“So, obviously, the biggest thing we need to work on is expanding our social media presence.” Katara briefly glanced up from her notebook to make sure he was listening and Zuko couldn’t help but smile at her easy use of ‘we’, or her acknowledgement that she had become an invaluable member of the Jasmine Dragon family. Iroh had filled her in on the shop’s precarious position that Monday, and she had - apparently - been brainstorming ideas to bring in customers ever since. Zuko, who’d had very few ideas beyond “maybe posting on FaceBook more than once a decade,” had to be impressed - and, he admitted reluctantly, a little grateful.
Katara’s enthusiasm had been a bit much at first, but Zuko couldn’t deny that he’d grown fond of it.
“Right,” Zuko agreed. “I feel like we should start by making a website?”
“Yeah, definitely, but we could reach additional customers with a boots-on-the-ground approach. You know, seeing if we could sell at community events and stuff, or doing fundraisers and promotions.” She turned back to her notebook, flipping a page to make sure she hadn’t missed anything. Katara had thrown herself into the effort to save Jasmine Dragon with impressive zeal; Zuko was almost intimidated. “You have any thoughts?”
“Uh...not that you didn’t also have,” Zuko replied. “I feel like you and your friends are, uh...maybe overestimating how much you have time to do, though. I mean, organizing all those fundraisers and events you talked about is time-consuming, and we don’t exactly have much help.”
“Which is why we’re going to focus mostly on the online stuff. But I think we can pull it off. I mean...we have nothing to lose, right?”
There was that glint in her eye again - the “bet I won’t and I’ll do it just to spite you” look he’d grown incredibly familiar with and even rather fond of. I really need to stop forgetting that she takes everything I say as a challenge, Zuko thought.
“Uh, I guess, but aren’t you busy?” Zuko countered, knowing it wouldn’t really do much but feeling like he should say something.
“Well, yeah, but that isn’t going to be the bulk of our advertising, so I think it’ll be fine. Besides, a good website and active social media are the biggest things we can do, and those are easy to maintain. But, I mean, come on...who doesn’t love karaoke nights?”
Zuko chose not to point out that he doubted hosting a karaoke night at the shop was going to do much to improve business unless someone sang so terribly as to go viral online.
“Um, well, we can start with the Facebook,” he suggested before Katara could throw out any more wild ideas. “I know for a fact the menu we list on there isn’t updated, and we haven’t posted in, like, eight years.”
“Yeah. We can definitely do that,” Katara replied, pulling out her laptop. “Login?”
“Uh…” Zuko couldn’t remember, and he doubted Uncle Iroh would either, given that neither had logged on since he was in elementary school. “I...actually have no idea. Maybe we should just make a new one? But keep the same profile picture.”
“What do you want it to be called?” Katara asked, pulling up Facebook on her laptop. “And at what email?”
“Maybe I should do that,” Zuko suggested. “Can I…?”
“Yeah, of course.” Katara passed him the laptop. “I’ll get some pictures of the menu while you set it up. We can post those to start with.”
“Mm-hm,” Zuko mumbled, typing absentmindedly. He blinked a few times to clear his vision and- oh. He took his finger off the “h” key to find that he’d been accidentally holding it down for long enough to fill the e-mail box with nothing but an endless string of H’s. He cleared them all and tried to enter the correct e-mail address, only to find his fingers typing of their own will, entering Katara’s name instead of his.
Zuko, get it together, he chastised himself, rubbing his temples and glancing at the ceiling to snap himself out of it. But it didn’t work - when his eyes dropped back down, he couldn’t help but let them rest on Katara, standing between him and the counter, lost in thought as she glanced at the pictures of the menu she’d taken on her phone. Before he could bring himself to avert his eyes - she was beautiful, couldn’t he admit that now? - she turned, and her gaze locked on his. A soft smile overtook her features and her cheeks colored. Zuko knew without seeing it that his own face was probably even redder, just feeling the way his cheeks were burning.
“Nice pictures,” Zuko finally stammered after what was likely the most awkward minute of his entire life.
The subtle flush in Katara’s cheeks was a raging wildfire now, her whole face a shade redder than usual. “You haven’t even seen them,” she tried to tease, but her voice came out too shakily to make it sound convincing.
Great, Zuko. Great job! ‘Nice pictures’?
“Well, uh, I...I know you’re good at pretty much everything you do here,” he rationalized, unsure if he was making things more or less awkward by attempting to explain himself. “So, I mean, I figured that they were good. Right? That makes sense?”
“Sure.” Katara’s expression was a little less startled now and a whole lot more sheepish. “So, I’ll get these loaded onto the FaceBook page and write an intro post. That sound good?”
Zuko let out a sigh of relief. Getting back to business was the best antidote for whatever insanity had temporarily overcome him. “Yeah, sounds good. Want me to give you the login information?”
“That would work.” Katara nodded, already busy transferring the photos from her phone to her computer. She slid her notebook to the other side of the table along with the blue pen she always used, and Zuko took it, scrawling the username and password at the top of the page it was open to. It felt almost wrong to desecrate Katara’s immaculate notes with his messy, lopsided scrawl, but if she minded, she was too distracted to point it out.
“So...do you know anyone who could make us a website, or should we do it ourselves?” Zuko asked, wishing to break the awkward silence.
“Sokka’s pretty good with programming, so he could do it, but it probably wouldn’t look very good.” Katara grimaced. “No...definitely not Sokka. There’s an artistic side to it and...no, that’s not Sokka’s thing.”
“Okay, then maybe we should do it ourselves?”
“I mean, we could do it, right? Can’t be that hard.” Katara scribbled down another note. “But that’s going to be a slightly bigger project. Not the actual blog, I mean, but it’ll take a while to get the menu on there.”
“Why? All we have to do is type it up, right?” Zuko asked, already ready to break into a cold sweat because he knew Katara well enough to know by now that whatever she was about to propose was going to be a lot of work.
“But...people respond better to visuals, right?” Katara asked hopefully.
“I don’t know, do they?” Zuko crossed his arms. “I don’t see how that’s relevant.”
“I thought it would be good to have, like, a visual menu. You know, a picture of every item?”
“Katara, do you have any idea how many flavors of tea we have?” Clearly he hadn’t been wrong to be concerned. “If we have to make and photograph every single thing we sell, we’ll be bankrupt before we finish!”
“We can have pictures. I agree that that would be good. But, like, five of them, not seventy.”
Katara huffed. “ Fine. Got any other objections before we move on?”
“Actually, yes.” Zuko slid Katara’s notebook back across the table to glance at her neat, color-coded events list. “If you can explain how hosting a Poetry Out Loud event is going to improve our sales, be my guest, but... why?”
“It’s community engagement!” Katara insisted. “We have to let people know that we care about the community by interacting with it, and we can do that by-”
“Katara,” Zuko cut her off, resting his palm on her forearm. “You sound like a real estate ad.”
“I do not,” Katara muttered, flustered but not moving her arm out from under Zuko’s hand. He nearly forgot what he’d been trying to say over the noise of his racing heart, and it felt as if the temperature of the room had inexplicably risen. They locked eyes again like two deer caught in the same set of headlights and froze.
“I think the poetry slam needs to go.” Zuko moved his hand after what felt like eons. It still felt like he’d shoved it in an electrical outlet in a way that was surprisingly not unpleasant, but at least his brain was up and running again. “I just don’t think anyone will come.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t actually that attached to that one,” Katara admitted, shrugging. “I was just looking at events that they have at coffee shops and bars to get ideas, and that was a suggestion.”
“Watching a bunch of hipsters who are probably all stoned read poems that sound like bad My Chemical Romance lyrics?” Zuko grimaced. “I think we might actually lose customers if we tried that.”
“Hey, they’re not all bad,” Katara countered. “I mean, there are some people who do that and are actually really good. But the stereotype...yeah, it’s kind of not the best image.”
“Maybe not, but I’m invoking my family privileges here and saying that we’re not gonna have one.”
“Okay…” Katara smirked, a little too invested for someone who claimed not to be attached to the idea in question. “I’m the one who came up with the ideas, so you gotta make me a counter-offer if you’re gonna shoot down my suggestions. What can you give me?” She leaned forward on her elbow like a character in a mob movie.
“Uh.” Zuko would rather that the floor opened up and swallowed him right about now than admit what the look on Katara’s face - a little scheming, a little playful, and all challenge - was doing to him. “I’m gonna have to think about that?”
“Well…” Katara leaned back against her chair, tilting its front two legs off the floor and balancing on the back ones. “I think I have an idea, if you don’t have anything to offer.”
“Oh, this should be good.” Zuko couldn’t help but be caught up in whatever this was. It was a rush, bantering like this, and he couldn’t deny that the smile and the flush it brought to his face were...nice. It wasn’t a feeling he got often. “Tell me, Katara, what exactly are you asking for?”
You know, I really wouldn’t hate it if you asked me to kiss you right about now.
“I,” she started with a playful smirk, “will call off the poetry slam and the extra pictures for the website, if…” she paused for dramatic effect. “And only if...you agree to go to homecoming with my friends and I.”
“Oh, come on!” Zuko threw up his hands. “The one thing-”
“That you’re gonna have to do if you don’t want to spend a Saturday listening to stoners read poetry? Why, yes, it is!”
“You are impossible,” Zuko groaned, dropping his head to his arms, crossed on the table. “ Impossible.”
“What, like you’re not?”
“Okay, fine. I’ll do it.”
“ Yes!” Katara crowed. “I can’t believe that worked!”
You could get me to do a lot of things I hate, Zuko almost told her, but he held back. He’d told her they weren’t quite there yet, after all. He didn’t know how to tell her that he was regretting it all - the distance, the shyness, the way he’d been so determined to hold her at arm’s length even as he failed miserably at it, the awkward drawn-out glances when so much more could be said, could be done.
So he said nothing at all.