The paper bag with our biodegradable containers of coconut curry and garlic naan nestled inside rustled as Evan switched the weight to his other hand and pressed the elevator button for the eleventh floor. Although he was stopped a couple more times on our way out of the café, we had managed thus far to make it back to the hotel unrecognized, and he hadn’t needed to break out his umbrella thanks to a lull in the rain. He leaned against the wall and turned his head toward me, resting his eyes on mine.
“What?” I asked when his stare lingered.
He sniffed, trying to restrain from smiling. “I thought I was going to get an earful. Or are you just waiting to unleash your reproaches?”
My cheeks began to burn with embarrassment. “No, my inner dragon is relatively selective about its fire-breathing rampages.”
“Well, I’m sorry about all the hullabaloo today,” he said, tilting his head. “It’s an occupational hazard, I’m afraid. But thanks for being patient with them.”
“No, you don’t have to apologize. I can see you have a special relationship with your fans. It’s kind of, um…well, it’s just very sweet.” My conscience weighed heavily on me as I looked up at him. “It’s a lot different from what I presumed it was like. I made a lot of assumptions about you as well.”
The elevator landed on his floor, and he proffered a small smile and a bent elbow to me. As I accepted both, I hoped he couldn’t feel the thundering of my heart in my chest.
After dinner, Evan showed me some of the cards, letters, and gifts fans had given him earlier in the day. He had to pull a pair of rectangular glasses from his blazer pocket to read them out loud. The only thing better than the touching and sometimes funny words written, or items given to him was watching how each note or present made his face light up.
“Oh, I have to show you my favorite,” Evan said, leaning toward the floor and peering into a few of the paper gift bags.
Pulling a small plush bear from one of the bags, he held it up to his chin with twinkling eyes that belied his deadpan expression. The bear was dressed in a costume that I recognized as being rather like some of the promotional photos of Evan tacked around the convention center, which I guessed were from one of his most popular roles. If he’d been wearing that outfit, the bear would have been a matching miniature of him.
“Well, the resemblance is uncanny,” I remarked, stifling a snicker.
“I do look like a bear, don’t I?” He stretched his jaw and scratched at the scruff he’d left unshaven.
“Well, you are very fuzzy,” I admitted. “Did someone make that?”
Evan turned the bear to face him, and said, “Yes, they said they sewed the clothes and everything.”
“Even the bear?”
“Yeah, that’s what they said.” His eyes were full of sparkles as he observed the plush toy. “I think he’s going to be my sleeping partner tonight.”
Jumping up, Evan walked around the bed and placed the bear carefully in the center of it on top the pillows. Then he clapped his hands and rubbed them together as he turned back toward me. Silently querying him, I raised my eyebrows.
“I feel like we need some music on a rainy Saturday night. What about you?” He pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“Sure,” I concurred.
Evan connected his iPhone to a small Bluetooth speaker and scrolled through his playlist. As the slow beat of Ed Sheeran’s “Beautiful People” filled the room, he tucked the phone into his back pocket, and took my hands, dragging me to my feet. He moved closer to me, placing one of my hands on his hip then circled his arm around my waist, coaxing me to dance with him.
I knew the lyrics, but I asked him anyway: “Is there a reason why you picked this song?”
“Yep, there is,” he said with a nod. He paused and I raised my eyebrows, waiting for his explanation. I half expected him to say it was a fun song or something else superficial. Instead, he smiled down at me, and said, “Because I want you to know I’m not some flashy famous guy, and my life isn’t always like this.”
“Oh, so you’re saying you don’t go to parties in nice suits?” I asked.
“Uh,” he began, his lips struggling to catch up with his brain. “OK, I may have been to a party or two and I may have a few nice suits. But I probably took the train to get there and back. Possibly a cab.”
“So, you don’t drive?” I teased him.
“Well, that’s not what I said. I just—”
“It’s fine if you don’t drive. I’m not judging.”
“No, I can drive. I have a car…”
“You don’t have to lie. It’s really OK.” I gave him a dramatic shrug, peering at him mischievously out of the corner of my eye.
His face was turning red, but he grinned. “No, I really do have a car. I’m just saying it’s not like a, a…Porsche or chauffeur-driven limo—”
“Except for the cab driver.”
“Well, yeah, OK, the cab has a driver, but I don’t have like a private driver on my payroll.”
“No Steve is a necessity, not a luxury.” He shook his head.
“So, Steve never drives you.”
“W—uhh,” he cleared his throat, contemplating his answer. “Uh, Steve might occasionally drive me. But, I mean, it’s not like—”
“I’m sorry, what were you saying again, something about flashy and famous?” I pinched my eyebrows in mock confusion.
His laugh was a tad panicked as he looked up to the ceiling. “OK, so I might be a slightly flashy famous guy—”
“I’m gonna go ahead and throw it out there that you’re a very famous guy,” I said.
“Right,” he began agreeably, but then snapped his eyes to me. “Nooo, no, not everywhere. I’m not even that famous over here. It just seems that way at the conventions.”
“So, depending on the market.”
“Yeah, but no, that’s not what I meant. I—this conversation isn’t turning out according to plan,” he groaned with a laugh.
I breathed a laugh at him. “No, I think I understand what you mean. I’m really just giving you a hard time.”
“Yes. You are,” he agreed.
“OK, OK, so you’re a slightly flashy and famous guy who’s really just a mostly normal fanboy,” I said.
Evan nodded. “Yep, that’s it.”
“Alright, I’ll accept this as truth.”
The song had ended, but he still swayed with me, his gaze never leaving mine. Remembering when he’d told me about his parents while we were in the pool that first night, I suddenly became worried, feeling like I’d been deceptive. Tugging on my ear, I cleared my throat and threw him a glance.
He turned his head, eyeing me with faux wariness. “Yes? What is it?”
“Well, speaking of truth…” I began and then paused to inhale a long breath.
“Oh, dear, this sounds like bad news,” he said, though his tone was light and unconcerned. “Don’t tell me you’re married.”
I furrowed my brows. “No! I’m not married!”
“Are you a spy with a secret organization and Wendi is just your cover name and you can never reveal your true identity to me?”
“I, I don’t think I could tell you the truth if that were the case,” I blinked at him, laughing.
“Oh, right.” He pouted. “I’m almost disappointed.”
Laughing more, I asked, “Shall I pretend then?”
He gave a wicked laugh and darkened his eyes at me. “Can I be the villain?”
I nodded. “Yep. Yep, you can.”
“But like a sexy villain,” he added.
“Ah, OK, now you might be getting carried away. We might have to make you an ugly villain.”
He feigned a hurt expression. “What! No! I don’t want to be an ugly villain! I’m not accepting this role.”
Sighing dramatically, I said wistfully, “I guess we’re going to have to scrap that whole scene.”
“Oh, this is a very unfortunate turn of events,” he complained.
“Yes, yes, I know. But, actually, that’s not what I was going to tell you.”
“Alright, fine, go on then.”
I took in another breath. “OK, well, the thing is that when you told me your dad’s name, I sort of, um, knew—I mean, I’m familiar with his work.”
Evan’s smile was softer. “I’d be more surprised if you hadn’t heard of him.”
“Well, but I mean that I didn’t know who you were until then,” I said, observing him and gauging his reaction. His expression never changed, so I went on: “I did know your name from a couple of films I've seen you in, but, I mean, I…don’t usually pay attention to these things, like celebrity's lives, who's related to who and whatever. But I didn't realize you were related to, well, your dad.”
“Yes, weirdly enough, I get the sense you’re not terribly impressed with actors,” he mused, knitting his brows, and then shifting his eyes back to me with a grin.
The burning came back to my cheeks. “Yes, I suppose I’ve made that slightly obvious. But I just wanted you to know because…I guess I just feel the need to be honest with you.”
“OK.” He stopped swaying me and gave me a squeeze. “So, can I ask you a question?”
“Well, why did you come to the Q&A panel earlier?”
“Um…” I began. I could feel all the blood that had rushed to my cheeks just moments ago suddenly drain away.