But he was holding it back.
He has control, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a beast inside him.
“What made you fall in love with dogs?” he asks, looking over at me with that combination of attention and intensity.
“It’s kind of a lame story.”
“Danni.” His voice is firm. “Nothing you could tell me is lame. Or, even if it is, I still want to hear it. Because it’s you.”
I smile, can’t help it, even as a voice niggles at me. Lizzy was supposed to be here. We’re at a four-seater table, and I wonder where Lizzy would’ve sat…next to me or next to Dominic?
“When I was a little kid, my dad got me this coloring book. It had a bunch of dogs in it. I don’t remember this, but apparently, I was obsessed with coloring in the same pictures over and over. I didn’t believe dogs were real, Dad said, and I really freaked when I first saw one. In a good way. After that, I begged my parents for one, but my dad had allergies, so we had to wait.”
I trail off, thinking of Dad, of the fact he’s no longer here.
“I’m sorry, Danni,” Dominic says, touching my hand softly.
I should look around the restaurant, hyper-aware of the fact anybody could see us, friends of Lizzy, of Dominic who might recognize me…but all I can focus on is the warmth and the electric spark of his touch.
“It’s okay,” I murmur. “I miss him. I really do. But part of grieving is moving on. Otherwise, we’re stuck, aren’t we?”
He nods. “You’re so mature. It takes most people a lot longer to come to that realization.”
I smile, despite the sadness trying to tug at the moment.
When he calls me mature, it makes me think of when we were discussing our ages before the fight.
He was dropping hints about wanting kids together. He almost just came out and said it.
But I can’t risk making the first move.
“Anyway, I had about a hundred stuffed animals since I couldn’t have a real dog. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. I even….”
“What?” he says with a surprisingly gentle smile.
“I even walked them,” I say, staring down at my spaghetti. “And I mean when I was way too old to be walking stuffed animals. So much for mature, huh?”
He chuckles. “I was talking about you, here, now. Not when you were a kid.”
“I can’t explain why I was drawn to them. I just was. They’re so….”
“Well matched to us?” he says, causing a sparkle to move through me.
“I really do love it when you finish my sentences,” I reply. “Yeah, that’s it. It’s like there’s this missing piece, this…this lack in being a person. And a dog fills it. They’re always loyal and respond to how you treat them. The good and the bad.”
“Dogs bring out the best in people. And the worst. They’re so loyal, and they’ll accept anything you give them, whatever treatment you aim their way. It says a lot about a person in how they treat a dog.”
“I agree,” I say. “Which means you’re one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, Dominic. No, scratch that, the most impressive.”
He smirks ironically. “Careful, Danni, you’ll give me an ego.”
“Maybe you deserve to have one.”
“You’re going to make an amazing vet, or whatever dog-related career you decide to pursue. And whatever it is….”
He looks at me steadily. “I’ll do my best to support you.”
I swallow, trying not to place too much emphasis on his words. But how long can he stay stuff like this without me taking it seriously?
I feel like we’re dancing around something we both want to acknowledge, but can’t…
Because of Lizzy.
But it’s not her fault. It’s just the impossible-to-avoid fact that we’d destroy her if she learned the truth.
“If we’re still courting, then?” I say, meaning for my tone to come across as joking.
But Domonic frowns, cutting into his steak with something like aggression.
“That was clumsy phrasing,” he says after a pause, referring to the standoff in his office. “And old-fashioned, even for me.”
“I liked it,” I say. “I mean…I know I stormed out. We didn’t exactly leave things on the best terms. But courting sounds old-fashioned, yeah, but not in a bad way. It sounds like….”
But I can’t.
“It sounds like we’re leading to something.”
He stares at me for a long time, his expression serious. It could be serious bad or serious good.
It’s hard to tell with his stiff jaw clenched, his temples pulsing, and the light catching his silver hair.
“We could be,” he says, as though forcing the words out.
There’s the uncertainty again.
“If Lizzy knew?” I prompt.
He pops some steak into his mouth, chewing, making me wonder if he’s delaying. I eat some of my spaghetti.
When he’s done, he says, “We should tell her, Danni. You know that. We tried to stay apart. Five days. And, honestly, they were the most painful five days of my life.”