"Can I get you anything else?" My favorite waiter at Matsuda puts down a bowl of edamame and a steaming cup of green tea in front of me.
I slide my shades off and let my guard down. I can be myself again because the cameras aren't allowed to follow me in here—or at school.
"You could join me." I give him a flirty smile.
"Duh, it's Wednesday. My future girlfriend is on TV. Like I'm going to miss that."
As I set up my tablet, Leo grabs a tray filled with all the decorative shoyu bottles from the restaurant's tables and a giant jug of soy sauce to refill them. I scooch over in my favorite booth so that Leo and his tray can join me. The opening strains of Kitsune Mask's wailing guitar echo around the otherwise empty restaurant. Leo and I do our usual dance, which includes flailing arm movements—at least until my hand hits the tray and knocks over one of the decorative bottles, spilling shoyu everywhere.
"Dakota!" Leo lightly chastises me before jumping up to get a rag. "Pause it. I'll be right back."
My eyes follow after him. Leo Matsuda. My best friend for over a decade. The person whose lips send arcs of electricity through my body. Well, at least in my dreams, they do. In reality? I don't know. I'd be happy to take one for the team and find out though.
I shake last night's version—which included some intense action on the Matsudas' living room couch—from my brain and return to the Friend Zone as Leo comes back with a rag and a plate of karaage.
"Ojiichan said to give these to you." Leo puts the plate filled with five Japanese-style chicken nuggets in front of me and mops up the spilled shoyu.
"Domo arigato gozaimashita, Ojiichan!" I yell a thanks toward the kitchen door. "Put it on my tab!"
"Hai, hai," Yes, yes, Leo's grandfather yells back, though we both know he isn't keeping a running total of all the times the Matsudas have fed me for free.
"If we suddenly get busy in the next hour, can you run the cash register? Mom and Dad are at the bank, and Aurora has marching band until seven." Leo sits back down beside me and wipes his hands on his waist apron.
"So the karaage is a bribe, then?"
I take a bite of the lightly spiced, deep-fried chicken. "Totally working."
"Now then. My future girlfriend. Jay Yoshikawa."
"Leo, Jay Yoshikawa isn't a real person, and Ava Takahashi who plays her is married. Not to mention that she's twenty-five and you're sixteen. So, ew."
"Shut up and let me dream."
"Wait, I forgot to put the subtitles on."
Leo doesn't need subtitles for the Japanese parts, but I do. His lack of Japanese writing skills got him stuck back in Japanese II with me learning the basics, but Leo's Japanese speaking skills are advanced, especially when he talks about food. Though I guess that's a given when you work in your Japanese grandfather's restaurant. Meanwhile, Ojiichan talks to Mrs. Matsuda in English—though he doesn't need to—to work on his language skills. Her years teaching English in Japan with the JET program after college have given her some mad skills. I aspire to get to that level. Maybe I could go to Japan on the JET program one day too?
I'm not going anywhere until my contract with HGTV is up though. They own me for the rest of this season. Then I will be free. Free to be me. Free to do whatever I want without having it possibly documented on film. I can leave my sunglasses off and my barriers down all the time. I can tell Leo how I feel about him.