

"I do."

"Well, then...what are you doing here?"

"Hmm. I must be looking for something or someone else. Now who could I be seeking in a French restaurant?" I tapped my cheek in mock confusion.

His mouth quirked into an absolutely adorable grin. "Do I take it you mean my humble self?"

"Very good."

The maître'd began glaring at him.

"I can't talk now. Later?"

"What time do you get off?"

"Nine."

It was eight. "I'll wait, then."

"Okay. See you in an hour."

We walked over to my apartment and I let him in. "It's even semi-clean," I bragged.

"Impressive."

"So."

"So."

I took a deep breath and pretended to be busy sorting papers. "So, um, when can I collect on that date?" I asked with forced casualness.

Matt moved so he was sitting next to me. He took the papers and forced me to look into his eyes. "I don't quite know why I'm fighting this, but...really?"

"Really," I said without hesitation or doubt.

Then he kissed me.

There are no words to describe it. I'd been kissed before, and while I'd always found it a pleasant experience, it had never made the stars fall out of the sky.

I discovered that previous experience is nothing to go by on that matter, because his did. I don't know how long we'd been kissing when we finally broke apart. I do know I needed to take several deep breaths in order to restore oxygen to my brain.

He pulled me closer and cradled me against his chest. "I've wanted to do that since you were about sixteen years old," he told me.

"I really wish you'd told me. We could have saved a lot of time," I mused, tracing the pattern of his shirt with my finger. "You do realize I'm not going to let you let me go?"

"There you go assuming I'd want to," he replied. He kissed the top of my head, then trailed his way down. To avoid getting embarrassingly intimate, I'll just say that all night, I did nothing to discourage and everything to encourage every action he took.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I woke up and realized that for the first time, someone besides me was in my bed. Matt was behind me, his arms were wrapped around me loosely and his chin rested in the hollow of my shoulder.

"Are you awake?" he murmured.

"Yeah."

"Good. My arm is falling asleep, but I didn't want to just roll you off."

I couldn't help giggling as I moved.

"Thank you," he said, moving it around and running it up and down my arm.

So this is the dreaded "morning after," I mused. It doesn't seem so bad.

"Hey Kari?" he whispered in my ear.

"Hey Matt?" I whispered back.

"What are you thinking?"

"That I love you." It just popped out before I could stop it or think up a suitable lie.

I felt him stiffen. "What?" Obviously that was not what he'd expected.

Oh, Lord, now it seems bad. "I'm sorry. I don't--"

"Did you mean it?" he interrupted me.

Does he want me to lie?

"Kari?"

"Yes," I replied softly, determined to be honest. I'd already given him my heart before and he'd stomped on it, so this time couldn't be any worse. Right?

But he didn't say anything.

I forced myself to turn around and look at him. "Matt?" I ventured.

He sat up and pulled me next to him. "Thank you," he said simply.

"Thank you," I repeated.

"Yes."

"For what, pray tell?"

"For trusting me."

"Trusting you," I stated, trying to make sense of all this. It did not help that he'd let the blanket slip a little and his bare chest was fully revealed. "Care to elaborate in the slightest?"

He grinned again. "Do you know how I feel about you?"

"Well, no."

"But you just told me how you feel."

"Yeah."

"And you're trusting me not to hurt you."

"I guess."

"So thank you," he said simply.

"Well...you're welcome."

"Oh, incidentally, I love you, too," he said before kissing me. Quite thoroughly.

"I really need to send Akio a gift," I said when he'd finished.

"I beg your pardon?" He looked slightly offended.

"A thank you gift, for breaking up with me. I really owe him," I elaborated.

"No, that would be me."

"No, don't you get it? Not everyone gets a second chance with their first love."

He grinned down at me. "Ditto for me."

I shrugged. "Well, we have quite a lot of time to argue over who loves who more."

"And I can't wait to get started."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Ta-da! Revised and better than ever...anyway, please review.