Dani stood frozen to the spot and wasn’t sure how much time had passed until Sam called out her name. Heat flooded her cheeks as she realized that she’d been staring and she lowered her gaze quickly. When she looked up again her eyes went straight to Sam and she attempted a smile that did nothing to distil the butterflies that were having a party in her stomach. ‘John I’d like you to meet my friend Danielle. Danielle this is my brother John’. Dani moved her eyes back to the Greek god in front of her. ‘It’s nice to finely meet you’. To her own ears her voice sounded wafer thin and for not the first time in her life she wished she had more confidence around people. As it was she could barely retain eye contact for any longer than 1.5 seconds before averting her gaze elsewhere. ‘It’s nice to finely meet you too’ John said. His voice was like hot caramel and she felt the nerves in every part of her body heat up. It was only then that Dani noticed another person standing behind him. Looking over his shoulder she saw perhaps the most beautiful woman she had ever laid eyes on. Blonde hair pulled up in a classy up-do framed a face that could have, and probably did, grace the covers of Vogue. Green eyes the colour of emeralds looked her over quickly before instantly dismissing her as a non-threat and looking elsewhere. Dani felt the bitterness of loss hit her. The voice in her head laughed at her knowing full well the small shimmer of hope that had begun to bloom in her heart the moment she laid eyes on John. It was as if her conscience had sized her up beside the beautiful woman and found her obviously lacking. In the recesses of her mind she knew that a man as handsome as John would never look at her with love or lust in his eyes. That privilege was reserved for women like the one beside him. Dani was, she knew, a nonentity and the knowledge had never hurt her as much as it did now.
The memories of that first meeting seemed to play through her mind a lot these days. ‘I need to get him out of my head’ Dani thought to herself as she logged on to her office computer. It was nearing the Christmas holiday and she felt snowed under by the amount of work she had yet to catch up on. Beside her on her cluttered desk her third coffee for the morning had cooled and she contemplated getting up and making a new one but dismissed it, knowing that the last thing she needed now was to get distracted. ‘Perhaps it’s because of the holiday season I’m thinking of him so much’ she muttered quietly. ‘Did you say something?’ Sam called from across the room. Dani’s head shot up as she realised that she’d spoken aloud. ‘Just telling my computer to wake up’ she said flippantly. ‘This thing needs more coffee than I do to get it going in the morning’ she joked. Samantha laughed. ‘I have this strange craving for eggnog. Tis the season and all’. ‘I can’t believe Christmas is only ten days away’ Dani said softly. They had made an effort the week before to decorate their small office. Tinsel was hung haphazardly on the walls and attached to the ceiling fan in the centre of the room they had placed a small piece of mistle toe that Sam had managed to find. ‘Fat lot of good that’s gonna do’ Dani had said when Sam had pulled it from her tattered box of Christmas decorations. ‘You never know,’ her friend had replied, ‘Christmas is a time for miracles’. Dani had laughed. ‘It would take more than a miracle’.
By the end of the day Dani’s back hurt like hell and she could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on. Beside her on the desk her pile of work now looked considerably shorter than it had that morning but she knew that it would take a couple more days like today to get it all caught up. Sam had left earlier for the dig and Dani knew that she probably wouldn’t see her friend again until the following morning. It was nearing when she finally logged off the computer and left the office. Making her way out of the archaeological wing and into the staff quarters she felt a sense of gloom settle over her and knew that it was because another Christmas was about to hit and she had no one to share it with. It had been nearly three years since the accident that had claimed her parents in a car accident and she had still not managed to find her place in the world without them. A memory flitted through her head of a passage from a book she had read many years ago. A parent gives their child a map and then they place themselves in the middle of it. When the parent dies, the child has then got to find their own place on that map. ‘Right now,’ she thought sadly, ‘I feel like I don’t even have a compass’. The passage ways in the staff sector were eerily quiet leading up to the ‘Big Day’. Most of the staff on Olduvai had left already, and the ones that remained were getting ready to leave. Dani knew that it would be quiet here and for not the first time wondered how Sam felt about spending Christmas a million miles away from home. For not the first time that day John went through her mind and she wondered where he was and why what he was doing was so important that he couldn’t spend the holiday with his family.