Luna took a deep breath and adjusted her glasses for the umpteenth time. A cup of chai sat cooling on the table, and she moved it closer in front of her. She changed her mind and moved it to the side, setting a book in its former place. She opened the book, skimming the chapter before her eyes. Her gaze switched to the door. Then to the barista counter. Sure, he was supposed to come at three, but maybe he had already come in when she was opening her book and was looking for her right now—
She shook her head.
Calm and collected, she told herself, taking a deep breath.
The door opened. Luna was sure that was him. He looked like his profile picture… or at least similar enough for her to recognize him. Who even looks exactly like their pictures anyway? she added as she stared at her book, pretending to be too engrossed in it to notice.
“Oh, hi. Jake, right?” she said, closing her book quickly.
He slid into the seat across from her.
“You’re not one of those girls who shows up half an hour before a date to scope out the place, are you?” he asked with a teasing voice.
Luna flushed. More like forty-five minutes. She was on her second cup of tea, so at least her cup was still warm.
“I just got here a bit early,” she said with a smile. “I’m still not sure how the traffic is here and all, so better safe than sorry.”
He flashed a smile and glanced over at the counter.
“Well, I better get something to drink,” he said. “I’d offer to get you something, but it looks like you’re set.”
He stood up and left with that. Luna tried to get a good look at him while his attention was on the menu. His hair was curly and brown, his skin was paler than his picture, and she was pretty sure there weren’t many muscles under his sweatshirt. His profile picture must have been from some vacation a few years ago. Not that Luna would judge. Hers was from a wedding last year, since that was the last time she had worn a full face of makeup.
“Anyway,” Jake said, sliding into his chair a minute later. “What were we talking about?”
“Nothing yet,” Luna replied. “We kinda just met.”
“Right, right,” he said. “You said before that you just moved here.”
It was more of a statement than a question, but Luna nodded and toyed with the handle of her cup.
“Yeah, I got transferred here last month,” she said. “My job is a little—”
“Well, this is a great place to live,” he interjected, taking a loud slurp of his coffee. “There are great national parks within a day’s drive. Do you hike?”
“I love hiking on the weekends,” he said. “I used to go hiking, like, all the time. Camping, too. There’s nothing like falling asleep in nature, with no one else around for miles.”
Luna wondered if she was supposed to add anything, but he seemed to keep going.
“I’d honestly have asked you to meet up to go hiking for a first date,” he continued. “But I wasn’t sure if you’d think it was creepy or not, you know? The whole ‘meeting a stranger in the middle of nowhere’ scares a lot of women.”
“Uh-huh,” Luna said slowly. “Well, I think—”
“And of course I’d be a dick for suggesting it and not being ‘woke’ enough to understand what women are dealing with,” he said, using air quotes.
Luna took a sip of her tea. She was starting to regret this already.
“So, you use dating apps a lot?” he asked. “Or am I your first?”
“Huh? Oh, well, I’ve been here about a month and haven’t met a lot of people,” Luna explained. “So I decided to try it out.”
“Am I your first online date then?”
“Well, back in my hometown—”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t really count,” he interrupted, leaning closer and resting his head in his hand. “You’re from a pretty small town, right? You should be careful. I mean, a beautiful woman like you in a city all alone…”
I should have been more careful, Luna agreed silently. This is what I get for agreeing to a date after a handful of texts.
“Excuse me,” a barista interrupted. “Did you order the bagel?”
He was holding a plate and looking at Luna a little too intently for a question about a bagel. She shook her head slowly.
“No,” she replied. “Sorry.”
“Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who doesn’t eat carbs,” Jake said.
“No, I just don’t eat food that someone else ordered and paid for,” Luna replied.
The barista gave her a questioning look, but she didn’t know what he was trying to do. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
“Well, you’ll have to have dinner with me sometime then,” Jake said. “I like a girl who eats a lot.”
“You know, work has me really busy these days,” Luna said with a polite smile. “I’ve been at the office late most days, so dinner just doesn’t work for me.”
“I’m fine with late night dinners,” Jake said. “Your place or mine?”
“When I work late… I usually order food at the office,” she said after a pause.
“Well, we could always have the late night, no dinner,” he replied with a cocky smile.
“I get up really early.”
“And I’d probably have you up really late,” he retorted.
“I’m usually not this forward,” he said. “But I think you’re really amazing. And beautiful. And a great listener. So I’m not gonna let you go.”
“I… have to pee,” Luna said, standing up. “I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll watch your purse,” he replied. “So you don’t run away on me.”
She gave a nervous laugh and headed towards the bathroom, wondering if she should just try to climb out a window and leave the purse behind. Who needed a credit card, ID, and old family photos anyway?Too late, she realized she totally could have told him she needed tampons from her bag and taken it with her. Why did she always have a good excuse after the fact?
“Hey, are you okay?”
It was the barista again, hanging around the bathrooms and giving her a concerned look.
“I noticed that you looked uncomfortable,” he continued, seeing her confused expression. “And wanted to make sure nothing’s wrong.”
“Oh, just… Tinder date gone wrong,” Luna replied with a forced smile. “I’ll survive… I think. I just have to find an out.”
“Have a friend call with an emergency?” he suggested. “Or I could pull the fire alarm.”
Luna wished she had someone to call. Her mom maybe. But she’d rather climb out a window than have her mom worrying about the men she’s meeting.
“I’ll think of something,” she replied. “Maybe I’ll say my older brother is coming.”
“If I had one, I’m sure he’d be here to help me out,” Luna said with a chuckle. “Too bad I’m an only child.”
“The fire alarm plan is still on the table,” he said.
“Thanks… Parker,” she said, reading his name tag,
“No problem,” he replied. “Too bad you don’t have a name tag, too.”
“Luna,” she supplied.
“Luna,” he repeated with a smile. “Stay safe.”
She smiled in response and returned to the table. Then realized she had forgotten to actually go to the bathroom. Jake was on his phone, on a dating app judging from the way he swiped left and right.
“So I’m free Friday night,” he said, glancing up as she sat down. “How about you stay the night at my place, then we go for a hike Saturday?”
“I’ll have to look at my schedule,” Luna said. “Unfortunately, my company’s just called me, though, and I have to go.”
“We just started talking,” he protested. “Tell them no.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Well then put me on the phone, and I’ll tell them no,” he said. “So we can spend more time together.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think—”
“I can just come to your place when you’re done.”
“No, I live really far.”
“No you don’t,” Jake said. “It’s about ten minutes away. I saw your license.”
“You looked through my bag?”
“Just so I could send you flowers sometime,” he replied with a smile.
Luna’s response was drowned out by a screeching sound. A woman slowly dragged a chair to their table, the metal chair legs leaving marks on the floor. She was a larger woman with an expression that looked like it was permanently frozen in a frown.
“Who are you?” Jake asked.
“That’s him, sis.”
The barista, Parker, was back, and he moved Luna’s hand away so he could perch on the arm of the chair.
“My brother here tells me you’re not minding your manners,” the woman said, still glaring at Jake. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a man who doesn’t treat a lady properly. Especially when that lady’s my sister.”
“Sister?” Jake repeated.
Luna gave the woman a questioning look.
“Our sister,” Parker corrected. “I didn’t like the way you were talking to Luna, sir, and our sister really didn’t like it.”
“I thought you were an only child,” Jake said, looking at Luna. “Do you know these clowns?”
“Half-siblings are still siblings,” Parker said with a toss of his head.
“You know, the judge told me that my next assault charge would result in more than just a warning,” the woman said, popping her knuckles. “But I’d say the jail time is worth it in this case.”
“I can get you off with another warning.”
Another guy walked up to the table and leaned against the woman’s chair. He also glared at Jake.
“And who are you?” Jake demanded.
“Their… cousin,” the man replied. “And I should tell you I have a law degree from Princeton, so I know the legal system. Should I ask if Luna wants to press harassment charges?”
“I could just arrest him.”
“And who’s this?” Jake demanded, looking at the other woman who walked up.
“Officer Jones,” she replied. “I may be off-duty, but I can still arrest you.” She looked around. “And I’m also a cousin.”
“I thought you moved here alone?” Jake demanded.
Luna looked around the table slowly. She looked at Parker, as if trying to silently ask him what was going on.
“She moved here alone, but we were already living here,” Parker said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Why? Are you trying to target women with no one around to chase you off?”
“Oh, please let me chase him off,” the first woman growled.
“How about you forget you ever met Luna instead?” the cop-cousin suggested. “And maybe I won’t have you pulled over for every minor traffic offense for the rest of your life?”
“However short that may be,” the lawyer-cousin added.
“Do you know these people?” Jake demanded, looking at Luna.
Luna sat up straighter and tried to put on her beset no-nonsense face.
“These people,” she said, “are my family, thank you very much. I… called them all here just in case the date went well and we could all go hiking together.”
“Or if it went south, and we needed to hide a body,” the first woman added.
Jake held up his hands and stood.
“Forget it,” he said. “This is too weird for me anyway. Have a nice life, Luna.”
“Won’t wish you the same,” the first woman retorted.
Jake stormed off, and the first woman looked at the others.
“That last line was a bit much, wasn’t it?” she asked with a crestfallen expression.
“No,” the other woman said quickly.
“It was great,” the lawyer-cousin added.
Luna looked around, watching this intense squad melt into soft expressions.
“Thank… you for the help,” she said slowly. “But also, I’m confused.”
“We aren’t actually your cousins,” the lawyer-cousin said. “I mean, it’s highly unlikely, but I did read that everyone comes from the same ancestors, so really we could be distant cousins.”
“I’m Kate,” the police-cousin said. “That’s Josh, and that’s Gail, and you already met Parker, of course.”
“Thanks for helping me out,” Luna said with a smile.
“Thanks for the chance,” Gail said, her aggressive expression replaced with a sunny smile. “It was the perfect opportunity for some improv.”
“You’re lucky it’s the second Sunday of the month,” Josh said. “Or we wouldn’t have been here.”
“We’re all part of an improv group,” Parker explained. “When I told them there was a creepy guy, we decided to help out.”
“In the I-yaa way,” Kate said.
“Improv Young Adult Actors,” Gail added.
“I-YAA!” they all called in unison like a war cry.
Luna could feel her smile widen.
“You know, you were pretty good, too,” Josh said. “I was really worried you would think we were just a bunch of weirdos and say you’d never met us.”
“Are you into acting?” Kate asked.
“Do you wanna be?” Gail added.
“Oh, I’ve never tried,” Luna said with a chuckle. “Is this what you guys always do, though?”
“You wanna hang out with us?” Parker asked. “We’re just on the couches over there.”
“Wait… You don’t work here?”
“Nah, I’m just in costume,” he said, tilting his head. “It’s gonna be one of the costumes in our improv show this month. Do you wanna hear about it?”
Luna nodded eagerly. She let Gail help carry her things to the couch in the corner and settled down next to the others. This place was starting to feel a little more like home.