Chapter 23 - Aldrich
Danica is nearly her full self again. My father has been keeping tabs on her kidnapper’s case, but I told him to make certain she doesn’t hear anything about it, except that justice is met. Danica had that one nightmare and I want to prevent her tears as much as possible. I know she takes comfort in me when I am near. I see it. I feel it.
I have been sleeping on the floor, letting Danica sleep in my bed. I don’t want her alone and I would never do anything to violate her. She knows that. I see it in her eyes when I go to lie down at night. Or when I remain at my computer later than normal, and Danica asks if I’m tired yet. While I am trying to look out for her, she’s returning the favor willingly. I told her not to worry about me. Danica shook her head and wagged her finger at me.
“Someone needs to make sure you’re sleeping too,” she had said with a soft smile.
Tonight is the dinner party. My father has invited several of the city’s most wealthiest families to attend. Claire and Laila have been slaving in the kitchen to have everything ready. Dad hired a caterer, but it is up to laire and Laila to prepare the meal here. Danica is walking around and keeps trying to offer her help to Claire. But she continues to refuse.
“Honey,” Claire says, waving her spoon at Danica. “As lovely as your offer is, I cannot let you help. You are a guest in this house, and I know for a fact that a certain young man would prefer you were with him at this dinner. Now, go put on that lovely dress you showed me, and make him smile some more.”
I’m chuckling softly as Danica turns, shaking her head, but smiling, as she exits through the back door. Claire looks at me, winking before turning back to the serving dishes.
“Can I not be here?” Laila asks with a groan. “Mom, please?”
“Stop your complaining and keep serving,” her mother replies, rather sharply I might add. “I don’t know what has gotten into you over the summer, but I am quite fed up! Pick your attitude out of the gutter and move on. Just because one man doesn’t like you doesn’t mean another won’t like you. You need to think about the odd behaviors you’ve had and work through them without making the rest our lives miserable. Now, back to work.”
Laila’s bottom lips quivers as she turns back to moving the food from containers to serving platters. I take this as my queue to leave and change my shirt. I exit the kitchen and walk towards my room. Each step seem to take forever. I knock on the door, not wanting to accidentally walk in on Danica changing. Though I think she is using the bathroom. The door opens and Danica stands there, wearing a blue knee-length dress that has me gawking. It is the perfect length for her body. Not only that, but the thin belt she has around her waist makes her curves stand out. Her shoes are nothing too glamorous, but the simple Egyptian-style sandal goes wonderfully with the dress.
“Do I look okay?” Danica asks, looking looking down at the skirt of her dress.
She touches her neck, subconsciously, fiddling with the simple cross necklace she is wearing. I reach for her hands, holding her wrists as I make her meet my gaze.
“Will you let me be your escort?” I ask, smiling. “Because I think you’d be the prettiest one at the party . . . and I don’t want anyone thinking they can have your attention.”
Danica blushes, “You want to be my escort? I’ve never had anyone want to escort me before . . . . Let alone take me to a dance.”
I narrow my eyes. “You’ve never been to a dance?”
She shakes her head, shrugging. Still holding her wrists, and not wanting the moment to pass, I gently pull Danica towards me. I place her hands around my waist and run my fingers up her arms to cup her cheeks. She blushes, smiling softly as I lean down. The moment she rises on her toes, we both close our eyes. But before I can brush my lips across hers, someone starts shouting my name. I sigh and slowly pull away, but not fully. I towards the house and see my dad standing in the kitchen door. He smiles and waves to me as if to say ‘forget it’. He turns and walks inside. I turn back to Danica and shrug.
“I’ll let you . . . change,” she says, smiling as she, reluctantly, pulls away. “I would love for you to be my escort.”
“Good,” I say, leaning down and pressing a kiss to her flushed cheek. “I’ll be quick. Wait for me in the lounge. Don’t be nervous; you’re beautiful.”
Danica nods and walks passed me, heading towards the house. My chest swells as I watch her until she disappears in the house. I shake my head, trying to wake up as I turn and hurry to my closet. I pull out a clean, white button-down shirt and black suit pants. I hurry into the bathroom for a fast shower.
When the dinner party begins, my father makes certain to have Danica introduced to all of the guests. I, on the other hand, am making sure she does not leave my side. Some of the guests are young men my age. And they have all been shooting glances at Danica since they arrived. Danica is friendly to everyone, despite the language barrier. She seems to understand some words, but when she gets stuck, I translate.
“How did you two meet?” asks Sergio Geordani, the son of my dad’s Italian friend who supplies the hotel with signature wine. “From the appearance of things, you know each other well.”
Danica looks up at me with a questioning look. I relay Sergio’s question and her eyebrows furrow.
“What?” I ask, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“How many times will we repeat this story?” she whispers, standing on her toes to reach my ear. “It’s not like no one else heard it.”
“We have to humor him,” I reply, turning back to Sergio. I tell him the beginning of how Danica and I met, but I keep it vague. No one has to know the entirety of the story, just the basics. Once Sergio has had his earful, he goes to talk with the daughter of meat supplier to the hotel restaurant. Danica brings her glass of juice to her lips and takes a sip. She sighs and I can see that she is swaying on her feet. I wrap my arm around her waist to help her steady.
“Are you alright?” I ask, lowering my voice.
“I’m glad I didn’t bring heels,” Danica replies, looking at her feet. “I would have toppled over already . . . I feel a little dizzy.”
“Would you like to retire for the evening? You don’t have to be here any further, if you don’t wish it. Dad will understand.”
Danica just shakes her head. I rub her arm and lead her towards an empty lawn chair. I tell her to sit and pull another chair beside her.
“Do you want something else to drink?” I ask, taking her empty glass and setting it on the floor near my foot. “Or maybe you would like to eat something now?”
Danica glances around before letting her eyes settle on me.
“Okay,” she says softly. “Yeah, something to eat . . . maybe a drink that has bubbles.”
I nod and jump to my feet I go over to the refreshments table. I see a personal size bottle of ginger ale. That should work. I take the bottle as I begin to fill a small plate with finger sandwiches. When I return to Danica, Georg Jr. is seated in my chair, trying to talk to her.
“Moj slatki,” I say as I hand her the soda. “Drink this, and I’ve brought you some sandwiches.”
Danica looks up at me and sigh with relief as she takes the drink. She places the plate in her lap before twisting the cap off the bottle. Georg looks between the two of us before rising from the chair.
“She doesn’t look too good, my friend,” he says letting me take the seat. “Perhaps she should go rest.”
“I tried that suggestion already,” I reply, shaking my head as I place my hand on Danica’s shoulder. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t exert herself.”
Georg grunts and heads off towards some of the other girls. I sigh and turn to Danica, who is slowly eating the sandwiches. She looks pale, and not in the healthy way that she normally looks. Her fair skin has a green hue to it now.
“I’m taking you to bed,” I say, taking the plate from her.
“I’m fine,” she protests, “really, I am.”
“You’re body language suggests otherwise, moj slatki.”
I bring the plate back to the table and then go back to Danica. She appears more pale than before, even in the dim lighting. Not worrying about the people watching, I scoop her into my arms and start to make my way around the house to my room. Danica is shivering. Once inside, I hurriedly place Danica on my bed and wrap her in the sheets. She smiles gratefully, holding herself beneath the warmth of the blankets. I touch her cheek. So soft and warm.
“I’ll get you a T-shirt,” I say, kissing her forehead before going to my chest of drawers. Finding a clean, blue T-shirt, along with a pair of gray pajama pants, I bring them to Danica.
“Change into these,” I tell her before turning my back. “I won’t look.”
I hear the rustle of the sheets and the patter of her shoes on the wood floor. I can tell that she removes them, because there is a small clatter of impact. Then a softer sound of fabric dropping. I avert my mind from the thought of her not wearing clothing.
“Okay,” Danica says after some moments. I turn around again as she pulls the sheet around her shoulders again. Her shoulders visibly shudder and I impulsively sit next to her, pulling her to my chest. I rub her arms, trying to pass my warmth to her. Almost immediately, Danica’s eyes flutter closed. Her breathing becomes steady and her shoulders relaxed. I kiss the top of her head and gently lay her back in the pillows, covering her with the comforter.
“Sweet dreams moj slatki,” I whisper, kissing her cheek before returning to the party.