“Are you sure you’re okay to come along?” I asked Daniel.
He tapped my hand that was hooked around his arm. “Of course. I’d be happy to spend the time with everyone; you especially. Besides, I haven’t seen Stanley in a long time and it’d be good to finally catch up.”
Daniel and I were the only ones in the cab. It wasn’t an overly formal occasion so we were lucky that Daniel had brought some semi-formal clothing with him to a dinner. From what I gathered, we were the last ones waited on. After we extinguished the fire in the kitchen we sat down to eat, and didn’t do much else. I had hoped we were going to talk and figure things out, but it seemed hard for me; even to formulate the words. I realised the fear of a downhill-repeat was lingering in the back of my mind, and holding onto my tongue, keeping me from expressing things about this relationship. But I knew, if we were going to start all over again-ish, I needed to tell him sooner rather than later. Definitely before New York. Daniel was leaving tomorrow evening, we had to talk before then. We just had to.
We got a table pretty much smack-bam in the middle of the restaurant. I knew that was Janet’s preference considering she liked to be in the presence of the bustling crowd of the restaurant and not huddled somewhere in the VIP room. And my, was it on! Busy bees making honey all over the place!
“Finally!” Janet said, standing up.
Stanley’s face brightened as soon as he saw Daniel approaching. Daniel went straight to him. They must have been relieved to not be the only ones surrounded by a sea of girls. My mind wandered off about the potential misunderstandings of that singular appearance; if only Stanley was present, I figured people would have either figured him for a pimp, or polygamous.
After everyone greeted each other and ordered some food and drinks, Janet made another announcement.
“I’m pregnant!” she said.
Not one jaw didn’t hit the floor.
She burst out laughing. “Just kidding. Sorry, I’m just in such a good mood to mess with everyone.”
We all exhaled with relief; and after some time, turned to the next person and began murmurings. I couldn’t help but intertwine my fingers with Daniel’s. His hand lay on his lap, and I assessed and caressed each nook and cranny. As I did, he watched silently.
“So Daniel,” Stanley called across the table when our drinks arrived, “how’s New York working out for you?”
Daniel smiled. “It’s pretty good. It’s like a new day every day. It’s never boring. How’s L.A?”
Stanley shrugged. “You know how it is.”
“How’s that—” Stanley stopped short to snap his fingers ceaselessly and crinkled the spot above the bridge of his nose, trying to collect his thoughts “—office job? The finance job?”
“Pretty good. The boss hasn’t kicked me out of the team so far,” he laughed.
“What is it again?”
“A consultancy firm.”
“And you are a…”
Daniel chuckled, knowing Stanley had forgotten everything. Along with the stretched distance, the memories also seemed to have stretched like a thin fruit roll-up and snapped in his absence.
“A financial analyst.”
I scrunched my face with confusion. I knew he was in finance, but I just thought it was an assistant job like Adam’s.
I turned to Daniel, inquisitively. “Don’t you need some sort of finance or business or management degree or whatever to be a financial analyst?”
Daniel nodded, equally confused by the question. “Yeah.”
“And you have that?”
Daniel nodded again. “Yeah.”
Stanley lifted his glass to his lips, and before taking a sip, smiled and said, “No one goes to Princeton for nothing.”
Whoa! Hold up! What did he just say?
“You went to Princeton?” I asked Daniel, incredulously.
“I thought you knew.”
“Most people knew,” Jodie said, nodding.
“I didn’t,” Chloe said.
Jodie rolled her eyes. “Thus the minority.”
“Wait a minute,” Stanley said, now registering the whole conversation, “this whole time, you didn’t know Daniel went to Princeton?”
I shook my head, increasingly growing hot around my cheeks. Enough to melt my cheek bones!
“How is a twenty-one year old a financial analyst?” I asked.
I was met with silences all around. Chloe’s face was as perplexed as mine, the rest were frozen, astonished.
“Oh my God,” I said, flabbergasted, “you’re not twenty-one are you?”
Daniel was as wide-eyed as me. “I’m twenty-four.”
I started laughing at the amazement. How could I have possibly missed this entire scenario? I mean, all this time I had assumed so much of him; thinking he was my age, an assistant, UCLA his first college. But I was so, so wrong! When I met him, he must have been in his second year or something; enrolled in the same subject as me.
When the food came, and everyone turned their bubble-eyed mouth-watering attention to it, I continued speaking to Daniel. Neither of us even considering the food placed in front of us.
“When did all of this happen?” I asked him.
“I went to Princeton straight after school,” Daniel explained. “My father wanted me to be just like him, practically letting me only see finance and making lots of money as the only way of living. He never even considered any other options for me or what I wanted to do. So, I did it.”
“And then?” I urged him on.
“And then, I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I got sick of everything being his way, and how my life was his way. But I had already done so much, that I decided to finish my degree and then set off for UCLA. Been there ever since. Well, kind of.”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe I never knew about this.”
Daniel nodded. “It’s definitely quite strange. What happened to my reputation preceding me and all?”
I laughed, my forehead suddenly aching from the utter disbelief. “I guess it didn’t travel that far.”
“Not far enough, indeed.”
“So you’re definitely going back to New York then?” I asked him. “There’s no chance you can stay here?”
Daniel stared at me. I was trying so hard to hide the eventual disappointment, but it started flooding once I thought the worst.
I nodded. “Okay.”
I turned to my plate, but I could still feel his gaze on me. Pondering countless thoughts. I looked back at him, finding his lips parted and his breathing slightly erratic.
“Anna?” we heard a voice call.
Daniel glanced behind him. His eyes locked on a figure steadfastly approaching. I turned in the same direction, and just before I had enough time to inform Daniel of this person’s identity, the man held out his hands wide apart, with surprise, and I stood.
“Oh, hi,” I squeaked, smiling to pacify the situation. Heat plummeting my cheeks.
I held out my hand for a hand shake the same time the man leaned in for hug. As a result of the awkward misfire, my hand remained against his stomach. Daniel stood.
“Derek; Daniel,” I gestured, “Daniel; Derek.”
They froze in their hand shake. Both of them, with bewildered glances back and forth, in unison, finally said, “This guy again?”