#74: I Insist

Koga arrived promptly at 8:30 AM. Krysta got into the car and immediately handed her cash for gas. When Koga tried again to refuse, Krysta placed the money into the glove compartment. "Thank you for agreeing to meet me on such short notice."

"It's barely ten minutes away. You don't have to pay—"

"I have a gift card. I will cover our food as well."

Koga accepted her stipend, and they drove across town to the west side suburbs. Joe's occupied the corner lot of a strip mall under renovation. Upon arrival, Krysta examined the cafe merchandise, selecting a large mug before joining Koga at the register. The barista, a petite blonde with large eyes and a ton of bracelets, took an eyeful of Krysta's chest, lingering for a moment before smiling up at the two of them. "Sweetie, I love your shirt. What can I get you?"

"I would like the Assam tea in this mug and a cream cheese bagel with lox. Koga?"

"Veggie breakfast bagel—add bacon—and a short dry cappuccino."

Krysta added two croissants, a bag of granola, and a LaCroix to her order, bringing the total, with tax, to $39.86, which she paid with her $40 gift certificate. Krysta tipped the barista $10, and the two moved to a nearby table to wait for their order.

"Have you been here before?" Koga asked.

"A while ago, when it first opened." Krysta raised her phone camera and adjusted her hair. "I got the gift card from the parents of a high school student I tutor. Her father owns the Asian market, where we buy a lot of our ingredients."

"Oh? That's nice," Koga said, oddly relieved the student was female. She watched as Krysta captured a burst of selfies, her expression drifting from a smirk into an open-mouthed smile. "How do you make taking a selfie look so natural?"

Krysta laughed. "I just have a reliable bag of tricks and huge breasts that happen to be the only natural thing about this."

Koga did not know how to respond and was relieved when the barista called their names, giving her an escape. She retrieved their drinks and handed Krysta her mug, which immediately became a prop. Raising her phone, Krysta straightened her posture and pressed out her chest. Koga heard a low creaking as the lacing over Krysta's cleavage stretched taut. "Are we eating here?" Koga asked, her eyes darting around the cafe, self-conscious of onlookers.

"The city recently renovated the park across the street. I would like to go there, but I need to use the bathroom first. Could you grab us a table? I will bring our food."

Koga agreed and walked across the street to Price Park, where she sat down at a new, bright yellow picnic table. Minutes later, Krysta arrived with their food. "Sorry for the delay. I was chatting with the barista, who is also the owner and social media manager. She's nice. Familiar, but nice. They are trying to establish themselves in the area."

"Good luck to her. This location will be a challenge," Koga said, eyeing the construction across the parking lot.

"Mmhmm." Krysta captioned and posted her selfie, then turned her attention to her food. She unwrapped her bagel, plating it atop the wrapping, and set her coffee beside it. Arching back, Krysta held her phone to her face and took several pictures of her food partially obscured by the swell of her bust. Koga again found herself captivated by Krysta's meticulousness, but caught herself when she realized she was gawking at a woman's chest in public. Desperate for a conversation topic, Koga said the first thing she could think of.

"That shirt fits your...you really well."

"Thank you. It is from Moonjo's Designs. They specialize in clothing for my body shape."

"Do they give you a discount for the publicity?"

Krysta laughed. "I am far from their biggest client by celebrity or circumference, but I promote them as often as I can."

Koga shook her head, fascinated. "It is weird watching the social media sausage get made. I assumed it would be a more organic process."

"Depends on the sausage," Krysta purred, lifting an eyebrow as she took a bite of her bagel. She paused to make sure Koga did not choke, before continuing. "What I mean is, people like Alicia have personalities built for this kind of thing. People like me have to engineer our success."

"Just as impressive, if not more so. But don't you get self-conscious, taking pictures in public?"

Krysta laughed as she took a bite of her bagel. "You do know I pose topless on the internet, right?"

Koga gasped, despite knowing this. "Yes, I suppose that makes sense." She paused, unsure if she wanted to continue. "I don't know if you've heard, but you are something of a legend on campus."

A trace of a smile appeared at the corner of Krysta's lips. "I am aware of my reputation." She paused to sip her tea before continuing. "Speaking of the university, I believe you know Vincent Lopez, correct?"

"Yeah. We were in the Asian Student Union together in college. He was also at my new-hire orientation last year. Why do you ask?"

"I will be seeing him this evening."

"Is there a math department event?"

"No, a social visit. We slept together last weekend."

Koga's bite of her bagel fell out of her mouth. "What?!"

"Vincent and I split an edible we received from Whitley. We were about a third of the way through Parasite when I decided I wanted to—"

"Whoa!" Koga held up both of her hands. "Okay, I imagine you have a candid relationship with Whitley and Alicia, but this is...wait, why are you even telling me this?"

"Vincent and I have had a few conversations. He's cute, and he seems nice, but I need to know more about him before I can consider taking our relationship further."

Koga waved her hands. "I mean, why are you telling me this?"

"Whitley suggested I talk to you. She said you studied psychology or gender studies."

"I majored in sports medicine!"

"Regardless, I am looking for advice on how I might proceed, and relationships are not my forte."

"They're hardly mine either, but I'm happy to listen." Koga took a moment to finish her bagel and re-gather herself before continuing. "Okay, let's take it from the top. Do you like Vincent?"

"He is personable and respectful."

"I agree. He's also an excellent cook, but that doesn't answer my question."

"I do not have a good handle on his personality yet. Based on my experience with him so far and what I have gathered from his social media, he seems nice."

"You Facebook-stalked him?" Koga said, snickering.

"I consulted publicly available information." Krysta shrugged, sipping her tea. "It is the same as the demographic research I do for my business."

"Is it, though? Again, you like this guy, right?"

Krysta sighed. "Okay, look. I honestly do not know. My relationship with my fans and subscribers is, by far, the longest and most stable relationship I have had in my life. I had a couple of one-night flings in college and, more recently, whatever you want to call what Percy and I did for a year. Otherwise, dating and relationships simply never interested me."

"Why are you considering it now?"

"I am ready for a new challenge," Krysta said.

Koga laughed. "Do you want my advice?"

"That is the primary reason I asked you here."

"At some point, you will need to consult your human feelings." Koga was concerned Krysta might take it the wrong way, but she merely waited for Koga to continue. "You are, by far, the most analytical person I've met in my entire life. Before you start analyzing and strategizing your way into a relationship, try really listening to yourself."

Krysta mulled Koga's words over quietly, nodding with increasing frequency. "Thank you, Koga. I will consider that." She wrapped and re-packaged the other half of her bagel and fastidiously wiped the corners of her mouth with a napkin. "Now, I have one more thing to ask."


"Could you take a picture of me in front of that statue?" Krysta asked, pointing to a brass sculpture at the center of the park. "It would make a beautiful backdrop."

"Sure," Koga said, accepting Krysta's phone from her. "I should probably tell you about the cream cheese on your shirt then."

Krysta frowned at the small, yet conspicuous, stain before patting her bag and producing another shirt. "Fortunately, I carry a spare."

Koga nodded, impressed. "You're ready for anything. I assume that statue is the whole reason we came over here?"

"No, I actually forgot about the statue until now."

"I'm honestly surprised to hear you admit that."

"Oh, come on," Krysta said with a coy smile. "I cannot plan for everything."