I tried to keep my sigh as quiet as possible. I didn’t want David or anyone else to hear the clear boredom and frustration that I was struggling to keep under wraps.
This book signing was already going on three hours—at least ninety minutes longer than it was supposed to. The reading happened on schedule, but the line for autographs was longer than anyone could assume. And every person wanted at least five minutes of David’s attention only on them. I get it; I went through my fangirl phases with people too, and I was the same way. I wanted to feel special—special in the way that only a celebrity’s undivided attention could make one feel. I can’t begrudge anyone that.
But I COULD begrudge David enjoying it so much. He especially seemed to enjoy all the smiling girls who seemed completely smitten by him. All of whom were way too young for him. Okay, maybe I was the last person who could talk about that; to the outside world, I was also too young for David. Fifteen years of age difference was significant when one party was still in their 20s like I was. But I was also right there! Did he have to smile like an idiot every damn time some little jail bait came bouncing up to him, babbling about how he was the “greatest writer to ever live”?
Don’t get me wrong. David was an amazing writer, and I knew this firsthand. I was his primary beta-reader after all; I was the first person to read literally everything he wrote. No one could evoke emotion quite how he could. But… the greatest writer to ever live? Had these children never heard of Jane Austen? Dostoevsky? Hell, Stephen King? I loved David, and I loved his work, be he had a long way to go to beat all of those names.
Maybe I was just bitter; obviously, the attention he was showing to all of his fans was rubbing me the wrong way. Especially since he had basically forgotten that I existed. And forgot about the date that I had organized for us once this book signing was over. I wanted to celebrate such a successful launch for him. Just the two of us, at the rose park gazebo with a cheese board and a bottle of wine. With every minute that passed by, that reservation was slipping away, the cheese board was getting moldy, and the wine was turning in the Kansas City summer heat.
And David literally couldn’t care less.
Before I could sigh again, a coffee cup was placed in front of me. I looked up to see the dictionary definition of an eco-friendly hipster. At 6’3”, this man-bun sporting student was definitely closer to my age than David. In fact, he could’ve been a year younger than me. His thick beard and vintage Led Zeppelin t-shirt that was hidden behind his coffee shop apron were enough to make me smile. And for a moment, the smile was genuine, despite the situation I found myself in.
“You look like you could use this,” his gentle baritone voice floated out.
“Thanks,” I said, unzipping my purse to pull my credit card out.
“On the house,” he stopped me.
“Are you sure?”
“I took care of it.”
The genuine smile graced my face again. “Thank you,” I flashed my eyes to his name tag. “James.”
He started chuckling as he looked down at the name tag. “Sometimes I forget that I’m wearing this thing.” He pulled out the folding chair next to me and took a seat. “So you know my name. What’s yours?”
“Annie,” I smiled and stuck my hand out.
James’ huge hand engulfed mine as he firmly but gently shook it. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.” With a far more content sigh, I took a sip of the coffee cup in front of me. Chai latte. My favorite. How did he know?
“You look pretty disappointed if you don’t mind my saying.”
I let out a mirthless scoff. “Is it that obvious?”
“Just a little,” he admitted without a trace of judgment in his voice. “What’s got you down?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just… plans that we had to cancel now.”
“What were you two gonna do?”
“I reserved one of the gazebos at that Smith Garden.”
James nodded, an impressed smile on his face. “That sounds beautiful.”
“It would have been,” I sighed again as the defeat returned to my body and I looked back over at David, smiling for a picture with four college-aged girls. “But I guess we’ll have to do it some other time.”
A long moment of silence fell over us before James said, “You know, I just got off my shift. And I have been wanting to head over to the Smith Garden to just see how the blooms look.” I look over at James, found the earnestness in his blue eyes, and could practically predict his next words. “It’d be a shame if your reservations were to go to waste.”
“Yeah… Yeah, it would.” The silence fell over us again, and the world seemed to fade away with how intensely he stared at me. I didn’t know if he wanted to whisk me away to the garden or have me right there on David’s signing table. I would have been happy either way.
I stood up, gathering my hoody, sunglasses, and purse. “Your car or mine?”
James didn’t answer, but grinned up at me. He stood up, lacing his fingers with mine, and lead me out of the bookstore into the parking lot where his second-hand white impala waited like Cinderella’s carriage to the rose ball.