Chapter 2: Dinner Date

==Nine Years Ago==

"Hey mom, I'm heading out with Aeris. I'll be back around eight.", Leo called over to his mother in the kitchen, grabbing his car keys off the counter beside the door.

"Alright honey. Will you need something to eat when you get back?"

"No I'll be fine, but thanks. We'll probably grab a burger or something around town."

"Okay. Don't have too much fun."

Leo rolled his eyes as he made his way past his mother. "I'll try.", he responded with heavy sarcasm. He grabbed his jacket from the closet while his mother snuck up behind him and surprised Leo with a quick hug. She planted a kiss on her son's forehead, much to Leo's embarrassment.

"Moooooooooom!", the gray cat whined in response to the small display of parental affection.

"Oh quit it, you big baby.", Mrs. Leonardo gave her son a light tap on the back of the head, a joking smile on her face, "You haven't moved out yet, so I can still give you a kiss every now and then."

"No, I'mma big boy now!", Leo responded in a rather childish voice, crossing his arms and sticking his tongue out at his mother to complete the display of immaturity. Mrs. Leonardo simply took it in stride. She loved Leo's sense of humor. Well, not so much the more perverse aspects of it, but she had no problem with him showing it off around the house with her or his father. Giving Leo another bop on the back of the noggin, this time a bit harder to focus his attention on her, Mrs. Leonardo tapped her wrist a few times, silently telling Leo he had better get going soon. It was a well known fact that Aeris didn't like to be kept waiting, and Leo wasn't about to pay the price for it.

Slipping his jacket over himself, Leo made his way out of the kitchen and was heading towards the front door when his mother cut him off, an expectant expression present on her face, "Forgetting something?"

Leo rolled his eyes and sighed before giving his mother a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. She chuckled to herself, delighting in the fact that Leo was so easy to bug, and stepped aside to let him leave, "Love you son. Don't come home too late, okay?"

"Alright mom, love you too." Leo responded. "See you later dad!" Leo called towards the living room to his father on the couch, contently reading today's paper.

"Have a good time son. Don't forget to use protection!", his father shouted back in a joking manner.

"LEO!" Mrs. Leonardo ran up to her husband, snatched the newspaper from his paws, rolled it up, and proceeded to beat him over the head with it, all within the time frame of five or so seconds, "DON'T GIVE HIM ANY IDEAS!"

Leo simply shook his head as he stepped out of his house and towards his car, the sounds of his parents shenanigans fading as he distanced himself from the house. People often wondered why he was lacking in the smarts department. Well as the saying goes, the apple doesn't fall from the tree. His little joke made Leo snicker quietly to himself, knowing he'd probably get grounded for a lengthy amount of time if he were to ever relay it to either of his parents. Jangling his keys between his digits, Leo stepped into his car, bringing the old thing roaring to life. The music of his favorite classic rock station was playing softly in the background as he pulled out of the driveway. As Leo made his way over to Aeris' house, he kept bobbing his head along to the rhythm of "Dr. Feelgood", thinking for the umpteenth time about how great of a band Motley Crue was.

A few minutes later Leo and his rusty old car came to a stop at the Cole residence. He gave a quick toot of the horn to signal his arrival to his pink friend. Aeris stepped out of the door a few seconds later, dressed in her everyday attire; dark navy jeans, purple t-shirt, and of course her favorite pink jacket. Leo waved over to her, and she waved back, smiling at the feline in the driver's seat.

Sitting into the passenger's seat beside Leo, Aeris leaned over and gave the gray cat a quick kiss on the cheek in greeting. "Took you long enough.", she said as she pulled her seat belt across her chest.

Leo shrugged at her snarky response,"Sorry, got held up at home. Mom was just being Mom again."

Aeris rolled her eyes and said,"Yeah sure. So, where are we headed?"

Leo smiled, "Well, I figured that we'd just get something to eat today, maybe catch a movie if there's anything good playing. You game?"

Aeris shrugged, "May as well. After all, I had nothing else better to do anyway."

"Alright then.", Leo said as he continued to drive. After a moment, Aeris looked him over and said,"God, you look like a slob."

Leo chuckled, "Hey, it's not like we're going to a five-star restaurant. It's just going to be some diner. Seriously, who would make themselves look all groomed if they were just going to some burger joint?"

==Present Day==

Leo hated irony so much.

After he had returned home from his grocery shopping, he set his bags down on the counter and began to take out the contents of the bags. He was half-way done when he heard that all too familiar voice.

"Hi!" Came an almost melodious, female voice.

Leo smiled at the woman in the living room. "Hi honey. How're things while I was gone?"

"Pretty good.", she answered, "A little boring without you around, as usual."

"Oh come on, it can't be that bad.", he said, smirking.

"I guess not, but I get so lonely without you around.", she trailed off in a slightly sad voice.

Leo took the last can out of the bag before walking over and hugging her, giving her a warming smile.

"Sorry hon. Doesn't help that I'll be leaving again in a few hours..."

From her expression, Leo knew she was more than disappointed by this news. "Awwwww, why?"

"I met one of my friends today.", he responded, trying to help himself. "I haven't seen her in years."

The female's ears perked at that word. "Her?", she questioned.

"Don't worry, she isn't going to replace you.", he reassured, giving her a quick squeeze for reassurance,

"We're just going to a restaurant to catch up on what we've been doing."

"Oh, okay.", she said, feeling better. "Have a good time."

"I will, but I have to get changed first.", Leo said, going into his bedroom. He went to his closet and changed into a cleaner version of his normal outfit. He then went into the adjacent bathroom and started to fix himself up, combing his hair and brushing his teeth. When he looked presentable, he went back outside his bedroom and said, "So, what'dya think?"

Looking at him, she smirked. "Well, you do look better than earlier." She jeered.

Leo sniggered,"Gee, thanks.". Stealing a look at his watch, Leo saw that he had a few hours left to spend time with her. He smiled. It was no secret, but he loved doing everything with her. She was his happiness, incarnate.

"Well, we got some time to kill. Why don't we watch TV or something?"

"Sure!", she said excitedly, scooting over on the couch so that Leo could sit next to her. When he sat down and grabbed the remote, she leaned closed to him and kissed him on the cheek."Love you." She said with a endearing smile

Leo smiled big, "I love you too hon." And with that, the two continued on with their time watching television.

==Nine Years Ago==

Aeris was waiting not-so-patiently on her couch, foot tapping as she waited for her idiot friend to pick her up so that they could go out and do something. She sighed in frustration. She should've expected this from Leo. Hell, she did expect this from Leo. However, somehow she got it in her mind that she might be able to think that he'd would pull off being on time just once, but every time it seemed that the universe was set on correcting this way of thinking. Deciding to move around a little bit to kill time, she ran into her father, who was about to sit on the couch himself. Catching site of his daughter's frustrated expression, he asked, "Hey, sweetheart,what's the matter?"

Aeris sighed, "It's just Leo, Dad. Nothing too bad."

Her father almost seemed to scowl at the mention of his daughter's friend, "What did he do this time?"

Aeris rolled her eyes at her father's disdain toward her idiotic friend,"It's nothing Dad. It's just that Leo was supposed to pick me up fifteen minutes ago."

This information didn't seem to make him any less irritated, but he dropped the issue and went to the couch, grumbling slightly with his eyebrows furrowed. She was going to say something about it, but then she heard a car horn outside of her house.

"Fucking finally!", she thought as she made her way to the door, about to leave, when she was stopped by her mother.

"Going out with Leo today, Aeris?"

Aeris sighed. She never really liked that her mother always thought of Leo as her boyfriend, and it always annoyed her to no end when she would say things that implied that she was. She had tried to set her mother straight about this many times before, but they always ended with her being frustrated. So, she just said, "Yeah mom. Why do you ask?"

She shrugged, "I was just wondering is all. You didn't exactly tell us that you would."

Aeris groaned, "Mom, do I really have to tell you every single thing that I plan to do?"

"I guess not.", her mother said, smiling like a teenager. "You could at least tell me what you're doing and when you'll get back."

"Okay.", Aeris said, "I don't know, and sometime before nine."

Her mother rolled her eyes and, in every sense of the word, pouted, if you can imagine a parent pouting because of something their child said. "Fine, don't tell me. You'd better not keep him waiting."

"Don't need to tell me twice!" Aeris eagerly opened the door to see Leo's car at the end of her driveway. As she made her way over, she saw him wave to her, and, despite her annoyance with him, couldn't help but wave back with a smile. Getting into the car, she gave him a quick kiss on his cheek before putting her seat belt on and saying, "Took you long enough."

He shrugged, "Sorry, got held up at home. Mom was just being Mom again."

Aeris rolled her eyes and said,"Yeah sure. So, where are we headed?"

Leo smiled, "Well, I figured that we'd just get something to eat today, maybe catch a movie if there's anything good playing. You game?"

Aeris shrugged, "May as well. After all, I had nothing else better to do anyway."

"Alright then.", Leo said as he continued to drive. After a moment, Aeris looked him over and said,"God, you look like a slob."

Leo chuckled, "Hey, it's not like we're going to a five-star restaurant. It's just going to be some diner. Seriously, who would make themselves look all groomed if they were just going to some burger joint?"

Aeris thought about it for a moment and said, "Yeah, I guess you're right. I mean, why even try to look nice when you're going to a place that doesn't even bother to make itself look nice?"

==Present Day==

Aeris hated irony so much.

"Of course the fucking elevator is broken.", Aeris grumbled as she stomped up the stairs, arms full of bags that were constantly in danger of spilling over. It didn't help that Aeris was living on the 3rd floor. All in all, the pink cat was having a rather stressful day, despite having met her best friend from years ago. Even though that was the highlight of her day so far, that didn't mean that the rest of the day was necessarily a good one. Her morning was groggy, since she had no coffee beans, or a coffee maker for that matter. She had spent most of the day sitting in front of the TV, bored out of her skull, and thinking about what her next painting would be about. After a few hours of that, she had decided to get some groceries and other things to make her studio apartment livable, and left to do just that. Her trip getting some appliances wasn't so bad, but the grocery shopping was arduous. Even after she had met Leo, which did brighten up her day considerably, she still felt that it was an overall crappy one. And now she had to carry precariously placed groceries and other things up three flights of stairs, and somehow get her door open on top of that.

When she got to her floor, she sighed in relief. Of course, she still had to contend with her door, and not spill any of her groceries. As she reached the door, she balanced the bags on one of her arms and carefully put her paw into her pocket, where her keys were located. After a tense few moments of fishing them out, she found them and slowly placed them into the lock, all the while still keeping the bags balanced.

After she had finally opened the door, she let out a heavy sigh of relief and placed the bags on the counter. Then, she stretched out a little bit, and nearly every single joint in her body gave a sharp crack, no doubt out of protest for having to carry such a heavy load for so long.

Deciding to take care of putting everything away later, she looked at a nearby clock and saw that the time was about a quarter to five. Figuring that she had a little time to kill before her dinner with Leo, she went into her living room to sit down on her couch and watch TV. Of course, you couldn't really call it a living room considering that it and her kitchen were one in the same.

She hated having to live in a studio apartment, as there was barely any room for her, and her art supplies, and all the other things that she needed to eek out a decent living. But, it was better than living with her parents, and she couldn't depend on them her whole life. Besides, her paintings might get popular, and as a result, she could pretty good amount of money. Although, she knew that wouldn't likely happen. She was no starving artist, her painting was just a very productive hobby... that cost her over eight years away from Leo. She shook her head of that thought. She may not have been around for eight years, but she was still the same Aeris, and she knew that he was the same Leo. To think otherwise would just be idiotic. After all, this was Leo, the biggest change he had to go through was her leaving, and that didn't seem to mess him up as much as she thought it would have. It's not like he did anything desperate.

After an hour or so of watching TV, Aeris looked at the clock and saw that the deadline of 7 o'clock was coming up fast. Turning off the TV, she went into her small bedroom and started to get ready. After a half an hour had past, Aeris had done everything that she felt was needed to at least make herself look slightly pristine. Her hair was combed, teeth were brushed, and fresh clothes replaced the ones that she was wearing for her trip getting groceries. After checking herself in the mirror and fixing up a few stray strands of hair, she left her apartment and went down to the street and hailed a cab. After telling the cabby to take her to Howards, she was on her way. After a moment, she relaxed a little, and began to think up questions to ask her long estranged friend. Of course, there were the generic questions you always came up with when you thought of this sort of thing; what was new with him, what he'd been up to since she left, what kind of job had he managed to get and keep (though she half doubted that question was even worth asking), all the things you made sure to ask an old friend to get yourself caught up.

There was, however, a particular question Aeris was felling a faint itch to ask. It was actually rather silly. None of her business really, but...

Aeris sighed, a little annoyed with herself. She wanted to know if Leo was seeing someone or not. She looked at herself in the side mirror, and she shook her head a little, disappointed. "Eight years.", she thought to herself, "Eight years Aeris. It's time to grow up. You're not a kid anymore. Stop trying to live in the fairy tales, and just be happy you're getting back in touch."

And with that, Aeris turned away from the mirror, lounging back comfortably in her seat to wait until she arrived at the restaurant.

Back over at the Leonardo residence, the man of the house and his girl were still happily watching the T.V, with him sitting comfortably on the couch, while she was contently sitting on his lap. They were watching Adventure Time, and one doesn't simply walk away from an episode of Adventure Time, especially not Leo Leonardo the Third. They were about half-way through the episode, Finn and Jake having just discovered that they had been duped by Ash, when Leo realized he still had a very important appointment tonight, one which he knew he shouldn't for the life of him be late for. Checking his watch, he saw with a small brick in his stomach that there was a mere half-hour left until seven o'clock. He sprung up from the sofa in an instant, and in doing so, unintentionally launched her up into the air, and crashing down hard on her behind.

"Owwwwwww..." She whimpered as she rubbed the spot where it hurt most.

"Sorry hon, but I just saw the time! I'm gonna be late!" Leo said all of this as he made his way over to the closet, wrestling to get his coat free from the grasp of an uncooperative hanger.

"But it's only six thirty." She observed, somewhat incredulously. "You got lots've time."

"I gotta be there for seven, hun." He informed her, searching around the apartment in, appearing at one end then the next in split seconds. "With traffic how it is at this time, I'll probably wind up winding up getting there at quarter after."

That was much too late for Leo. He and Aeris might not have seen each other in a long time, but he was certain in the belief that in the eight years they had been apart, her patience and her temper hadn't improved much. He felt that all to familiar, unforgotten twinge of fear he always got whenever he considered the possibility of being late for one of their da- get togethers...

Needless to say, it got Leo moving considerably faster.

"Gotta hurry, gotta hurry!", He thought as he hastily tied his shoes, "Cannot, cannot CANNOT be late!"

As Leo rushed about his apartment like a madman, Aeris herself was caught in her own little snag. Her cab had gotten caught in one of Toronto's infamous traffic jams, being stuck behind at least 14 cars, with another 17 behind her, the number climbing with each passing second. There was cursing, honking, and even a bit of fighting drivers up and down the road, and as you can imagine, it was putting dear old Aeris in a sour mood. It wasn't helping any that the cabby's radio was tuned to some dated classic rock station, the one kind of music Aeris could outright not stand. She never understood it's appeal to people. The lyrics were cheesy, with the same topic being sung about in about every second song. The musicianship was lacking, though she could admit there were a few (FEW) exceptions, and the sound, oh God the sound... Buzzing. That's all it was, atonal, confounded buzzing, thanks in due part to the horrendous recording equipment available to the 'musicians' of back in the day, as well as their choice of effects on the guitar. And LORD how Leo used to listen to it...

It was a mystery to her. But she kept quiet about it as best she could. Aeris had some pity for cab drivers. They had to put up with a lot of shit for so little pay, drunks, cheaps, dick cops, just to name a few things on the list, so she let him keep his music playing while he tried to get her to her destination. Still, she was irritated. The noise, the crappy music, the knowledge that she was almost certain to be late for the dinner... It was driving her absolutely crazy. The worst was knowing she was going to be late. THAT was absolutely awful. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if she knew how smug Leo would be about it. All those times of her giving him shit for being late, and here she is, arriving later than he had ever been, when A; she had told him to be on time, and B; it was the first time she'd seen him in too long. She grit her teeth a little thinking about it in depth, him sitting there, probably with a big glass of soda, ready to give it too her about the delicious irony of the situation...

"Man...LET'S GET A FUCKIN' MOVE ON!" The cabby honked his own horn a few times to get his point across, drawing Aeris out of her train of thought. "Er... sorry about that ma'am..."

Aeris rolled her eyes, knowing full well what he was apologizing for. "It's fine." She replied, indifferent. It wasn't like she'd never heard a swear in her twenty-six years on the Earth. Hell, she probably swore more than the cabby would ever care to know.

Meanwhile, Leo had walked out of his apartment and quickly took note of the fact that the streets were packed and that it would be nearly impossible to hail a cab in this kind of traffic. Sighing, he decided that there was only one solution to getting to the restaurant quickly was to run. Fast. It was only ten blocks away after all, it wasn't like he hadn't run long distance before. Well, it was a while ago... like, high school... sophomore year. It didn't matter to him though, he had to get there before it was too late!

Of course, as was expected for a person who really didn't work out all that much, he was panting when he reached the second block. And by the time he had reached the third block, he was leaning against a building, feeling like his lungs weren't bringing in any air. But he couldn't give up! He didn't want Aeris to get angry at him, then yell at him, then throw something in his face! He barely rested before he started running again.

Meanwhile, Aeris wasn't fairing much better. Rush hour traffic was getting worse by the minute, and it was not getting any better. Getting increasingly frustrated, Aeris asked to the cabby, "Hey, how much further until we get to Howards?"

"It isn't all that far now ma'am.", the cabby replied, "It should only be about a few more minutes. Ten at least."

Alright, ten minutes. She could work with that. Leo probably would be there at around that time... or maybe it would take too long... and then he would leave! She wouldn't put it past him, he'd done way stupider. Slightly worried, she asked, "Hey, which way is it to this Howards place?"

"Well, it's just straight on. It's on the left side of the road, so I'm going to have to turn around when we get to- hey, where are you going!?"

This was mostly a response to Aeris jumping out of the taxi, leaving five dollars in the back seat for him. She knew her way now, she didn't need to take a cab the rest of the way. Thankful that she chose to wear flat-soled shoes instead of heels, she briskly walked her way across the street, knowing that she wouldn't be hit by the gridlocked traffic. Of course, there were those who still didn't like this, with many horns beeping and shouts of, "Get the Hell out of the way, lady!"

Aeris just rolled her eyes and kept her pace, soon reaching the sidewalk and going straight on. There was no doubt in her mind that she would be there on time, and that Leo would probably be a little late. "Oh well.", she thought, "It isn't all that big of a deal. It's not like he's never been late before."

Unfortunately for Leo, he didn't know that Aeris felt that way about him being late, so he just kept on running. He was almost there now, and it wouldn't take too long until he reached the restaurant. Although, his running had finally started to mess up a few things with his appearance. Gone was his straight hair, as it had been taken out of place by all the running. Not to mention that he was sweating so much now that it was starting to overpower his deodorant. But he didn't care, he just had to get to Aeris!

Leo continued to mope about the unfortunate events of the night thus far, while Aeris continued making her way to Howard's. She walked along at a leisurely pace, making sure not to go too slow so to ensure arriving on time and not too fast to keep from sweating in the mid-September heat. She made her way through the sidewalk crowds Toronto was so infamous for, being careful not to run into or trip anyone. However, as her thoughts were consumed with the thoughts of being lucky for not wearing high heels, she didn't see a raised piece of concrete in the sidewalk. Needless to say, the fall wasn't exactly pleasant.

"Ah!" Aeris cried as her shin made contact with the rock-hard ground. She managed to partially break her fall by throwing her hands up, preventing her from slamming her torso against the sidewalk, but scraping both her palms.

"God dammit..." Aeris clenched her teeth as a burning sting rose up her arms. She cursed herself for being so clumsy, mostly because it had haggard her appearance, but also because of the odd stares she was now getting from the crowds walking past. It occurred bitterly then to Aeris that she was attracting some rather unwanted attention today. First at the grocery store with Leo, and now here on the side of the road. She made a face at a particular individual, a yellow cat with rich blue eyes who looked to be in his teenage years who in Aeris' mind had been staring a second longer than he ought to be.

"And just what are you gawking at, kid?"

The yellow cat quickly shifted his vision away from her, and walked off even quicker. Aeris swore she heard him muttering something along the lines of "grouch" as he hurried away, but she didn't pay it much attention. Picking herself up off the curb, Aeris smacked away the dirt that had accumulated on her jeans and straightened them out once more. She briefly inspected her hands, seeing that there was no serious damage done to them. Just a single cut on her left paw and a slight sting from both. The cut was shallow, so there was no point in fretting over it. Aeris sighed, once more berating herself for tripping, then continued on her way. She resumed her pace before, a brisk walk that was a step or two ahead of everyone else, and made sure that when she crossed she paid better attention to the corner. She kept going for a while before stopping to take a small rest. Aeris leaned back against one of the hundreds of skyscrapers in Toronto, reveling in the reflection of the fiery orange sky in the windows of the building across the street. Aeris wasn't an overly profound person, but even she could acknowledge the beauty of a twilight September sky. Smiling to herself, Aeris dug around in her pockets for her phone. She decided she might as well make sure she was making good time to the dinner date. Fishing out her iPhone, Aeris clicked it on. It was then she realized she hadn't yet adjusted her phone for Ontario time, still being for the West Coast time zone. She made a mental note to do so when she got home later.

Inputting the security code, her birthday, June 26, Aeris scrolled over to the world clock app and found the time zone for Ontario. It read 6:55


That meant she only had five minutes left to get to Howards! And she had no idea how close or far she was! Jamming the iPhone back into her pocket, Aeris got up off the building and instantly began sprinting in the direction the cabby had pointed her in. She ignored the calls and protests of those unfortunate enough to get in her way, which Aeris plowed through with no qualms. She was a cat on a mission, driven to accomplish her goal with a single thought in mind: "No way in hell am I going to let Leo get there first."

Five minutes wasn't exactly optimum time to get to a place you didn't even know the location of, but that was all that Aeris had to work with, and she was going to go for it, even if she did have to make herself look like a fool. So, she began to run as fast as she could, the oppressing heat near instantly causing her to sweat, which began to stain her clothes a little. But she couldn't let Leo get there before her, it was a matter of principle! What sort of principle it was, she wasn't sure, but it was still a matter of principle!

Leo, meanwhile, had nearly made it to Howards, but was starting to feel winded from running so much. And the sweat. Oh God, the sweat. He could tell that his fur and clothes had started to cling to his skin, and it wasn't exactly the most pleasant feeling in the world, especially knowing that fact that the person he was meeting pretty much despised seeing other people looking like slobs. Being apart for as long as they did didn't mean that he could be messy looking. But he had to get there in time! He wouldn't forgive himself if he had to make her wait any longer than what was necessary. So, he ran. And Howards was in sight. He was panting full on at this point, and it started to feel as though a cotton ball was wedged into his mouth. He couldn't take it anymore, he just had to rest. He at least had a few minutes left, and the restaurant was in view. He figured that he could rest for at least a minute, and in that minute, he hoped that all the sweat would evaporate and somehow not make him smell like an old gym sock.

After a few more moments of rest, he picked himself up, and walked the rest of the way casually, trying not to draw any more attention to himself, and arriving there right on the dot. With a smile on his face, he looked around for Aeris, but after taking a quick glance, he noticed that the pink cat was not there. He sighed, and sat down on a nearby bench, waiting for her to arrive.

While Leo sat on the uncomfortable wooden bench, Aeris was still running in the direction that she was hoping the restaurant was. She was getting a stitch in her side from all the exercise, and it was really starting to hurt. Oh, but the look on Leo's face when he saw that she beat Leo there, and that was all that mattered. She could imagine it right now...

There was a resulting crash when Aeris, not paying attention to what was in front of her, had ran into a hot dog stand, sending condiments, wieners, money, and the person operating the stand, to the ground.

Aeris fell over with the cart, luckily not having any condiments or liquid of any sort onto her clothes, sparing her any added humiliation. But before she could quickly apologize and run away as fast as she could, she felt a paw on her shoulder and an authoritative voice saying, "Where do you think you're going, miss?"

Aeris clenched her paws and grimaced, knowing that this was going to yet another delay to her gloating. She turned around, and saw that the person holding onto her was wearing a police uniform. She groaned to herself, put on her best smile (Which wasn't very good), and said, "So... what's the problem officer?"

The policeman raised his eyebrow and said, "I think you know what you did, miss. You can't exactly run into a hot dog stand and expect to get off scot-free."

Aeris's smile faltered, and eventually left, before saying, "I didn't realize that accidentally tripping over something was a crime."

"It isn't.", the officer confirmed, "But it isn't exactly fair to the stand owner, now is it?"

"Do you think I care about this guy?", she said, motioning over to the stand owner, who was picking up the spilled hotdogs and money. Then, she continued, "Anyway, I don't have time for this. I'm already late enough as it-"

"Well that's too bad.", the officer interrupted, "I'm afraid that I can't formally charge you with anything, but you're going to have to help clean up this mess."

"And why should I?", she retorted, folding her arms.

"Because if you don't you're going to get fined, that's why.", he said, pulling out a pad and pen.

Aeris looked as though she was about to say something, but she decided against it, grumbling as she kneeled down to pick up the slimy hot dogs, trying to to avoid the spilled mustard and ketchup.

It took about ten minutes to get it done, and when the cart was righted and the officer said that she could go, she started to walk down the sidewalk in a dejected manner, knowing full well what she was in store for. She could see what Leo was going to tell her. He would be standing in front of the door, this dumbass grin on his face, then saying something, 'witty', like. "Well, well, well, it's about time you showed up.", or some stupid shit like that.

She sighed deeply, not wanting to have to put up with the whole being late thing. But it didn't matter, she would have to put up with it no matter what time she got there.

As she turned a corner, she saw the Howard's sign above the restaurant, and the grey cat that was sitting in on the bench in front of it, tapping his fingers on the top. She sighed and crossed the street, Prepping herself for Leo's gloating. When she got there, she tapped his shoulder, to which he flinched and turned around quickly. He relaxed when he saw here, and smiled genuinely, saying, "Hey Aeris, what's up?"

Aeris raised her eyebrow, "Um... nothing? I just got here."

"Cool, cool.", he said, looking her up and down, taking her in as though she were just a figment of his imagination. He turned away from her and opened the door, saying, "Well then, shall we?"

Aeris was still slightly confused. Did Leo... LEO, just... not gloat? The thought just seemed... odd. How much did change while she was gone?

After another gesture from Leo, she wordlessly entered the restaurant, the sizzling sound of hamburgers and deep friers filling her ears. It smelled wonderful inside, meat and fries giving off a very satisfying smell.

Leo seemed to echo her sentiment. He took a big breath in and slowly let it out. "Ahhhhh. That never gets old." He said with a smile. "Come here often then?" Aeris inquired. "Eh. From time to time, for special occasions. But I'm not a regular." Leo replied, shrugging his shoulders with a small gesture from his hands. For special occasions, huh? So tonight was special... Aeris definitely liked the sound of that. After their short discussion, the two cats walked up to the front desk. A sign reading "Please wait to be seated.", was standing right beside it, so they did as the sign told. Before Leo could even finish reading it (which might have taken a bit of time, sadly enough), a young, cheerful looking teenaged fox appeared behind the desk. "Good evening, and welcome to Howards!", the red fox said, before quickly turning the customary greeting into an introduction, "My name is Jamie, and I'll be your hostess tonight." Jamie finished with a smile that was both welcoming and warming. A spot on introduction to be sure. "Hey Jamie!" Leo replied, just as enthusiastic as she did, "We'd like a table for two, please. Maybe by a window if you could?" "I'll see what I can do sir.", she said with a nod, before continuing on, "If you and your girlfriend could just follow me-" "Hey whoa whoa there!" Aeris interrupted in a slightly undignified manner, "I'm not his girlfriend. We're just friends." "Oh. I'm sorry miss.", she said, looking a little embarrassed by her mistake, "It's just that it's usually couples that request window tables." "It's fine, just…", Aeris paused, thinking of less offensive words to say to the teenager, before continuing, "Think before you say something like that next time, would ya?" "Of course. Now, this way if you please.", Jamie sounded a little dejected with Aeris's last comment, and that made Aeris feel a little bad. Then again, it was her fault for assuming she and Leo were a couple, so she technically shouldn't be feeling all that bad. Still..she could have been a little less blunt with it, maybe just told her when Leo went to the bathroom or something. Aeris shook her head, deciding she was just over-thinking the whole thing. Navigating through the unbelievably crowded restaurant, Jamie eventually found Leo and Aeris the table beside the window they had asked for, though its placement wasn't exactly desirable. The street across from this wall wasn't even a street, but a pier leading out to Lake Ontario. That meant no skyscrapers. And it was twilight. Lets just say the glare from the sun was something fierce. "I'm sorry, but this is the only free window table we have left.", Jamie said with a genuine regret. "I could move some things around and get you a different spot if you'd like that more." "That sounds-" "This is perfect." Leo said kindly, cutting Aeris off mid-sentence and pulling his chair out and sitting down. "Thank you Jamie." "Oh…are you sure, sir?" Jamie inquired, as was her duty as a hostess. "It would be no trouble at all." "Believe me, this is fine." Leo responded reassuringly, lounging back in his seat, relaxing. "Well…alright then. If you say so. I'll be back in just a moment with your menus." And with that the chipper young fox disappeared into the crowd of guests. Aeris herself kept standing for a bit, staring puzzled at Leo. The orange glow of the evening sun was practically blinding her, and the shimmer of light off the lake wasn't helping any. If it were up to her she would have insisted on getting a different table. So why had he been so insistent on dinning by a window? Then again…the window did have a nice view to it. Even though she had been back for a few weeks now, Aeris had to admit that she had missed the sight of the grand Ontario. It brought back memories of her and Leo swimming and splashing on the shoreline in their child years, and later on tubing with their other friends in their adolescence. And of course there were the rare nights when they would come out to the beaches alone… Aeris blinked that thought away, remembering her earlier statement, and decided that even though it wasn't a great spot by any means, it wasn't a terrible one either. She pulled out her chair, and sat down across from Leo, removing her jacket and slinging it around the back of the chair. No sooner had she done so, Jamie reappeared from the crowd carrying two leather clad menus, "Here we are." She said as she handed a menu to both cats. "Thanks." They both replied, and Jamie smiled in response. "Now you're sure you don't want a different table?" The fox asked Leo. The grey cat just smiled politely and shook his head. "We'll be fine here. But thank you again." Jamie made a clicking noise in disappointment but decided to leave the matter as it was. "Very well sir. Can I at least get you something to drink to start with?" "Please." Aeris replied, feeling parched suddenly. "What've you got?" "Well," Jamie pulled out a little notebook and checked it over. "We have a variety of soft drinks; coke, root beer, Sprite, iced tea, and Mountain Dew. Coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and white or chocolate milk." "Hit me with a Dew, Jamie." Aeris replied. Yes, she was 26 years old and was still blissfully addicted to Mountain Dew. Jamie marked to order down, and turned to Leo. "And for you sir?" "Chocolate milk!" Leo announced immediately with a large smile. Jamie stared at him a second, dumbfounded by the adult cat's readiness and choice of drink.

"Er…that's typically what children order, sir." The fox informed while giving a sheepish smile, hoping to diffuse the awkward little situation. "Are you sure you wouldn't something more mature?" "Nuh-uh! I'd like the biggest glass you've got, please!" Leo answered with an almost sugary optimism. Nothing could compare with the god-like drink that is chocolate milk. It was one of the natural laws! Jamie, seeing that it was no good, scribbled down the order of a large chocolate for a grown man down in her notebook. Aeris merely facepalmed, memories of Leo ordering similar items at the dinners they used to go out to in high school zooming by her mental eye. Jamie marked down the number of the orders, flipped the notebook closed and said "I'll be back in just a moment." Then turned and walked off, probably to wait on other waiting guests. Now that the preppy fox was gone, Aeris looked over at Leo, brow raised and a snark look on her face. "Chocolate milk?" She questioned sarcastically. "Really?" "What?" Leo replied with genuine surprise. "It's so good!" "It's for kids." Aeris countered. "But it's so yummy!" The grey cat exclaimed. "It's not fair that kids should be the only ones that get to experience its greatness."

Aeris looked like she was about to retort what he said, but quickly decided against it, instead saying, "Jeez, I've been away for years, and you're STILL an idiot. I guess some things just never change." Leo sank in his chair a little, slightly saddened that that was how she felt about him. So, after a surprisingly quick thought, he said, "I could get something else if you want me to..." "What?", Aeris scoffed, surprised by the fact that it seemed Leo had suddenly turned into a five year old in a completely different way then was usual, "It's not like I told you that I didn't want you to have it." "Okay...", he said in a tone that was equivalent to that of a child being told not to bite their annoying little cousin again.

Aeris was a little taken back by it, especially with how depressed it made Leo look and sound. Sighing as she leaned her arm on the table, she said "Come on, don't take it to heart. I'm just razzing you. You know, like old times." She finished while smiling gingerly.

Leo looked up at Aeris, and slowly let a little kid smile come across his face. "I know.", he chuckled, rubbing the back of his head, "Guess I've just weaned away from it after so long." "Heh. I guess so.", Aeris said, slightly embarrassed now.

Leo and Aeris sat in silence for a moment, keeping their gaze fixated on each other, letting the surrounding ambiance of the restaurant envelope them for a second before picking up their respective menus. Aeris immediately took note of the style of food Howards offered; New York cuisine. There were more burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, wraps, and even fries than she previously thought possible. There was even a bit of pasta to choose from. Aeris had to admit she was impressed, not only with the restaurant but with Leo as well. It seemed he had at least garnered some class in these past years. "MmmmmMM!" Leo licked his lips as he leafed through the menu and scoped out the pictures of all the different dishes he could order from. They alone made his stomach growl, and then there was the ever-present smell from the kitchen. His appetite was in full swing tonight. Aeris however, immediately set her eyes on some fried chicken, admittedly her favorite dish. Granted, she knew that it was an unhealthy but then again practically everything you ate today would kill you sooner or later. Besides, it wasn't like one plate of chicken was going to make her bloated, so Aeris decided on the meal. After a few more moments of wordless browsing, the chirpy fox returned with their drinks."Have you decided what you'll be having for dinner this evening?" She asked, getting her notepad and pen out again. "Yes." Aeris replied, closing her menu and handing it back to Jamie. "I'll have the fried chicken please." "An excellent choice ma'am," she said, jotting down Aeris' order. "And you sir?" She asked as she turned to face Leo. "I'll have the grilled cheese sandwich!" His response was almost expected from Aeris, facepalming again because of her friend. Jamie looked almost taken aback by his choice. She looked over to the pink cat, who shrugged in response. She then turned to Leo and said, "I'm sorry, but... that's on the kids menu..." "So?" Leo questioned with genuine wonder, handing the menu over to the confused fox, "Just because it's on the kids menu means that I can't have it?" "Well...", Jamie said, shifting her stance uncomfortably, unsure of how to respond. "I... suppose it doesn't matter," she concluded, writing his order down. Her professional composure returned, and she tucked the notepad away. "I'll be back with your orders when they're ready." And with that she made off to take care of another group at another table. Leo had a satisfied smile on his face as he turned to look at Aeris, but his smile disappeared when he saw her confused look. He then asked, "Ummm... Aeris? Something up?" "I'm fine." she said, "But...grilled cheese? Really?" "Erm…what's the big deal?", Leo asked, feeling as though he were being unfavorably scrutinized by his female compatriot. "It was on the kid's menu for God's sakes." Aeris said with absolute incredulism. "I know, but I wanted grilled cheese, and there was none on the adult menu. What choice did I have?" Leo countered, trying to defend his choice. "Maybe order something that wasn't a grilled cheese sandwich.", she said flatly, making a face, remembering that such obvious conclusions had always evaded Leo's consciousness, yet another thing that she remembered from past years. Leo slouched in his chair, feeling rather down at Aeris' blatant disapproval. "Sorry Aeris... I just really wanted one..." The pink cat was taken aback by her friend's melancholy tone. Before, Leo would always defend his dumb decisions, always saying something with something along the lines of; 'I'm a grown-ass man, I can do what I want!'. But this? This was almost... sad in a way. She hated to see him like this, and being the cause of it even more. "Hey Leo, come on. I guess it's not that big a deal if you want a grilled cheese sandwich. I mean who can say no to one of those things?" His smile came back slowly as he looked back up at her. "Yeah. It's like God in between two pieces of crunchy bread." He said, licking his lips. Aeris couldn't help but snort at his description of it, glad that Leo, even after all these years, still had his dumb sense of humor. "Yeah, sure. Hey, why don't I cook you one sometime? Like, if you come over to visit my place?" He thought that over a moment, and said, "That depends, would you start making when I walked right through the door, and would you do it every time I walked in?" She rolled her eyes jokingly as she said, "Yeah, su-" "SOLD!" Leo shouted, cutting Aeris off mid-sentence. She flinched at the volume, and looked around to see if anyone else was staring at them. Thankfully, no one had paid much attention to Leo's embarrassing outburst, and Aeris sighed in relief. "Could you be any louder?" She asked sarcastically, holding her out in front of Leo's face when it seemed he were about to answer her. "Hey, I get excited at the thought of grilled cheese." he said, finally defending himself in his usual manner in situations such as this. Rather than be annoyed by this like she would have been in the past, Aeris chose to just go along with it and laughed. "You're such a twat." Leo laughed. "Who the hell says 'twat'?" "I do." Aeris countered, not missing a beat. "It's such a British word! Like, I don't know, crumpets or something like that. Listen. Crumpets." Leo repeated in a mock British accent reminiscent of his father's. Aeris laughed loud and shamelessly, never hearing such a god-awful accent in all her life. The two cats laughter continued for a time until slowly dying down until an utter silence was between Leo and Aeris. The two just looked away from each other, not really seeing what the other was doing, and just being slightly awkward. "So, how've you been anyway?" Leo finally chirped, hoping to get some conversation flowing once more. Aeris's attention immediately turned to Leo, and she said, "Oh. Well, good, I guess. I mean, I spent eight years at college, away from you. That wasn't exactly fun in hindsight." She trailed off. "Awww, come on. You can't mean that. I mean, there must've been some good times, good people." He encouraged, trying to get the topic rolling. Aeris thought for a few moments and said, "Well... yeah, I had some pretty good friends out west. Like this one girl, Shannon." "What was she like?" Leo asked, genuinely curious. "Well, she's a raccoon.", she began, "Really into the whole romance and love thing. Kind of a skank though." "Awwww, that isn't nice.", he said, frowning a little. "I'm serious. I mean, she would come home with a new guy nearly every day." Leo took a sip of his milk while Aeris was describing this Shannon girl. "Sometimes with a girl." Leo gagged on the milk when he heard that, making him cough and wheeze. Aeris reached over and smacked his back a few times, then asked if he was okay. He assured her he was fine. "I'm sorry, what? She would bring in... girls?" "Ummm... yeah?" Aeris replied with a raised eyebrow. "And you were like, roommates or something?" he asked, leaning forward a little. "Well... we lived in the same dorm for a while, yeah." Aeris was beginning to grow suspicious of Leo's questioning, when a thin trickle of blood dripped from his nose. She threw her napkin at him, immediately connecting the dots. "No, we did not have lesbian sex." She informed, glaring at the pervert across her. "Awww, come on. I wasn't thinking about anything bad." Leo insisted obviously lying through his teeth as he wiped away the blood. "Uh-huh.", she replied sarcastically. "Anyway, she was a journalism major, and a pretty good friend. Had to leave her back in Vancouver, but she's doing her thing now. Last I heard from her she was grabbing a flight somewhere in Calgary." "That's cool." He said before deciding to move onto a much more pressing topic about her departure. "So, uh…none of my business, I know, but…what about guys? Were you with any guys?" Leo's discomfort with the topic was evident in his voice. "Guys?" Of course Aeris knew that this was probably going come up sooner or later, but that didn't mean it was going to be one she enjoyed. Still, she bit the bullet and said, "Well... there were a few. Like... there was this guy, named Tony. He was a drama major, and he was actually pretty funny." "Oh." Leo said, trying to sound impassive in regards to it, but really being very uncomfortable with the though. She dated an actor? An actor!? "Well, we aren't dating anymore.", she explained, "Turns out that he had this other chick who he had a crush on... and an

another chick he had a crush on." "Jeez, two girls?" Leo asked, incredulous, but also a bit impressed with his fellow male. Aeris chuckled at his reaction, "Yeah. I think he went for the second one though, I'm not sure. I think she was a nurse or something." "You sure know how to choose 'em Aeris." Leo joked. Aeris reached across the table and lightly smacked him on his shoulder, a playful smile on her face, "He wasn't the only one you know. There were…three? No, four. Like, four others." "Four?!" Leo cried out, gaining the attention of a few others. Aeris looked around, this time very much embarrassed before taking a drink of her soda and giving Leo a vicious glare. "Well yeah. I mean, I just wanted to have some company besides my friends, you know?" "Yeah, I suppose...", he said, slightly dejected. Aeris noticed, and felt like she should say something to comfort Leo, falling short on anything appropriate to say. But since the topic had already been brought up, Leo decided she may as well keep the chitchat going. "So... did you do... you know... things with them?" Aeris was confused, "Things?" "Umm...",Leo stammered, unsure of whether or not he would want to continue this line of questioning, and how to appropriately word it. "You know... bow chicka bow wow?" He said as he made random motions with his hands (talking with his hands). Aeris just facepalmed. "Only you could ask a question like that Leo...Yes, I got busy with some of them." "Oh...", he said, feeling MASSIVELY uncomfortable with the information, as well as even more dejected. Suddenly feeling a little bad, Aeris added, "They... weren't all that good. I mean, first time I ever did it, it hurt like Hell." Oh god, this was awkward…Leo winced in empathy, "Ow... well, at least you didn't get pregnant or something." Aeris shifted around uncomfortably in her seat, "Umm... yeah..." Leo looked at her wide-eyed, "A-Aeris? Did you-" Aeris broke out laughing "I'm kidding! I didn't have a kid! If I did, I wouldn't have been gone for so long." Leo, realizing that Aeris had been yanking his chain, laughed along with her and said, "Yeah, makes sense." They laughed a little more, letting it die down slowly before resuming their conversation. "So, enough about me, what have you been doing?" Aeris inquired, curious on what had gone on in Leo's life in so many years. "Me?" "No, the naked Russian on a pogo stick behind you." Aeris sighed sarcastically. Leo immediately looked back, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was sure to be an entertaining sight. But, he soon discovered that there was no naked Russian on a pogo stick. "You did mean me, huh?" Aeris rolled her eyes, "No shit, Sherlock." "Oh." Leo said, embarrassed for having bought what she said. But, to his credit, he recovered quickly and said, "Well, pretty good I guess. Made a few friends." "That's good.", she said, happy that he actually made friends with people, "So, what about girls? You been with any girls." Leo's reaction to her question was... odd. He became very ridged, keeping a straight face and blank look in his eyes, as though he were thinking back to something else. Aeris was about to ask if he was all right when he replied "Nobody important," flatly. She raised her eyebrow. "Nobody important?" "Nope." He said, his tone uncharacteristically firm. "Soooo does that mean you haven't seen anyone?" She pressed, genuinely curious. "No.", he said, tone still off, "I've been with a couple girls... But like I said, no one really special." "Oh.", she said, suddenly realizing that Leo's love life wasn't really the best, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up." "It's fine." he said, attempting to make her feel better and genuinely meaning it, "You didn't know." Aeris was about to say something else, but she was interrupted when Jamie came back with their food, "Here you two go. Enjoy your meals." Leo and Aeris thanked the fox and with a smile, Jamie left, leaving the two cats behind with their food. Discussion was thrown out the window at this point, food consuming their thoughts, as they both had just noticed how hungry running to Howards had made them. Leo was finished before Aeris had even torn into her third piece of chicken. Cursing the small size of his grilled cheese sandwich, he turned his gaze out to the view of the lake. The sun had gone down, and the glare had dissipated. The water looked beautiful. It looked like a pitch black blob, with the evening's Sun shimmering off it's surface like some grand mirror. The lake help many memories for Leo Leonardo. He remembered the one time he tried to hold his breath for as long as he could, but Aeris got worried and dragged him out. She then hit him for making her worry. But there were also, less violent times that he remembered. Like the party they had attended in junior year and had a fire on the beach with their friends. They had gotten into trouble with the police because of it, since it wasn't in a pit, but the night had been on of the most memorable of the year. The fact that he and Aeris had had fun together on it made it all the better. "Leo?", Aeris said. Leo snapped out of his daydreaming. "Huh?" Aeris looked at him oddly. "Well, I finished eating, and the check came, and you were just staring out the window…" She trailed off. "Oh!" Leo sat up, saw the receipt and pulled out the required money, leaving ten dollars extra for Jamie. Putting the check down, Leo stood up and said, "So, shall we go?" Aeris smirked, "Yeah, lets. Help me up?" Leo smiled as he outstretched his paw to Aeris. She grabbed it, and he pulled her up, helping her onto her feet. Letting go of her paw, she walked ahead of him, heading toward the exit. Leo kept smiling as he followed closely behind, only really catching up to her when they got outside. "So, do you want me to walk you home or something?" Leo asked. Aeris turned back to face him and raised an eyebrow. "Leo, I live too far away to walk there. Besides, I can just take a cab." "You sure though?" he asked, "I mean, I don't mind paying for the cab." She chuckled, "Leo it's fine. I can take care of myself." Leo sighed, defeated. "Yeah, I guess you're right." He paused for a moment. "By the way... would you mind doing this again sometime? Like... Friday?" Aeris eyed Leo. "You mean tomorrow, Friday?" Leo shuffle his feet and grinned sheepishly. "Yeah." Aeris kept silent for a moment, though it was deliberate so as to mess with Leo's head. She smiled back to him, "Yeah, I'd like that. 7 o'clock?" "Yeah, that works." He said, relieved she had accepted. "Anyway... I'll see you later. Or…tomorrow I guess." He chuckled out of embarrassment and outstretched his paw, figuring that a handshake would be an appropriate way of ending the night. Aeris, however, cracked an evil smile across her lips, and quickly leaned in and pecked the grey cat on the cheek. Leo stood stock still as she moved away from him and hailed a taxi, getting one quickly. She smiled back at him as she got inside, and waved to him as the taxi pulled away. Leo stayed still a moment, waving slowly to where the taxi had been before. A few minutes passed before he came to his senses and hailed his own taxi. He climbed in, gave the cabby his address, and sat back. Slowly, a coy grin stretched itself across his face, and Leo smiled gaily, rubbing the spot where Aeris had kissed him. Time fast forward, and in an instant Leo was back at his apartment. He paid the cabby, adding a five-dollar tip, and sauntered up the stairs to his apartment, his happiness from his night out with Aeris mixing with the excitedness of coming home to his girl. He unlocked the door and walked in, and no sooner had he she was running up to him and wrapping him in a big hug

"Did you have fun?" She asked excitedly. Leo chuckled as he stroked her hair and gave her a kiss on her forehead. "Tons of fun, honey. We're going to meet up again tomorrow."

Her eyes got wide with the news. "That's great! I'm so happy for you!"

Leo smiled, his heart warmed that she approved. "Thanks honey." He gave her another hug, and surprising her, scooped her up in his arms. "Hey, let's go to bed. I'm tired."

She let out a long, drawn out yawn. "Me too. Will you carry me?"

"Sure." And Leo carried her off to bed. He lay her down on the mattress, covered her with the blankets, and kissed her forehead once more. She wrapped her arms around her neck and pulled him close. "I love you."

"I love you too." Leo sat up from the bed and reached over to the lamp on the nightstand. "Night." He switched it off, stood up and walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him, and not for the first time in his life, reflected on how lucky he was that she was in his life.