Marriage Terms(10)

By: Barbara Dunlop

She and Daniel had met on several occasions early in the year when she was dating one of his friends. He’d always struck her as a nice guy, and he knew everybody. If she was lucky, maybe he’d introduce her to a few people, and she could stop standing around looking like a dork.

“Hey, Daniel,” she breathed, yanking her arm from where it was trapped between

two bodies.

“Amanda.” He turned and smiled warmly down at her. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“I came with Bethany.” She gestured vaguely in the direction Bethany had disappeared twenty minutes ago.

“Hey, Elliott?” someone called from the crowd.

“Yeah?” Daniel called back.

“You got a room, right?”

Daniel nodded over the heads of the crowd. But Amanda was too short to see whom he was talking to.

“We need your ice bucket and some more glasses,” the guy called.

“I’ll get ‘em,” said Daniel.

Amanda’s heart sank. Just when she’d found someone to talk to, he was leaving.

Daniel looked back down at her. “You wanna come help?

“Yes,” Amanda quickly said.

“Let’s go.”

Daniel elbowed them a path to the door, and they emerged into the cool, quiet hallway.

“I’m down at the end,” he said.

“You didn’t want to drive home?” she asked, just to make conversation.

He chuckled a little self-consciously. “My older brother Michael rented the room. He figured I might get lucky.”

Amanda swallowed and tried to make her voice nonchalant. “Oh. Uh, you’re, uh, here with Shelby Peterson?”

Daniel shrugged. “I thought I was. But last time I saw her, she was dancing with Roger. Maybe Roger’ll be the one to get lucky.”

Amanda wasn’t used to talking about sex, particularly not with guys, and definitely not with great-looking jocks who’d probably slept with half the cheerleading squad. Her face grew warm.

When she didn’t answer, Daniel looked down. “Hey, I’m sorry.” He gave her a friendly nudge with his shoulder. “That was tacky.”

She shook her head, embarrassed that she wasn’t as sophisticated as his friends.

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Yeah, it was. Here we are.” He stopped and unlocked the door, swinging it wide open.

Amanda had never been in a five-star hotel before. She hadn’t seen much of the Presidential Suite, because of the crowd. Now she glanced around in wide-eyed amazement at the plump, burgundy couches, a curved wooden bar with a mirrored background, double French doors leading to a bedroom and a fern-filled bay window alcove with a Jacuzzi tub.

The door swung shut behind them.

“Go ahead and look around,” said Daniel, dropping his key on the entry table.

“This is going to take me a couple of minutes.”

“Wow,” said Amanda, not even pretending to be blasé about the opulent room.

“Michael must have thought you were going to get very lucky.”

Daniel chuckled from behind the bar. “Michael’s the optimist of the family.”

Amanda wandered between the two couches, glancing down at the oak coffee table.

There was a fresh flower arrangement in the middle, a dish of gourmet chocolates on one end and an arrangement of current magazines on the other.

More interesting was the rectangular gadget covered in colorful buttons. “Is that a remote control?” she asked, picking it up and aiming it at the television. She’d heard about them, but had never seen one in real life.

Daniel popped his head up from where he was rattling glasses. “I don’t know. Try it and see.”

She pushed the power button, and the television clicked to life. “All right!”

Daniel laughed at her exclamation.

She checked out the other buttons and began clicking through channels. “I think these are going to be really popular.”

“I can’t find the ice bucket,” said Daniel, glancing at the glass shelves behind him.

“Want me to check the bathroom?”

He rounded the end of the bar. “I’ll do it. Eat some of those chocolates, will you? Michael probably paid a fortune for them.”

Amanda grinned, happy to oblige. She plopped down on the soft couch and peeled the gold foil from a chocolate truffle.

It was so much nicer here—cooler air, a place to sit down, nobody shouting obscenities or throwing food, no repetitive bass pounding against her eardrums.

And, best of all, no crushing mortification because she was the only person in the room without a conversation partner.

“No ice bucket,” said Daniel. He stopped behind the couch. “Is that American Graffiti?”

Amanda glanced at the screen. “I think so.”

“Cool. Are the chocolates any good?”

She rocked forward and took another gold globe from the dish. “To die for.” She handed it back to Daniel.

On the screen, a group of high school grads were out celebrating their final night together.

Daniel unwrapped the chocolate and gestured to the television. “Kind of like us,” he said.

Amanda nodded her agreement. Like the characters in the movie, they were standing on the cusp of a brave new world. Sometimes she was excited, mostly she was scared. Her parents had saved the money for her first year of college, but after that it was going to be a struggle.

“These are great,” said Daniel, coming around the couch. He picked up the dish, plunked it down on the middle cushion and sat down on the other end. “I say we eat them before we leave.”

Amanda nodded her agreement and helped herself to another chocolate. “Seems a shame to let them go to waste.”

She let the sweet, creamy candy melt on her tongue as they watched the movie in silence for a few minutes.

“So, what are you going to do?” Daniel asked, snagging another chocolate.

“After the party?”

“No. After high school. You had pretty good grades, didn’t you?”

Amanda nodded. Given her slow dating life, she’d had plenty of time to study.

“I’ve been accepted to NYU.”

“That’s great. What are you taking?”

“English lit and prelaw. What about you?”

“The family firm,” he said with a tired smile.

“Guaranteed job,” she offered.

He was quiet for a couple more minutes, his eyes fixed on the movie. “You know, what I’m really hoping…”

She waited, but he didn’t continue.

“What?” she finally asked.

He shook his head.

“Tell me.”

He shifted one leg onto the couch and angled himself toward her. “Promise you won’t laugh.”

Amanda Kedrick laugh at Daniel Elliott? Not in this lifetime. She shook her head. “I’m not gonna laugh.”

“Okay.” He nodded. “Here’s the thing. I’m hoping I can talk my dad into starting a new magazine.”

Amanda was impressed. It sounded so much more interesting than plain old law school. “Really? What kind?”

“Outdoor adventures, foreign lands, action. I could travel all over the world, write articles and send them back to New York.”

Amanda swallowed, suddenly feeling boring and trite. She wasn’t even planning to leave the state, and here Daniel was going on a global adventure.

“You think it’s a dumb idea,” he said, his expression falling.

“No,” Amanda quickly assured him, moving a little closer. “I think it’s a fantastic idea. I’m jealous is all.”

He perked up. “You are?”

She nodded vigorously. “It sounds fantastic.”

He took another chocolate, grinning as he unwrapped it and popped it into his mouth. “It does, doesn’t it?”

They both turned their attention to the movie again.

After a few moments he rolled to his feet and went back behind the bar. “These chocolates are making me thirsty. Ever drink champagne?”

Her eyes went wide. “Where would we get champagne?”

He held up a green bottle.

“But won’t you get in trouble?”

Daniel shrugged as he twisted off the wire cork holder. “Room’s in Michael’s name.”

“So, they’ll think—”

“I don’t particularly care what they think.” He popped the cork with his thumbs.

It hit the ceiling and bounced to the carpet.

Amanda suddenly felt very daring. “I’d love some champagne.”

He grinned and flipped over two of the long-stemmed glasses on the bar. Then he poured the bubbly liquid, scooped a bag of pretzels from the snack basket and rejoined her on the couch where Ron Howard’s character was fighting with his steady girlfriend.

To a backdrop of fifties music, Daniel and Amanda leaned forward and touched their glasses together.

“Happy prom night,” he whispered.

She gazed into his deep blue eyes, not feeling nearly as awkward as she had earlier. “You do realize you’re not going to get lucky.”

His eyes sparkled and a grin curved up the corners of his mouth. “I think that ship’s already sailed.” He glanced down at the empty bowl between them. “I mean, since you scarfed down all the chocolates that I was going to use to seduce the girl.”

She smacked him on the shoulder. “I had a little help, you know.”

He gave her a mock frown. “They were my secret weapon.”

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