Rachel Van Dyken
She had to be the most awkward person I'd ever encountered in my entire life. Granted, I was only twenty-two, had hardly lived, but I was Hollywood through and through.
I knew weird.
I was surrounded by it on a daily basis.
And that girl? It wasn't the fact that she didn't talk because she was nervous or just didn't give a flying rat's ass about me — I could get past that. It was the simple oddity that she wanted to.
But chose not to.
And because I was running on two hours sleep, I'd spent the past few minutes fantasizing what her voice would sound like.
Jo-Jo was waiting for me in the lobby when I jumped off the elevator.
“There you are!” she screeched loudly, enough so that my ears rang a bit while my skin crawled like I was having an allergic reaction to something. “Where have you been?”
Unlike Dani, Jo-Jo talked. A lot. And her voice? Well, the only way I could relate the sound her lips emitted was to think of the nearest butcher knifing a pig.
Maybe two pigs.
Why was she here again?
“So…” Her nails dug into my forearm. ”… my agent says we just need a few pictures to circulate. Then I'll be out of your hair, baby.”
Oh, and she called everything and everyone baby.
It wasn't cute.
Or even slightly funny.
It was irritating, like her voice, and there I was again wondering about Dani. The girl with bright eyes and soft lips.
The girl who was mute.
“I hate the ocean, fish, crowds of people, and coffee shops that try too hard to be local and quaint.” I was getting jerked toward the door, and why the hell was she listing things she hated?
“Oh…” Another tug on my arm as my arm hair rebelled and pulled back as if repelled by her touch. ”… and I hate any restaurant that claims to be organic yet still cooks with non-organic oils.”
I was going to speak — would have, but she just kept talking.
“And I think it would be extremely off-putting for us to take a few pictures at the mall. I mean, what about the poor people?”
Because poor people had no need for food or clothing? Where else did she think they bought and paid for their daily needs?
“Listen…” I pried myself free. ”… I think I forgot something back in Jaymeson's room. Why don't you text me where you want to go, and I'll meet you there.”
She began to pout again, her Botoxed lips pressing together in one giant, swollen blur.
“Besides…” I coughed into my hand. ”… my truck still has all my shit in it so—”
“Truck?” She spat the word loud enough for the bellhop's head to turn in our direction.
His eyebrows rose and he took a few steps back, out of the line of fire. Smart man.
“You drive a truck?”
“Yes.” I nodded slowly.
Jo-Jo held up her hand. “You know what?
“I think I will meet you, later today, maybe tomorrow even, I have a really busy schedule over the next few days, and since you'll be shooting some of your first scenes on Friday…” She kept walking backward, shoving her large Prada sunglasses onto her face.
I waited until she disappeared, then nodded to the valet.
A few minutes later, he pulled up in my truck.
Not an old jalopy junker.
But a brand new, fully loaded Ford with enough bells and whistles that I actually preferred sleeping in it over my trailer.
“Will that be all, sir?” the valet asked.
“Yup.” I handed him a twenty and got in the truck but didn't take off because I saw a flash of blonde hair.
Dani was walking out of the hotel lobby. Her white Converses were clean — too clean — giving off the idea that she didn't do anything outside.
Her skinny jeans were ripped at the knees — not in a fashionable way, but almost like she'd taken scissors in an attempt to make shorts, then decided against it.
Shoulders slumped, her black T-shirt hung loosely against her body. Did the girl eat? Did she do anything at all? And why the hell was it suddenly bothering me that she looked too skinny?
That black circles marred the skin beneath her eyes.
I didn't obsess over women.
Because women surrounded me. Constantly.
If I wanted one, all I needed to do was speak up and take my pick — it wasn't arrogance speaking, just a simple fact of life — which is why I stayed blessedly single and kept any relationship I had on a twenty-four-hour basis.
Fun was shared, and then the shared fun ended. Both sides satisfied. Story over.
I frowned and looked at my watch. It was nearing six at night. Technically she wasn't supposed to start until tomorrow, but my schedule had just freed up.
I quickly sent off a text.
Dani reached for her phone and stared at it, then texted back.
She glanced up.
Slowly, she walked over to my running truck, her eyes on the tires rather than my face as she methodically typed a message.
I burst out laughing. “Thank God you have a sense of humor.”
My phone buzzed. I looked down.
I slumped forward just as a smile teased her lips, transforming her face from sad to triumphant.
“Alright…” I laughed softly. ”… get in. Promise I won't bite, nor will I tell.”
My text alert went off as she climbed into the passenger seat.
I tossed the phone into the cup holder and waited for her to buckle her seat belt before I answered. “That you have a really pretty smile.”
Her high cheekbones flushed with color as she quickly averted her gaze.
“What?” I pulled out of the hotel and into downtown traffic. “No text?”
When we were at the stop light, my phone buzzed.
Naturally, the light had turned green. I cursed and dropped the phone, then stole a glance at her. “You're going to be a handful, aren't you?”
She shrugged innocently.
“I'm onto you, you know.”
She didn't answer. I didn't expect her to, but the yearning was still there. Maybe because she was a challenge. And God knew I hadn't had one of those in forever.
“Just because you aren't talking doesn't mean your brain isn't firing on all cylinders. I'm sure you have some killer conversations with yourself, and, lucky for you, I'm an expert at body language.
“I made you smile,” I announced with a cocky grin. “Which means, today? I win.”
The drive to the small apartment I was renting downtown was silent and awkward. I'd expected awkward.
“Do you like music?” I blurted, turning up the volume.
She shook her head no.
I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel as nervous energy swirled around me. Silence wasn't something I was used to. Who didn't like music?
I must have said that aloud because she shrugged.
Something about my driving was making her anxious — either that, or my one-sided conversation skills needed work.
Every time I looked at her, she had her hands clenched in her lap, draining all the blood from her fingers.
“So…” I gripped the steering wheel with my fingers, sweat from my palms made a sliding sound across the leather. I needed some sort of noise to keep me from going insane. ”… you like Jaymeson?”
“Right.” I hissed out a breath of air between my teeth just as I pulled up to a spot on the street and turned off the truck.
Dani's seatbelt nearly smacked her in the eye as she hurriedly hit the buckle and jumped out of the truck as if it was on fire.
And I was left wondering if it was my truck, the company, or both.
“Can't say I've ever had that kind of reaction before,” I whispered under my breath.
My phone buzzed.
“Why?” I frowned looking up from my phone.
Hand shaking, she typed fast and started walking away from me toward the apartment building.
“Shit.” I glanced back at my cherry red truck, feeling like an ass for making her ride in it. But it wasn't like I'd known. Damn it, Jaymeson! He should have sent the girl with a manual or something!
I jogged after Dani and opened the door to the building lobby. She walked through, her eyes void of emotion.
So, clearly she wasn't impressed that we were in one of the nicest apartment complexes in Portland.
Then again, she was probably used to it.
She was Jaymeson's sister–in-law. The guy on his way to owning Hollywood.
We rode the elevator in silence.
We walked down the hall… in silence.
I opened my door — yup, you guessed it — in silence.
The silence was going to kill me.
Thank God I'd left the sound system on. We walked in on the newest Ne-Yo release.
I tossed my keys onto the table and nearly swallowed my tongue whole as Dani started tapping her foot, and then moving her hips to the left, right, and back again. It was cute as hell.
“So?” I cleared my throat.
She stopped dancing.
“You hate music, huh?”
Blushing, she lowered her head and lifted one shoulder.
“Only certain types of music?”
A head nod.
“Shit,” I muttered, running a hand through my shaggy hair. “We have to do something about this talking.
“I'm not one of those guys who likes silence, probably why Jaymeson thought this would be a good idea.
“Hell, I'm a heckler, I hate libraries, and if I have to sit and listen to myself swallow — or breathe for that matter — for five more minutes, I'm going to lose my shit.
I reached for my phone.
I glanced up as she grunted out loud, making a noise that sounded a hell of a lot like some farmer after he inspected a cow and deemed it worthy to butcher.
“You're a shit grunter. Tell me you can at least sigh? Or moan?”
“Ah, so which one is it? Or both?”
“Ha.” I barked out a laugh at the random unicorn emoji that accompanied the text. “Fine, I'm turning up the music since apparently Ne-Yo is good, but for some reason Wiz-Khalifa is out.”
Her rosy cheeks went pale.
I wracked my brain then cursed aloud. “It was the new song, wasn't it?”
“But…” I leaned against the counter. ”… you see, that's like the opposite of my personality — I care, I worry. I'm like a girl, only in the body of a really hot guy.”
That had her smirking.
“I'm sorry…” At this rate, I was going to talk enough for the both of us and probably go hoarse. When had I ever tried this hard to communicate with a girl? Never. ”… I know it must be hard to—”
Her head jerked up while she maniacally typed something in her phone, then slammed her hand against the countertop.
Cheeks red, eyes wild, she stared at me then pointed to the phone in my hand.
I glanced down.
Swallowing, I lowered my phone to my side, then shoved it into the back of my jeans. “Fine, packing it is.”
She exhaled, her body going from tight with rage to relaxed, while I was strung up like a drum.
I wasn't used to being reprimanded by anyone.
I'd like to think that, considering I grew up in a house with two very emotionally detached parents, it was saying a lot that I even knew how to pick up on social cues, let alone care about another human being.
But I'd never complained.
I felt stupid having even opened my damn mouth because I'd come from fame, money. I'd been born privileged. Lucky. Even though my parents sucked.
My sister hadn't gotten off as easy.
One addiction after another had finally landed her in rehab, thanks to Alec Daniels, one of the guys from AD2.
AD2 was doing the soundtrack, and Jaymeson was semi-related to the guys.
A throat cleared.
Dani put her hands on her hips then held them wide as if to say, “So? Are you just going to stand there like an idiot or actually tell me what to do?”
The voice I had her using in my head wasn't near as sexy as it needed to be, because the girl was sexy, from that cute blonde head all the way down to her ankles.
My eyes lowered.
What was it about her ankles?
Two claps in front of my face.
My eyebrows shot up. “You can't talk, but you can clap in front of me like I'm five?” I slowly pushed her hands away, the contact brief.
She didn't answer.
I hated it.
I pointed to one of the boxes. “So, I guess we can start with the living room.
“I move a lot…” I seriously couldn't stop myself from talking. It was a really unfortunate nervous habit while in the company of someone who suffered from muteness.
My money was on her stabbing me before the end of the night. ”… you know, because of the films.”
Idiot. Of course I moved because of the films. I was an actor for shit's sake. Maybe I should take a cue from her and just not speak. Ever.
Dani started packing one of the boxes, then held up a small, blue pig that I'd gotten from my very first commercial when I was about ten, for a savings and loan company.
She held the pig out as if it disgusted her. Then again, it had somehow gone from a really nice aqua to more of a dingy white with weird black marks that had suddenly appeared.
I'd cried over that when I was little. My mom, bitch that she was, had said my pig must have had cancer — and then had laughed.
“He always gets prime real estate while traveling.”
My phone buzzed.
I burst out laughing, not expecting that, and glanced up at her shy smile. “Is there a reason?”
My phone vibrated with a text and an emoji pig sitting in mud.
I nodded. “I think we're going to get along just fine, Dani.”
She quickly turned around and continued packing the box — but not in complete silence. Because if I listened really carefully, I could hear a slight hum coming from her lips.
Thank God for common ground.
Thank God for pigs.