Daniel’s father approached two wide-eyed pale white faces with a sly smile. He couldn’t possibly have known I would be here let alone Daniel, unless Eddie somehow told him about me and Daniel’s father connected the dots. Even though I hadn’t seen Daniel’s father since that unfortunate incident (and possibly traumatising. I’ll have my therapist get back to you on that one!), I still couldn’t help feeling sick to my stomach as soon as I saw him.
“Anna, you’re looking—” Eddie appraised me, and I cringed in anticipation of his next words, “appropriate tonight.”
Mmkay. Not entirely cringe worthy but I can deal.
“Thanks,” I muttered, my voice creaked and I cleared my throat to repeat myself.
My eyes were darting between Eddie and Daniel’s father. Eddie noticed.
“Anna, this is Richard, my good friend and killer elite on Wall Street.”
Oh man! I hadn’t even realised I didn’t know Daniel’s father’s name until now. And being introduced to him officially in such a strange way, in front of my boss and co-workers-slash-friends, was so awkward.
Richard held his hand out. “Pleasure, Anna.”
I didn’t want to shake this creep’s hand, but Eddie was watching and I didn’t want to dismiss his friend right in front of him. So I restrained all the muscles from my face to keep from looking like Kim Kardashian spotting a hairy man, and shook his hand with my clammy own.
“Pleasure,” I nodded.
“So it seems you two are finally official,” Richard said. Eddie looked at him in confusion.
Daniel sighed, his nostrils flaring with frustration. “So it seems,” he said through clenched teeth.
Daniel’s intensity made me tense. I was totally not expecting this tonight. If I had known, nope, I still would have come; but at least I would have been more prepared. Fate truly hates me.
“You all know each other?” Eddie asked.
“Daniel,” Richard said, “is my son.”
The lines on Eddie’s forehead relaxed. “Ah, you did mention offspring at one point.”
“Yes, though I remember you caring more about the sheen on your Italian leather loafers than any family I had.”
They threw their heads back together and shared a raucous laugh. Daniel and I stole each other’s glances. I knew we both felt so out of place. Nikki and Derek hadn’t said a word the entire time. In fact, they somehow managed to phase out of the way and become unnoticed (although it doesn’t take much for anyone to become unnoticed in Richard’s and Eddie’s eyes). They were pretending to be ear deep in conversation even though their ears seemed to be aimed directly at us.
“What on Earth could you possibly be here for?” Daniel asked after they stopped laughing.
“Excuse me?” Richard asked. “For your information, I’m here to support my amazing slithering friend.”
Slithering indeed, I thought.
Daniel smiled. “Yes, of course, like attracts like, doesn’t it?”
Richard narrowed his eyes only for a split second, and Daniel, relaxing a bit, was clearly pleased by that reaction.
“You know, son,” Richard began, and I braced myself, “Tanya can’t stop asking about you.”
Daniel chuckled, humourlessly. “Like I care.”
“Oh you should, she left John for you.”
Daniel tensed again and furrowed his brows. “Bullshit.”
I took a peek at Eddie and he seemed agitated by Daniel’s cuss. I felt like I’d be the one to receive the wrath of it afterwards considering he couldn’t really do anything to his good friend’s own son. Don’t you just hate that?
“Out of all the times I’ve, as you so kindly put it, bullshitted, I guarantee you this is not one of those times. You seemed to have made quite an impression on her on your last visit, John’s begging her to come back, but she’s said she made a mistake and wants you back.”
“Really?” Daniel asked. “She seemed perfectly happy the last time I saw her. Her and her hubby, together with their new bun.”
“Bun?” Richard asked. “Ah yes, their little delight is the light of their life. I’m sure it’ll probably start walking soon.”
Daniel smiled. “She’s still pregnant. Surely you would know that since she spoke to you.”
Richard sighed, looked at Eddie and then hung his head down for only a second.
“She’ll never want me back, I know,” Daniel said. “And I’ll never want her back. This is my life now—“ Daniel looked at me, with eyes filled with concern, and I knew he was concerned of what effect those clichéd but sweet words would have on me “—I mean to say, my life in California.”
Then it was I that turned my defeated gaze to the floor. It was so embarrassing, I didn’t know how else to react. I could never tell Daniel I loved him now. He clearly didn’t feel the same way about me.
“Fine,” Richard shrugged, “have it your way.” Richard then looked at me. “Nice to meet you again, Anna.” Richard held out his hand, and at this point I knew he only did it because he knew how uncomfortable I was. But you know what? You go ahead and shake my clammy hands. Enjoy that little grossness for a while, you…you limp noodle! Ugh! I’m so glad I didn’t say that out loud. How Mulan came into my head in the most random times, I’ll never know.
“Jeez that was awkward,” Daniel said. “The both of them together is like the Grinch and Scrooge, but instead of ruining Christmas, they just ruin everything, like a freakin’ tornado.”
I laughed. “Oh, I needed that.”
Daniel smiled at my reaction and we both seemed to relax a whole lot more. Although I couldn’t stop thinking about what Daniel said earlier. I kept going over it in my head wondering if he even meant it towards us. Oh, who am I kidding? The ex-player who had his heart broken by his ex-girlfriend and ex-best friend is not going to be the first to fall in love with his girlfriend. I’ll just keep it in for a while and be patient. I just hope it doesn’t fade through time.
“What was all that about?” Nikki asked, both her and Derek with curious gazes.
I shrugged. “Long story.”
“Well it’s a long night, wouldn’t mind something to gossip about.”
“Trust me,” I said, “listening to the entire weirdness of everything will be as torturous as sitting in for Bieber’s Never Say Never.”
Nikki laughed. “Got it.”
Our advertising agency ended up winning a lot of awards. The ceremony had fizzled down and was brought back to the actual agency for a little after party celebration. It was as abundant as an egotistical plethora. Eventually, the interns were the first to disperse, generally due to other commitments like school or work or whatever. Eddie and Richard were nowhere to be found the entire night, and I was so grateful that I didn’t have to be subjected to their scrutiny again. I honestly didn’t know which was worse: the creepy father or the creepy boss. The difference was almost incomparable.
“So did we have fun tonight?” Nikki asked.
I nodded. “We sure did.”
Derek and Nikki were going to take one cab while Daniel and I were going to take another. We began walking on the sidewalk looking to hail a cab. Nikki was speaking to Daniel, and I was walking with Derek. We were just a little out of hearing range from the other two.
“So,” Derek began, “Daniel seems nice.”
“He is,” I smiled. “He’s more than nice.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Yeah, seems like there’s a lot of history though.”
I shrugged. “Who doesn’t have baggage?”
“Oh I totally agree. Who doesn’t have baggage? But at least some don’t go over the limit.”
I furrowed my brows and chuckled. “There’s a limit now?”
“All I’m saying is that it sounds like he has a lot of unfinished business.”
I glanced at Derek to find him looking straight ahead with a smile on his face that didn’t appear to reach his eyes. A fake kind of polite smile. It was annoying. Was he trying to find any bad side to our relationship? I mean, I’m the last person to say that ours was perfect, but we’re working on it. What’s better is, we’re taking things slow (taking out the fact that I’ve fallen in love with him), and it was a good pace for the both of us. I don’t know, maybe I was just reading too much into Derek’s words.
“Well, I happen to think we’re doing very well, all things considered,” I said proudly. “And if that wasn’t a show of character and wanting, then I don’t know what is. We’re all in.”
Derek finally looked at me, made a study of me. He smiled and then looked ahead again. “Well good for you. I really mean it. And if you ever need to talk about something…”
“…you’re number seven on my speed dial,” I joked.
Derek laughed. He then took off with Nikki.
Daniel and I held hands the entire drive back to my place. When he caught me yawning he did a double-squeeze with my hand. When I looked he tapped his lap and then waved me over. I smiled and then kicked my legs up on the rest of the back seat, squishing as much as I can in the tiny space we had, and then rested my head on his lap. He started stroking the hair from my neck and then just my neck. The tickling sensation wasn’t exactly arousing as much as it was sweet. I felt safe with him and I liked it. The kind of security you find always lingering in your favourite blanket or plush doll (mine of course being Hello Kitty) growing up. Whenever I needed him, I knew he’d be there for me, and whenever he needed me, well, I hope he knows that I’ll always be there for him.
I nearly dozed off by the time we got home. I felt so comfortable. Daniel walked me to the door and I thought the cab would leave but he just remained parked.
“You better tell him he can go before he charges us more,” I joked.
Daniel looked behind him at the cab and then at me, with a new kind of expression on his face. One that I hadn’t recognised just yet, but was still making me anxious.
“I’m going to go home,” he said.
I slightly tilted my head in confusion. “You don’t want to…I mean, you’re not going to stay?”
Daniel shrugged. “I’ve had a long night.”
“Yeah,” was all I could say.
“What with my father being there and all. Bringing up…a lot of things, I’d rather forget,” he said. “I think I should just let the night end here.”
“You can rest next to me,” I tried with a sheepish smile.
Daniel smiled and then leaned down to kiss me. It was a light kiss, the kind where it felt like two people, or one person, was unsure about something. What that something was I didn’t know. The kiss was definitely different though.
“Goodnight,” he said when we pulled away.
I nodded. “Goodnight, Daniel.”
He turned around and I watched as he dragged his feet into the cab and drive away. I didn’t know how long I was standing outside for, but eventually I started feeling cold, and a huge shiver ran up my body.
When I went inside I found all the girls sleeping on the living room floor and I couldn’t help but smile. I had a feeling Chloe may have told them everything, but I didn’t want to go beyond speculation just yet, just in case.
I couldn’t even be bothered for anything else besides a quick shower and sleep, but just when I was about to sleep my cell vibrated.
‘Get dressed,’ Daniel texted.
‘Okay,’ I replied in the same instant. I didn’t even think to ask why, maybe it was because I was just that confused, or tired or both, but I’ll ask later.
Soon after my cell vibrated again.
‘I’m outside,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to wake Chloe up by ringing the bell or knocking on the door. Come out.’
My heart raced as I staggered outside the door. I found the cab parked on the kerb again, the door already opened and Daniel standing next to it with a little more liveliness colouring him this time. He leaned with his back against the side of the car, his hands in his pockets, his tie off, and the top buttons of his shirt undone. He looked so handsome. A million dollars. And so, so, sexy!
“What’s going on?” I asked, curiously.
Daniel smiled. “You’ll have to wait and see.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Am I getting kidnapped?”
He rolled his eyes. “I’d have to be the most stupid kidnapper in the history of the world. What kind of kidnapper calls before he kidnaps? And what kind of hostage is willing?”
I laughed. “No harm in checking.”
Daniel grabbed me by the waist and pulled me into him, hard. He kissed me and slipped his tongue inside just a touch. The whole experience made me forget our last lame kiss at the door; like, if that kiss had entered the Kisslympics, it would be a total sore loser. As a matter of fact, a second longer and I probably would have fainted from over-achieving and ultimately disqualified. It would just be too heated and passionate to be considered a kiss anymore. Almost a vertical missionary.
“Wow,” I breathed, dizzily.
Daniel smiled proudly and then gently and, ever so lightly, squeezed my butt. “Just get in.”