“Yes! I win!” Cyborg shouted. He turned to the furious and frustrated Robin. “Again. Again!”
“Well, I’ll win the next one!” Robin snapped, jamming the reset button on the game console.
A clock chimed. Everyone turned to the clock on the wall. “Ah!” Starfire clapped her hands. “The hour of dining! Shall we partake in your Earthly rituals of feasting?”
“Who wants pizza?” Shouted Beast Boy, producing a cordless phone out of nowhere.
“All right! Deep dish with everything!” Cyborg let his controller drop to the floor and zipped over to his pal, ignoring the sulking form of Robin.
“I thought we agreed on no eggplant!”
“You chose last time! It’s my turn!”
“I hate eggplant!”
Starfire flipped through a dictionary in confusion. “I was not aware that animal embryos could be produced from plants,” she muttered.
“Forget pizza! Let’s just do Chinese!”
Beast Boy looked up from where he sat on the floor as a panda holding chopsticks. “Great!” He rapidly transformed back to his natural form. “Chop suey for everyone!”
The door slid open suddenly and loudly, admitting the dark Raven in to the room. Everything stopped and everyone fell silent, save for Starfire muttering to herself, “Eggplant . . .a widely cultivated perennial herb (Solanum melongena) of the nightshade family yielding edible fruits . . .Intriguing.” She suddenly became aware of the new arrival. “Hello, Raven!”
“Hey, Raven! Chinese or pizza?” Cyborg shouted.
She ignored him. Her face remained expressionless. The psychic maintained her dark air as she traversed steadily across the floor. Hoping to get even a frown out of her, Beast Boy circled the girl. “C’mon, Raven! Tell Cyborg the Chinese could spare a little wonton!” When he failed to draw her attention, he slunk off, discouraged.
“Hungry, Raven?” asked Robin. “It is dinnertime.”
She spared him a look that communicated that she was clearly aware of that fact.
Raven stopped only in front of Starfire. She wordlessly took Starfire by the arm and started to pull her towards the door. “But my dictionary! The eggplant!” Starfire protested as she disappeared.
The boys exchanged curious and perplexed glances. “What was that all about?” Cyborg wondered, slightly annoyed.
“That’s so Raven!” Beast Boy said, swatting at an irritating Disney logo in the air.
“Well, we gonna follow them or not?” Cyborg asked.
“Maybe we should let them b—“ Robin was cut off as Cyborg grabbed him and Beast Boy and sped out the door with them in tow.
“Raven,” Starfire spoke nervously, “have I done something to offend you?”
“Do I seem angry?”
Starfire took a moment to figure out how to word this. “Well, I cannot often tell. Your expressions are quite limited. May I inquire as to what you need from me?”
Raven sighed. “I need you to stop asking questions and just follow me.”
Starfire shut her mouth, trailing after the dark shadow that was Raven. She suspected they were headed to Raven’s room, but the purpose of their meeting lay beyond her comprehension. She coughed and covered her mouth, afraid to disturb the awkward silence.
Beast Boy’s cell phone rang.
“Why do you have to choose ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ as a ringtone!?” Cyborg snapped.
Beast Boy sighed. “Hello?”
“Hello. Do you like scary movies?” asked a deep voice.
“No, I do not want a credit card!” He growled and shook his head. “Stupid solicitors, always trying to sell certificates for free ear surgery.”
“What was that?” asked Starfire.
“Nothing.” Damn Beast Boy and his ring tones!
Starfire continued walking without another word. She stole glances at the back of Raven’s cloak but was wise enough to impose any further on the psychic.
They reached the door to Raven’s room and stopped. The mistress herself turned to her charge. “Don’t ask questions yet. Just trust me.”
Raven swiftly unlocked the door, which flew open with a simple wave of her hand. She stepped aside and Starfire’s jaw dropped open. Her bright eyes became round and big as saucers. The room had completely changed—as usual, all lights were out, but tonight light emanated from two candles in ornate candlestick holders set on a small square table with a white linen tablecloth. Wine glasses stood gleaming by napkins that seemed to be made of silk. The chairs were carved beautifully from oak, with the Greek god Eros peering out the back of each. The table was set for two.
“Raven?” Starfire stared at her friend and was quite surprised to see a small smile on her familiar face.
Raven waved a pale hand elegantly. “Go on,” she urged softly, that strange smile locked in her face. Starfire timidly took a step into the dark room, unsure of herself. Her mind reeled trying to sort this out.
The cloaked girl behind her moved swiftly to the nearest chair. She pulled it out, surprising Starfire with such a chivalrous gesture. The chair was cushioned well, and Starfire sank into it comfortably.
She looked up and Raven had disappeared. The notion that this was a big joke flashed through her mind, but a soft clatter said otherwise. Thankfully, Raven reappeared, carrying a bottle with a long neck.
“Raven? This is . . .”
A strange look from Raven silenced her. The Azrathean was seating herself and fumbling with a tool of some sort. The cap of the bottle popped off when said tool was used, and a tiny wisp of steam or smoke escaped the bottle. Starfire caught a whiff of a vaguely familiar scent.
She became increasingly wary when Raven reached over and poured a reddish liquid into Starfire’s glass. Her eyes widened when she glimpsed the label on the bottle. “Raven! Wine? Alcohol on Earth is . . .is prohibited to our age group! Fermented grapes and . . .”
Raven took no notice. She was filling her own glass.
Neither girl heard the creak of the door. The boys peered warily through the small window they’d created. “What’s going on? Lemme see,” Beast Boy whispered.
“Uh, there’s candles, a table,” Cyborg muttered. “Hey, that’s wine! Where’d Raven get wine? She’s fourteen!”
“I thought you had to be twenty-one,” Beast Boy muttered as a mouse on Cyborg’s head.
“You do, genius!”
“Quiet!” Robin snapped. “The only reason I’m here is to keep you two from doing something reckless, and that means no talking!”
Raven waved a hand at the table. “I’m sorry there’s no food, but . . .I really didn’t know where to find, well, the kind of food you like. I mean, I know you’d like to have something Tameranean, but . . .”
Starfire’s eyes lit up and she moved to push herself out of her chair. “I believe I have some leftover Tombul’y fungus growing on Beast Boy’s tofu in the refrigerator! I will be very quick to—“
“No, please! That’s okay. Please sit down,” Raven said quickly. Starfire met her gaze and saw the plea there, and though it bewildered her, she obeyed and remained where she was.
“Oh my God! That’s what was on the tofu!?” Beast Boy cried, his hands flying to his mouth. He looked even more green than usual, if that was at all possible. “I think I’m gonna puke . . .”
“Uh-uh, no way, Kermit! Don’t you dare—not here!” Cyborg hissed.
“What was that?” Starfire wondered.
“Nothing,” Raven answered through clenched teeth, making a mental note to herself to toss Beast Boy out a window later. She raised her glass to her lips and took a sip of wine, which she wasn’t overly fond of, but everyone said that wine served the purpose better than any other drink . . .
Starfire placed her hands on the table. “Raven? Am I being rude to ask a question?”
Raven gazed at her. “No. Go ahead.”
“Is this a common ritual on Earth?” Starfire wondered why her heart was beating so fast.
Raven set her glass down and nodded. “Yes, it is. It’s . . .it’s called ‘dating.’” Starfire noticed in the candlelight that her pale cheeks were starting to flush.
Robin clapped a hand over Beast Boy’s mouth before he could speak.
“Da-ting,” the Tameranean murmured, trying the word out on her tongue. “I have heard the boys speak of this ‘dating.’”
“It . . .” Raven swallowed. “I suppose you might call it ‘courting.’”
Starfire’s stomach did a flip. “Then . . .”
“I think we should leave them alone,” Cyborg wisely suggested.
“Rmmn amsf Srfr mmmm dmm!” Beast Boy said behind Robin’s hand as the two boys dragged him away down the hall.
Raven reached across the table and took Starfire’s hands in her own, marveling at the odd orange color of the skin in the candlelight. “I . . .think about you, Starfire.” She gently squeezed the hands. “I think about you a lot.”
Starfire could feel her cheeks growing warm. “Y . . .yes?”
The magus closed her eyes. “Since I was very small, I was taught to control my emotions . . .to never show what I felt. I thought I could never love. I thought it would be too dangerous. So I hid behind . . .everything. Behind my magic, and my meditation.
“When I was twelve, I joined the Teen Titans. A year later . . .I met you.”
She opened her eyes and gazed for a while at the girl across from her. “For the longest time, I . . .I’ve tried to find the courage to talk to you . . .”
Without realizing it, Starfire leaned forward, her heart pounding inside her chest.
“Starfire, I . . .I, well . . .” Raven bit her lip. “I love you. Not just as friends, I mean. I’m in love with you.”
Those three words made Starfire’s heart leap. She spoke, “I do not think I have ever felt that love . . .”
Raven looked away. “I know I can’t ask the same from you.”
“Please look at me, Raven,” Starfire pleaded. “I care for you. I must know for myself what love is. But, Raven, I think . . .I think I would very much like to find out with you.”
“Y-yes? Then . . .then you would like . . .to date me?”
“Very much.” Starfire held Raven’s hands firmly. “I am not the best person and I do not know if I can be the best love, but I will try for you, Raven.”
Raven swallowed. “I’m glad. And I . . .I’ll try, too.”
For a moment they sat in a pleasant silence, enjoying the connection between them. The candles continued to burn, casting shadows on the girls’ faces. At last, Starfire spoke, feeling very light.
“I think I am going to enjoy this ‘dating’ very much.”
Raven grinned, a rare sight. “Yeah. Yeah, me too.”