Bunny and Jack arrived at the Man in the Moon a few minutes before seven. North and Sandy were waiting outside the restaurant, sitting on one of the few benches provided. Bunny glanced around; there was no sign of Tooth.
"Hey," he said, taking a seat next to Sandy. "You got a name in?"
"Yes," North replied. "I used my name. They looked at me funny, but I merely shrugged it off. North is a very strong name, don't you think?"
"Sure. Have you seen a girl here with red hair and feather accessories?"
"Is that the girl we are meeting?"
North shook his head. "We have not seen her yet."
Bunny felt his heart sink ever so slightly. "There's still time."
Jack took to standing on a small brick wall around the garden. He balanced himself on one foot and walked across it. He spotted a stick in the garden, so he picked it up. He swung it around as he went across the brick wall, pretending it was a staff of some sort. "Imagine," he spoke up. "if I had powers. Like, what if I could shoot snow out of this staff? That'd be cool, huh?"
"Not really," Bunny said, shaking his head. "You can really mess up some holidays that way, mate. Like Easter, for instance."
Jack chuckled. "Oh, the Bunny and Easter. Why am I not surprised?" He glanced over at North and Sandy, slightly disappointed neither of them told him-or at least expressed- happy birthday. It wasn't like North to just ignore a day like this, especially an 18th birthday. He supposed they were more concerned about Bunny, though. Tooth was the first girl he showed in any interest in since Marie died. That was more important than a birthday. He'd have a lot of those. He was fine as long as they did something for his 21st. Vegas sounded like a good idea.
The minutes ticked by, and soon it was 7:10, and no sign of Tooth. Bunny was feeling his hope dwindling away fast. "She's not coming," he said with defeat in his voice.
"Don't say that," North chided him. "She is probably only running late."
"She probably pieced it together. That I like her. I probably scared her off. Blimey, I'm an idiot."
Sandy tapped Bunny on the shoulder, but the other man merely waved his hand. Sandy tried to get the attention of the others, but both North and Jack were looking over at Bunny, trying to find out a way to comfort him. Sandy rolled his eyes, taking his phone out of his pocket. He pressed a button, and a long ringing noise played, causing Bunny, North, and Jack to turn their heads.
"Tooth!" Bunny exclaimed. She was smiling softy as she walked up to meet them. She was wearing a yellow tunic, dark green tights, and blue flats. Her eyes were shrouded with her signature light pink eyeshadow.
"Sandy! Why didn't you say something?" North asked. Sandy crossed his arms and pouted.
"Sorry I'm late," Tooth said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I was finishing up some homework, and I completely lost track of the time."
Bunny let out a sigh of relief. That was all it was? "Oh, it's fine. Schoolwork comes first, yeah? Where are my manners? Tooth, you know Jack, obviously."
"Obviously," Jack said.
"And this is North," Bunny said, pointing to the large man beside him. "And Sandy." He pointed to the shorter man.
North shook Tooth's hand vigorously. "It is very nice to meet you, Tooth."
Sandy smiled warmly at her and took her hand after North was done.
"Well, there's your daily exercise," Bunny chuckled.
"North," the maitre'd called from the restaurant. "Your table is ready."
"Oh, it is time for us to go!" North exclaimed, clapping his hands together. "Come." He put his arm around Tooth and led her inside. She was laughing the whole way.
"I think she's gonna fit in just fine," Jack told Bunny as they followed.
North, Tooth, and Sandy sat one side of the table while Bunny and Jack sat on the other. Bunny was pleased that he was sitting right across from her, and it would be easier for him to talk to her. As soon as everyone was seated and comfortable, the waiter came around to their table.
"Hello," he said. He couldn't have been much older than Pippa; they might have been the same age. "My name's Jamie, and I'll be your waiter this evening. Can I start you off with something to drink?"
"Ladies first," Bunny said, gesturing for Tooth to order first.
"Oh, I'd like a mint iced tea, please."
"Root beer for me," Jack spoke up.
Sandy pointed to the picture of lemonade on the menu while North ordered a large brandy.
Bunny considered getting a drink. It had been a while since he actually gone out, so a drink wouldn't be a bad idea. But…he had Sophie to think about. What if he got tipsy or more? "Just an iced tea for me, thanks," he finally said.
Jamie nodded as he scribbled down their orders on his notepad. "Alright, then. I'll be back with your drinks, and then I'll take your orders." He walked back to the kitchens.
Jack tapped Bunny on the shoulder. "Iced tea? You're so uptight; you should've gotten a vodka."
"Believe me, I was considering it. But, whatever. It's fine."
"So, Tooth," North said; Bunny was grateful North was there to fill in the awkward silences. "You go to the university?"
Tooth nodded. "Mmm-hmm. I would like to be a dentist. I know that sounds odd because my name is Tooth, but I've always been fascinated by teeth. Actually, my real name is Toothiana. It's a bit of a mouthful though." She turned her head to look at Sandy. "Sandy, you're the one who owns the cafe, yeah?"
Sandy smiled and nodded.
"I love it. It's one of the nicest cafes I ever been at. And your staff," she looked over at Bunny and Jack, "are so kind."
"You haven't met Emma, though, " Jack said. "She's pretty awesome, herself."
At this time, Jamie returned with their drinks. He put them on the table before taking out his notepad. "You ready to order?"
"Again, ladies first," Bunny smiled warmly.
Tooth gave the menu one glance. She had been here before, but it had been a while. "Chicken Alfredo, please."
"This meatlover's pizza sure does look good," Jack said, pointing to the picture of a personal pizza covered in sausage, chicken, and pepperoni. "I'll have that."
"I will take the spaghetti and meatballs," North said next. "Sandy will have the shrimp scampi."
"Alright," Jamie said as he jotted the orders down. "And for you, sir?" He asked Bunny.
"The vegetable lasagna, thank you."
Jamie took the menus from them and retreated into the kitchen to give the ticket to the chef.
"Bunny, you're so out of the loop," Jack said, sipping at his root beer. "Everyone's getting something with meat in it. And you? Vegetable lasagna." He laughed in disbelief.
Bunny rolled his eyes, absentmindedly stirring the already dissolved sugar into his tea. "You've known me for a little over a year, Jack. I'm not going to magically desert my vegetarian ways."
"Sometimes I wish you would. Meat is delicious!"
Tooth giggled. The banter between Bunny and Jack really was amusing.
Bunny caught her eye from across the table. He was really hating the way his cheeks have been reacting these last few days. He must've blushed more in this week than he ever had in his life. He opened his mouth to speak, but he found his throat was incredibly dry. He took a large gulp of tea before speaking, "Tooth, I didn't get a chance to tell you…. You…" Oh, those eyes of hers, staring right through him. How could he expect to talk in a complete sentence when his brain was having trouble forming coherent thoughts? "You… look very nice tonight," he managed to say. He let out a sigh. That could've been worse. He could've gone all Yoda and said, "Tonight nice very, you look."
She smiled shyly, her hand going to twirl her hair. "You really think so? You look nice tonight, too. I really like the vest."
I am so glad I wore this vest, he thought.
"So… how are studies?" He asked her.
"Not too bad, actually."
"Why do you sound surprised?" Jack asked.
"Well, during this time of the year, things get hectic. And I'm not gonna lie, it has been, but it hasn't been as bad as last semester, you know?" She sighed. "I do have a lot of studying to do next week. Tests, and all that fun stuff."
"See, that's why I don't go to school," Jack grinned, throwing his hands up into the air.
"Haven't you ever gone to school?"
He sniffed. "Of course I have! I graduated high school! Just… don't have the money to go to college." He shifted in his seat.
"Kind of like me," Bunny said, ruffling his hair. "Except he doesn't have a two-year old to look after."
"Nope, it's just me, myself, and I!" Jack announced proudly, reclining back on his chair. Truth was he did get lonely. That was why he visited Bunny so often. Of course, he was not about to say that.
"North, if you drink that any faster, you're gonna have a terrible hangover in the morning," Bunny said when he saw that North was halfway finished with his brandy already. At least Sandy would be capable of driving him home tonight.
North laughed his hearty laugh. "You need to lighten up, old friend. It is celebration, after all."
"Yeah," Jack agreed, putting his chair upright so he could get to his drink. "We're celebrating the day everyone got to meet your girlfr…"
Before Jack could finish sentence, Bunny put a hand around his mouth. "If you wanna live to see tomorrow morning, I suggest you hold your tongue," he muttered menacingly.
Jack mumbled against Bunny's hand. "Okay, okay," he said once he was able to.
For most of the evening, everyone was animated. Though he wasn't sure how the night would go, Bunny was glad that North, Jack, and Sandy tagged along. If it was just him and Tooth, it probably would've been extremely awkward.
Near the end of the night, Jamie came up to their table. He had a big smile on his face.
"I understand we're celebrating something tonight," he said.
Bunny groaned inwardly. What did Jack do now?
Two more people came up behind Jamie, a waiter and a waitress. The waitress was holding a large cake.
"It's someone's 18th birthday!" She sang.
Jack went red in the face. They remembered, after all?
"Guys, really?" He asked, a smile gracing his features.
"But, of course!" North yelled. "It's not everyday our friend turns 18, is it?"
"This is awesome!" The waitress put the cake on the table in front of Jack and lit the candle. After everyone had sang happy birthday, he blew the candle out. "Whoo!" He cheered.
Bunny clapped along with everyone else. He still felt guilty about forgetting Jack's birthday, but he was glad North and Sandy made up for it. Still… he'd have to buy the kid something.
Once Jack's plate was completely clean, Tooth glanced at her watch.
"Oh, wow," she said. "I didn't know how late it had gotten. I have to be up early tomorrow to finish some schoolwork." She fished her wallet out of her purse.
"No, no," North shook his head. "I will take care of it."
"Are you sure? Because I don't mind at least paying for my share." Tooth's cheeks were turning red.
"I am sure."
She nodded as she put her wallet back inside her purse. "Well, I had a wonderful time tonight. North, Sandy, it was a pleasure meeting you. Happy birthday, again, Jack."
"Thank you for inviting me, Bunny."
"You're quite welcome, sheila." He watched as she got out of her seat and made her way toward the exit. "Tooth, wait!" He called out.
"He's gonna make a move on her," Jack informed North and Sandy, which earned him a smack upside the head.
"Yeah?" Tooth asked.
"Let me walk you home," Bunny told her. "It's dark out, and I'd feel a lot better if I walked you home." He was sure Tooth could handle herself. After all, she probably walked home by herself at night loads of times.
"I'd like that," she said with a warm smile.
After Bunny had said his goodbyes to the others, he joined Tooth outside the restaurant. He walked alongside her, his hands deep in his pockets. If his hands were dangling by his sides, he would have the urge to grab her hand, and he just couldn't have that.
"I had fun," she said, breaking the silence looming between them.
"So did I."
"They're a lively bunch, aren't they? Your friends?"
"You have no idea," Bunny chuckled. "They come over to my apartment about, oh, four times a week. It's hard to get any peace."
"But, it must be nice having those three around. You know? Having those people care so much about you."
Did that have a double meaning? He was tempted to ask her about her friends, but he managed to stop himself; it really wasn't any of his business. "Yeah," he said instead. "I'm grateful for them. Even if they annoy me a lot. Especially Jack. Still, thanks to them, there's never a dull day. And Sophie adores them."
Tooth nudged him slightly. "You're a good guy, Bunny."
His cheeks burned. "Yeah?"
"Yes. Most guys your age wouldn't think of adopting a little girl."
"Well, I wasn't thinking of it either, you know. It just sort of happened."
"Even so. I still think it's admirable."
He bowed his head so she couldn't see his dorky smile. "You know, I'd love for you to meet her someday." He looked up to see Tooth smiling hugely at him.
"I'd love to! She sounds like the sweetest thing ever."
"You want kids," it was more of a statement, then a question. Tooth, cheeks burning slightly, nodded. "Why are you blushing? I think you'd make a terrific mother."
"You think so?"
"'Course I do, sheila."
Tooth smiled, and then she shivered. She hadn't brought a jacket along, and it was starting to get cold. Bunny took one hand out of his pocket and put his arm around her.
"Sorry," he muttered. "You just seemed cold, and I…"
She pressed her head against his shoulder. "No, this feels nice."
He smiled softly. "You know… we've become good friends in such a short time, and we don't know much about each other. How about we fill each other in?"
"That sounds like a good idea."
"Well, first off… you know my last name is Bunnymund, which is why people call me "Bunny." My first name is Aster."
"Aster?" Tooth asked. "That's a nice name. Why don't you go by that?"
He didn't answer her at once. Maybe he shouldn't have said anything. "Well, it's a special name, I suppose. Only my mother and sisters call me that. And…" He paused. Should he tell her? What was her the harm. "…My ex-girlfriend, Marie. It's sort of a name reserved for people who love me, I guess."
"Oh." Tooth didn't blame him for not wanting to go by Aster. "I'm sorry. It must feel awful."
"It's worst than that, I'm afraid. You see, Marie and I didn't actually break up." He gulped, his throat suddenly burning. "She died. Car accident. About five years ago."
Tooth stopped walking.
"Sheila?" He asked uncertainly. Her eyes were shining with tears. Oh, he hated when people cried. "Oh, Tooth, please, don't cry! I'm sorry; I shouldn't have said anything."
Tooth shook her head, wiping her eyes with her finger. "No, don't be. I'm sorry that has happened to you."
He ruffled her hair, enjoying the angry pout that appeared on her face. "Sheila, it's not your fault. I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine. It's been five years, I'm over it."
"You sure?" She asked with a hiccup.
"Positive. Come on, let's get you home."
He put his arm around her again, holding her closer than before. She didn't protest, so he took this as a good sign. It really did feel nice.
About ten minutes later, they arrived outside her apartment door. He took his arm off her shoulders, and watched as she fished through her purse for her key.
"Thanks again, Bunny," she said as she put the key into the lock. "I had a wonderful time tonight."
"Same here, sheila." He stood rooted to the spot for a few minutes before awkwardly moving away. "I'll see you next week." It was strange that he was suddenly so nervous. He spent half a mile with his arm around her, perfectly content. But, now, standing in front of her, the light of her apartment clearly illuminating her beauty, his heart decided to go into overdrive.
She got on her tiptoes and gave him a soft hug and a kiss on the cheek. "See you," she said once she was dislodged from him.
His heart was racing faster than ever. She just hugged him… and kissed him! He nodded at her and left the apartment building, his palms sweaty, and his face burning hotter than ever. He placed his hand on the place where she kissed him, and the tiniest bit of a smile appeared on his face.
Oh, god, he thought, and he stopped in his tracks, the smiling melting from his face. I'm in love with her. How did this happen? He had only known her for a few days, but the way he was feeling right now, there was so denying it. I'm in love with her.