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Re: Each Careful Step*


TEN

DANI:


On my way out the following morning, I ran into David. It was awkward but we talked and managed to sort out the misunderstanding from the day before. I never mentioned that I had been asking for someone else and thankfully he didn’t pursue the subject.

At the end of the day he knew I wasn’t asking for my own sake and I was happy about that. I had to wonder if stuff like this was always going to happen and I prayed it wouldn’t. For as long as David continued to come around, I didn’t want it always to be awkward between us. Then again, I suppose that was up to me as he seemed to move past these things a lot more easily than I did.

Before we parted ways however, I did ask if he would invite his sister around for dinner tonight. When he asked why, I told him it was to not only meet her but to make up for the misunderstanding the other day, even if I hadn’t been the one in the wrong. David naturally told me I didn’t have to but I wanted to do it. Part of me wanted to show Kat that I was nothing like my cousin. As usual, it was important to me that she liked me, even if in the grand scheme of things, I guess it didn’t matter if she did or didn’t.

He promised to ask her but told me there were no promises as Kat was stubborn to a fault and it was going to take some convincing to get her to agree. I only thanked him and then left for work, thinking about what I could serve as I started my car.

~*~*~

“You’re not staying? But why not; you have to be here.”

Mel gave me a look as though I had just asked her to remove all of her teeth with a set of rusty pliers. “Dani, I do not have to do anything of the sort. You were the one who wanted to do this and that’s your choice. I don’t see why I should have to be here to share a meal with that woman too.”

I couldn’t believe her and yet, I should have known. “Aside from the fact that you’re dating David and this dinner is for his sister, I would have thought you’d want to be here. I’m not asking that you never leave the house again and you don’t have to stay all night, but surely you can spare a couple of hours? You have to eat too, right?”

Picking up her bag, she then tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “I probably could but I won’t be doing it for that !@#$. She hates me and I can’t stand to look at her. Although this is my house, I refuse to sit here and play nice while we share a meal. Not even for David.

“I’m sorry, Dani; really, I am but I’m no hypocrite. Kat knows how I feel and believe me the feeling is more than mutual. My being here is just going to make things awkward all around. If you want to impress her so badly, be my guest but you’re going to have to do it without me here.”

With that, she left. I could do little more than watch her go.

~*~*~

Once upon a time, Mel would have bent over backwards to help me and make sure the night was a success. Now…now it would seem my request was nothing more than a major nuisance to her. The thing is, if not for her I wouldn’t have felt compelled to invite Kat at all.

I swear, with each passing day it was like I was knowing less about her, not more and it was confusing the hell out of me. I suppose I just had to accept the fact that the fun, happy and spontaneous girl I once knew was long gone, only to be replaced by a self-righteous, uptight, selfish cow who didn’t care about anyone other than herself. It was depressing.

I had no idea what her agenda was but if it was to alienate people, she was coming up trumps. I was right on the precipice of my tipping point again and something had to give. In the past, it would have been me but these last few weeks with her have changed me too, and I was no longer the meek little pushover she wanted around.

Maybe that was the problem right there. Mel could no longer push me around and get me to do her bidding, no questions asked and she didn’t like that I was resisting. Surely it had to be more than that though. I had even noticed that she was starting to treat David badly, seemingly only keeping him around so he could service her when the mood was right. I know I didn’t truly know him all that well but I did know he didn’t deserve to be treated like that. I hoped Mel snapped out of whatever funk she was in and fixed it before she truly ended up alone.

~*~*~

DAVID:

Pulling into the parking lot of the liquor store and getting out of the car. I thought ‘What was it that Dani wanted me to pick up again?’ I came up short, not having the faintest recollection, other than it was something alcohol based.

My mind really was all over the place today and I could barely remember what it was I had for lunch, just a few short hours earlier, let alone something Dani had asked me to pick up this morning as I was leaving. Between rehearsals, worrying about Dani and her need to make peace when it wasn’t necessary and my own problems with Mel, it was like my mind was in a perpetual state of fogginess. Maybe what I really needed was a time out, to sit and think things through, only it couldn’t be right now; there was too much to do.

By the time I entered the store, I still had no clue as to what it was I had to pick up. I could ring Dani, I suppose, but my phone was flat and I didn’t want her to think I wasn’t paying attention when she asked the favour. Spying the bottles on my left, I remembered now it was wine I was after, only what sort? I was a beer drinker myself so I had no idea what was good and what wasn’t.

Looking at the prices, they varied from ‘it might as well be free’ to ‘mortgage the house to buy me’ but that didn’t help me with the choice. Sometimes cheaper was better so there was no point paying a year’s salary for something that could run my car. In the end, I knew I didn’t have the time to dwell so I picked up a bottle of both red and white, in the middle of the price range and headed to the counter to pay. Hopefully one of them would be somewhat close to what it was that Dani had originally asked for.

~*~*~

As I waited in line to be served, I thought about this dinner tonight. It was sweet of Dani to offer. I had told her it wasn’t necessary, that my sister would be over her hissy fit soon enough and realize that her anger was misplaced. Even so, she had insisted. I just had to hope that Kat would be on her best behaviour. She was stubborn as a mule and not adverse to stirring the pot for kicks. I had hoped she would grow out of this habit she had had since childhood but it was clearly too late for that hope to be realized now.

What was it with all the women in my life? There was Kat, who was stubborn and unforgiving once you pissed her off, no matter how much you tried to make amends. Then there was Mel, who I sensed was becoming more and more distant and less like the person I thought I once knew and could possibly fall in love with. Last but not least was Dani.

Dani was so different to the others in so many ways, it was almost startling and it had nothing to do with looks. Over the last several weeks, I had seen her slowly start to learn to stand up for herself, speak her mind and not back down but for the most part, she was still going out of her way to make sure everyone else was ok, and getting what they wanted. Doormat, was the one word that came to mind most often.

I really had only known her such a short time but with each day that passed, I had this overwhelming urge to protect her. From who or what was unclear but the feeling was definitely there. Despite our initial meeting and subsequent chat, I knew we were going to be friends but I also knew it wasn’t going to be anything more than that. It was something I had tried to explain yesterday, with a lot of difficulty.

We aren’t destined to be together and I am more than happy about that; girlfriends come and go but friends are the one thing you can never have enough of. Besides, I’m seeing Mel and she’s more than enough for me to contend with. I don’t need to be thinking about Dani in any other light than as friend.

Before I had a chance to drift off completely, I was called to the counter to pay for the wine. As I drove home, I realized that I was no more lucid on anything that I had been when I stopped my car and got out some fifteen minutes earlier.

~*~*~

DANI:


Grabbing the chopping board from out of the cupboard, I then reached for a couple of onions and a knife. I had only just started peeling and dicing them when David walked in. After saying hi, he put the wine he had purchased onto the bench.
“I couldn’t remember what you asked for and my phone was flat, so I couldn’t call to confirm. Sorry; I hope these are ok instead.” He gave me a smile.

Looking at the wines, I saw that neither were right for the dishes I was prepping. I was no wine connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination but I did realize he had picked up the wrong ones. “I’m sure they will be fine” I smiled in return.

I could have asked him to go back but he had been kind enough to stop and get these and that was enough. Hopefully his sister wasn’t as savvy on wine and wouldn’t notice, or if she did, she wouldn’t say anything. I wanted this dinner to go well. I couldn’t tell you why it was important that I win her over, all I knew was that I hoped that tonight would go a long way to making that happen.

“Are you sure, Dani; you have that look.”

“What look?”

“The look like these are the wrong bottle and you don’t want to ask me to go out and buy the right ones. I don’t mind, really. I know this dinner is important to you.”

“It’s ok, really. Besides, with Mel bailing on me and Kat only about twenty minutes away, the wine doesn’t seem that important. I appreciate that you even stopped to get these.”

“Mel bailed; why?”

Putting the white wine into the fridge to chill, I thought to myself “Who the hell knows? It’s always something with her. I swear, I just want to grab her and choke the living crap out of her. Who the hell does she think she is anyway? Stupid wench.”

David looked at me, something akin to surprise on his face. I picked up the knife and resumed dicing of the onion but I did ask what was wrong. “That’s the first time since I’ve known you that I’ve heard you speak that way about Mel.”

Oh. OH! I had said it out loud? !@#$. “Sorry. I guess I’m a little more ticked off with her than I thought.”

He laughed. “I’m guessing. So, why isn’t she here? Let me guess; it has something to do with Kat being here.”

Normally at this point I would have denied it and made up some rubbish story but I was ticked at her, and tired of her attitude. Besides, why should I lie to David? He may put up with her antics but surely he isn’t that blind that he can’t see what she’s really like for himself. Then again, maybe he is and perhaps it’s time he learned the truth. He deserved better than her. The sooner he realized and got out, the better.

“Yes, actually. It would seem she’s not all that fond of your sister. From what she said, I’m guessing the reverse is true. I didn’t ask for details but knowing her, it’s probably nothing.”

Taking up the spoon near the stove, he stirred the meat for me that was frying off, adding the onions I had just passed him. “Oh, it’s something; I have no clue what but they have never gotten on.”

Once the meat and onions were combined to his satisfaction, he continued. “They first met back when I was still at Oberlin. They weren’t what you would call fast friends but they got on ok. Then something happened and I’ve never been able to get them in the same room again; not willingly. When they were forced to be together, it would last minutes, at best and then one or both of them would leave. Neither of them will tell me what happened and I’ve just learned not to ask, or push. When Kat heard I started dating Mel, she almost had a coronary. It took some time but she’s talking to me again, although not as much as she used to.”

Sensing that this was a sore subject, I wanted to move on. “Well, tonight is a good place to mend some fences then. Mel’s not here so we can start with the pair of you. Now, let me know when the onions are softened a bit more, and I’ll put the sauce in. Did you want a drink; tea, coffee, beer?”

He smiled at me. “What is with you and this tea thing? You drink more of it than any English person I know.”

I gave him a shy smile. “What can I say; I enjoy it more than coffee.” He laughed.

While he continued to watch the pot on the stove, I got the sauce ready and the lasagne sheets. We continued to talk about random things but then we got around to our stays in Australia; his in Sydney, mine in Melbourne and Perth. Before we knew it, the lasagne was in the oven cooking nicely with the homemade garlic bread. It had been fun getting to know each other just a little bit better and it gave me hope that the evening was going to be a pleasant one.

That’s when Kat arrived.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

17/8/19, 10:37 Link to this post Email HeavenLea27   PM HeavenLea27
 
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Re: Each Careful Step*



ELEVEN

KAT:



Hoping I had the right house, I pulled into the driveway of the smallish house and turned off the engine. ‘Why am I even here?’ I wonder as I remove my seatbelt. I liked to pretend I had no idea but that wasn’t true. I knew exactly why I was here; the only reason. David.

I loved my little brother and would do anything for him, even though I haven’t been happy with him of late, our contact being at a minimum. Had it only been the last two or three weeks that I have even been able to forgive him for taking up with that tramp Mel? It still hurt that he was seeing her.

Was it wrong to pray with everything that I have that they don’t stay together? Probably and I do it more than I should but I can’t help it. I want David to be happy; of course I do; but I would bet my soul that he was never going to find that happiness long term while he was still with her.

Of all the women my brother has dated, Mel has been the only one that I have hated and even openly despised. He didn’t know the reason and I was hardly going to open up and tell him, although I probably owed him that much. It was still too painful however, even after all this time.

A shudder runs through me as I remember the day he told me they were dating. I had torn strips off him, renounced him as my brother and ignored him for almost a month. It wasn’t fair but my foul temper and hard-headedness got the best of me. Perhaps it was time I made a concerted effort to heal the wound.

That was why I was here now, expected to eat dinner with the cousin of my sworn enemy. Ok, so David had explained it had been Mel’s deliberate sabotage with the message that had caused my outburst the other day and when I heard that, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised. I at least owed this Dani a chance but given who she was related to, the night didn’t bode well. I just hoped that Satan’s sister wasn’t going to be there.

“Oh well” I finally sigh as I hop out of the car. I would be polite, for David’s sake but that was it. Maybe I should call Annie and have her phone me in twenty minutes with an emergency…

~*~*~

DANI:

‘Crap!’ I think to myself; dinner’s not quite done and Kat’s here already. Then again, there is nothing to say that we need to sit down and eat the minute she walks through the door. While David went to let her in, I straightened my top and skirt and took a quick glance into the door of the oven to make sure my hair wasn’t all over the place, as it usually is. Maybe I could just pop into the bathroom quickly and run a…

“Oh, hi; you must be Kat.”

Standing almost as tall as David and every bit as lean, Kat actually looked nothing like her brother. Whereas he was blond and had a friendly, open face and a winning smile, she was a very deep red, no smile and a look on her face like she had been sucking on rotten eggs. It would seem that David hadn’t lied when he told me he had to persuade her to come tonight because that look told me she didn’t want to be here, at all.

Offering her my hand, she looked as though she was going to refuse it, but eventually she did take it. !@#$, but that’s a tight grip! I tried not to wince and when I finally got my hand back, I flexed it slightly to try and get the blood circulating again.

“Can I offer you something to drink, Kat? Tea, wine, beer or juice? I think there’s some soft drink in the fridge also.”

“It’s Katrina; and I’m fine for the moment, thank you.”

David gave her a look that suggested she behave but she ignored him, going over to the table and taking a seat. ‘Just great’ I thought to myself. ‘We’re off to a flying start and she’s only just walked in. Why the hell wasn’t dinner ready?’ As I grabbed my own seat, David poured me a Dr Pepper while he was getting a beer.

“So, will Mel be here?” Kat asked while I was trying to think of something to start with.

“No” David answered before I had the chance. “She has to work” he offered, taking a seat beside mine.

“Oh. So she finally has a job then. Took her long enough.”

“Kat, don’t start; please?” her brother asked. She must have realized from his tone that he was serious as she let that topic go, instead turning her focus back to me.

“So, Dani? What is it that you do? I don’t think David has mentioned it. You’re not a theatre person too, are you?”

“No, I’m a hairdresser.”

“Oh, really; which salon? I don’t think I’ve spotted you in any of the ones in town.”

I was suddenly feeling like a suspect being questioned by the cops and it was hard not to start sweating a little. “I don’t work in a salon, as such. I’m a mobile hairdresser, although I do occasionally fill in for the owner of ‘Cut and Dyed’, when one of her regulars can’t come in. Other than that, I go to the people.”

This earned me a raised eyebrow, along with a look that told me without words that Kat was less than impressed with this. “You wouldn’t get a lot of call for that, I’d imagine.”

I colored; damn my cheeks and their inability to stay neutral under pressure. “It comes and goes, in all honesty. During spring I tend to get a lot of business with weddings, balls and the like. In winter, it’s mainly for people who are house bound, like the elderly, or if someone is throwing a party or attending some important function.” Why the !@#$ was I justifying myself to her, I thought rudely.

“She also volunteers down at the hospital, don’t you Dani?” David threw in, obviously tyring to help me out.

I nodded. “Yes; some of the long-term patients like to be pampered every now and then, so I go in, help make them feel as normal as possible.”

There was no emotion of any kind on Kat’s face so if she was impressed, or even cared, I had no idea. David clearly sensed this too as he continued to try and help boost my ratings in his sister’s eyes, for which I was grateful.

“Don’t forget the kids. She goes in every so often, reads to them or does face painting and plays games. It takes a special kind of person do that; wouldn’t you agree, Kat?”

No-one had a chance to say anything, as thankfully the timer went off on the oven.

~*~*~

Excusing myself, I quickly got up to remove the lasagne and the garlic bread from the oven. David also got up to help, putting the salad and the cutlery on the table, continuing to make small chat with his sister while he did so. They talked about family, her job and other mundane things. I was grateful just to have the attention finally off me.

As I put the dishes on the table and told Kat to help herself, David poured the wine. He offered his sister a glass but she declined it, saying that she couldn’t drink the cheap stuff as it brought her out in hives. He asked since when, to which she gave him a look in response. I chose to ignore her and the look.

Thankfully the meal itself seemed to go down a treat and general chit-chat was passed around the table, most of which was instigated by David. I was going to owe him big time for this. When I offered to have the dinner, I never imagined it was going to be this hard, or that Kat would be so hostile.

I seriously couldn’t understand what her problem with me was. She knew by now that it hadn’t been me who had failed to pass on her message and yet, it would seem she had shown up with an attitude that she wasn’t going to like me, no matter what I did or said. Truth be told, I was getting a little ticked off.

As we were finishing up, I got up from the table to go and put a pot of coffee on. “How was your dinner, Katrina? Did you want some more? There’s still plenty left over to take home if you would prefer.”

Pushing away her empty plate, she gave me a reserved look. “No. Thank you. I will be honest though; it seemed a little dry. Whichever brand you bought, I might consider steering clear of it if you’re serving it to guests.”

“Katrina!” David admonished. “Dani spent the better part of this afternoon making this from scratch, although she didn’t have to. Why are you being such a !@#$?”

Kat was seemingly stunned at her brother’s comment as she didn’t say anything. Not that I was going to give her a chance anyway; I had finally hit my limit. In a tight voice of my own, I said “David, it’s ok; it would seem your sister only came around tonight with every intention to make the whole evening as miserable as possible for us. She’ll be pleased to know that she succeeded. I appreciate your words but I don’t need you to defend me to her.”

Turning back to Kat, who I was surprised to note was still seated although both her brother and I were standing, I added “Aside from the message mix-up you know now wasn’t my fault, I don’t understand what it is about me that you seem to have a problem with. We hadn’t even met until tonight. Did you honestly only come here tonight to make me feel small, not worthy? I don’t deserve to be treated like this, in my own home, and I won’t stand for it. I want you to leave.”

David again seemed as though he wanted to get in to try and save the peace but his sister got in first, finally getting to her feet. “Save it little brother; I am going to leave but only because I don’t intend to stay here and be spoken to in that manner by the likes of her. I knew I was right; she’s just like her slutty cousin.”

I could do little more than stand there, not sure I had heard her correctly and not having the words, had I been sure. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to step across and slap her. As it was, David grabbed her by the arm and dragged her outside, barely giving her the chance to pick up her bag.

~*~*~

KAT:

I didn’t have to be a genius to know I had overstepped the mark just now, but I hadn’t been able to stop myself. This was my biggest problem and no doubt why I didn’t have more friends – I just didn’t know when to pull my head in and behave.

The things I had said to Dani were not only uncalled for but unfair. The girl had obviously gone out of her way to make the evening a pleasant one but because I had gone in with the preconceived notion she was like Mel, I hadn’t given her a chance. To make things worse; if that was possible; I had also upset David. The look he gave me as he dragged me outside actually sent a shiver up my spine.

All but pushing me down the front step, he looked at me again, his face not having softened at all as we left the house; if anything it had hardened. “What the actual hell, Kat? Are you bloody insane? I cannot believe you!”

How could I explain this; or at least try to explain; so that he would be satisfied with the answer? I could tell that no matter what I said, he still wouldn’t be happy with me. As usual, I tried to put it back on someone else.

“You can’t believe me? What about her? You heard what she said to me just now.”

He stopped pacing long enough to look me in the eye. “Only because you pushed her until she felt she had no choice! Dani has bent over backwards to make this meal for you, as an apology for something that wasn’t her fault and you still made her feel like !@#$. After less than two hours, you cannot honestly stand there and tell me you think she is anything like Mel. You know nothing at all about her so you had no right.”

I didn’t get a chance to try and apologize as David leaned past me and opened the car door. “I don’t know what your problem with Mel is, partly because you won’t tell me but I realize now I don’t even care. Whatever it is, it does not give you the right to treat the other women in my life as though they are all the same as her.”

Ok, that’s new. I looked at my little brother in surprise, asking “How is she in your life? I thought you were just sleeping here with Mel.”

“What? Dammit, Kat; you knew what I meant so stop being obtuse.” He paused a moment then “Look, you better go before either of us says anything else we will only regret. I want you to ring Dani tomorrow, first thing, and apologize.”

I hopped into the car, slammed the door and wound down the window just enough for him to hear me. “I will not apologize.” I started the car and gunned the engine, barely managing to throw out a “goodbye” as I sped off.

A small tear escaped, which only caused me to ramp up the cursing I had been doing since I hit the end of the block. What a good goddam mess I made of things tonight. To make things worse; if that was even possible; I had alienated David again, after only just getting back onto speaking terms with him. When the hell was I going to learn to think before I spoke!

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

19/8/19, 11:55 Link to this post Email HeavenLea27   PM HeavenLea27
 
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Re: Each Careful Step*


TWELVE

DAVID:


Back inside the house, I wasn’t surprised to find Dani cleaning the kitchen. The look on her face was unusually unreadable; normally I could tell what she was thinking but not now. Her cheeks were of course flushed, but it was hard to know if it was out of embarrassment, rage or a mix of the two.

I knew how badly she had wanted the dinner to work out, not only because of the mix-up but as a way to help cement the bond between my sister and me, patch bridges as it were. There was no hope of that anytime soon, given I felt like I had just survived a tornado that swept through, razing everything around me to the ground. What was I supposed to say to her?

“Leave the dishes, Dani; I’ll do them. You cooked dinner after all.”

“It’s fine David.”

I went over and stood beside her. “No, it’s not and I wish you would stop saying it was. Anytime someone pisses you off, or does something to you, you tell them its fine; that it’s ok that they did that to you. You need to be more assertive. People will continue to walk all over you if you don’t. Do you seriously want to be a doormat your whole life?”

I hadn’t meant that to come out as harsh as it did, even if what I said was the truth. She really did need to stick up for herself more. Regardless, Dani just looked at me and it killed me to see the tears that threatened to fall, despite her clear determination to not shed them; at least in front of me.

“Of course I don’t! But that doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to turn into a proper !@#$ like your sister, or Mel for that matter.” A little softer she added on a sigh “I just have to learn that I can’t make everyone like me and I should stop trying.”

I was at a loss as to what to say or do so I hugged her. I prayed that she was right, that she would never turn into someone like Mel; or my sister for that matter. I loved Kat but she was her own worst enemy because she could hold a grudge like no-one else I knew; god forbid you do something to upset her. I would truly hate for Dani to lose all the things about her that made her special. And she is special, I realized, which makes it hard to understand why she didn’t have someone special in her life yet. She deserved that much, at least.

~*~*~

DANI:

Standing in the middle of the kitchen with David’s arms wrapped around me, it was hard not to start crying. I didn’t want to be that girl; the one who got weepy at the drop of a hat, only too happy and eager to fall into the arms of a man who she then expected to make things all better for her. As it was, I felt uncomfortable standing like this, even if on the flip side it felt nice. After a few short beats, I pulled back.

“Thanks; for sticking up for me earlier. I know you were hoping to mend things between the two of you, not have me make them worse.”

“Yeah, well; maybe next time things will go a lot smoother.”

I looked at him as if to say ‘what next time’ and he smiled at me. “Don’t worry about Kat. She is going to realize soon enough just how wrong she was and she’ll come around. Truthfully, she’s not as bad as she likes to make out but it does take a minute to get used to her.”

I could do little more than give him a wry smile. I very much doubted that Kat would come around. She didn’t strike me the as the type of person who would let go of a grudge quite that easy; from all accounts her feud with Mel had been going for almost a year. Even so, if she came around I had to be civil, if not for her sake but for David’s.

He was right when he called me out and told me I needed to toughen up, to stop letting people walk all over me. It was easy enough to say that though, tougher to do. I have been trying but although I might occasionally speak out or get hot under the collar, nine times out of ten I’ll feel bad about hurting the other person’s feelings. There had to be some kind of middle ground, surely.

Now that the moment had passed, I went back to washing the dishes. David picked up a towel and dried. As we cleared up, we talked, actually speculating on what it was that had caused the rift between Mel and Kat, only to quickly move onto something safer. There were even moments when nothing was said and that was ok too. It felt good to have someone to talk to, normally, about everyday things and not worry that they had a hidden agenda.

~*~*~

DAVID:

Once the kitchen was finally clean, Dani opted to go and watch some TV but I wasn’t in the mood, so I grabbed my laptop instead. I had been meaning to tweak some of my videos and send them to Mom, something I had been promising to do for a while now.

I knew she loved getting them because although we talked often and dropped the odd email to each other, it wasn’t really all that personal. That was why I would send the clips instead, more often than not. The other reason was because at least with a moving clip, she could see for herself that I was ok, and not just paying lip service over the phone in one of our odd calls.

I had been working for over an hour and needed to stand up and stretch. A coffee break was called for, so I headed towards the family room, to see if Dani wanted one too. It had been quiet from in here and I had half expected to find her asleep. What I found instead was Dani on the couch, feet curled up under her, tears running down her cheek. I was about to ask what was wrong when I noticed she was watching some kind of chick flick.

She must have sensed I was there as she quickly wiped away the tears and then turned, a big grin on her face. “Oh, hey David; how’s it going?” I wasn’t fooled.

“Chick flicks, Dani? I thought you were more into epic journey adventures?”

That got me an eye roll because she knew I was making fun of the fact that she loved Lord of the Rings. “I will have you know that this happens to be a great love story, with a little bit of a twist. My guess is that because there are no lasers or Klingons in it, you wouldn’t be caught watching it in a pink fit.”

I had to laugh; she certainly had me pegged. Star Trek of course wasn’t the only movie I loved but I wasn’t a fan of the girly movies, like this one with Mel Gibson in it. It still confounds me how the same guy who made Road Warrior and Braveheart was into doing romance movies as well. Still, I didn’t want Dani to know she was right so I grabbed the seat at the other end of the couch.

She looked at me, not sure she could believe I was actually going to sit there. “Hey,” I began, giving her a smile. “I’m not above showing my softer side. So, what’s this about then?”

I could see the doubt cross over her face and I wondered if she wondered if I was doing this just so I could prove her wrong. Either way, she quickly gave me a rundown of the movie; Forever Young; and explained what had happened to this point. She then went back to watching as though I wasn’t there.

~*~*~

For the most part, I spent the rest of the movie looking around the room, mentally making lists of the things I had to talk to the Director about in rehearsal tomorrow. Occasionally I would glance at the TV, when there was something a bit actiony happening but I found that more often than not, I would watch Dani and her reactions to the movie.

It was quite eye opening to watch as she ran the gamut, from laughter to tears, even going so far as to talk to the TV as if the actors could hear her and all within the space of a few minutes. It was also quite funny to watch and a hell of a lot more entertaining that the rubbish she was watching.

This was something else that proved the cousins were nothing alike. Dani showed emotion and even seemed interested, if not a little invested, in what she was watching. Mel wanted to file her nails or make out, rather than watch a movie or the TV and when she wasn’t interested in that, she would talk the whole way through, unless something happened that maybe caught her eye.

There had been many a time since I hooked up with Mel when we would leave a movie theatre and I would wonder why we had bothered. It did seem stupid to spend money on tickets and popcorn, all so she could rabbit on about nothing, when we could have stayed in and done the same for free. It’s now at the point if I want to really see a movie, I’ll go with friends or by myself.

Finally the credits started to roll and I almost cheered. Rather than do that though I stood up, ready to go and get the coffee I had wanted an hour earlier. Dani however didn’t movie, just continued to sit in her seat, sobbing.

“Dani; what’s wrong? Please don’t tell me you’re crying over that ending?”

Rather than answer straight away, she hopped off the couch and turned the TV off before looking over at me. “Are you kidding me? That had to be one of the most romantic things I’ve ever seen! Weren’t you even watching? I mean, he went through all that drama just so he could be with his one true love and in the end, he got there.” The next thing I knew she was rolling her eyes at me. “You are such a man, David; seriously.”

“Thanks” I grinned. She was right; I couldn’t argue that point, not when I knew it was true. I definitely preferred car chases, explosions and fist fights any day over some kissy-face romance. Not that I had anything against romance of course, I just wasn’t all that comfortable watching someone else do it. I was more a hands on kind of guy.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


THIRTEEN

DANI:


Saturday seemed to roll around quickly and I soon found myself standing at the top of the lane, bowling ball in my hand, all the while trying to work out how I managed to let Mel talk me into doing something I wasn’t comfortable with. I loved bowling, don’t get me wrong; it was just the situation I found myself in that I wasn’t ok with.

Guilt; pure and simple; was how she managed to get me here. My cousin knew exactly what buttons to push and despite my promise to myself that I wouldn’t let her do it anymore, I ended up caving; again. The only good thing about this was that I wasn’t here alone with Tony and I was actually starting to enjoy myself.

I finally let the ball go, barely managing to knock over eight pins. Normally that was pretty good for me but this time around it had been a 7-10 split, which I knew I was never going to be able to get. I wasn’t that good a bowler, despite actually enjoying the sport. Mel clearly wasn’t happy with the split either, if her following comments were any gauge.

“Dani, how are we going to win if you keep bowling like !@#$? At this rate, we may as well just throw in the towel and be done with it.”

Unsurprisingly, she had been like this most of the night. It had been her suggestion to come to the lanes and yet she had been pissy since we walked in. It got to the point where I came close in the 7th frame of our second game to taking the ball and hurling it at her. I didn’t do it of course but I secretly pictured it in my mind all the same.

I had ignored her comments for the most part but now they were too much. “If you like” I answered, shrugging my shoulders. “I really couldn’t care less.”

David laughed, Tony smirked but Mel ramped up the look that had been a permanent fixture on her face the last few days. The sooner she got through her auditions and landed a job; preferably out of town; the happier we would all be. At least I assumed this was the reason for her waning mood; that and she is just a moody witch.

Standing over beside her, David suggested “Come on girls, it’s only a game. What if we change partners for the next game, instead of another girls against guys?”

Tony quickly jumped at the idea. “Sure; sounds like a great idea. I pick Mel though.”

I colored a little, a mixture of embarrassment and anger; mostly directed at myself for letting that comment get to me. I wasn’t a fan of Tony anyway but for him to be that eager to pick Mel wasn’t a nice feeling. David just gave me one of the smiles he uses to light up his whole face. “Sounds good to me; what do you say Dani? Think we have a chance against these two?”

If he was put out that his girlfriend was now teaming with someone she had clearly invited to be with me, then he was hiding it well. “Sure” was all I managed to say. I didn’t really want to commit to anything other than that. Rather than finish the game we were playing, we swapped partners and started a fresh set. It was going to be interesting, in nothing else; little did I know just how interesting it was going to become.

~*~*~

DAVID:

Having just bowled my second strike in a row, I went back to my seat so Mel could take her shot. Between the lucky flukes I was bowling and Dani’s great bowling, we were actually in front at this point; much to the annoyance of the other two.

Mel even went so far as to accuse her cousin of tanking the last game deliberately, to make her look bad. Dani chose to ignore the remark although I did see her lips curl into a smirk briefly. I tried to take my date aside and tell her to behave but as usual, she wouldn’t be told what to do.

As Mel was bowling and Dani had taken up a seat at the control panel to do the scoring, Tony sat beside me, making conversation. “Nice striking, mate. You’re on a bit of a roll it would seem.”

“Cheers; all luck, believe me.”

Suddenly his already odd grin took on a lecherous streak. He leaned into me and conspiratorially said “Yeah, well, what I wouldn’t give to have a bit of that luck so I can ‘strike’ with Dani. I haven’t been able to get near her yet. I’m really beginning to wonder what it is that I have to do to get her to put out. Maybe she just doesn’t like guys, which is kinda hot and makes me want her more.”

I could only look at my friend, not believing what I was hearing. Tony had always been the player of the group but I had never heard or seen him be disrespectful to any of the women he was with. Although I was still stunned and not sure what to say, Tony didn’t give me a chance anyway as he went on.

“Come on Dave; look at her. It’s not like she has guys lined up looking to get any from her. You would think she would be grateful that anyone showed any interest at all.”

I never said a word, just got to my feet and walked over to Dani. I leant over and whispered into her ear “Let’s go; I’ll explain outside.” Without question she stood up and grabbed her bag.

Having finished her second bowl, Mel was walking towards us and wanted to know what was going on. Tony innocently said “Not sure; maybe Davey here thinks he has a better shot of nailing your cousin than I do. The way she looks at him, I’m sure he’s right.”

I dropped Dani’s hand and used it to punch Tony in the face. “You bastard! Let’s go; you and me, outside; now.”

My friend wiped his nose, blood copiously coating the back of his hand. He gave Dani a look that would have curdled milk before he turned the look back to me. “She’s not worth it. You can have her.” He then turned to look at Mel, who had oddly been quiet this whole time.”You told me this would be easier.”

Dani and I both whipped our heads around to look at her and she actually had the good grace to color slightly and turned away. I had to wonder what Tony meant, even if I had a fair idea. Now was neither the time nor place to get into it however so I again grabbed Dani’s hand and lead her out, barely stopping long enough to drop off the shoes. Mel followed behind us, not saying a word while Tony remained behind, trying to stem the flow of blood from his nose.

~*~*~

DANI:

The ride home was awkward and silent. I had gone to sit in the back but David asked me to sit up front. Mel of course went to complain and so he gave her a filthy look, telling her if she didn’t like it she could get a ride home with Tony. Sulking, she got in the back and slammed the door for good measure. I simply got in front and put on my seat belt.

I couldn’t for the life of me understand what had happened. One minute I was sitting there, looking into space as I waited for my next bowl, the next David was whispering in my ear. Less than a minute later he was punching Tony for some comment that had no meaning to me but had clearly upset the taller of the two. I wanted to know what the hell was going on but I knew I wasn’t going to get any answers just yet.

The minute we were all back in the house; still not a word spoken; Mel took herself off to her room, slamming the door behind her. I looked at David. “What’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute” he answered. “I just need to make sure I have my facts straight first. I’m sorry this happened Dani; truly. Be right back.” He then went down the hall and after banging on the door for a good minute, Mel finally let him in. No sooner had the door closed behind him when the yelling started.

I couldn’t make out exactly what was being said but at the end of the day, I didn’t want to know. It involved me somehow; clearly; given all the comments and looks. Why did I get a feeling of dread, like I was getting into something that was so much bigger than I was going to be able to deal with and all through no fault of my own?

If only I had stayed where I was instead of moving in here, then I wouldn’t be involved in all this drama. Right at this moment, I would have preferred to share my apartment with insects the size of small cars than be a part of this nightmare. Especially with the way the yelling was getting louder and showed no signs of abating. I clearly wasn’t going to be hearing about this any time soon.

The clock showed it was barely 8pm and I wasn’t going to spend the next twelve hours locked away in my room. I quickly wrote a note saying I would be back in the morning even if I suspected that neither would care, and then went to my room to pack an overnight bag and grab my laptop. I left the house, no destination in mind, something that was becoming far too common. Something had to give sooner or later and as usual, it looked like it was going to be me.

~*~*~

DAVID:

Once I had closed the door behind me, I looked at my girlfriend, not sure if I even recognized her anyway. “What have you done, Mel?”

Rather than answer me, she actually slapped me across the face. It looked as though she was about to have another go so I quickly grabbed her wrist. Wrenching her arm free, she fairly spat out “How dare you treat me like that! I’m supposed to be your girlfriend and yet you were all over Dani. Do you want to tell me what the hell that is all about?”

I continued to look at her and realized that any feelings I may have left for her were now melting away faster than ice in July. I had known her for years and yet, how could I have been this blind as to her true nature, or how at the drop of a hat she could so easily turn on the destructive mode she was in now?

“Don’t exaggerate, Mel. I was hardly all over Dani. I want to know what Tony meant by his comment to you; about it being easier. What did he mean by that?”

If I wasn’t so pissed off at her, I might have laughed at the way she stomped across the room. The look on her face suggested she was feeling closed in and it took her a few moments before she finally answered me. “I don’t know, David; honest.”

I shook my head in disbelief although I had to credit her with at least not just coming out with the first lie she could think of. This was just as bad though. For half a second I had to wonder if maybe she didn’t know but I knew better; I would have bet my career on her knowing exactly what I was talking about, despite the confused look she was portraying. I just needed to hear it from her.

“That’s bullshit and you know it. What the hell has Dani ever done to you that makes you hate her so much? Seriously; I want to know. And if you felt like this, why ask her to move in?”

“There you !@#$ go again!” came the shrill reply. “Defending her like you’re some White Knight and she’s a goddam damsel in distress, despite the fact that you barely know her. Why are you so quick to believe that I had a hand in this; whatever it is that you think I’ve done?”

I could hear my own voice rise and yet I didn’t give a !@#$. Holding back my thoughts and feelings these past weeks had led us to this and it was time to sort it out, once and for all. “You would rather I sided with you and be mean to her? Like you say, I barely know her. I have no justification in treating her like dirt. From what I can tell, neither do you. You’re just being a !@#$ for the sake of it. Keep it up Mel and you are going to end up with no-one.”

Before either of us had a chance to say anything else, we both heard the slamming of the front door, followed by the sound of a car door opening and closing. I made a move to open the bedroom door to go and see for myself that Dani had left the house when Mel said “You go out that door, don’t you dare even think of coming back. I swear to god, David; I mean it.”

I half turned back and gave her a look; sadness, anger and pity all rolled into one. It was over between us and if I was being honest about it, I had known this for some time. I just couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud, or even try to talk to her about it, maybe try to fix things. The sex had been fantastic in the beginning and that was perhaps why I stayed as long as I did but we hadn’t had any in a while and the last time we did, it felt like a chore. Clearly there was nothing left for me here and so I walked out.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


FOURTEEN

DANI:


I had no sooner started my car when I saw David come out of the house. The look on his face was one I didn’t like and it had no business being there. He came over and got into the car before I had a chance to put the car in reverse and drive off.

“David?” was all I asked.

“Just drive, Dani; I don’t care where to.”

I felt like I should tell him to get out, that I wanted to be left alone and yet I never said a word, just put the car into gear and reversed out. As we headed up the road, I had a million and one questions but realized that now was not the time to ask. I did know one thing for sure and that was that I was moving out. I should have done so earlier but didn’t. I couldn’t continue to live like this and I was almost positive that my being there was doing neither David nor Mel any favours.

Neither of us spoke as I drove so when some twenty minutes later David suggested I turn off, I almost jumped a little at the intrusion; I had all but forgotten he was even in the car. As we came to the turn off, I noticed there was one of those roadside diners there and it was still open. Once in the car park, I turned the engine off. What now?

~*~*~

“David, what was all that stuff at the bowling alley about? You can’t just drag me out of there and tell me you’ll explain, only to change your mind now.”

He never answered straight away and I had to wonder if he was going to ignore the question but then he gave me a rundown of what he assumed had taken place, telling me he had no definitive proof either way. I didn’t say a word, just allowed him to get it all out.

“She didn’t come right out and admit to it but then she never denied it either. Between that and what Tony said, I’m pretty sure it’s true. I’m sorry, Dani; I had no idea.”

I sat there, staring out the windscreen like I was in a stupor. Wow; how stupid was I? In my mind I went over all that David had just told me and between that and what I already knew about Tony, things started to add up. Almost from the get-go he had been eager to get into my pants and of course Mel couldn’t get out of her way fast enough to drop hints about how great a guy he was, often asking why I didn’t go out with him more.

The whole thing had clearly been a set up, a plan hatched between them although to what end I had no idea. Had it been purely so he could add another notch to his belt and Mel could get some kind of sick and twisted pleasure out of making me out to be a fool? But why would she do that? That was what hurt the most; not knowing why she was doing it; any of it.

“Dani; are you ok?” David asked. There was genuine concern in his voice.

“Sure; I’ve just been told my cousin tried to pimp me out to one of her friends and all so she can get some kind of cheap thrill at my expense. Why wouldn’t I be ok?”

Ok, so being flippant and sarcastic wasn’t helping and it clearly wasn’t his fault but I was still in shock. A person who was not only family but supposedly a friend had done this and I was stunned, for the want of a better word. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh, cry, scream or punch something.

Every fibre of my being wanted me to turn the car around and go back to the house so I could indeed smack the living hell out of her; if it weren’t for the fact that my hands were shaking so violently I couldn’t turn the key, I might have done just that.

I got out the car, slammed the door and started pacing back and forth, calling Mel everything under the sun and then some in a voice that could be carried on the wind two states over. I was still too angry to cry but I knew the minute I stopped pacing the tears would fall. Until that moment, I needed to curse and pace. David got out of the car and tried to stop me but I pushed him aside, as big as he was. In the end he let me go.

~*~*~

The parking lot had other patrons coming and going at regular intervals and they were looking at us, wondering what the freak show was about and yet I didn’t care. I was using language to make even the saltiest of sailors blush and once I stopped and realized what I had done and said, I was going to be embarrassed beyond belief but I was so not at that point and not likely to get there anytime soon.

It took a good few minutes but I did eventually stop; mainly because I had run out of new curse words to use but also because I was tired and had had enough. This was giving Mel exactly what she wanted and even if she wasn’t here to witness the melt down, I hated myself for letting her get to me. It didn’t matter now. I had vented and couldn’t take any of it back, not that I wanted to.

Now that I had stopped, David got off the hood of the car and approached me. “If you ask me if I’m ok, I’m going to hit you” I warned before he even had a chance to open his mouth.

It was rude but it was also true. The last thing I needed right now was a bunch of platitudes. It never occurred to me once during my episode that he was just as angry and upset with my cousin as I was; I was too self absorbed with my own rage. Rather than say anything however, he took me into his arms, yet again.

This time when he held me I did cry. I didn’t care if he saw me do it, either. I had to let it go because I was so upset I was beginning to feely physically ill. He held me tight while I sobbed my heart out, rubbing my back gently but not saying a word. At one point someone actually came over and asked if we were ok and he told them we were, thanking them for stopping to check. I always swore I was never going to be this type of girl and yet here I was. It was beyond pitiful.

~*~*~

I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how long we had been standing there but I did eventually stop crying. I didn’t let David go straight away however, gaining comfort from his embrace. I knew I couldn’t stay there indefinitely however. I was just grateful it was dark and he couldn’t see my face all that clearly. Then again, I’m sure the yellowish hue from the street lamp and the dusty light from the diner didn’t improve my look any.

“I’m really sorry, David; I was hoping to have this meltdown in private. The last thing I needed was for you to see it.”

Offering me a handkerchief he grabbed from his jacket, he gave me a small but warm smile. “Don’t apologize; you have nothing to be sorry for. I’m just glad you were able to vent. Keeping all that rage in would have made you sick. I only wish you didn’t have to go through it at all. Mel has a lot to answer for; this was over the top, even by her standards.”

I dried my eyes and blew my nose noisily; all charming things to do in front of a guy. Not that it mattered. I wasn’t here to impress David. As I was wiping my eyes, I wondered what we were to do now. I could hardly go back to the house; not tonight at least. If I did, I wasn’t sure what I would do but it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Driving around all night didn’t seem like the smart thing to do either. There was also David to consider. Where did he want to go? My life was officially in the toilet and I had no idea how to save it from being flushed away.

~*~*~

MEL:

Watching David storm out, slamming the door behind him was the end of me. I started to cry but knew I had no-one to blame for this nightmare bar myself. I had finally succeeded, pushing and pushing some more so that now David was out of my life, free to move onto someone better for him than me. Neither of us had admitted this but I didn’t need to see it written in neon to know we were done. I just couldn’t understand why it hurt so much.

I threw myself onto my bed and continue to sob. I loved David, truly I did but I understood now it wasn’t romantic love; not really. I couldn’t even be sure it had even been that between us. We had been friends forever and I had always loved to spend time with him. A casual date turned into another and then before I knew it, we were seeing each other as more than friends.

In the beginning, I had gone along with it because I enjoyed the closeness, being part of something more than casual. It wasn’t until I could sense that perhaps David was hoping to take things to the next level that I realized I couldn’t do it. Fooling around was one thing but becoming a fully fledged romantic couple? I wasn’t worthy of that type of love and so I had set about doing my best to keep things casual.

The only problem was I had gone too far; so far in fact I needed a cut lunch and a road map to get back. Not only did David now hate me, I had also managed to alienate Dani as well; the one person I loved and had once been the closest too. Blaming her for moving away when it wasn’t her choice to do so was bad enough but also to hold a grudge because she hadn’t been here on that fateful day; ludicrous.

Could that be it, I wondered. Have my actions been the result of my holding that grudge or something else; like protecting Dani and keeping her at arm’s length too, so that she wouldn’t get hurt. I wasn’t good enough to be loved and so in the end I had done all I could to make them hate me. Only problem was, I had hurt them to in the process.

Whatever the reason, I knew now that the Tony thing had been a step too much. Tony; of course; had been up for it – anything to get laid. He had been the same since the day I met him at Oberlin but even so, it had been so very wrong of me to do it.

Sniffling like a pig in a trough full of food, I started to feel sorry for myself and that only made me cry harder. Maybe I should just come clean, explain to David and Dani why I had done what I had done and pray like hell that they would forgive me. Would they though? I doubted it. The look on David’s face as he left suggested I would be lucky if he even spoke to me again, let alone forgave me. I was on my own now, exactly as I wanted to be. Or was it?

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


FIFTEEN

DANI:


When David suggested going into the diner to get coffee, I declined. I looked and felt like hell so the last thing I needed was to have people staring at me like I was an exhibit at some freak show. I did however suggest that he could go in and get one but that I would wait outside for him.

“I have a better idea; let’s go” he said, getting into the car, on the driver’s side. I didn’t argue or say anything at all, simply got in on the other side.

Without a word, we drove back towards town for about ten minutes before pulling up outside an apartment block. I hazarded a guess that it was his place. Given he was at the house more often than not, I had actually forgotten he didn’t actually live there.

David must have been thinking along the same lines as he said “My place is on the second floor, I think. I sometimes have to check the mailbox out the front just to remember what number I live in.”

I smiled, even if my heart wasn’t in it. I did appreciate the effort he was taking to make me feel better but I didn’t want to be cheered up. I wanted to hold onto this anger so that I could really tell Mel what I thought of her, as I was leaving the house for the last time.

Maybe making jokes was his way of dealing with things. I really had to remember that it hadn’t just been me that had been let down by my cousin; I needed to stop thinking only of myself and taking into consideration that he had to be hurting too.

Once we were both out of the car, we headed up the stairs to the door that led to the lobby of the building and after deciding to take the lift rather than walk up the single flight, we had to wait while David fished around in his pocket a minute before he finally produced the key to let us into the apartment.

~*~*~

Hitting the light switch near the front door as we walked in, David told me to go and make myself comfortable while he went to make a start on a pot of coffee. I did so, walking over to the couch and put my bag down on the table as I passed by. Looking around the room, I had to smile. This place said David all over.

Along with the block mounted poster on the main wall for ‘Wrath of Khan’, there were electronic gadgets everywhere, a Playstation on the floor in front of the TV and what looked like hundreds of cds, stacked under the window next to an old school stereo system. There were also numerous photos scattered around of him, Kat and a couple I assumed was their parents. Yes, this was definitely his place.

“Sorry about the mess” he called out from the kitchen area. “As you know, I don’t come here all that often and when I do, I usually don’t have the time to clear up.”

I smiled. “No worries. And I wouldn’t call it messy, just lived in. I’m sure you still know where everything is though.”

“Sometimes” he called back with a laugh.

~*~*~

I had only just taken up a seat on the sofa when he joined me, having returned to the room with the coffee. Neither of us said anything for a few moments and if I had to guess, it was because neither of us wanted to talk about what had happened, but we didn’t want to rabbit on about trivial stuff either and act like things were normal. At the end of the day, it felt safer to just drink our coffee and enjoy the quiet.

Eventually though we seemed to reach a comfort level where I felt the need to speak of me desire to find somewhere new to live and he spoke of his feelings for Mel; or at least the ones he used to have. I was surprised to learn that he wasn’t as upset about how things had turned out as I had imagined, almost as though he had been expecting something like this to happen and was relieved now that it had.

“You can stay with me as long as you need, Dani. I have a spare room; if you can call it that.”

“I don’t want to put you out.”

“Hey, you won’t be. If anything, you will be here more than me and that means that my plants have a chance of surviving. I think I still have a couple that can be salvaged. Besides; with rehearsals taking longer and happening more often, I’m hardly going to be here. The production starts in a couple of weeks and I’m going to be down at the theatre practically fulltime.”

I put a hand on his arm, even as I said “Thanks David; I do appreciate the offer, really I do. I just don’t know if I can. It doesn’t feel right somehow.”

He gave me a warm smile. “The offer’s there but I’m not going to push you into it. At least think it over.”

I told him I would. It would have been so easy to just move in and be done with it but it really didn’t feel right. I couldn’t explain it as one particular feeling, rather a mix of things. It really had been great of him to offer though.

~*~*~

Once I had made the decision to at least stay the night, I went back downstairs to get my overnight bag from the car. I also wanted to grab my laptop, having a sudden need to email Chelle. Talking or emailing with her always put me in a better mood and I was tired of being miserable.
 
I also knew myself well enough to realize that with all that was running through my head at the moment I wasn't going to be able to sleep. I had barely walked back through the front door when David walked through from the shower to his room, dressed in only a towel. I did color a little but unlike the last time I had caught him almost in the same situation, I didn’t run in the other direction.

Giving me a smile he said “I was hoping to make it to my room before you got back; sorry.” Then “I left a clean towel in the bathroom, if you wanted to take a shower.”

“Thanks; I think I will” I agreed, feeling a warm shower was just what I needed.

~*~*~

The shower did in fact work its magic and I felt at least 85% better, most of the tension now gone. After dressing and running a brush through my hair, I headed out to the main room, only to find David on the couch, the control to his Playstation in his hand. He was also cursing at the TV as though he excepted a response.

“Boys and their toys” I smiled at him, grabbing a seat at the other end of the couch.

He hit pause and turned to me. “What can I say; when you’re right, you’re right.” Noticing what I was wearing, he then said “Hey, you’re a Superman fan? So am I.”

I nodded. “It’s that obvious, huh?”

He laughed. I was currently wearing Superman boxer shorts and an oversized t-shirt that had ‘Property of Smallville Athletic Dept’ on the front, along with a crow; the Smallville mascot; in the centre.

“I had you pegged as more of a Batman fan. The whole mask thing; mysterious, rubber suit...”

“Gee, thanks; I think” I smirked. What exactly did he think I was like? “No, always been a Superman fan. Ever since I saw the first movie; especially the scene when Superman...” I stopped.

“When Superman what?”

“Never mind; you will only roll your eyes and accuse me of being romantic again.”

“Oh, you have to tell me now. I promise not to roll my eyes.” I thought about it and figured what the hell. What was the worst he could do – aside from roll his eyes and laugh?

“I fell in love with Superman when he brought Lois back to life; she had just been killed and he was so upset and angry, he flew around the world in such a rage he actually reversed time and saved her. I was only about 9 at the time but thought it was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen.”

To his credit, David didn’t roll his eyes but he did smile. He also looked as though he would indeed laugh so I got in first. “I should have known not to tell you. I doubt there is one romantic bone in your body.” I stood up. “Ok, I’m off to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Sorry, Dani; but that really was such a girl thing to say. I’m a fan too, but not for that reason. You know me; all about the speeding bullets and x-ray vision.”

As turnabout, I rolled my eyes at him and said goodnight again before heading off to the spare room. Sitting on the bed, surrounded by unpacked boxes and a wardrobe full of clothes, I opened up the laptop. As was customary, I had to scroll through several screens of spam before I found anything even remotely legitimate. Finding nothing from Chelle in which to reply, I opened up a new email to send her.

~*~*~

“Hey Chelle

Just dropping a quick message to let you know that if you can’t get me on my mobile, don’t try the home phone as I’m not there. Other than to go back to get my things, I’m not going to be staying there anymore.

I won’t bore you with the details here but suffice it to say, Mel overstepped the mark again, only she went way too far. Just when I think she can’t possibly do anything worse, she proves me wrong. I’ll call you in a day or so when I’ve calmed down a little, to let you know what is going on. I just didn’t want you to ring the house and get Mel – we already know she can’t pass on a message.

I’m at David’s at the moment and before you even think of going there, it’s not like that. He just offered me the use of his spare room, for as long as I need it. It really was sweet of him to do this for me, given that he is, was, dating Mel. I’m not sure what’s happening there but it’s a whole different story and again, I will explain when I call.

Oh before I forget, I promised you a picture of David, so please note that I have attached one for your perusal emoticon I took it last week when he offered to help me remove that hideous wallpaper in the lounge, hence the ladder. So, what do you think? I told you he was cute. In this pic he is trying to tell me that the wallpaper is hideous and has to go. While I agree about the wallpaper, I joked and told him his jumper was worse and that was when he folded his arms and tried to look hurt. We had quite the discussion after that lol. I almost had to use that same ladder just to look him in the eye; it was quite funny actually.

Ok chick; it’s been the suckiest of days so this really is a short note. I promise to tell all when I get the chance to ring. I don’t want you to go worrying about me either, and stressing like I know you do. I’m fine, just a little upset; I’ll live.

Love you heaps and miss you. Talk soon chick. Dani xoxo”


After logging off, I closed up the laptop and put it on the floor before laying back and closing my eyes. Because the apartment was small and had paper thin walls, I could hear David clearly, still cursing at the TV. It was obvious he wasn’t winning whatever he was playing and aside from being funny, it was strangely comforting. I was soon asleep, dreaming of Superman and wondering if he could reverse time for me.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


SIXTEEN

DANI:


I was up before the alarm on my phone went off the following morning. It was a mix of things that caused this – not being in my own bed, a restless night trying to figure out my next move and the sound of banging coming through the wall at the head of the bed. It was the wall that mirrored the apartment next door and whoever lived there had a jackhammer for a fist.

Taking a moment to get my bearings, I sat on the side of the bed before standing up and getting dressed. Any Sunday when I had the chance to lie in, lounge all day in my pj’s and do sweet bugger all, I took it with both hands. Today however I had things to do so that was a luxury I didn’t have. I needed to head back to the house to get enough stuff to tide me over until I found a more permanent place to live. The last thing I needed was to have to go back to the house daily.

Having just used the bathroom, I came out and almost ran into David. “Oh, sorry.”

He smiled at me. “Morning. I’m guessing Jim next door woke you? I forgot to warn you about that; sorry.”

“What exactly is he doing in there? It sounds like he has a construction crew in there with him.”

“To be honest, I have no idea. He keeps to himself as a rule and I never asked. The noise is half the reason Mel and I never stayed here, instead of back at the house.” After a beat he asked “How would you like some coffee? I can’t offer you much in the way of actual breakfast though; unless you luck out and find some Lucky Charms in the cupboard.”

I smiled. “I’ll pass on the coffee thanks; it’s a bit early for me to take on all that caffeine. Lucky Charms could be the way to go though.” I followed him into the kitchen recess.

~*~*~

While David made a start on the coffee, I opened first one cupboard and then another in search of the cereal. Sure enough, it was behind door two. The only problem was I was too late – whatever had been left in the box had been eaten by the cockroach that scurried away the minute I lifted the box off the shelf. I couldn’t be sure but it might have had a smirk on its face.

“Damn; sorry Dani. I guess I’ve been away longer than I thought and the little pests decided to take over the run of the apartment.”

I gave a small laugh. “It’s ok. It’s not actually the first time I’ve had to share with our many legged friends.”

Giving me a bashful smile he laughed. “Well, when I go shopping, I’ll make sure to get some more; sans the roaches. Can’t have you skipping breakfast. They say it’s the most important meal of the day.”

My guess was that David assumed I was going to move in and while I should have, I didn’t correct him. One of the things I realized as I was tossing and turning last night, was that it was stupid to pay for a hotel or similar until I could find something more permanent; especially as he had offered me the use of his spare room until I could get settled. It wasn’t going to be forever, just a few days or a week, tops, so why be a martyr while I was looking for something more long term?

“Thanks, I appreciate that. And if you’re sure, I would like to take you up on your offer. It’s just going to be for a few days mind; I will still be searching for something more permanent.”

He gave me a genuinely warm smile. “Great. And you can stay as long as you need to. As I said, I’m not going to be here all that much. Besides, we can’t let the roaches take over; the little demons don’t pay their share.” I just laughed.

Before we headed back to the house so I could gather a few things, we decided to stop and the store and pick up the essentials – milk, bread, tea for me and cereal. David also picked up enough junk food to feed a small scout troop. When I looked at him, he just looked back, a goofy grin on his face.

“What? I like to snack.”

I simply shook my head while all the while making a mental note to stop at the supermarket tomorrow after work to pick up some real food.

~*~*~

Despite everything, I loved Mel; she was family after all; but the closer we got to the house, the more I hoped she wasn’t going to be there. I didn’t want to see her and start another fight. Calling each other names and picking out flaws wouldn’t resolve anything any only make us all feel worse.

I did want to know what was motivating her to be so vindictive but today wasn’t going to be the day to ask. Maybe I would never know and that sucked but perhaps with the benefit of time and space, things would find a way to resolve themselves. At least I hoped so.

As it turned out, Mel’s car was in the drive when we pulled up, so that meant she was home and if not, she probably wasn’t too far away. Bracing myself and taking in a huge breath, I hopped out of the car.

David also got out but before he closed the door, he asked “Did you want to come back when we know she’s not going to be around?”

I shook my head. “No; it’s not like I can avoid her forever. The sooner we go in the sooner we can get out. I’ll just grab the essentials and we can leave again.” As we both headed for the front door, I added “I appreciate you coming in with me, David.” He told me I was welcome.

~*~*~

Finding the front door locked, I had to squirrel around in my bag to find the key. I found it eventually; making a mental note to throw out half the crap I just had to wade through; and unlocked the door. The house was eerily silent and so we assumed that Mel was still asleep. At least this would make it easier to avoid her and get a clean get away.

David set about getting his own items together while I went to my room. I found my case, shoved under the bed, and after opening it up, I rifled through drawers and the cupboard, throwing in all I thought I would need for the next week or so. It never once crossed my mind that Mel would spitefully throw out or destroy what was left but I did manage to make sure I had the things that meant the most to me.

Not having the time or luxury to stop and fold items neatly, everything went in willy-nilly and as a result, I had to literally sit on the lid to not only close the case but hold it closed long enough to lock it. After a quick glance around, I couldn’t see anything else that looked too important and so I headed out again, running straight into Tony, of all people.

~*~*~

Naked as the day he was born, he was standing there with what some people might consider a !@#$-eating grin. Oh, and a can of whipped cream.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked, even if it was fairly obvious. I dropped my case, grateful it didn’t pop the locks.

“Just getting from Mel what I couldn’t get from you.” Then with a self-satisfied smirk, he waved his hands up and down his body, saying “See what you missed out on? Hey; you know what? I’m a reasonable guy. I’ll still let you have a piece of this, if you want. Mel won’t mind sharing.”

I slapped him so hard I felt as though I had dislocated my wrist. Were it not for the fact that David had just walked into the room and managed to grab me, I might have slapped him again. What I really wanted to do was gauge out his shark-like, dead eyes.

“You filthy piece of scum! I should have known were a low life… I can’t believe Mel’s even friends with you. You’re a bas…”

I didn’t get a chance to finish my thought, as much as I wanted to, as Mel walked in at that moment, draped in a sheet. “What’s taking so long? I want… Oh…” The look on her face was one of pure mortification. She looked from David, to Tony and then finally to me. I almost felt sorry and bad for her; almost.

~*~*~

In a tone that screamed pity with a hint of derision, David said “You really are a class act, Mel.” He was struggling to hold onto me as I did my level best to wiggle free.

While he might have been embarrassed for her, I had nothing but anger to give her and so my words weren’t as nice. “Did you ever think of giving up the acting thing so you could go and sell yourself in town? You’re a better whore than you are an actress.”

Her faced took on the look of someone who had just been spat on. I actually felt ashamed of myself but knew there was no going back now. I had wanted to avoid this but it was all too late now. Before another word was said, David physically picked me up and carried me back out the front; I fought him every inch of the way.

We managed to make it to the car and he finally put me down but only after I promised I wouldn’t rush right back inside. I wanted to, so desperately, but I told him I wouldn’t. Instead I leant against the car in a sulk.

“She’s not worth it, Dani; neither of them is.”

I was so tired of this crap; well and truly. The sooner I was away from Mel and her poison, the better off I was going to be. Life was too short for all this drama. I understood now that blood ties aside, things between us were officially over. I wanted nothing more to do with her ever again and nothing she did or said was ever going to take away this hurt. We were done.

“Ok; so I’m going to go back in and grab your case. You stay here. I don’t want to have to carry you out here again” David said with a small smile.

I nodded and got into the car. No more sulking, crying, pouting, cursing. This chapter of my life was done. I wasn’t going to give Mel the satisfaction of knowing how close she had come to breaking me. Ok, so she had pushed me out of the house but that was it; she could go and find some other sucker to be her new plaything. Gone was the time when I would allow her to have fun at my expense. It had taken a while and some hard truths but I finally saw the light – Mel was as good as dead to me.

~*~*~






---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

25/8/19, 15:23 Link to this post Email HeavenLea27   PM HeavenLea27
 
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Re: Each Careful Step*


SEVENTEEN

DANI:


The drive back to David’s was interesting, if for no other reason than I acted as though we were out on a casual Sunday drive. I chatted happily away about this and that and to anyone watching, it was as if all the drama at the house hadn’t happened. Now that I had finally resolved to not let Mel impinge on my life anymore, I wanted to act as normal as possible.

David would answer my questions or just let me waffle on when the mood hit him but every now and then, he would throw me a look. It was almost as though he was waiting on bated breathe for the waterworks and hysterics to come. I didn’t want to disappoint him but in this he was !@#$ out of luck.

No more tears; a great song and also my new resolution. What was the point of doing all that when it wasn’t going to change the outcome one iota? I could sense that he wanted to discuss it but I wasn’t going to be drawn in. If we were going to stay friends then he was going to have to learn this about me; I may well be a doormat but I was also stubborn to a fault and could hold a grudge.

~*~*~

Arriving back at the apartment, David offered to carry in my case for me while I grabbed the groceries and a few of his smaller items, offering to put the groceries away while he went to get the rest. I had just filled the pot to put on some coffee when he came back from the last trip down.

“We need to talk” was all he said, dumping his backpack onto the table.

Looking at him I answered “No, we don’t. At least not about what you want to, given the serious look on your face. I’m ok, David; really. It’s like you said; they are just not worth the trouble or the worry. Yes, it wasn’t pleasant but I’m not going to lose any more sleep over it. Mel did her absolute best to get me out of her life and hadn’t I been so slow on the uptake, it would have happened already. Talking about it isn’t going to change anything; especially my mind.”

“Maybe not but holding it all in won’t help either. I saw the look on your face, Dani. How can you stand there with a straight face and honestly tell me you’re ok?”

I looked up at him and smiled. “Easy. I’m fine. Now; did you want something to eat with your coffee?”

He only sighed, shook his head and took his things to his room, leaving me to finish making the coffee in silence.

~*~*~

DAVID:

Walking into my room, I tossed my backpack towards the bed only to go and pick it up again, after missing it by a good four inches. ‘Seems about right’ I thought to myself. The day had been crappy so far and I had to wonder if it was going to improve.

I also had to wonder about Dani. I couldn’t work the woman out. After her spectacular tirade yesterday at the roadside diner; something I was never going to forget; and the mini outburst earlier, I half expected her to be a basket case by now. It was unfair to assume but I had known her several weeks now and thought I had a handle on what she was like. This calmness was actually eerie; almost like the calm before the storm. I could actually feel the air prickle in anticipation of what was to come.

She would let it out when she was ready; she had to. If she didn’t, then it was going to eat away at her and make her bitter and resentful. I honestly didn’t want to see that happen. She was a sweet kid and since meeting her, I had come to truly like her. Not as anything more than a friend but more than just a housemate. At the end of the day, it was the kind of friendship I could care about and fight to keep, unlike what I had with her cousin.

I couldn’t be sure if Mel had stepped out before today but in the back of my mind, I guess I had suspected she was cheating. It would definitely explain all the times she had wanted to do her own thing, or when she told me she was going for an audition that just happened to run late. I had my own auditions and I knew they wouldn’t usually go until the wee hours of the morning.

I didn’t want to believe it was true but given her erratic behaviour of late, it made sense. The thing that hurt most though was that I had caught her with Tony, and not some stranger. We had been mates for years and I knew he was a player, I just never thought he would do something like this. Had it not been for the fact that I had to hold Dani back, I might have had a swing at him myself, just to swipe the smug look off his face.

As for Mel, I didn’t know how she could live with herself. Doing this to me was one thing but to do it to someone like Dani, who she claimed to love, well it was unforgiveable. I guess it didn’t matter now but I had to wonder if we were ever going to learn the reason for this behaviour. Not that there was ever going to be a good enough reason to explain what she had done. I was never going to take her back and I sensed her cousin truly had wiped her hands of her for good too.

Despite all of it though, I oddly felt some kind of relief too, knowing it was over. I could concentrate solely on my new role and moving on without having to worry about Mel and what sort of crap she was going to pull next. This was an exciting time for me and while I had no idea where it was headed, the possibilities excited me, something I hadn’t felt in a while. Who knows; the opportunity of a life time could be just around the corner and I was now free to take it with both hand and embrace it. What could be better than that?

~*~*~

DANI:

By the time David came out of his room, I had not only poured the coffee but made a sandwich too. Although he had told me he didn’t want anything, he still took half when I offered as he took a seat. Thankfully he didn’t try bring up Mel again, although he didn’t say all that much at all.

I wasn’t sure if it was because he didn’t want to upset me or if he was mad at me, although I couldn’t even guess why he would be. It couldn’t be because he wanted me to actually start with the waterworks, could it? I didn’t know him well enough to understand all of his moods so I let it go. If he really wanted to say something to me, I’m sure he would have.

By the time my half full mug of coffee was lukewarm, the silence got to be too much for me so I started to ask him about the show he was currently in. It was like I had hit the magic button. He became animated as he talked about it, the people, the theatre itself and what he hoped to gain from the experience.

I really enjoyed hearing about it all and wasn’t listening for the sake of being polite. Watching his face light up was like watching a child come down stairs Christmas morning. It was obvious to even me that theatre was his one true passion and I was glad to see he still had the enthusiasm for it, despite how long it had taken him to land this particular role.

“You will have to come and see a show; once we start the run. You are going to love it, I’m sure.”

Giving him a cheeky smile, I replied “No doubt. Of course, it won’t be Phantom, but I’ll try to get through.”

That earned me a shake of the head and a laugh. “There is more to theatre than Phantom, Dani. Live a little; branch out. You might actually be surprised.”

Taking my plate to the sink I answered, “Hmm, maybe. I guess time will tell. Just promise me there isn’t any doosh doosh music; I couldn’t stand sitting in a packed theatre house for three hours and have to listen to nothing but doosh doosh.”

He gave a bigger laugh and brought over his own plate, promising me there wasn’t a hint of doosh anywhere to be found.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

25/8/19, 15:32 Link to this post Email HeavenLea27   PM HeavenLea27
 
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Re: Each Careful Step*


EIGHTEEN

DANI:


A couple of days had passed and things seemed to have settled into a relatively normal calm. David and I still avoided the whole Mel thing, rather than get into our own heated discussion over her. As it was, neither of us had heard from her so that was something.

I still hadn’t been able to get a hold of Chelle, either by phone or email and figured she was busy working or having a life of her own. Maybe she had finally found a man and no longer had the time to sit around and wait for emails or calls from me. I hoped so; she deserved to find someone who would treat her well.

I had the odd appointment here or there but nothing too demanding. The summer was nearing its end and this usually meant that wedding season slowed down too. Normally I was so run off my feet I saw life go by in a blur but now it was like I had almost stopped.

There was a very real possibility that I was going to have to find some salon work somewhere and soon, just so I had enough to pay bills. I didn’t want to but with no choice, I would do it. Funny how not having a place to live didn’t stop the creditors from wanting their money. I didn’t want to sponge off David indefinitely either so the sooner I had money, the sooner I could move out. Being an adult sucked sometimes.

~*~*~

I was just thinking I might try and call Chelle again when I remembered that I had lent my cell to David. He had dropped his this morning, breaking it into at least six different pieces. He was such a klutz but also entertaining. Between tripping over his own feet and dropping things, I was surprised he didn’t injure himself a lot more. All arms and legs, that was David; still, it was funny to watch.

For a moment I thought about using the landline but I didn’t want to run up bill; I was supposed to be saving money after all. In the end I decided to go through the mail I had just picked up when I stopped off at the house earlier. Thankfully Mel hadn’t been around so there was no repeat of Sunday’s performance.

I even managed to grab a few more of my things, leaving the bigger pieces and the little furniture I had until I had somewhere to move it. I was actually thinking about putting it back into storage, until I opened the first of the bills. I sighed, realizing that salon work was going to be in my future a lot sooner than later.

The other bills only added more worry but that all paled into nothing when I opened the last envelope, a letter from Ron and Anne Johnson; Olivia’s parents. I had only heard from them a couple of times since their daughter had been released from hospital but noted there had been nothing since.

Caught up in my own dramas with Mel, I hadn’t given Olivia a lot of thought of late and for that I was ashamed. She had been one of the kids I most looked forward to seeing whenever I went to the hospital, and I had all but forgotten her. I resolved that I would get my crap together and go to see her this afternoon and then I started to read. By the time I had finished the letter, I was sobbing, my heart fit to break.

~*~*~

“Dear Dani

It is with great sadness that we write this letter; our Olivia has finally been taken from us. While she is finally at peace, no longer wracked with pain, it hurts to know that we will no longer be awarded with her beautiful smile.

Our precious girl passed two weeks ago but we have only just now been able to pass on the news. Anne and I wanted to tell you when it happened, but Livie made us promise not to. She knew the end was coming despite her mother and me hoping against hope and didn’t want you to see her like that. She only wanted you to see her as the smiling, happy kid with no hair, a beautiful smile and her face painted like a tiger.

Enclosed is a letter she also asked us to pass on. You may have only been in her life a short time but you made such a difference to her; for that we are both going to be eternally grateful. We are sorry that you weren’t able to say goodbye in person, or that you had to be told like this, but our pain is still fresh. We also wanted to honour her last wishes.

Take care Dani and god bless.

Ron and Anne Johnson.”


In between sobs, I took a moment before opening the letter from Olivia. Enclosed was a photo of us taken together, after I had just painted her face as a tiger for a special day the kids were having. The grin on her face belied the fact that she was mere weeks away from dying. I was going to treasure it always. After blowing my nose and wiping my eyes so I could see a little better, I finally read her letter.

“Dani

I’m guessing if you’re reading this, it means I’ve finally gone. I don’t want you to be sad, or cry for me. I’m not in any pain anymore and that’s a good thing.

I have a few things I want to say but the simplest and yet most important is thank you. At a time when others would turn away or treat me as someone fragile and weak, too sick to be near, you made me feel like any other kid. Sure, I couldn’t do a lot but you helped me with the things I could do.

I loved the hours playing games, or when we did the face painting with the rest of the ward but I treasured the one on one times we shared the most, even when it was for something as simple as reading or just having a chat. I told you things I have never shared with anyone else and that was because I knew you would keep them safe.

To a kid of 12, that’s a big deal. I have no doubt that to you it was small stuff, hardly worthy of keeping a secret but you never made me feel like this was true, instead keeping it locked away forever and that means more to me than you can ever know.

Please don’t be mad at Mom and Dad, for not telling you about me sooner. I wanted to give them a chance to process of course and to mourn but I didn’t want to have you there, to remember me as a sick girl, or to think of me in the casket as it was lowered into the ground. I want you to only hang onto the good things we shared. In time I’m sure you will forget about me altogether but until then, I need for you to remember me and smile. Promise me you will?

Ok, I need to go now; I’m getting tired again. I just had to write and thank you for being my friend. I’ll be sure to look out for you from up there, make sure you’re doing ok. Don’t think of this as a good bye, rather a ‘see you later’.

Lots of love

Olivia N Johnson xo”


With the letter in my lap, I bawled like a baby. This, on top of everything else over the last couple of days was the final straw. I cried for Olivia and how unfair it was that a beautiful 12 year old girl had to be taken so soon. I also cried for the past that Mel and I once shared, when we were best friends. Life sucked, it really did and as far as I could tell, it looked like there was no way back to the light. What do I do now?

~*~*~

CHELLE:

“Hi, is Dani there?” I asked the voice at the other end of the phone. I had called my best friend and was surprised to have some strange guy answer instead.

Turns out it was David. He didn’t tell me why he had her phone, only that she was at his place and so he gave me the number. He was a little abrupt about it but I didn’t have the time to think about that now. I guess it is the middle of a work day there and I had clearly called him away from something important. Oh well, it didn’t matter now. After disconnecting the call, I waited a moment then called his house phone.

“C’mon Dan; where the hell are you?” I said to myself. Having finally had the chance to read the email she had sent a few days earlier, I was worried. She may have said very little and yet she had said so much. If it hadn’t of been for my arsehole boss giving me so much work I had to spend the whole weekend doing it, I might have had a chance to call earlier. As it was, I barely had a chance to eat, let alone read emails that weren’t work related.

The phone rang out so I tried again. While I continued to listen to the monotonous ring, I had to wonder what that !@#$ Mel had done this time. It really had to be bad for Dani wanting to move out for real. I loved my friend like a sister but sometimes I had to wonder about her.

She was too damn trusting, that was for sure. Always wanting to give people the benefit of the doubt and help them out, even when they repeatedly let her down. I was surprised she had lasted this long, given all the things she had already told me Mel had done or said. Perhaps Dani did actually have a limit.

Once more the phone rang out so I left it. Maybe I should just email. Could be she was working or out doing other errands. I really do have to remember there is a huge time difference between us. I’ll leave it an hour and try again. Hopefully this time it will be Dani who answers, or at the very least the guy who did before, only in a better mood. Until then I guess all I can do is continue to worry.

~*~*~

DANI:

I heard the phone but didn’t move off the couch to go and answer it. I couldn’t have spoken anyway, still blubbering away. When it stopped, only to start again a moment later, I thought it might have been important so stood up and slowly made my way across the room.

The number on the display said ‘withheld’ so it could have been anyone. With the way my luck had been travelling of late, it would have been likely some telemarketer trying to sell discounted cable. Not wanting to put up with the ringing, I took the phone off the hook.

I went back to sit on the couch and stared at the wall. I still had the photo of Olivia in my hand and looking at it just brought fresh tears. Most of them at this point were more for me and my sucky life than her but that wasn’t to say I had forgotten her already.

I lay down on the couch and just cried. I had to get this all out of my system before David came home. The last thing he needed after a hard day at work was to come home to seeing me like this. He had more than enough on his plate; he didn’t need my worries too. I would be out of here soon enough but until then, I didn’t want to ruin the time we shared. I ended up crying myself to sleep, despite it being the middle of the day.

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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Re: Each Careful Step*


This chapter is longer than most - sorry lol

NINETEEN

DAVID:


The day had been long and I was glad it was over. I was so tired I had to fumble with my keys for a minute or so, just to get one in the lock. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was that the lights were off and there was a weird beeping noise coming from the corner near the door to the kitchen.

“Dani, are you here?” I called out, walking further into the apartment.

There was no answer and I guessed that she had gone out. I flicked the switch to turn on some lights before heading over to investigate the beeping, only to note it wad due to the phone being left off the hook. It also explained why Chelle hadn’t been able to get through and as a result, had called me back twice, worried about her friend. But why was it off the hook?

Once I had replaced the receiver into the cradle, I turned and that was when I spotted Dani, asleep on the couch. Even from here I could see her face was flushed and her eyes looked puffy. It was clear she had been crying. So as not to startle her awake, I approached quietly, gently shaking her once I was close enough.

“Dani?”

Despite my best effort, she still woke with a start. On seeing my face she burst into a fresh set of tears. I had no idea why or what to do so I did what I thought was best for now, lifting her into a sitting position so I could sit beside her, cradling her in my arms.

What the hell had happened between this morning and now to cause this kind of a reaction? She had been ok when I left after breakfast, cheerful even. I knew she was stopping by the house to get some more things and so I wondered if she had run into Mel. It would explain a lot. Well, whatever it was, she was crying as though her heart were broken, along with her spirit.

“What is it Dani; what’s happened?” I tried asking again, not really expecting an answer.

Between sobs, she did her level best to try and tell me but all I could make out clearly was that someone had died and that she hated Mel. I had questions but understood I wouldn’t get any at this time; at least none I could make sense of. As she nestled in a little closer, I spotted the photo she had been holding in her hand.

I gently prised it from her hands and as I looked at it, I had to wonder who the kid in the face paint was. Maybe it was the young girl Dani had mentioned to me not too long ago. I seem to recall it hadn’t been a happy conversation that day, so perhaps it was this young girl who had died. It didn’t matter. All I cared about was letting Dani know that I was here for her and so I squeezed her tighter, allowing her to cry for as long as she needed.

~*~*~

DANI:

Sitting here in David’s arms crying; yet again; made me feel silly and yet I seemed powerless to stop. I had thought for sure that I’d cried myself out before I fell asleep but the minute I saw David and the concern on his face, it just seemed to set me off again.

The whole time I was blubbering like an idiot, he was soothing me, telling me it was going to be fine but I was sure he was also thinking he wished he had never heard of Mel, as that would then mean he wouldn’t have met me. It seemed like every time I turned around I was being all girly and he had to comfort me. His being so kind just made it worse. He had been working his ass off all day and the last thing he needed was more drama at home.

I eventually stopped crying but he still held onto me. I felt safe, although there was nothing to be kept safe from. When I was finally able to speak without sniffing or hiccupping; something that happened when I cried this much; I tried to explain what had happened, with the letters and the photo and why it had upset me so much. To his credit, he never said a words or made judgements, just continued to hold me.

When I finally finished, he squeezed my shoulder. “You really have had a rough couple of days. I’m not surprised you’re upset, Dani. Mel’s !@#$ aside, the news about Olivia is sad. You told me a while back that you were expecting it but it still doesn’t make it any easier to hear when the news does finally arrive. I’m sure also that not being able to say goodbye hurts. I wish I could do or say something to make the pain stop.”

Despite knowing I looked like some freak out of a Stephen King novel, I moved back so I could look at him. “Just having you here is helping. I’m so sorry I’m such a basket case. I’m positive the last thing you wanted to be doing after a hard day at work was come home to babysit me.”

“You don’t have to apologize, Dani. I’m just glad that I can be here to try and help you through it.”

Pulling back completely, I stood up, a little uneasy on my feet. Once I had my balance, I said “I might go and grab a shower. Thank you again.” He simply gave me a sad smile and told me I was welcome.

~*~*~

After grabbing my pj’s, I headed to the bathroom, turning on the water once I had closed the door. I looked at the mirror briefly and recoiled in horror. I truly looked as though I had been on the wrong and losing end of a beating. The headache I had only made me feel crappier but at least I didn’t start crying again.

Thankfully the warm water washed away a lot of the tension and the general icky-ness I was feeling, helping me to relax a little more. By the time I was done and dressed, I not only felt halfway human, I looked it too. My eyes were still a little red and puffy but not enough it would scare the !@#$ out of small children, or flatmates.

I re-joined David as he was serving up dinner. “I ordered in” he explained, indicating I should take a seat. “I figured neither of us was up to cooking. I hope you’re hungry.”

I wasn’t really all that hungry but I still grabbed a small bowl of the special fried rice. I also smiled at the fact that he had ordered in enough to feed a family of eight. My small bowl barely made a dent so I had to wonder how much of it he was going to eat and how much would sit in the fridge for a couple of days before it got thrown out.

One thing I had come to learn about David was that he did like his food and so I suspected that not a lot would be left to throw out. As long as his legs are, I figured they had to be hollow as well, which is where he stored it all and that explained why he could eat his weight in food and still be lean and slender. I only wished I could get away with doing the same thing but unfortunately for me, it was a minute on the lips, forever on the hips.

~*~*~

While we ate, David told me that Chelle had called my phone at least three times today, each time getting him. It must have been her that had tried to get through earlier, before I left the phone off the hook. I thanked him for passing on the message and told him I would call after dinner. That was when he asked about her, so I told him how we had met and remained friends, even after all this time and distance.

I picked at the rice but the talking was distracting me from my earlier woes and because I was losing myself in the conversation, I was eating a bit more than I had thought I wanted. I also found that I was talking Chelle up, although there was every likelihood neither of them would ever meet.

I wanted him to know her and love her as much as I did, on the off chance that circumstances changed and they did get to meet in person. David deserved someone who was going to treat him well and love him as much as he loved them and it struck me that Chelle was that person. They had a lot in common so it made perfect sense, despite the fact that they were thousands of miles apart.

I tried not to be obvious about what I was doing but of course he was clueyer than I gave him credit for. “Dani; you wouldn’t be thinking of setting me up with your best friend, would you?”

I colored a little and pretended to be more interested in picking out the peas from the rice – I loathe them. “What? Oh...um...no?”

He smiled. “Yes you were. I’m glad you think I’m worthy of your friend but I can’t honestly see it working.”

“Why? You haven’t even met her.”

“Exactly. It’s a bit hard to have a relationship with someone you know when thousands of miles and several oceans separate you, let alone trying to do the same with someone you’ve never met. Yes, I spoke to her on the phone but that’s nothing to go by. Besides; I don’t think she’d be interested. I was actually a little rude to her the first couple of times she called.”

I asked him to explain and so he told me how in the middle of rehearsal, the phone kept ringing because he forgot to turn it off. When he answered, he was abrupt with her but only because the director had been so with him. Turns out Baz (Lurhman) had been less than impressed when in the middle of an almost perfect scene, ‘Music of the night’ started to play. I tried not to smile; I personally loved the ring tone on my phone.

“Oops. Please tell Baz I’m sorry. And I’ll explain to Chelle it’s my fault she couldn’t get a hold of me, because I had unhooked the phone. I really wasn’t up to talking to anyone.”

Grabbing what was left of the garlic chicken, he said “Fair enough. She really did seem concerned. By the time I got the third call, I half expected her to tell me she was catching the next flight up here to come and see you for herself.”

“Sounds just like her. I’ll ring her in a minute.” Pushing away a still half full plate, I smiled. “Thanks David; for earlier and dinner. It was what I needed. I’m just sorry I’m such a basket case.”

Reaching over and taking my hand, he answered “Hey, no worries; anytime. I mean that. It’s better out than in Dani. Keeping it all bottled in is not doing you any favours.”

I nodded. Hopefully there wouldn’t be a next time, even if I knew deep down there probably would be.

~*~*~

With dinner done and the dishes cleared, I said goodnight to David and went to my room, taking my cell with me. I had to plug it into the charger as it was barely half charged and I knew Chelle and I would talk for more than five minutes. Getting comfortable on the bed, I dialled her number. I had an idea she might be ticked off at me for making her worry, I just wasn’t prepared for how much.

“Danica Robyn Matthews! Where the hell have you been? Do you know how worried I’ve been about you? You cannot send me emails like the last one and then drop off the radar. And to top it off, I had to speak to that rude room-mate of yours! Seriously, what is his damage?”

This continued for another minute or so, until she realized I hadn’t spoken a word and stopped of her own accord, asking if I was still there.

Experience had taught me long ago that it was better to let her rave and stop herself, because if I tried to do it, it would only encourage her to go longer. I would often joke that it was her French ancestry that gave her this fiery passion, to which she would laugh and tell me it wasn’t being French at all; it was the idiots who ticked her off.

“I’m here; I’m also sorry that I made you worry. It’s just been a crappy couple of days. I was actually ok, mostly, until I got a letter today and I suppose it all just caught up to me.”

I explained about the letter and I could feel the tears fall again although not nearly in a flood like earlier. It wasn’t until I had also explained what Mel had done that she spoke.

“You’re kidding me? She didn’t! That !@#$! I don’t know how she can live with herself, really I don’t. Oh, kiddo; I’m so sorry.”

Actually, she said quite a few other things, some very salty, but that was the gist of it. It was clear to me she was just as appalled that it had happened but I also got a sense she was a little mad at me too, for having stayed at the house as long as I had. As long as I’ve known her, she has been onto me to toughen up and stand up for myself more.

“Honestly, Dan; it’s about time you thought of yourself for a change instead of worrying about others so much. Who cares if you hurt someone else’s feelings every now and then? They will get over it, just like they expect you to when it happens in reverse. You cannot do this to yourself any more. I mean, what else has to happen to you before you change and stop being a doormat? You know I love you but this has got to stop and sooner rather than later.”

I knew she was right but it still hurt to hear her say the words. And it wasn’t over, with her both berating me for being a pushover and consoling me over Olivia for several more minutes. I just lay there, listening to her and feeling sorry for myself. The truth was, some of the things she said were harsh but they were also true and what I needed to hear. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad had she been doing this telling off in person.

I could feel myself drifting off when suddenly in the middle of her telling me I needed to get away, start fresh and recharge my batteries, she said “Put David on the phone.”

“Why?” was my immediate reaction. I figured it was because she was in a lecturing kind of mood and wanted to school him in phone etiquette. I had already explained about that so surely she wasn’t still mad?

“Just do it, Danica; I need to speak to him.”

Ok, the use of my full name got my attention. I wiped my eyes and unplugged the charger, taking the phone out into the lounge area. David was watching some kind of Star Trek thing but he paused it to look at me, asking what was wrong. I simply handed him the phone.

“It’s for you.”

~*~*~


---
"Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole."

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