Thursday, April 25, 2013
24. The Conversation Begins
Daniel hurriedly unlocked Lily's front door, then reached to take the tray from her hands. Frowning, he said, “This is too heavy. You should have left it downstairs for me to carry up.” Lily raised a brow, though let him have the tray without comment and followed him into her apartment, taking his measure as he walked into the living room. Damn. Had he been this big downstairs? So tall and fierce and—
“Where should I put this?” he asked, standing uncertainly a few steps into the room.
“The kitchen, I think.” She waited for him to move in that direction, but he just stood silently, waiting for instructions like a butler holding a large tray of food. Lily swallowed, slightly dazed by the way his presence seemed to fill what she used to think was a very large space.
“And that would be…?”
Jolted from her wayward thoughts, Lily blinked. “What? Oh! Yes, well.” She cleared her throat, then stammered, “I thought, um, since you've been up here by yourself—” Her mouth snapped shut at his scowl. She ripped off the itchy black wig and tossed it into a basket behind the sofa, then vigorously raked her fingers through her hair as she walked through a door to the left of the living room. Behind her, he muttered, “I came to speak with you, not case the joint.”
Turning on the lights as they entered the kitchen, she said, “It’s not unreasonable to be curious about the layout of someone’s house. If you were poking your nose in my business, or prying into my closets, that would be one thing, but just looking around isn’t a criminal offense.” She gave him a confused look when he snorted.
The soft lighting overhead revealed a large gourmet kitchen with warm butcher-block counters, black appliances and gleaming silver fixtures. Daniel set the tray on a long wooden table—an old, battered, well-loved table—and gazed with appreciation around the room, admiring the subtle color of the walls, the bright cushions on the bench seats beneath the table. The room would be awash in natural light during the day from the long wall of windows and the two skylights. Walking toward the far wall, he spied more framed photos, these of sunflowers and old men with deep wrinkles and beautiful smiles; families gathered around tables groaning with food and wine, and more smiles; girl children in bright yellow dresses, boys with gap-toothed grins and skinned knees. Daniel felt a bitter, unexpected wave of loneliness sweep through him, an emotion he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in years; the pain of being the boy no one wanted, the boy left out in the cold watching the warmth of family through the windows of strangers; never the one inside, sharing in the laughter, the smiles.
Lily caught the oddest look on the man’s face as he turned from the photos taken the last time she’d been to France visiting her parents. All the local families had come to celebrate the annual sunflower harvest, even her grandparents had come from Ireland. The festivities had lasted for an entire week, and her father had taken some of his finest photographs. Why would these happy, beautiful photos give the man such a lost, forlorn look?
“Wine?” At his nod, she reached into a drawer and pulled out the corkscrew, then bent to her wine rack and selected a bottle. Smiling, he walked to the counter and took the opener and the bottle back to the table. Lily got two glasses from the cupboard, set them on the table, then slid the bench out and sat just as the cork popped out of the bottle. Filling both glasses, Daniel settled across from her and tipped his glass in a silent toast before taking a drink.
After taking a sip, Lily twirled the glass by its stem as she said softly, “This is so strange. So out of character for me.” Shaking her head, she murmured, “You just appear out of nowhere, a total stranger, and now here we sit in my apartment where I rarely allow anyone but family.” She raised her eyes, a puzzled look on her face as she met his gaze. “I’m not sure what it is, but there’s...something about you.” Another shake of her head as she reached for the tray of food.
Daniel thought he might be too nervous to eat, though he wasn’t having the same thought about the wine. Draining half the glass, he topped it up as he watched her lay a plate and silverware in front of him. He couldn’t help staring, couldn’t stop soaking in every movement, memorizing the shape of her lips, the slightly exotic tilt at the corner of her eyes, the crazy, beautiful way her red-blond hair spiked in wild tufts now the dreadful wig was gone. He smiled his thanks when she set a laden plate in front of him and casually said, “Though my family is slightly odd, and that's putting it mildly,” she grinned, “maybe that makes it easier for me to accept...things...because I’m used to the weird stuff.”
“I’m weird stuff, all right,” Daniel muttered.
Her face reddening, Lily sputtered, “No! Oh no, I didn’t mean you were weird. I meant this...” Lily waved her hand between them, “us, here, drinking and talking, and yet you could be an axe murderer, an escaped mental patient, or—”
“No. I might have some, ah, issues, but I’m definitely not a psycho.” Pensively he added, “Although, you might think I'm worse once I've explained—” Abruptly snatching up his wine glass, Daniel took another deep swallow, hesitated for a moment, then shook his head before meeting her eyes. “At the very least,” he said miserably, “you'll probably question my sanity. Or your own for listening to me.”
Lily’s gaze swept over his face, acutely aware of the amber sparks in the green depths of his eyes as they stared at each other. She saw the dull edge of exhaustion in the lines around his mouth, the shadows under his eyes, the weary droop in his shoulders. And there was something else—she could feel a subtle vibration, similar to the low thrum of a tuning fork, that seemed to be emanating from...his chest?
Unsettled, Lily took a quick gulp of wine before glancing across the table at him. A slight frown creased between his brow as if sensing her unease, but when she smiled, he relaxed and gave her a crooked grin in return. A grin that fogged her brain.
Another taste of wine, and she was once again able to speak. “Of course I’ll listen to you before I call the men in white coats,” she assured him, “because I wasn’t kidding about my family being different. My grandfather is larger than life and used to fill my head with magical tales of old gods and ancient warriors. When I was a little girl, he would sing me to sleep with legends of the Sidhe, where I always starred as the fairy princess in his grand stories.” Grinning at the memories, she added, “My mother has a green thumb you wouldn’t believe, and though she’s not an actual relative, even my best friend Katy has a gift, for finding lost things.”
“And you?” Daniel asked softly, his eyes intent on her face. “What's your magic?”