Chapter 1: A New Day
“Truth or dare?” Daniel asked with a devilish grin. Daniel always found ways to pass the time. There were few, if any, lulls in conversation as we hiked over the countryside. It had been almost two weeks since the Centaur Council meeting finished. The two of us were doing exactly what the centaur laws forbade – two unmarried centaurs traveling without an escort. I had originally planned to stay with Katherine, but everyone had coupled off. Katherine and Brent accompanied Cami and Drake back to Charleston. I wanted to stay as far away from the United States and my awaiting family as possible.
When Daniel asked if I’d ever been to Argentina, it had taken less than three seconds for me to agree to go with him. At first, I was secretive about our plans, embarrassed that someone might find out that we were running off together. Daniel told Cami, and pretty soon everyone in her circle seemed to know – none were even slightly put off by our plans. It was liberating.
Cami’s family accepted her decree without hesitation: she said Daniel was a centaur, so he was a centaur. It didn’t matter that his blood did not run pure. Had any of her family chastised us, I might have buckled under the pressure – I’m glad no one did, because we were having the time of our life. Time with Daniel, regardless of where we were, always turned into a grand adventure. When I awoke this morning, Daniel suggested we spend our last day in the countryside. We would travel to Vietnam tomorrow, but today we chose to enjoy our last full day in Argentina away from the hustle of the city.
Without so much as a map or a plan, we drove out of the city, left our car along the side of a quiet road, and set out on a trail I was sure had been forged by sheep. The Centaur Council meeting replayed in my mind often. Despite Cami’s decree that every centaur or centauride could love whoever they wanted, centaurides were still outnumbered eight to one by centaurs. I enjoyed spending time with Daniel, but I knew one day I would be forced to return to the life I had run away from. For now, I tucked that fear away, savoring my time with Daniel. “Truth,” I finally answered.
Dejectedly, he accused, “You always pick truth.”
“Yeah, because you have too active of an imagination for me to accept one of your dares. Truth.”
Daniel shot me an exasperated look. “Fine. Alive or dead, who do you admire most in the world?”
That was an easy one: Daniel was a free spirit with an immense heart. He never worried about the future, or begrudged the past – Daniel lived in the moment. I wished I could say the same about myself. I was crippled by my past and had nothing but fear of my future. But if I told him that he was who I admired most, I’d never hear the end of it. “Male or Female?”
“Centaur or human?”
Daniel rolled his eyes, “Either.”
“Politician, entertainer or good Samaritan?”
Frustrated, Daniel reminded me, “Are you forgetting that I asked you the question? Political.”
“There are lots of people I admire.” I started scrolling through people in my head. I loved Mother Teresa, but she wasn’t necessarily political. I had done a paper in high school on Condoleezza Rice; she was amazing, but she didn’t seem to be as active as she was then. Who did I admire most? Then it hit me, “Sonia Sotomayor.”
“I’ve heard her name. She’s a senator, right?”
“Supreme Court,” I corrected. “She always seems to find in favor of the underdog, whether it’s a convicted criminal, a child unfairly singled out, or a disabled person requesting special accommodations. I’d like to think that if I were ever a justice on the Supreme Court, I’d be like her.”
“Right.” Daniel nodded, “Note to self,” he pulled out an imaginary note pad, “we need to start looking at law schools.” I gave him a rueful stare, “Hey, I’m just sayin’ if you want to defend the underdogs on the Supreme Court, you’re going to need to find a law school. Your turn. I pick dare.”
“Of course you’d pick a dare.”
“I like to keep things lively.”
I was confident no matter what I dared him to do, he’d do it. It took a couple minutes before I finally came up with, “I dare you to act out a scene from a movie.”
“Any movie?” he clarified.
“It has to be a scene I’ll recognize.”
Daniel’s devilish grin returned. He began scrolling through songs stored on his phone, but pulled the device out of my view before demanding, “No peeking!” After a few seconds he tossed his phone on a clump of grass in the pasture where we stood, walked toward me wolfishly, took my left hand in his, and then rested his right hand at the small of my back. “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes played so loudly that a flock of birds resting in a nearby tree took flight.
Daniel twirled me away from him, then pulled me back close and went into exactly the dance moves that Patrick Swayze had done in Dirty Dancing. Luckily, no one was within miles of us to see his suave moves and my stumbling attempt to keep up with him – I was sure I looked like a rhythm-challenged orangutan. Before the song was half over, his twirls and lustful stares had me laughing so hard that I had to let go of him, “Okay, okay, Dirty Dancing. You won.”
Instead of stopping, he kept dancing by himself while I stood there giggling. Daniel was twenty feet away as he stood nodding at me like I was supposed to do a mid-air swan dive and he’d catch me. I shook my head. “You already won, and I’m not going to do the jump. I never said anything about being a prop while you acted out the scene.”
Daniel wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, and before I could protest, he closed the distance between us, lifted me off my feet and above his head. I was not as graceful as the actress in the movie, and my fledgling arms and legs toppled us both to the ground. I lay beside him as Daniel warned, “Never ask a California boy to act out a scene from a movie.” He stood and held his hand out to help me off the grass. “You’re lucky I didn’t pick Fifty Shades.”
His response caught me off guard, I stumbled, and nearly face planted back into the lush ground. Before I kissed the dirt, Daniel’s arm caught my waist and kept me upright. “Did you trip, or were you doing a random gravity check?”
I smacked him on the chest, but his playfulness diminished as we both found ourselves holding each other in the beautiful meadow, with no one around for miles. Daniel leaned to me and brushed his lips over mine. It was gentle, barely more than a whisper of a kiss. I opened my eyes to see the chestnut-brown of his irises boring into mine. Daniel had the longest lashes I had ever seen on a man. His jaw was chiseled and his face symmetrical, in a word – he was perfect. Heat poured from his stare, my senses went on high alert, longing for him to kiss me again.
Daniel’s fingers slid under the back of my blouse, his touch raining sparks across my skin. My eyes closed as I savored the tingly sensation he created; one of his hands slid from the small of my back to the back of my neck. His fingers threaded through my hair as he pulled my lips more firmly to his. I knew what I felt for him was wrong. No matter how attracted I was to him, or how often he made me laugh, Daniel wasn’t a possibility for the future. The sensible part of my brain argued that I needed to end things before both of us got too attached. Despite my best efforts to think logically, the irrational part of my brain won out each time when it came to Daniel.
The two of us stood, wrapped up in each other’s arms, living in a moment I believed would stay with me for the rest of my life. Dirty dancing in a pasture outside of Cordoba, Argentina had never been on my bucket list, but had just entered the top ten moments of my life.