Chapter 3 - Aldrich
I inhale a deep breath as a gentle gust of wind blows around me. Compared to other work days, today feels entirely different. Rather, everything feels different today. I have been working for hours already, but I feel as though I could keep going into the latest hours of the evening. I have even been offering to take the shifts of my fellow valet co-workers so they can have the rest of the day off. They refused, of course. I don’t blame them. They need the work and the paycheck.
“Dante.” I turn around and see my father coming towards the valet station.
“Do you need the car?” I ask, turning to reach for the key in the box.
“No,” my father replies, shaking his head. “I merely wanted to ask if you wanted to join me for dinner with . . . a guest.”
I raise an eyebrow. “The prime minister?”
“His family and sister in-law, to be correct.”
“What about my job?” I motion to the vehicles that are still waiting to be parked.
“Someone can fill in for you,” my father says, clearing his throat as he starts giving commands to my co-workers.
I try to offer apologies, but they are in vain. Everyone knows I am the son of the hotel owner. There are times I wish I weren’t; however, if things were different, I do not think my father and I would get along as well as we do.
“Will I need to change?” I ask as I follow my father into the hotel lobby.
“I had Claire send your best suit,” he replies, nodding. “Change as quickly as you can.”
Somehow, I’m given my suit and am racing towards my father’s office to change. An alert on my phone pulls my attention away from my suit as I close the restroom door. I bring it out and see a new email. When I see who it is from, for reasons I cannot fathom, my heart pounds in my chest. I set my suit aside, leaning against the wall as I open the email. Danica Kensington replied to me.
March 25, 2016
Subject: Re: Aching Heart
Thank you so much for your email. I am so sorry to hear about your mother. I can kind of imagine what that feels like, but not in the same way. I lost both my parents when I was five. I know the pain of losing a parent to say the least. But the manner your mother left . . . I truly am sorry about that. My grandpa always told me that sometimes the people we expect to always be in our lives are not always meant to be there.
Eight years is a long time to hold onto such a pain, but I think we all grieve differently. We heal in our own timing. Some people expect us to get up and be alright through the pain, but it doesn’t always work that way, and we can’t force things. Everything happens for a reason.
I’m glad you found something in my novel that spoke to your heart. In a way, it is close to my heart. You are the first reader to email me about it as it is my newest release. The idea came from a friend when I was throwing ideas into the air, hoping to see what might stick. I wrote the novel but put off publishing for nearly a year. When my editor asked for something new, I brought it back out and things took off.
I love hearing from readers. It makes my heart swell to know they enjoyed one, or all, of my books in one way or another. If you happen to read more of my books, feel free to email me your feedback. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you have a great day. By the way, your English is much better than mine, considering I have known the language my entire life.
Best of wishes,
Danica Kensington - Author
I find myself smiling softly and sighing. I read the email again. Twice. Three times. I didn’t think Danica would reply. I know that everyone has a life to live. I would have understood if Danica had not replied, but she did. Questions flood my mind as I read the email once more. My smile grows when I come to Danica’s email signature. It is a picture of her reading a book. She’s smiling. Her cheeks are flushed. I imagine she is reading something sweet. I exhale and turn off my phone, glancing at the waiting suit.
“Supper first,” I tell myself. “You can respond to her at home.”
I chose against giving Danica my true name, Dante. Aldrich is also my name, but my father has always called me Dante. I hardly know this woman but sending her that email had to be the best decision I’ve ever made.
The meal with the prime minister is dragging on. The elderly man has not ceased conversing with my father on matters concerning the wellbeing of the city. The prime minister’s wife is also engaged in the conversation and has much to contribute. Their eldest daughter, Karolina, is focusing on her manicured nails. She has cross examined them at least thirty times in the last fifteen minutes. Her twin brother, Nicholas, and their younger brother, Michael, are slumped against their chairs. Utterly bored, I would assume. The prime minister’s wife’s sister in-law appears lost, out of context. I feel sorry for her. She is not the only one who does not wish to be here much longer.
“Dante,” Karolina says, suddenly leaning closer to me on my right. “Would you like to take a walk in the gardens after the meal?”
“Umm,” I clear my throat, fidgeting with the tie around my neck.
“What a lovely idea!” Karolina’s mother chimes before I can say a word. “Why not take a walk now, whilst we adults continue our discussion? Nicholas and Michael can occupy themselves elsewhere, I am sure.”
I glance at my father, who merely nods and returns to his conversation. I sigh and slowly push away from the table. I remove my napkin and stand behind Karolina’s chair, gently pulling it out to let her stand. As taught by my father, I offer Karolina my arm. She accepts and we walk towards the garden which is just outside of the restaurant.
“What a relief,” Karolina says, sighing. “I thought I would have died of boredom if I had to listen to our fathers discuss such matters any longer.”
“I cannot say that I disagree,” I reply dryly. “However, there are not many respected men in our city that actually take the time to discuss such matters. If the world were more like us, I think it would be a better place.”
Karolina disregards my comment and changes the subject. I sigh and comply with her rambling. I would much rather leave and not bother but that would be rude. Twenty minutes later, Karolina gasps, covering her mouth as she stares ahead. I follow her gaze and see a young man watching us.
“The nerve,” Karolina whispers, tightening her grip around my bicep. “Dante, please, make him go away.”
“Who is he?” I ask, maintaining a low tone.
“My ex-fiancé,” she replies with a visible shudder. “He just cannot seem to understand that we have too many differences.”
I meet the man’s glare with one of my own. I am not one to tolerate the mistreatment of a woman. To my surprise, he smirks, nodding at me. Gritting my teeth together, I gently remove Karolina’s hands from my arm and approach the offender. His eyes alone make me wary. I advance, my fists clenched at my sides.
“Do you have a good reason for staring at us?” I ask, stopping merely inches away from his face. “It’s extraordinarily rude.”
Instead respond with words, like a civilized human being would, he spits. The blasted saliva lands on my shirt. It’s black so I know it will leave a stain. I glance at the spot where the spit fell and then back at my attacker, my nostrils flaring.
“Are you a guest in this establishment?” I ask, trying to maintain composure.
He still doesn’t speak. I take a moment to assess the situation. I am slightly taller than this gentleman, but he is broader. He definitely has more muscle than my gangly, practically scrawny, self. However, I am most likely older. His blond hair covers his entire forehead, falling over green eyes. His furrowed brow tells me that I have become an automatic enemy. I turn to look at Karolina, but much to my surprise, she is standing with her nose in the air. Her arms are crossed over her chest, causing her cleavage to expand in her blouse.
Suddenly, I understand what is truly taking place and I am about to make my retreat. However, Karolina stops me with the shake of her head. I have known Karolina for some time now. Her family has taken meals with my father and me many times. Karolina and I were an item at one point, but I ended it because her true colors were not as bright as they appeared. The young man before me is her current infatuation, no doubt, apparently willing to do anything Karolina asks. Karolina thinks, because she is the prime minister’s daughter, that she has the right to teach others a lesson when things don’t go her way, hence my reason for ending things with her. She did not take it well.
Before I have time to react, I am whirled around to face him. His fist comes in contact with my jaw, causing me to spit red, salty fluid out of my mouth. His other fist makes contact with the left side of my face.