Part 3: Chapter 21 - Aldrich
Danica lies asleep in my bed, a gentle expression on her face. I’m afraid to leave her alone. After the week that she’s had, no food, not enough water, it is expected that she shouldn’t feel well. That she would sleep like this. Dad has given me a leave of absence from work so I can care for Danica. It is actually rather funny how easily Danica took to learning who I am.
“I knew it,” she had said before rolling over and letting sleep take her again. She knew it? Knew what, exactly? I plan to ask her the moment she wakes. I can’t imagine what her brother must be thinking right now. Having not heard from Danica, he is sure to be worrying. The police brought Danica’s phone back, but the rest of her personal items are back at the hotel. I plan to go back and retrieve them and bring them here. Danica is not fit to leave until I see her so. I’m going to take care of her. And I am going to keep her safe.
I sit at my computer desk, playing video games to entertain myself whilst Danica remains resting. It is such a wonder to have her in the same room as me. Claire has stopped in a couple times to check on us, see if we needed anything. Laila, of course, is avoiding me at all costs. Good for her. I’m not interested in her company anyway. The rustle of bed sheets draws my attention from the computer screen. I glance over my shoulder and see Danica trying to rise from the bed.
“No you don’t,” I say, jumping up and rushing to her side. “You need to stay in bed a while longer.”
I gently push her shoulders back, adjusting the pillow so she can sit up. Danica makes a face of disgust, which causes me to chuckle. She’s adorable.
“What day is it?” she asks, her voice raspy with sleep.
“Not the day you are thinking,” I reply, sitting on the bed beside her. “You will be ready to get back into your trip in a couple days. Plenty of time before your signing.”
Danica sighs, nodding as she settles into the pillow. I reach an arm around her shoulders, pulling her to my side. I kiss the top of her head before resting my cheek there. She leans against my chest and I feel her already relaxed shoulders release further.
“Do you feel like you could eat?” I ask, running my hand up and down her arm.
As if in response, her stomach makes a gurgling noise. Danica groans, nodding against my chest.
“I’ll go see if Claire has made something for breakfast,” I say, pulling away and pushing off the bed. “If you need to use the restroom, I’ll have her come back with me so she can assist you.”
“Yeah,” Danica murmurs, closing her eyes as she scratches the back of her head. “That would be . . . good. Um . . . Aldrich?”
“Hmm?” I rest my palms on the bed, meeting her gaze.
She hesitates, tilting her head to the side while staring at me with . . . I suppose, a look of admiration.
“Thank you,” Danica says after a short pause. “Of all people, I’m glad it’s you keeping an eye on me.”
I smile softly. “Me too,” I reply, reaching to give her hand a gentle squeeze before head for the door. I walk quickly to the main house, directly to the kitchen door. I hear music playing, someone singing, and someone laughing. When I enter, I see Claire at the stove, singing along with the melody on the radio, and Laila laughing as though it were the funniest thing in the world.
“Morning,” I say, announcing my presence. “Claire, Danica says she can eat something. What would you suggest?”
“Warm oatmeal,” she replies, nodding to the pot on the stove. “It’s not a heavy food and will go down easy. How is she today?”
“Much better. She hasn’t vomited since yesterday, so I think her stomach is normal again. If you have a moment, would you help her use the restroom?”
“Oh . . . Well, I’m to meet your father to discuss the meal for the dinner party tomorrow night. Perhaps Laila can help?”
I glance at Laila, who appears to have turned to stone. She looks at her mother with a look crossed between shock and disgust.Terrific.
“It would be a help,” I say softly, looking at her, waiting for her eyes to meet mine so she can see how appreciative I will be.
“I have to clean the library,” Laila states, shrugging. “Sorry, I can’t.”
I raise an eyebrow, knowing full well that Laila doesn’t have to clean the library because she usually does it over the weekend.
“Honey,” Claire says, speaking with a firm tone. “Danica is Dante’s guest and it is our jobs to make sure she has everything she needs. We work for the Djokovic, not the other way around.”
“Never mind,” I say, shaking my head. “I’m sure the library utterly filthy. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind taking all the books down, dusting each cover and returning them to the shelf, but in alphabetical order, and by color.”
Now I am just being mean. But what goes around comes around, right? Claire looks at me, but instead of puzzlement or frustration that I would give her daughter such a task, there is amusement in her expression.
“What a wonderful idea!” she says, looking back to her daughter. “And while you at it, the windows could use another washing.”
I bite back the urge to grin in triumph as Laila gapes at her mother. She turns on her heel and marches out of the kitchen.
“She’s never been so defiant,” Claire mutters, scooping the oatmeal into a bowl. “Don’t mind her, Dante. She’ll get over it.”
“I’m sure she will,” I say, nodding. “Thank you; I wouldn’t want my father to wonder why you were delayed in meeting with him. I’ll help Danica somehow.”
“How is she, really?” The concern in Claire’s voice makes me smile in return.
“She just needs to regain her strength. She’s alright. He didn’t hurt her other than neglect proper nourishment.”
“She’s the girl you were speaking to, isn’t she?”
I nod, “She is . . .”
“Then don’t let her get away,” Claire smiles, handing me the bowl, with a spoon, before patting my shoulder. “Now, off with you.”
I chuckle and turn towards the back door. I return to my room in short strides, and find Danica hanging her head and her arm crossed. I frown slightly as I approach and sit on the bed.
“Hey,” I say softly, setting the bowl aside and raising her chin. “What’s wrong?”
Danica meets my gaze and I see the tears.
“Moj slatki,” I say, moving her hair away from her face. “It’s alright, everything will be alright . . . Do you miss your family?”
She nods, releasing a gentle sob that breaks my heart. I run my knuckles over her cheeks, drying the tears before I pull her to my chest. Danica cries softly, her shoulder shaking in my embrace.
“You can call them, if you want,” I whisper, “I’m not forcing you to stay away.”
“I just don’t know what to tell them,” she replies softly. “Gramps was in the hospital from a stroke the day I went out. I don’t want to put more worry on him, or Gram . . . or Charlie.”
I hush her, rubbing her hair gently. She continues to cry and my heart shatters to pieces. Danica is supposed to be a happy, joyful woman. This isn’t like her. Unsure of what to say, I pull the bed covers away and lift her into my arms. With her head against my shoulder, and her arms wound tightly around my neck, I carry her to the bathroom. I gently place her feet on the floor, keeping a firm arm around her waist to keep her steady.
“I’ll be right outside the door if you need me,” I tell her, making sure she holds the towel rack for balance. “Call when you finish.”
Danica nods, looking up at me with a weak smile. I smile back and exit the bathroom, closing the door softly behind me. I lean against the wall while I wait, shaking my head as I try to think of what I can do to help Danica’s smile be more joyous. And then, a thought hits me. I smile to myself, assertive of what I must do.