Bunny was a little taken aback to see that Kei was already waiting for her at Okie Dokie, a dessert cafe tucked into one of the Causeway Bay side streets where Japanese designer shops proliferated. It wasn’t an area that Bunny often visited, but they had planned to meet up before seeing Ji-hun and Patcharin in order to get their stories straight and their strategy down, and Kei insisted on buying her a dessert at Okie Dokie. Bunny was usually punctual, but she hadn’t expected that Kei would be, too. He seemed too easygoing to care about time, but there he was sitting at a corner banquette, engrossed in his phone while a table of girls giggled and pretended to take selfies while secretly making videos of him.
“Vanessa! I’m here!” Kei waved her over as soon as she stepped through the neon-lit entrance. Bunny self-consciously walked past the gauntlet of envious looks and whispers. As she sat down, Kei said, “We figured you wouldn’t be late so we came early to make our orders.”
“‘We’?” Bunny repeated.
“Yeah!” Kei looked towards the ice cream counter and following his gaze, Bunny realized that Taishi was standing right by it, ignoring the girls openly staring at him. How did these guys ever learn to occupy space like that? Bunny wondered as Taishi waved at her languidly before picking up a tray of sundaes. Even while performing a mundane action like that, his movements had the grace and precision of a dancer or an athlete. He made his way to their table and slid into the empty spot next to Kei.
“I heard from Emi that you liked green tea ice cream, so I got you the matcha sundae with black sesame egg waffles.” Taishi carefully placed the sundae glass, overflowing with two scoops of creamy ice cream and topped with a speckled egg waffle, in front of Bunny. He handed her a spoon with a smile, the dimple at the right corner of his mouth deepening. Bunny tried not to stare at his lips. “You have good taste,” Taishi said.
Bunny blinked. “Uh, thanks.”
“And here’s your sundae, you four-year-old child,” Taishi said to Kei. He put a glass heaping with different ice cream flavors and two egg waffles, one taro and the other chocolate. Bunny privately thought that Taishi’s own sundae, which also boasted an equal amount of ice cream and waffles, wasn’t much different from Kei’s.
“Taishi’s coming with us today, but not together,” Kei said as he spooned ice cream into his mouth with amazing speed.
“Wait, why?” Bunny asked as she munched on her waffle. It was incredibly good, although she wasn’t sure whether the taste was enhanced by the two boys sitting in front of her. She could just imagine the dirty thoughts Emi would have no hesitation sharing about Taishi and Kei enjoying ice cream together.
“The plan is that I’m going to coincidentally run into the four of you at Ocean Park. I’ll make a fuss about you and Kei hanging out together, and then I’ll tag along and harass Kei,” Taishi explained. “It’ll be very dramatic.”
Bunny felt a sense of foreboding. “I’m not sure ‘dramatic’ is necessary here.”
Kei and Taishi looked surprised. “No?” Taishi asked. “But you want it to have some impact, right?”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to scare Ji-hun away. I mean, you’re guys too. What would you feel if a girl you liked had a lot of drama around her?”
“But Ji-hun doesn’t like you,” Kei said, puzzled.
Bunny frowned at the reminder. “For the sake of argument,” she said through gritted teeth. “Let’s say he does.”
Taishi waved his spoon at her. “No, it doesn’t work that way. If you like someone, you’ll make excuses for almost anything they do. They could do anything, say anything, and you’ll still find a reason to continue liking them.”
Beside him, Kei nodded seriously and added, “It’s like when I was a kid, and I loved Naruto, and I just accepted everything that happened, even when Pain brought everyone back to life. I made so many excuses but I was really just fooling myself.”
“The Pain arc was terrible,” Taishi agreed, biting into an egg waffle moodily at the memories.
Bunny raised her eyebrows. “Okay, Naruto aside, I think I get your point. So what then?”
“In your case, since he doesn’t see you as a potential girlfriend, you need to create drama. Show that other guys are willing to fight over you, even ones who are close friends like us,” Taishi explained. “It’s a win-win situation. Suppose the impossible is true and he really somehow likes you buried deep inside his subconscious–“
“Like, just imagine it,” Kei interjected. “Even if it’s hard.”
“I am, thanks,” Bunny said, stabbing her spoon into her ice cream.
Taishi continued, “Even if you were messy, he’d still keep liking you anyway.”
“The Pain arc,” Kei said knowingly.
“The Pain arc,” Taishi confirmed. “And if he doesn’t like you in that way, he’ll start seeing you as someone he could be attracted to.”
“Win-win,” Kei said.
“I hope you two are right,” Bunny said, still unsure about the whole thing. But then, what experience did she have making guys jealous, much less even notice her?
“It’s going to work,” Taishi reassured her, dropping his spoon with a loud clink into his empty sundae glass. Bunny realized with a start that he and Kei had managed to scarf down their sundaes while they were talking, and she had barely eaten half of hers. Where did all that food go? she wondered, taking in their lanky frames.
“We also have to get started working on your facial expressions,” Taishi said. “Which is why we brought you to Okie Dokie.”
“You want me to make those…those faces here?” Bunny said, aghast. “But there’s people around.”
“Yeah, this is the perfect place for it. Don’t worry, no one will be looking at you, Kei will do something to mesmerize them,” Taishi reassured her.
“I’m going to talk to that table of girls over there,” Kei said brightly. He climbed over Taishi and trotted over to the table. “Hey, can you guys help me out?” he asked. The girls looked thrilled and shocked, while the rest of the room looked on in envy.
“Okay, now that that’s settled,” Taishi said, stretching out. “Do you like your sundae?”
“Yeah, it’s good.”
“How good? The best sundae you’ve ever had?”
Bunny thought for a moment. “It’s pretty close.”
“Then take a bite and show it on your face.”
Bunny cringed. “I can’t do that. It’s really embarrassing.”
“No, it’s not. I’ve done even more embarrassing stuff at auditions. Anyway, it’s just me you’re doing it to.” Taishi leaned forward and flashed his dimple again, saying in a conspiratorial tone, “I don’t mind. I already think you’re creepy.”
Bunny sighed. It had to be done. She pulled off an egg waffle bubble and popped it into her mouth, closing her eyes. She concentrated on the slightly smoky taste of sesame seed and the texture of the crispy shell and the soft inside, all bound together by the perfect amount of sweetness. She willed her face to soften, focusing on the pleasure of eating the waffle. Then she opened her eyes.
Taishi looked concerned. “Did you bite your tongue by accident?”
Bunny groaned in frustration. “I can’t do it.”
“It’s cool, it’s cool. Don’t worry,” Taishi patted Bunny’s hand. She almost really did bite her tongue at his touch. “Okay, let’s try a different way. Here, go ahead and eat again but don’t close your eyes.”
Bunny ate a heaping spoonful of matcha ice cream, and as the flavor flooded her mouth, Taishi gently pulled her forward so that their faces were inches from each other. “Now,” he purred. “Look into my eyes but think of that ice cream melting on your tongue.” Bunny nearly gulped down the ice cream, but she forced herself to relax–not an easy feat when up close to Taishi’s high cheekbones and that maddening dimple–and to keep looking into his eyes. Oh my God, my entire body is blushing, she thought.
“Now bite your lip–just a little! Good. Perfect.” Taishi leaned back, satisfied. “That wasn’t bad. You managed to get the right look in your eyes a little bit.”
Bunny was gratified by his words, even though she was covered in sweat. “I’m not sure I could do it without you, though.”
“Then think of me when you need to make that face,” Taishi grinned. “I won’t tell Ji-hun.”
Bunny chose not to dwell on that suggestion. “Do I need to start looking at Ji-hun like this today?”
Taishi thought for a moment and then said, “If there’s a quiet moment, yeah. But you should act like you don’t want him to see it, so when he looks at you, look away. It’ll add to the mystery, and seduction is all about mystery.”
“It’s not seduction!”
“Yeah, it is.” Taishi looked at Bunny critically. “I don’t see why you want to resort to it, though. You seem pretty cool the way you are, and if he can’t see it, it’s his loss.”
“Oh…thanks.” Bunny felt another blush coming on, but fortunately, Taishi looked at his watch and said, “Well, we should get going. Let’s go extract Kei. We’ll need to calm everyone down and prepare them for his exit or else he’ll have to make a run for it again.”