Piper also takes pains with her appearance, chiding herself the entire time.
However much she attempts to delude herself into thinking that she is not interested in the attractive Hawaiian man, and however often she reminds herself how happy she is to have avoided romantic entanglements, there is no denying the quickening of her pulse and the heightened flush in her fair cheeks.
She is ready long before the clock strikes 6:00 and finds herself pacing the living room, her heels clicking rhythmically on the hardwood floor, and checking her appearance every time she passes the mirror over the fireplace.
Little does she know that her pacing is mirrored in room 2116 at TEK Hotel, where Akemi has also managed to get ready long before the appointed hour.
Checking his watch for the umpteenth time, he finally decides that he can safely leave without risking arriving at her door ridiculously early. He sets off down the street, retracing his earlier steps, until he finds himself eagerly standing in front of Piper’s apartment door. Checking his watch once more to ensure that his arrival falls within the bounds of courtesy, he takes a deep breath and knocks.
Piper’s initial urge is to race to the door and fling it open, but she forces herself to remain still for a few heartbeats before calmly crossing the room and checking the peep hole before reaching for the doorknob.
She smiles at the dumbstruck expression on Akemi’s face as he beholds her dressed to the nines.
“Piper!” he exclaims, “You take my breath away!”
The corner of her mouth twitches as she replies. “You certainly clean up nicely as well! Please . . . come in.” She holds open the door and motions for Akemi to enter.
“What time are the reservations, Akemi? Do we have time for a drink?”
“Absolutely. The reservations aren’t until 7:30, so we have plenty of time.”
“I have some wine chilling, if that meets with your approval. It’s an excellent Zin from a little winery in Iowa, of all places.”
“Sounds perfect. I love a full-bodied zinfandel.”
Piper crosses to the sofa table and pours two glasses, then returns and hands one to Akemi.
She raises her glass. “To . . . homelands.”
He smiles and echos her toast. “Homelands!”, he replies as he touches his glass to hers.
Akemi sniffs the wine appreciatively. “Great nose!” He takes a small sip and rolls it around his tongue. “Wow! That is in your face! Excellent choice, Piper.”
She smiles and raises her glass to him before taking a sip herself.
“The vintner is of Scottish heritage, oddly enough. You would expect him to make whiskey rather than wine, but he seems to have managed to overcome his ancestry in at least that one respect.”
Akemi smiles in appreciation of her dry humor.
“Please, sit down. It’s not much, but it is what I currently call home.”
As he makes his way toward a chair, Akemi takes a look around and is not displeased at what he sees. “I think it’s charming. Your cousin – Morgan, is it? – has managed to make a cold apartment into a warm and inviting space."
They chat companionably for the next hour as they work their way to the bottom of the bottle of wine.
After an hour or so, Akemi checks his watch and sets his glass aside. "We’d better be heading for the restaurant. I hope you don’t mind walking. It’s a beautiful night!”
“Of course not. The fresh air will do us both good. I’m feeling a bit fuzzy from the wine.”
Akemi helps Piper into her wrap and they make their way out the door, down the steps, and up the street toward Coco’s restaurant.
Once they arrive, they are seated quickly in the semi-private dining area requested by Akemi when he inquired about his options and made the reservations.
Water and menus are quickly delivered, and Akemi orders a bottle of zinfandel, disappointed that the restaurant doesn’t carry Little Swan Lake Winery wines.
“You’ve eaten here before, Piper?
“Well, that would depend upon your preference. Their lobsters are flown in daily from Maine and practically melt in your mouth, but their rack of lamb and their beef are also amazing. I haven't tried it, but I'm told their buffet is fabulous.”
“I think I’ll go for the buffet. I like variety."
Piper's perusal of the menu is interrupted by the waiter as he delivers a tray of stuffed shells.
The couple enjoys getting to know one another better over the appetizers and bread.
Once the appetizers have taken the edge off their hunger and the bread has soaked up the wine they consumed earlier, they rise to go in search of the buffet.
"The roast looks fabulous! I'll have some, please."
"Oh, Akemi, look! I don't even know what these are, but they look delicious!"
"Doesn't this look wonderful? What a lovely display!"
"Would you like some fruit, Akemi?"
"I'm so glad I tried the buffet this time! I will definitely do it again. This looks so good!"
Much later . . .
"Oh, Akemi . . . I am so stuffed that I'm not sure I can eat this beautiful dessert!"
Somehow they both manage to finish off their desserts, and they make small talk until the waiter arrives with the check.
They rise and make their way to the coat check to retrieve Piper's wrap, attracting the attention of the couple sharing the semi-private dining area as they pass.
Outside Morgan’s apartment, Akemi turns to Piper in the glow of the streetlight and searches her face.
“I would like very much to kiss you right now. Any objection?”
Piper smiles. “None.”
She twines her arms around his neck as he pulls her close until their bodies fuse.
The kiss begins softly and gently, and Piper is surprised and pleased when the intensity does not escalate even though she can feel the evidence of Akemi’s obvious arousal.
When he finally releases her, she finds it necessary to cling to him for a moment longer due to a sudden weakness in her knees. She blinks, surprised at her reaction.
A slow smile creeps across Akemi’s face. His eyes are dark and intense as he tenderly touches her cheek. “Thank you, Piper, for a perfect evening.”
He turns and strolls away, leaving her standing at the door, dizzied by her surprising reaction to his soulful kiss and to his unexpected failure to pursue extending the evening.
She leans against the door for a moment to clear her head, but her thoughts spin too quickly. Finally she gives herself a little shake and pulls out her keys. When she closes the door behind her, George looks at her inquiringly. As she tosses her purse and keys onto the sofa table, she answers his look. “George, I have no idea. I’m supposed to be happy to have managed to remain romantically unencumbered thus far, but I found myself wanting that kiss never to end! Akemi is quite . . . remarkable.”
She heads off to bed without much hope of sleep arriving any time soon.
To be continued . . .