Danny seemed startled, but held her gaze. Kayla held her breath, but didn’t dare look away.
Finally, he nodded. “Maybe,” he said.
She waited for more, but it didn’t come. Instead, he just said, “We should turn in. We have a long drive tomorrow.”
She nodded in reply and turned away. “I’ll take the sofa,” she announced, not waiting for a reply. She heard him start to protest, but her feelings were too bruised to talk, and she quickly arranged the pillows and pulled the blanket up to her neck, her back to the rest of the suite.
After a moment it was quiet, and she silently cursed herself. Why had she been so snippy? All he said was “Maybe,” just like her. She hated passive-aggressive people, and here she was being one, mad because she hinted at something and it didn’t get jumped on.
Morning was a long time coming, but when it finally did, Kayla was determined not to be crabby. She slipped down to the continental breakfast and came back upstairs with juice and pastries. “Morning,” Danny greeted her. “Thanks.”
She smiled back. “We can get on the road as soon as you want,” she offered.
He shook his head. “And miss an aquarium I’ve never heard of?”
She started to object, but he shook his head again. “It won’t hurt to take a short look around. We’ve got time.”
Kayla forced herself to smile and say thanks. This was going to be a tough day, and she wasn’t entirely sure why.
When they got to the aquarium, Danny asked, “Who’s Nemo?”
She stared back. “You’ve never heard of Nemo?”
“No,” he said. “They talked about Nemo in Atlanta, and this place even has Nemo locator cards. Is there some shark movie I missed?”
She borrowed a locator card from a passing family and pointed to the clownfish, then the blue tang. “Nemo and Dory?” she asked. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming?” she sang.
He shook his head and she rolled her eyes, starting to hand the card back. “You should keep it,” the little boy said. “We have extras.”
Kayla looked at the mom for approval, and she nodded back. “We’ve learned to make extras,” she said. “Just keep it.”
“I’m Donny,” the boy said, and Danny couldn’t help grinning. “I’m Danny,” he replied, kneeling down. “So how do I find Nemo?”
“He’s on level A,” Donny said. “It’s not the real Nemo from the movie, it’s his friends. The anemones protect them.”
“Anemones, huh?” Danny said, looking impressed. “OK, thanks.”
Donny waved at them as they moved off to level A, and they waved back. Kayla hadn’t seen Danny with small children since they volunteered at a carnival in high school, and she tried not think any further about the scene that had just played out. She was 45, in uncertain health, and hanging out with someone who was supposed to be just one of her best friends. She didn’t want to screw anything up.
For his part, Danny played tour guide again. “Green sea turtle,” he announced at the Gulf of Mexico tank. “It’s called that not because of the color of its shell, but from the green fat found inside its body.”
“Yuck,” Kayla said, unable to help herself. “How did they find that out? And that’s the best thing they could think of to name it after, the color of its fat? I feel bad for it.”
“I don’t think it knows,” he said.
“Still,” she said, searching for ways to keep the conversation light and pointing to a ray. “What’s that?”
He checked the card. “Cownose ray,” he said. “Venomous barb at the end of its tail.”
He kept reading as they walked around. Kayla wondered if he had the same urge to keep things easy. “Royal gramma,” he announced as they reached the Caribbean reef tank, indicating a fish that was purple on its front half, golden on the back. “They can swim upside down.”
She pretended to be interested, but it was hard to keep her mind on his words. She kept listening instead to his voice, and the way it wrapped around the things coming out of his mouth. She studied his hands holding the card, and caught herself staring as he walked away to the next tank, then looked away quickly so he wouldn’t catch her.
What was going on? This was Danny, the guy she had decided long ago just wasn’t right for her.
Long ago, she answered in her head. People change.
You’re being a romantic idiot, she scolded herself in reply. This whole thing has been a false situation, from meeting on the beach to going on the road trip to wandering around aquariums and eating fabulous dinners. In the real world, with her cat and her job, he wouldn’t be nearly so enticing.
Then she started picturing him sprawled on her couch, stroking her cat and pointing the remote at the TV, asking if she wanted to watch “Law & Order” or “CSI:NY.”
She shook her head clear and pulled him toward the food court. “Strombolis,” she said, pointing. “Let’s get some for the road.”
He left her to stand in the line and returned a moment later with a soft swirl yogurt with a fresh-baked cookie stuck in it. “I couldn’t decide,” he said, holding it out to her.
It was a sweet gesture, she thought, smiling thanks as she handed him his meal. Was she reading too much into it?
The next chapter is guided by these answers:
Is Danny falling for Kayla (again)?
58 votes went like this:
Yes: 87.93 percent (51 votes)
No: 12.07 percent (7 votes)
Choose dinner in Chicago.
58 votes went like this:
Classic steakhouse: 5.17 percent (3 votes)
Chicago-style pizza: 41.38 percent (24 votes)
Jazz club: 20.69 percent (12 votes)
Something romantic: 18.97 percent (11 votes)
Quick bite at Navy Pier: 13.79 percent (8 votes)
This post originally appeared on ourMidland.com, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.