Chapter 27 - Aldrich
Danica sits at a long table, with several other visiting authors. I stand just a little ways off behind her. I can’t help smiling at the way Danica interacts with people. She greets each of them with genuine smiles and chats with them as though they have known each other for years. She listens to each of them with genuine interest as she signs and personalizes their books for them. The woman and her son from a few weeks back are in line. I caught the young man telling Danica his name is Ayar. An interesting name and I wonder if he and his mother are originally from Serbia or not. Ayar doesn’t sound like a Serbian name. His mother is named Carlotta. Whoever the boy’s father is must be where his name comes from.
“I’m so glad you enjoyed Aching Heart,” Danica says as she hugs Ayar, after taking some pictures with him. “You’re the second reader to tell me how that book relates to you.”
As she says this, Danica turns her head and looks at me with a soft smile. I smile back, tilting my head to the side as I aimlessly kick at the floor. Ayar thanks Danica before walking towards me, letting the next person in line meet her.
“You’re the valet, right?” Ayar asks, clearing his throat nervously. “So . . . how do you know Danica? Aside of having read Aching Heart.”
“After reading the book, I wrote her,” I explain, nodding to Danica’s back. “We began emailing a little more and the topic changed from just her books to other things.”
“Ah . . . and now that she’s here, you hang out with her?”
I nod, “It’s a bit more . . .”
“You care for her,” Ayar states with a knowing smirk. “Well, if it helps you feel better, I would too. She’s different from most people, American or otherwise. What Danica is for you . . . I have in someone else and she is the one who introduced me to Danica’s books . . . She doesn’t know who I truly though . . . Not yet.”
Upon hearing this, I immediately recognize the same uncertainty in Ayar that I had when speaking to Danica. Wanting to tell her everything, but doubting whether it would be received.
“Ayar,” I say, placing a hand on his shoulder. “If there is any advice I can offer you right now, it is to be completely open with her now. I was the same with Danica until recently. Having everything out on the table now can avoid things that you might not want to happen later on. Danica may have accepted my mistake without it bothering her that I held a lot back . . . but I can say you don’t want to do that. Hold nothing back. Be honest with her, that’s what she wants.”
Ayar’s expression becomes thoughtful as he nods, considering my advice. We exchange final greeting before Ayar hurries away with his mother. But now that I truly consider it, they look nothing alike. Ayar appears to have an Asian appearance, but he reminds me of a native American from some stories I’ve read on the internet. Long black hair that is tied at the base of his neck. Wise dark eyes that seem to have seen a lot, filled with a bit of pain. Tall, about my height and build, and tanned, with a slight red hue.
Carlotta is short with blond hair, light blue eyes and her skin is white. So white that one might consider her to be Albino. As I am thinking this, the teenage girl talking with Danica glances my way and blushes. I offer smile of greeting, nodding my head, but nothing more.
“Handsome, isn’t he?” Danica asks, making the girl giggle softly. “That’s what I thought too, the first time I met him . . . and I didn’t even know what he looked like yet.”
“What?” the girl is shocked as she glances between Danica and me.
Danica glances over her shoulder at me with a smile, and then motions the girl closer. She whispers something into the girl’s ear, triggering my curiosity, making her gasp and cover her mouth. They both giggle and exchange goodbyes before the girl rushes back to her family. Danica looks my way, flashing a bright smile before turning to the last young man in the line. My forehead creases with puzzlement as I walk up to her chair and kneel beside her, my arm around her shoulders.
“Annetta loves your books,” he says, nodding his chin at me. “I’ve seen you around the hotel. You’re one of the valets, aren’t you?”
“He is,” Danica replies before I can reply. “And he’s also the reason I was able to still be here today. He’s my rescuer.”
She says the last sentence with affection and admiration. The sentiment causes my chest to swell, but I remain composed until Danica finishes signing the book and taking pictures. No one else is waiting to get their books signed, so Danica pushes away from the table for a break.
“What did you tell that girl?” I ask, turning Danica to face me, which makes her giggle. Odd. She throws her head back, laughing loudly. At first, I don’t understand why she is grinning so obnoxiously, but then it catches and I am grinning with her. Danica bounces on her feet, side to side.
“Danica,” I say, laughing as I place my hands on her shoulders to stop her bounce. “What has gotten into you, moja slatka?”
“I don’t know if I should tell you,” she replies, winking.
“You should . . . or I won’t kiss you before you fall asleep tonight.”
Danica’s mouth falls open and her eyes grow wide. Her mouth then turn up, back into her grin.
“It’s a bit embarrassing,” she says, shrugging. “But . . . I basically told Lizzie that I drew you on a piece of paper and then 3D-printed you for myself.”
I raise an eyebrow, thinking of what Danica told me about her fantasy version of me. I chuckle and shake my head, because even though what Danica’s saying she said to Lizzie sounds . . . plausible, I doubt that’s what she said.
“I’m calling that bluff,” I say, sliding my arm around her shoulders. “What did you really say? C’mon, you can tell me.”
“C’est la vie,” Danica says, sighing. “Fine, I’ll tell you . . . I told her that I am going to kidnap you and keep you in my pocket.”
Her cheeks flush and I know she is telling the truth. One side of my mouth tugs upward as I turn to fully face Danica. I duck my head, so we can see eye to eye.
“I want to keep you in my pocket too,” I whisper, letting my hands rest behind her neck, catching the loose ends of her hair. “And you’re rather small, so you’d fit.”
Danica smiles, giggling softly as she makes an attempt to look at her feet. But I don’t let her. I raise her chin with my knuckle, making her meet my gaze.
“And to think you traveled by yourself,” I go on, bringing my other hand to her back, pulling her closer. “If you were traveling with someone else . . . I wouldn’t know if I could really kiss you right now. Charlie would have my head, wouldn’t he?”
“No,” Danica replies, her smiling growing. “I think the two of you would get along great. Danny, too, because he watches out for me the way Charlie always does.”
“What makes you think I would get along with them?” I ask, raising an eyebrow, challenging her theory.
“Because you remind me of my grandpa,” she explains softly as her hands come to rest on my shoulders. “Always caring despite some hostility. I know you cared about Karolina. Why else would you have thought that guy was disrespecting her? There’s nothing wrong with that, except she knew she could use it against you. Gramps had a similar situation before he met my grandmother. And Gramps always told me . . . to make sure whoever I meet, and start to go out with, has similar qualities to him, and better. You keep surprising me and . . . I see things that are better than Gramps. He takes care of Gram and all . . . but I’ve never seen anyone take care of someone so carefully as you have been taking care of me.”
I’m smiling by the time Danica finishes speaking. I kiss her forehead at a loss for further words. Someone calls to Danica causing her to pull away, but not before I peck her cheek. Danica beams as she returns to her chair at the table. I remain where I am, smiling at the wonderful specimen of a woman I was just seconds away from declaring love to. I’m in love with her.