Hope let out a soft sigh of contentment as the cool evening breeze danced across her face. She glanced up at the thousands of twinkling stars above, smiling softly and taking in the view. “It’s such a beautiful night.”
Beside her, Zayne nodded as they continued down the winding road toward the restaurant. “It’s perfect… Good call having us walk instead of drive.” He said with a small laugh.
“Thought it might be nice… A good excuse to spend some extra time together.” She shrugged slightly, smiling. “Hopefully we won’t end up being too late for our reservation though.”
As part of his belated birthday gift, Hope had managed to book them a table at one of the hottest restaurants in Windenburg – the Waterfront Willow. She knew Zayne admired their chef’s cooking more than anyone else in in the city. Eating there would definitely be something special for him – and maybe it would offer a bit of inspiration for his own restaurant? Guess we’ll have to wait and see…
“Oh my God!” An unfamiliar voice called out, calling Hope rather abruptly back to the present.
She and Zayne both looked around in confusion, searching for the source of the cry. At last, their gazes each fell upon a blonde woman with big blue eyes who seemed to be approaching the couple rather uncertainly.
“I’m sorry…” The woman continued nervously. “I just… You’re Hope Forrester, aren’t you?”
Hope raised an eyebrow at the unfamiliar woman. “Um… I am.” She replied uncomfortably. For a moment, she glanced over at her boyfriend, who simply shrugged. “Can I help you?”
The woman’s face stretched into a wide grin. “Could I trouble you for a picture?” She asked, pulling her phone from the pocket of her blazer. “I’m a huge fan… Your work is incredible. That spread in Elle a few months ago was breathtaking!”
Hope’s eyes widened. Was someone really recognizing her? On the street? Holy shit. “Oh, wow. Thanks!” She hesitated for a moment. No one had ever approached her like this before… What was the proper etiquette for this sort of thing? “You… You said you wanted a picture, right?”
The blonde woman nodded enthusiastically. “If it’s not a bother.” She replied almost apologetically.
“I don’t mind.” Hope’s smile was somewhat forced as she drew closer to the stranger.
The woman threw her arm over Hope’s shoulders, pulling her tightly to her side. Jesus, lady. I don’t even know you! It was something of a struggle to keep her smile until the bright flash of the woman’s cellphone finally dissipated.
“Thank you so much, Ms. Forrester.” She gushed as she returned her cellphone to her pocket. “I really appreciate this.” Though she appeared almost giddy with excitement, the woman kept a somewhat formal tone as she continued. “I’ve been following your career for a while now, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what you do next.”
“That’s very sweet of you.” Hope replied kindly. “I’ve got a spread coming out in Vogue next month.” She revealed. “So maybe keep an eye out?”
“I will! Thank you again. It was so nice to meet you.”
Thank God it’s over. Hope still fought to maintain her composure. “You too.”
She watched with a combination of confusion and amusement as the woman walked away down the sidewalk. She’d never realized just how awkward and uncomfortable it would be to meet one of her fans. But it was flattering too. Exciting, almost. Hope knew her career had been going better and better lately… But this seemed to take things to a whole new level.
Still smiling to herself, she turned toward Zayne at last. “Well, that was… interesting.” Hope laughed softly. “Wasn’t it?”
Zayne did not smile. He simply shrugged. “I guess that’s one word for it.”
“Well, what would you call it?”
“Rude.” He replied, his eyes narrowing a bit. “She interrupted you in the middle of our date just to ask for a stupid picture!” Zayne shook his head. “And I don’t think she even looked at me once. It was like I was invisible or something.”
God, he’s in one of his moods, isn’t he? There it was again. The green-eyed monster was rearing its ugly head.
Hope sighed softly to herself before replying. “You’ve had to deal with this sort of thing before with your Opa Tobi, haven’t you? And Florian?”
“Then you know how weird those kinds of people can be.” Hope smiled gently, hoping to lighten the mood a bit. “Don’t take it so personally, okay? Let’s just enjoy tonight.”
She leaned forward, pressing her lips to his cheek for a moment. She could feel the muscles of his face stretching into a small smile at her kiss.
“Okay.” He agreed as she pulled away from him.
Zayne reached down and intertwined his fingers with hers as they continued on toward the restaurant.
“This is nice, isn’t it?” Zayne said softly as he took another sip of his wine. “Being out together like this, I mean… It feels like we haven’t gone on a real date in a long time.”
Hope nodded in agreement. “I know… Guess things have been kind of hectic lately.” She shrugged almost apologetically as she spoke.
On top of her usual business meetings and the occasional fashion show, Hope had been doing multiple photshoots a week all summer long. Luckily most of them were local jobs, but Hope had still been traveling more than she had in years. In fact, she was fairly certain she was spending nearly as much time in San Myshuno these days as she had back when she lived there.
“It’s kind of a nice change to be eating at a restaurant too.” Hope continued. “Not that I don’t love having you cook for me all the time. Actually, I’m pretty sure you’re the reason they had to take out that dress a little bit for my last runway show…” She teased.
Zayne laughed heartily then – a sound that still managed to give Hope butterflies, even after all this time. “Guess I’ll have to start practicing salads for a while.” He smirked at her. “But you’re right – it’s kinda nice eating out.” He admitted. “Especially here… God, it’s amazing, isn’t it?”
Hope smiled warmly at the way her boyfriend admired the beautiful restaurant around them, but she hesitated a moment before replying. Zayne was always so touchy when she brought up his restaurant plans, but now seemed like the perfect time to try broaching the subject again.
It had been nearly three months since Zayne had first met with Dom and talked business with him… And he’d done absolutely nothing but work on his menu ever since. Hope knew the planning would be a daunting task, but if Zayne never took the plunge and started really working for it, how would his dream ever become a reality?
“Feeling inspired?” She asked at last, forcing a smile once more. “Just think… Someday, you’ll have a place like this.”
Hope watched as Zayne’s smile slowly melted away. “Yeah… Someday.” He replied softly as he placed his wine glass back on the table, looking away from her. Hope tried in vain to read his expression.
“Hopefully someday soon.” She pushed on. “Y’know, I was thinking – have you tried calling your old boss and talking with her about this? I bet she’d know some people you could talk to to help you get started… Maybe point you in the right direction?” Hope suggested.
Zayne’s expression darkened instantly, just as she feared. “I don’t need her help. I can figure it out on my own.” He replied, his voice hard.
Hope was unfazed by his sudden change in tone. “I’m just saying, I know it’s hard to figure out where to start. I don’t think it could hurt to –”
“Look, I wish you wouldn’t bring this crap up right now, okay?” He cut her off sharply, his eyes narrowing at her. Zayne paused for a moment then, the angry furrow of his brow finally easing up a bit. “Please? It’s like you said before… Let’s just enjoy tonight.”
God, he’s never gonna listen, is he? Hope knew Zayne was feeling stressed and overwhelmed trying to figure out his career… Who wouldn’t be? But it hurt so much to see him like this — So much more insecure than usual. So easily upset. And so damn stubborn about everything.
He’s gotta get out of this stupid rut. She thought. Before he drives us both crazy!
For a moment, Hope considered pressing further. But with how on-edge he’d been, was it really worth it to risk setting him off and ruining their evening?
Their food arrived before she could make up her mind.