On Saturday morning, I woke up feeling like the night before had been a dream. I’d resisted the urge to kiss Evan’s forehead for being such a curiously cute man, but I hadn’t been able to keep my hands from brushing the tops of his as I reached for his socks to compare how big they were to my tiny feet. When I gave them back to him, the tips of his fingers slid along the inside of my wrist to the center of my palm before he’d folded his socks back together and tucked them away.
Bounding back on the bed, he’d squeezed my knee as he flopped down next to me. We finished off the other two Wolverine comics in the series and flipped through my own novel until we were both yawning. When I blinked at him with bleary eyes and said I had to go to bed or I would hate myself in the morning, he walked me to my room in his bare feet, making sure I didn’t forget my kickboard a second time.
I'd asked him what his schedule was going to be and he’d dragged his hands down his cheeks as he said it would be madness and he didn’t know when he’d finish. I admitted Saturday was usually my busiest day as well. He said he’d try to pop round if he weren’t dead on his feet by evening. Then I'd told him I wouldn’t hold my breath, reluctantly closing my door as he turned to tread back to his room.
As I coerced myself out of bed to tame my tangles and pull on a new pair of jeans, I swung my hips to the song “Woman Like Me” by Little Mix. No other song could have so well described what I was feeling: the way I found myself drawn to Evan despite my prejudices and my insecurities that followed with it. I let myself indulge in romantic fantasies while I brewed my coffee. But on my way downstairs, I stepped onto an empty elevator and all my optimism instantly evaporated.
Reminding myself that I was not looking for anyone nor should I have any expectations just because I met a friendly guy, my heart began to thunder in my chest when the elevator doors opened on another floor. But it wasn’t Evan and his entourage. Another one of the convention’s celebrity guests smiled at me as she boarded and I returned the cordial gesture, stepping aside to make room. None of her assistants jostled or jabbed me.
In the afternoon, I slipped away from my booth for another coffee and a bite to eat, but an a-frame sign caught my eye. A standard publicity photo of Evan was printed on the front of it with information about a Q&A panel he was scheduled for that day. Checking the time on my phone, I realized the panel was already in process, and decided to postpone the coffee.
My vendor’s badge allowed me entrance into the darkness of the packed auditorium. At the far wall, bright lights illuminated a raised platform with two barstools, one of which was occupied by the panel’s host. I heard Evan’s voice through the sound system, but didn’t see him until I looked up on the large screen above the platform.
Pausing occasionally to speak into his microphone, he was crawling on his hands and knees, re-enacting an incident on the set of a popular television show that he’d been cast in for the lead role. Every stretch of his arms lifted his t-shirt, revealing the slender curve of his belly just above the designer brief’s waistband peeking out from his jeans. There were no open seats, so I moved closer to the front at the edge of the crowd.
Enigmatic and energetic as he recounted the scene, it was apparent to me that not only was the crowd captivated by him, but he wholly enjoyed their attention as well. He was nothing short of a clown—albeit an amusing and skilled one. It wasn’t any wonder he’d undertaken a career in acting, and I could see why people were so drawn to him. He was exactly the same as he’d been the night before while stretched out on his bed dramatically reading the comic book’s lines and showing off his socks: overflowing with a contagious charm.
Evan jumped up and turned around as his audience clapped and laughed. As he walked toward the empty barstool beside the host, he paused slightly, and a smile tugged at one corner of his lips. His shining brown eyes were gazing in my direction and suddenly one of them winked. Had another man done that, I’d probably have thought it was very smug, but the gesture simply added to his charm and made me smile. Someone near me grabbed my arm, seizing my attention.
“Oh my God, you’re so lucky,” she whispered to me, leaning forward.
I didn’t know what she was talking about until I realized that she was in sitting in the shadows, but her hand upon my forearm was illuminated. Then I noticed that my feet were bathed in the light; I was standing right in the open at the foot of the platform. I thought he’d winked at someone else in the audience, but now I knew he’d seen me when I’d only meant to have a peek at him. Humiliated, I turned and hurried for the exit.
The overcast coastal skies had begun to drizzle when I trekked over to an all-night café for proper coffee. The convention center hall and most of the food vendors had closed for the night even though there were still films and events going on until the wee hours. Shivering as I stood behind a line of Spidermen in varying sizes, shapes, and ages interspersed between average citizens, someone placed a jacket over my shoulders.
“You looked cold.” By now, I could place Evan’s voice and accent anywhere.
Tilting my face upward as I twisted my head to see him, I was met with chestnut eyes and a tender smile, warming parts of me that no sweater could be wrapped around. Kindness radiated off him effortlessly and it was infectious, melting away my negativity as it compelled me to return the gesture. My palm migrated to his chest as he came up beside me, and he wrapped his large hand over mine.
“Are you sure you’re not going to be cold now?” I asked.
“No, I’ll be fine,” he lied.
His blazer was rather toasty, and I couldn’t complain. “Did you have a caffeine craving as well?”
Mischief twinkled as he stared down at me for a beat. “I saw you leave the building. I thought you were heading back to the hotel, but I decided to see where you were going.”
His eyes turned dark with his confession, but his lips curved into a half smile and a pink hue spread across his cheeks.
“I feel like I’m rather predictable,” I laughed.
“Yes, I should’ve known.” He put one hand in his pocket while the other tapped the floor with the point of his umbrella, knocking water droplets from its black fabric.
The line moved, and we ordered from a friendly but frazzled cashier who subconsciously pushed a rainbow hair pin into her dark, curly hair. The curves of a matching rainbow on her t-shirt edged out from behind her apron, and I suspected she’d been at the convention just before she had to report for her shift. If she recognized Evan, she refrained from saying so.
Evan wouldn’t let me pay even when I tutted at him, gently smacking away my poised debit card. But I refused to let him get our drinks, racing to collect them as the order was called out before he could get up from his chair. I set his mug in front of him, taking care not to slosh it all over the table or his trousers, and scooted in closer to the table after setting my own across from him. He immediately lifted the mug to his lips, testing the temperature.
“You’re not putting any sugar in that?”
“Nope, I like it black with a drop of vanilla and a dash of milk,” he said with a grin.
“OK, well, I’m putting Stevia in mine,” I grumbled, pulling my own little packet of the sweetener out of my pocket. The packets of artificial sweeteners offered on the table, the same brands found in most other diners and cafes, did not appease my palate.
The coffee was obviously still too hot because he set the mug back down and crossed his arms over the table. “Well, I’m not judging.”
“OK,” I said, suddenly feeling judgmental for questioning his lack of sugar. “You just drink your coffee however you like it.”
There was a lull in the conversation several minutes later when we’d finished asking after each other’s day and I cleared my throat, pulling his gaze from the window back to me. “So, I read about this study that theorized two people can fall in love through a series of thirty-six questions.”
“Thirty-six questions?” he repeated. “That’s all it takes?”
“Apparently, it’s quite effective, although I don’t think it asks some of the important questions that everyone should ask of a potential partner,” I told him. “But also, you’re supposed to spend a set number of minutes doing nothing but gazing into one another’s eyes. So, it kind of forces you to bond through a rather uncomfortable activity.”
He bit his lip as he observed me for a moment. “Do you want to test this theory?”
I inhaled a breath, squeezing my shoulders with a grimace as I glanced away and then back at him. “Only if you do.”
“I admit you’ve piqued my curiosity,” he said.
Another grin spread across his face, and I blinked at him because I wasn’t sure he was referring exclusively to the experiment.