I’m cringing so hard I could scream just to relieve some of the pressure. There’s too much I need to say, would say if I was a better friend.
“Don’t you want to?” she asks.
Her tone drops, making me feel even worse.
My words come out like a reflex.
“I’d love to. I think it’s a great idea.”
She beams. “That’s settled, then. I’ll make some reservations.”
I focus on my breakfast, hoping she can’t read the reaction this provokes in me. There’s too much to deal with. Too much to handle, from our first kiss to the living room and then his office.
And the closeness, the conversations with depth and heat and, if I didn’t know better, love.
But there can’t be love, not after a few days.
Even if my need comes from a crush that has lasted years, the idea is still crazy.
“So,” Lizzy says after a pause, “how do British men compare to Americans?”
My fork pauses on the plate. If I don’t stop it, I’ll apply too much pressure, pushing down until I crack the plate right down the middle. Or bend the fork.
“I wouldn’t know,” I say.
Lizzy looks at me closely. It’s the way she did in high school like she was upset for me and wanted me to put myself out there.
“Any man would be lucky to have you. You know that, right?”
“I’m not so sure,” I mutter. “And what if….”
Shelby yaps, looking at me as if to say, Where is this bacon, anyway?
It gives me a chance to pause the conversation as I cut a bit for him.
But first, I make him sit and wait, which takes a while since he’s all twitching energy.
Finally, I toss the small chunk of bacon into the air. He grins and opens his mouth, catches it, and then sits again.
I wonder if Lizzy will leave it, but she says, “If what, Danni? What were you going to say?”
“I don’t know,” I murmur. “What if…what if I liked somebody, but being with them would threaten something else?”
And the vaguest person in the world award goes to….
But there’s no way I can be more specific without giving it away. Not that she’d believe me even if I explained her dad is the one I’ve been captivated by. I can’t stop thinking about him.
Even if we made it clear in his office, we were going to end this.
“Like what? Your job?”
My body goes tense. There’s no anger in her voice, no sense of betrayal, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering if she somehow knows. She’s doing a great job at hiding it, if so.
“Yeah, I guess,” I murmur.
“You like somebody at the shelter?”
I need to stop now.
“Who?” she asks.
I shake my head.
“You don’t want to say?” she asks.
“Not really,” I say quietly.
She sighs, tapping her fork against the plate. But she also doesn’t press me. She’s used to me being closed off like this when it comes to boys…and now men.
For once, being shy in high school has paid off.
“Whoever he is, he’d be lucky to have you. But if you want my advice….”
“I do,” I tell her, though she’d never give it to me if she knew who we were talking about.
“If you don’t want to risk your job, make sure he really likes you first. After that, people can date and work together. It’s tricky, I’m sure, but it’s doable. But exes? That’s a whole different story.”
She says job, but I hear our friendship.
“Thanks,” I say, offering her the most convincing smile I can muster.
I stand outside the restaurant, attempting to slow my breathing. I’ve tried hard to keep my distance from Danni since Elizabeth almost caught us in the office.
It hurts every single second.
Each time I catch a glimpse of her at the shelter or home, my impulse is to surge toward her. I want to wrap her in my arms and hold her tenderly. And then to kiss her with possessive lips, to say all the things I should have when she gave me the chance.
Courting, that’s what I said, and the word pulses painfully in my mind, not even close to describing what we are.
We’re fusing, melting together, becoming one…or, on my side, that’s how it feels.
I still don’t know how she feels. I didn’t give her a chance to say.
Courting is an old-fashioned way of phrasing it, even for a man of forty-one years.
But I have to focus. I remind myself of this as I continue to pace, not caring about the odd glances I draw from people.
I have to keep moving. My body is flooded with my desire for Danni, the way it’s been ever since she stormed from my office.
I’ve kept busy rehoming the Corgis who were already vaccinated, moving between shelters, and throwing myself into my work.
Yesterday, when Elizabeth told me she’d arranged a dinner, she gave my job as the reason. “You need a break, Dad. You can’t work every single second of the day.”