Lisa didn't get much sleep that night.
In fact if any accuracy were to be had here, then she hadn't slept at all. She tried all the right techniques. Sheep were counted, nothing was thought of, yet nothing went blank. Even when she heard her father creep into his bedroom (her mother Daphne had done so a few hours earlier) at midnight, Lisa's humbled blue eyes stared cold at the ceiling above her. There was some ruffling about. She tossed and turned underneath her sheets, a groan or two rumbled around her, across the room she heard the purring of her kitten's slumber. When the hours started to roll on by Lisa realized that she just could hit the hey feeling like she did. She not only felt depressed but also, understandably, could not stop thinking about Danielle. She was out there right now, in Crenshaw, alone, maybe even sleeping, wondering if her father would come home earlier than usual; with vodka on his breath and a hand clutched into a fist. The very thought made her wince. Soon Lisa realized that that too was keeping her up. Not only what she had seen that night but the possibility that this might not be the end of it. That all it would take was for that pig of a man Dani called her Dad to put his daughter in hospital again was a brief flux of anger - any of the slightest irritations. It was a chilling thought. Its primacy in keeping Lisa awake was undeniable.
Eventually Lisa simply gave up on sleep. Instead she wrenched the blankets from her, clad only in her pajamas (navy blue with gold sun and moon symbols over it) and ambled downstairs. Her mouth felt dry. She needed something to wash down her throat so when she came to her fridge she settled on a cold glass of milk. With that poured for herself she took a brief sip before returning to her bedroom with the glass and sitting down on the chair astride her computer desk.
She wanted to think about other things. She wanted to think about how she'd seen Dani differently now, about how much potential she had as a student, about what windows might be open to Dani if she just considered going to college. But Lisa found that she couldn't. All she could think about was what that asshole might do to her. That was why she couldn't sleep and that was why Lisa kept glancing at her purse. Inside it were the numbers of Danielle's Mom. In her heart Lisa wanted to call the woman now, to tell her how bad things were for her daughter and that something needed to be done before it happened again. But it was early morning and she was probably asleep. And whoever it was she lived with was probably even more in the dark about this than she was, it wasn't a good idea to wake them both out of their sleep. It seemed like a stupid time to be so polite, but that was how Lisa had been since she was a child. A rock of manners and mild mannerisms, understated and of an intractably good comportment. As haunting as Dani's situation was it couldn't rewire so many years of programming.
For that reason she found herself yearning for the morning sun. The sooner it became bright Sunday, the sooner she could call Dani's mother and tell her what was happening. However time never rolled that fast if you waited for it. Lisa knew that well. So instead she performed her `routine'. Check her e-mails, comb through her schoolwork, raid her mailing lists, and so on and so forth. And that didn't take long to eek out. It soaked up less than an hour or so, if her clock were to be believed. The few e-mails that had been sent her way were replied to and every website she liked to frequent, even the political ones, were beyond her now. The boards were intense with debate about who better to receive the Democratic nomination -- Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, and what the future might hold if either were to lose to John McCain in November; thus ushering in another Republican presidency. It was understandably heated. Political arguments were one of the few kinds of arguments that Lisa liked to find herself in, mainly because she tended to be so damn good at them. Today she didn't have the chops for it.
That left her with nothing.
So as a result she did something she hadn't done in quite a while. She wrote. For a long time now one of Lisa's hobbies had been the writing of poetry. But from time to time she dabbled in short stories too. She chose subjects that were relevant to her at the time, ones that she could bury herself in, then rolled with them, quite completely. Lisa clicked on her My Documents folder and opened up a sub-folder with the last short story she'd been working on -- a piece called A Tale of The Winter Lady -- which she'd ironically started the day before she first met Dani, the day before they first slept together, the last day of her virginity. And she started to update it. What followed was written word more florid and less terse than she was used to producing, a choice excerpt of that;
"Into the phantom deep she dove, blackened by wretchedness and chill. The beating heart inside her was now no more; nothing of the sort that had offered bittersweet Sophia her love. Lo and behold, she was nought but a wraith now -- cold and dead. The enclaves of that once serene woman's emotion had fallen and become nothingness in the tart face of her despondency. Now all that stood was the motivation to end it all, to seek deeper into the nocturne, but with a concluding, welcomed twist... there would be no more pain."
By the time morning finally hit Lisa had added in more than 5,700 words into that single unbroken story. The tale itself was reflective of her temperament in general -- quiet, cold, distant. The setting was 1800s England, the city of York; about a maid girl of sixteen years whom had fallen madly in love with an older woman of thirty-nine. The bulk of it? The young woman lamenting the loss of her older lover, Lady Sophia, to smallpox and the suicide she committed months afterward. The theme throughout every paragraph she'd written, the pulse behind each word, was loss. She welcomed it. It was intentional. Loss was now a dominating theme in Lisa's life, in both positive and negative ways, something she'd begun to understand. When she first met and slept with Dani she had lost two things -- her virginity and her self-respect. When she met Nicole she lost her feeling of alienation from the world around her. Now she'd lost sight of the Dani she thought she knew. Lisa had seen Dani for who she really was as well as what she really had to deal with.
So when she read through the story in sum, alternating between what she wrote before and what she wrote now, she could see a clear difference. The Lisa that existed pre-Danielle Cooper was a little self-indulgent. She was understandably remote but childish about it, as though the world owed her something, as though she had been short-changed like none other had been. She could see it in her own writing;
"Lily lacked what the lords of Willow Hall loved in their wives. She was not a lovely maiden. Not a noble lady, nor a duchess of grace nor even woman of the cloth. She was the stumbling note, the err, the mistaken key upon the piano that even the master might happen to tap. Lily knew herself to be no true beauty. Why should someone as lowly as her, someone so utterly without heavenly blessing, deserve someone as magnificent as Lady Sophia undoubtedly was?"
The pretty nature of her prose didn't hide the self-referential tinge of it. The character "Lily" was so damn obvious. The whole story was Lisa's sounding board. Through it she spoke about her alienation and feelings of inadequacy. It was a cathartic gesture. But now, knowing everything she did about Dani, she couldn't help but see how shallow it all really was. She'd buried herself in her own head for years now and had refused to acknowledge the reality -- life just wasn't as bad for her as she thought it was. Now there was Dani, whose own life had ripped that error from her, leaving her only with insight and incision. There was someone out there with a real problem, someone she needed to help.
It would reflect in her writing later, that understanding. But for now it simply helped pass the time, inching minutes into hours, overseeing the rise of the sun. Before long it was mid-morning. At first Lisa didn't notice it, so deep in her thoughts and her writing, but sunlight was joined by bird chirps and that alerted her to it, as well as the nuzzling of her kitten Koenig at her leg.
"Are you hungry, Koenig?" She whispered, petting her. "Must be morning then."
She checked her watch on the nightstand. It was 9:42 AM. About twenty minutes was enough time left to call Dani's Mom, right? She must be awake by then. Lisa was resolved on that thought, all she had to do now was get a few things out of the way first. To start off with she carried Koenig to the kitchen. With the little kitten waiting expectantly she refilled her water bowl and served out some cat food into her tray. Whilst Koenig ate her fill Lisa climbed back upstairs and scuttled into the bathroom. She stripped (albeit gingerly -- though sleeping with Dani had made her less uncomfortable with her own nakedness she was still fairly timid about it) out of her pajamas and padded carefully onto the tiles of her shower compartment. Following a quick hot one he stepped out again in a plume of steam, before drying herself off, combing her hair, and brushing her teeth. With a mauve bath towel around her Lisa strode out of the bathroom. By now her parents were up; not only was their bedroom door open but she could hear the pair of them skirting around each other downstairs. Regardless Lisa returned to her bedroom and redressed in some white shorts and a faint indigo blouse.
Now everything was out of the way.
All she had to do was call Dani's Mom, explain the situation to her, then beg her to do something about it. The numbers were still scribbled on a piece of paper in her purse so she took it out, as well as her cell. For a long and stupid moment Lisa wondered which one she should use, home phone or cell phone, then settled on home. At least that way she had a better chance of getting in touch with someone over there, maybe she could leave a brief message or something. However... when Lisa's index finger pressed the first three digits, she heard her doorbell ring.
"Who on earth could that be?" The girl wondered.
Nobody called round their house this early in the morning, not even their snooty next door neighbours, the Hamilton's, constantly complaining about Koenig doing her business in their driveway. For a minute though, Lisa thought quick and hard, wondering if that was Dani. Had something happened again? She dropped her phone onto the bed and peeled out of her room so she could peer over the banister of the hallway. Downstairs she saw her mother at the door, but the girl outside wasn't Dani at all -- it was Nicole.
She overheard her friend introduce herself to her mother. "...Hiya, Mrs. Whitfield. My name's Nicole Milligan, I just moved in across the street?"
"Oh yes," Daphne did well to put on her most gracious air. "I've met your Mother, Daryl, already. It's very nice to meet you, Nicole."
"You too." Nicole offered, rather gawkily.
Daphne paused a moment. Then: "...Uh, well, is there something I can help with?"
"Oh, right, of course. I'm friends with your daughter, Lisa. We went to the movies yesterday, remember?"
Nicole scratched the back of her head. "Okay, um... well, uh... I was just wondering if I could see her maybe."
"At this time in the morning? We haven't even had breakfast."
An embarrassed smile. "Oh. Okay, I guess I'm kind of early. Sorry, it's just... you know, back in Utah, where I'm from, I always did things early. Is it, uh... is it still okay if I see her though? I'll be quick."
Lisa couldn't see her Mom's face but she could tell that it was primed with vacillation. Lisa had had few if any real friends in her short life, so one just popping up on her doorstep like this was a new experience. But to Daphne's credit she didn't turn Nicole away -- instead she leaned back and yelled, "Lisa? You're little friend from over the street is here."
She was close by, so her petite voice squeaked out, "...Let her up please, Mom."
Daphne pulled back, leaving the door open for the girl. Nicole gave her a friendly nod, walked inside and up the stairs, where Lisa was waiting for her. The blonde girl looked on as Nicole approached her, a little less bubbly than usual, with a friendly caress of the shoulder.
"Hey Lisa," she said calmly. "Sorry to stop by so early. Were you sleeping?"
"No, I... I've been awake for a while now. W-what are you doing here?" Truth be told Lisa didn't mean that to be half as rude as it sounded. There hadn't been a moment since they'd met where Lisa wouldn't have wanted to spend some time with Nicole. But the Dani situation weighed so heavy on her mind right now, it was all she could think about -- and calling her Mom was the only thing she could do right now to help her. And now of all times Nicole had chosen to...
The girl in question spoke her piece. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay after yesterday. I'm still not completely sure what happened."
At that juncture Lisa realized that whatever they said out on the corridor could be heard downstairs. While Richard might have been fairly uninterested she didn't dare imagine that Daphne wouldn't eavesdrop. So she turned and said to Nicole, "Lets go into my room."
They entered and Lisa closed the door behind them. The blonde girl sat on her bed, unconsciously hiding her cell phone and the numbers underneath the sheets. Nicole took a seat on the swivelling chair astride the computer desk.
"So," began Lisa. "What were we talking about?"
Nicole stared at her. "About yesterday. You running off like that?"
Lisa glanced up, not realizing that she'd directed her sight on her unpolished toenails. "Well...?"
"Are you going to tell me what happened back there?" She prodded. "I mean, one minute it's the four of us and we're having a great time and then boo, you're gone, and for hours at that. What the hell happened?"
If there was anything she regretted about last night it was the way she ran off and left Nicole like that. She didn't plan to do it, even if being there with Megan and Jenny had made things uncomfortable. But as soon as she heard about Dani she felt that instant gut reaction, that rush of momentum. You couldn't circumnavigate something like that. But how could she explain it all to Nicole now?
Lisa exhaled. "I just had to help someone. That's all."
"Yeah you said that last night and it's still pretty vague. I mean I understand if it was an emergency or something, but you should've told me. I would've come with you, I'd have tried to help."
There was no way that would happen. "...Nicole, look... I'm so sorry I ran off like that. I wasn't thinking and I swear I didn't mean for you to be worried. It won't happen again, I promise."
Then there was another pause. Nicole stopped a moment, still staring at Lisa, who ducked away from that glance in an overtly conspicuous way. But whatever qualms Nicole had about it she didn't voice, because the next thing Lisa knew, the Milligan girl was smiling again. Nicole stood up, walked over to the bed, then sat down next to her, wrapping an arm around Lisa's shoulders.
"Hey. You know what? Forget about it. As long as you're okay and you're not up to anything shifty. You're not, are you? In with the CIA? Selling cocaine? Robbing a bank?"
Lisa giggled a little, the first bit of humour she'd felt since finding out about Dani's home life. "If I ever do any of those things then you'll be the first to know, I assure you."
"I better be," Nicole's hug tightened. "You know you seem a little stressed. You wanna step out for a little while?"
"Jenny told me about that big common nearby, Cunningham Park? I was gonna go for a walk. You wanna come with me?"
Lisa then thought back a bit to the day after they first met, and remembered that Nicole had said one of her pastimes was talking morning walks to clear her head. She also remembered Nicole saying something about not doing that anymore because of someone she had 'bad memories' of. Oh how times had changed. Lisa considered it for a moment. But what about Dani's Mom? The longer she left this the longer Dani had to deal with her bastard father alone.
"I'm... I'm not sure..."
"Come on, you look like you could use some fresh air." Nicole cajoled.
She didn't want to go. But she was being so understanding with the whole 'abandonment at the pizzeria thing', how could she tell Nicole no? With a reluctant sigh she nodded, widening Nicole's newly returned smile.
"Cool. Lets go."
After Lisa put on some shoes she grabbed her keys, wallet and cell phone, said her goodbyes to Richard and Daphne (who she swiftly asked for permission to leave) then exited the Whitfield household and embarked on a fourteen minute walk across their area to Cunningham Park; the biggest park in the district. Before long Lisa found herself walking slowly along a pebble path curving and darting around a huge common of recently sheared grass. Across that grass, even in this early morning, were young kids playing stickball and tossing footballs and stroller-armed mothers chatting with others of similar ilk by the benches. There was an ice cream truck parked up against the jungle jims and swings of the kiddie area. All the while Lisa and Nicole strolled through the long shadows cast by the towering oak trees that surrounded their pathway, brief breaks from the heat of the sun.
Nicole shut her eyes and sniffed. "Ah. I love that smell. Grass, flowers, trees. Spring's coming."
Though Lisa was listening her eyes were trained on her watch. It was 10:48. "Yeah, it's nice."
"Well you don't sound too enthused about it."
Lisa tore her eyes from her watch. "I guess I'm just less partial to all this than you are."
"How could you be?" She replied. "Come on, you're a philosophy advocate, right? Doesn't this symbolize some brilliant things for you? New life? Birth? Creation?"
"That's not so much... philosophical as it is... Earth Mother-ish."
"Oh whatever. I'll take nature over Kant any day of the week. I always feel good this time of year. Kind of puts me in the right place for my game, you know?"
Lisa peered at her watch again. "What do you mean?"
"You know, soccer?"
Nicole put her hands behind her head. "Yeah, my first league match is next Wednesday. I'm totally stoked. I think Jenny mentioned it yesterday at Mama Giancarlo's, but... I guess you and Megan weren't really interested."
"No, I'm... interested..." Lisa said. "I'm glad you're excited."
"Thanks. I'm still a little nervous though. Listen, do you wanna come watch the game? My Mom and Dad are gonna be there, Megan too, rooting for Jenny. I'd be nice if you were there."
Lisa's smile was quick. "I'd love to. That sounds great."
"Cool," Then her sparkling green eyes spotted the ice cream truck across the field. "Hey, why don't I get us some ice cream?"
"...Uh, t-that's okay, you don't have to..."
Too late. Nicole was already jogging over to the truck yelling "it's my pleasure" on the way. Lisa exhaled after yet another quick glance at her watch. 10:51 am. She knew that Nicole was only being nice. And any other day she would have gushed for something like this. But she wanted this to be over so she could call Dani's mother. It was times like this that made Lisa resent how unable she was to take a stand on anything. As much as she wanted to leave she couldn't bear to offend Nicole by doing so. Especially not after what happened yesterday. So she only waited, watching Nicole exchange some dollar bills for two cones impaled by chocolate flakes and lathered with strawberry syrup.
When she came back she handed one to Lisa. "Here."
"...Thank you," Lisa said, receiving it.
There was a bench nearby. Nicole made the suggestion that they take a seat and so they did. Nicole flopped back and went to work on her ice cream, licking voraciously. Lisa on the other hand was more tepid. Whilst sampling the milky coldness of her cone she kept staring at her watch. Eventually Nicole noticed it.
"What are you, on a curfew or something?"
"You keep checking the time," The brunette's free hand pointed at her wrist watch. "What's the deal?"
Lisa blinked. "...Oh. I, uh... I just... I have someone I need to call soon."
"Have you got your cell on you?"
Nicole shrugged obliviously. "Fine. Don't let me stop you, silly. Make the call."
It wasn't something she could talk about in front of her. What's more she'd left the numbers back at her house. She couldn't call Dani's mother now anyway, even if she wanted to. Lisa was about to say something to fob that idea off but before she could the phone rang. Lisa was alarmed. It wouldn't be her parents because they knew where she was. That meant Dani. Suddenly Lisa's sights swung in Nicole's direction. She couldn't answer the call right here and now, could she? She considered, briefly, ignoring it. But then in a flash it all came back to her; what Dani was suffering with, how she looked back at the hospital, the maniac that she was living with. She couldn't not answer it.
"...Aren't you gonna answer it?" Asked Nicole.
Lisa nodded and heaved yet another sigh. She slipped her phone out of her pocket and flipped it open, not even bothering to check the screen for the caller's name. "...Hello?"
Sure enough, it was Dani's voice on the other end, albeit weaker and more haggard than usual. "Hey."
"Hey," Lisa held the phone closer to her, softening a bit. "How are you?"
"I'm feeling a bit better. If you can believe it, my bed is actually more comfortable than that piece of shit thing I was lying on in the hospital yesterday. But I didn't call to talk about me. I just wanted to see how you were. Is everything okay? I mean... you're not too freaked out about everything you saw yesterday, are you?"
Lisa, conscious of Nicole sitting next to her, made sure not to let anything on about who this was, as well as making sure that Dani didn't know who she was sitting with in the park. She had not forgotten how much Dani and Nicole disliked each other.
"...It's okay, I'm fine..." she said, hushed. "I got back okay."
"Good. I'm glad. Listen, I know I don't have to ask this, but... you haven't told anyone about my Dad have you?"
Lisa winced. "...N-no, I haven't..."
"Okay. Thanks. Just... you know, keep it to yourself, okay?"
She offered no reply.
"Um..." From the corner of her eye Lisa could see that Nicole had stopped licking her ice cream. "Look, I can't... really talk right now. Could you call me back later or something?"
"...Oh," A pause on Dani's end. "Okay, uh... yeah, sure. I'll call you back around... lunchtime maybe?"
That gave her enough time. "That'd be great. I`ll... speak to you later then, okay?"
She flipped her phone shut. It was good to hear Dani's voice again. Her father had likely cooled off for the night. Even so it didn't change her conviction to find a way of getting Dani away from him. Automatically, after slipping her cell phone back into her pocket, she went back to her ice cream, perhaps looking for a distraction.
Nicole was quick off the mark though. "Who was that?"
"...Just a friend."
"...Is that the friend you helped out yesterday?"
For a minute there Lisa actually had herself thinking that she was better at covering her tracks than this. But if this was anything it was a tribute to Nicole's intelligence. She wasn't easily fooled. What's worse was that this wasn't the first time she had been forced to lie to Nicole either. One thing troubling Lisa about her life right now was the way she constantly had to skirt this razor thin line between Dani and Nicole. At the least it was frustrating and at the most it was infuriating. In earnest Lisa was getting sick and tired of it. The only alternative was to see them at each other's throats though, and she just couldn't take that again. Not now.
"Yes," Lisa confirmed.
They said no more about it. Nicole seemed to realize that Lisa didn't want to. They then spent the next hour there, walking, talking and eating ice cream, before Lisa finally told her that she needed to go. Nicole agreed to walk her home. So they went back to their street, gave each other a goodbye, and returned to their respective houses. As soon as Lisa was behind her door she exhaled.
This was the only occasion she had ever willing rushed her time with Nicole. But there was something more important to do. Lisa told her Mom she was back (Richard had already left for his morning shift at the hospital) before scrambling up to her bedroom and locking the door. She snatched the note of numbers from under her pillow and withdrew her cell phone again. Lisa gave herself a few minutes to think through what she was going to say, then dialled their house phone number.
When it started ringing, Lisa actually noted that she was nervous. She could feel it in her stomach. But for the life of her she couldn't explain why. Then someone picked up. "Hello?"
Lisa blinked. Judging by the voice it was an older woman and most definitely Dani's mom. Even their voices were somewhat similar. Dani's was more ashy though, while her mother's was smoother and honey-dipped. Then it actually occurred to her that she didn't know this woman's name. Since yesterday she had only been thinking of her as `Dani's Mother'. Nothing else.
"Uh," How was she supposed to phrase this? "... I uh..."
"...Can I help you with something?"
She fought against the lump in her throat to speak. "...It's... about Danielle..."
"My daughter? What's going on with--wait a minute, who is this?"
"...My name's Lisa. Lisa Whitfield. I... uh, I'm... a friend of your daughter's. I just... I need to talk to you about something... it's about her... I'm really worried about her and I just... I needed to talk to someone about it because I can't do anything myself and I'm so scared that-"
"Wait, wait, wait. Slow down, okay?" Said the older woman. "Take a deep breath and just tell me what's going on with Danielle."
And so she did. Lisa took that deep breath and went on to explain everything. That she and Dani went to the same school, that they knew each other, that her father had been hitting her, that she was living in literal squalor, and that something needed to be done urgently. The only thing Lisa didn't mention was the sexual relationship between herself and the woman's daughter. And as soon as she was updated Dani's mother was fraught with alarm. Her name was Eliza Brenner (no longer Eliza Cooper) and she explained to Lisa that she already had suspicions about what Dani's father, Vino, had been doing to her. Though she never said as much, Lisa guessed that Vino had beaten Eliza around more than a few times too. There was revulsion in Eliza's voice but no real shock. It was clear however that she never really expected Vino to raise his hand to Dani.
"That man is an animal," Eliza muttered. "I just... I can't believe he'd do that to her... he always thought the world of her..."
Lisa sighed. "She didn't want you to know. And she'll be angry with me for telling you-"
"Oh Lisa, don't be silly. Thank God you did. If I'd known how bad things were for her I would've taken her with me. But Danielle was just so insistent, so devoted to Vino, I couldn't convince her to do it. I just wish I knew about all this sooner. What the hell is wrong with me?"
"I'm so sorry..."
"Honey, none of this is your fault. Thank you so much for informing me."
"What..." Lisa swallowed. "What happens now?"
Eliza was seething on the other end. "Leave it to me, alright? Danielle's going to be fine."
The game was in its closing four minutes and the score was 3-0 to the home team. Alderson High's female soccer team, who called themselves the Alderson High `Deltas`, had literally blown the Chandley High `Blue Angels' away.
Jenny, fully clad in her goalkeeper uniform, big white gloves and all, looked positively bored out by the goal on the other side of the pitch. She hadn't gotten much heat tonight. In fact she'd made only two deft saves since kick off. The Blue Angels' goalkeeper on the other hand had been getting nothing but heat. To her credit that girl had made quite a few blocks and some impressive dives, which had left her white and blue uniform riddled with many a soil smudge. However, because of the veritable uselessness of the Blue Angel's three defenders, that girl was constantly under pressure from the Deltas' three strikers; Dawn, Ashley and Nicole.
Dawn had scored once. Nicole has scored twice.
Lisa sat on the lowest bench of the bleachers watching the whole thing. Next to her was the habitually stoic Megan, her eyes firmly trained on an inactive Jenny, while Daryl and Simon sat together, cheering Nicole on, just above them. It was night but a warm night. The pitch was illuminated by the golden luminosity of six pole-mounted mini floodlights erected around it. It was Wednesday, the day of Nicole's first match.
Though she didn't follow soccer (or any sport of the kind) as such, Lisa managed to keep abreast of what was going on. And she felt justified to admit that Nicole looked very impressive out there. Where some of the others looked clunky and graceless, Nicole bounded around the upper half of the field with poise and speed, trading fast passes with the midfielders before setting up Dawn or Ashley, or waiting to be set up for a shot by them.
At the moment one of the Deltas' midfielders had stolen the ball and was charging ahead. As soon as two of the Blue Angel's own players closed in on her, the girl lobbed the ball over her assailant's heads. One of the guarding Blue Angels tried a header, missed, and the ball landed metres away, just shy of Ashley's boots. She took it forward in her swift step, watchful of the Blue Angel defender ahead of her, and passed it vertically to Nicole. She received the ball with her instep then ran then locked her eyes on the goal. At that point one of the Blue Angels other defenders ran toward her. Nicole paused then, slowing to a stop, watching the girl from the rival school watch her. They held each other in check for a second, just until Nicole faked left, then burst right. The Blue Angel defender, taken by surprise, staggered just as Nicole darted past her. Without penetrating the final line of defence and risk provoking an offside call; Nicole kicked the ball with one powerful punt aimed straight for the upper left corner of the Blue Angels' goal. Their keeper dove into the air to stop it -- but it whizzed past her gloved fingertips and sailed into the back of the net, making the score four-to-zip.
The Alderson High side of the bleachers erupted in cheer for the forth time that night (the Chandley High side just clapped morosely) whilst Nicole shot a triumphant fist into the air and basked in the compliments and hugs of Ashley and Dawn.
The Blue Angels goalkeeper, suitably cheesed off, irately grabbed the ball and heckled her three defenders to be more alert than they currently were. She put it down on spot while the other players pulled back for her goal kick. But unfortunately for her and the rest of her team the referee blew his whistle. End of match. Once again the Alderson High supporters stood up from their seats, clapping and cheering with vigour. Even Lisa and Megan did the same (although Lisa had to admit that everyone else's loudness was kind of jarring). Out on the pitch both the Delta and the Blue Angels took their game faces off -- but with opposing subsequent reactions. While the Blue Angels suckled and brooded, the Deltas all gathered up together in the centre of the field, cheering and chuckling, surrounding Nicole and showering her with praise.
Lisa was proud of her too. It was no surprise that Nicole was fitting in so well here. She was happy for it. And all this helped distract her from Dani -- who Lisa hadn't heard from since that call in the park Sunday morning. While the Deltas and the Delta's coach basked in the glow of their victory, some of the Blue Angels filed out toward the locker rooms while others greeted their consoling parents and friends by the bleachers before doing the same. It took a while for the Deltas to do that but they eventually did, Nicole and Jenny together running up to Lisa and the others. As soon as Jenny approached Megan launched up from the stands and wrapped the goalkeeper in a uncharacteristically warm hug -- a hug that lasted a bit longer than it should have -- but it was too innocent to speculate on. Nicole on the other hand climbed up the first bench and hugged both of her glowing parents. Daryl had even taken time off work just to see her play.
"Did you see me out there?" Nicole said giddily. "I scored three times! How cool is that?"
Simon gushed. "You were great, honey."
When Nicole stepped down and approached Lisa, she saw that the brunette was still out of breath. "Hey, did you enjoy it? The match, I mean?"
Lisa nodded. "Uh huh. You did really well."
It was then, at that specific point in time and space, that every romantic thing Lisa thought that she felt for Nicole took a severe U-turn. A boy approached their group from a short distance away. He was black, and roughly their age from the looks of things, a fellow student. What made him stand out though was his looks. He was undeniably handsome, boasting beautiful milk chocolate skin and a perfect pearly-white smile. No one but Lisa noticed it, but when he approached, Nicole didn't take her eyes off him for a single second, even in her breathlessness. However he himself didn't seem to notice it. He instead went straight for Megan and ruffled her extensive black hair, grinning.
"Hiya," He said coolly. "Still the world`s most miserable `cheerleader`, right?"
Jenny playfully punched him in the shoulder. "Oh drop dead, asshole. Megan's always welcome to come watch us, not that we need the extra mojo. We're really gonna take it this year, I can feel it."
"Yeah well," the boy hooked his arm around Jenny's broad shoulders. "Y'all really mopped the floor up with them, though. Props and congrats and all that. This school could use something to brag about, especially after my guys screwed up so hard last year."
Megan glared at him, more her usual self. "You're not gonna start whinging about that again, are you?"
"I don't whinge."
"Yeah you do. `Why were there so many injuries last year?' and `why does our captain suck so bad?' or `why the hell don't we have better starting guards?'. Any of that ring a bell?"
The black guy, still with his arm around Jenny, rolled his eyes. "Man, you are cold, girl. You see that's why Jenny and I can't talk sports when you're around. You're like a cold shower. You know, if cold showers were cute and grumpy."
Megan pouted, looking away. "Why are you even down here?"
The boy took his arm off Jenny and took his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. "Mom and Dad are going out for the night so they told me to ask you if you wanted a lift home. I've got my car parked out back."
"...No thanks. I'm going with Jenny and the others."
"For pizza," Jenny clarified. "After every game we play, we go for a slice each down at Mama Giancarlo's. I asked Megan if she'd like to come with us and she said yes. Is that cool?"
The boy shrugged. "Yeah, that's fine. I guess I'll just head home then-"
When Nicole yelled that as erratically as she did, all eyes turned to her. Megan's, Jenny's, the black guy's, but most of all Lisa's. Nicole, now blushing, shrugged it off, and smiled gently at this boy who seemed so familiar with Megan and Jenny.
"Uh, maybe you should, you know, come with us..." Nicole said to him, bashfully. "We can always make room."
The boy pondered it for a moment, not realizing the effect he was having on her. "...Uh, I don't think Megan wants me cramping her style around you guys."
"I never said that."
"You didn't have to. Your face says it all, Elvira."
"Look, you can come, okay?" Megan said irritably.
The young man smirked at her (with cockiness but also a heartfelt caring) and ruffled her hair again. "Isn't it cute the way she keeps acting like I embarrass her?"
The Asian girl pushed his hand away. "Will you knock it off?"
"Alright, alright. I'll go tell Mom and Dad."
He stepped out of the way after that, past the table of bottled water (that had been put out for both teams) and dialled a number on his cell. As soon as he was out of earshot Nicole pointed him out and quickly turned to Megan, who seemed to know him best. "Who was that?"
"My brother," She uttered with a sigh. When she got a half-sceptical, half-confused glare from both Nicole and Lisa when she said that, Megan went on to explain things. "We're both adopted. Michael and I."
Nicole looked at him again. "...Michael...?"
"Yes. God, why does he have to act so goofy all the time?"
Jenny smiled at her. "He wouldn't enjoy teasing you so much if you didn't take it so seriously."
Nicole, smile-ridden, still hadn't taken her eyes off of him. "...I think he's sweet."
It took a moment but Lisa soon caught on to something. In fact it would eventually stagger her how long it took her to work out. Nicole liked Michael. You could see it in her eyes, the way she watched him, the way she smiled at him, the way she fiddled with her hair and wiped the sweat from her brow. It was unmistakeable. But then a little something else entered Lisa's mind.
She wasn't upset about it.
Why wasn't she upset? She was attracted to Nicole. Even now as she glowed with perspiration from her match she looked ridiculously beautiful. The thought of sharing her time with Nicole with anyone else still seemed unfair. So why? Why didn't it bother her? Somewhere, deep down inside her, Lisa knew the answer. She finally had an answer to at least one question in her life. Things had changed since she learned about Dani. It had made her look at things different, and very quickly so. It was probably why she'd spent most of the match not really thinking about it -- but rather wondering why Dani hadn't called her since Sunday. She thought back to all those times when Dani was so rough and forceful with her. She'd been in awe of Dani's confidence, her sexuality, her errant sensuality, and the explosiveness of their sex. But there hadn't been any emotional attachment -- she'd never gotten any true sense of Dani caring about her. Lisa had compared herself to a vibrator in that respect before and the more Lisa thought about it the more that analogy seemed apt. That emotional detachment, that deficit of caring, had she sought to fill that with Nicole? It was a given that she was attractive. And it was a given that Lisa found her so. Who on earth wouldn't be attracted to Nicole Milligan? But what really was there, beneath all that? To be honest, Lisa hadn't really considered it -- until now.
She'd figured she'd had a crush on Nicole. Many more people would in the future. But honestly she hadn't really thought about taking it further. She'd imagined Nicole bridging that gap for her, taking the first step, even though it was clear she was as straight as a barge pole. But did she really and truly feel something for her? Something other than friendship and admiration? The more she wondered the more Lisa questioned if she ever did. It was becoming clear now that the emotional attachment she had to Nicole wasn't 'love'.
The truth was, she didn't have feelings for Nicole. She had been trying to have feelings for her. And in Lisa's own analytical mind it made sense. Everything she wasn't getting from Dani she had tried to get from Nicole. The cute kindness, the selflessness, the consideration, the genuine caring. After seeing Dani for who she really was though; it was clear that these things did exist in her even if she was unwilling (or at the very least unable) to let the rest of the world know. The knowledge that had shunted Nicole out of the centre of her earth with almost frightening speed and with good reason.
These thoughts weren't hitting her all at once. She'd been thinking hard about them since Sunday, since that time they were together in Cunningham Park, where for the first time since they'd met each other, Lisa wanted to do something other than hang out with Nicole. That was when it first started to sink in.
You see, as much as she hated thinking about Vino's abuse of Dani, there was a part of her that was almost glad that she knew about it. Seeing Dani's shaky life had made Lisa question everything that she thought she knew about her own. It was like a cloud hanging over her head had been removed. Now she was observing things with real clarity for the first time in her isolated life. Maybe her parents weren't as horrible as she thought they were -- maybe they were just normal, flawed people. Maybe Nicole wasn't the seraphic answer to all her prayers -- maybe she was simply an average girl that Lisa had recklessly idealized to be a substitute for Dani. Maybe Dani wasn't the self-centred bitch Lisa had thought her to be all along -- maybe she was actually a fragile person so hurt by and resentful of her circumstances that she wasn't thinking clearly.
Maybe Lisa herself wasn't the eternal doormat of the world -- maybe she was just a lonely kid, a kid who wasn't used to such a strong rush of emotions and thoughts.
Lisa was knee-deep in all that thinking, all that consideration, for minutes, until she noticed someone waving their hand in front of her. She blinked and saw that it was Jenny (with Megan closely flanking her as per usual). It snapped her out of the reverie.
"Hello?" Jenny said curiously. "Are you in there?"
Her blonde tresses whipped around her face when she shook her skull, dispersing her personal revelations for the time being. She looked around, wondering how long she'd been distracted. Nicole's parents were gone, as were most people by the bleachers -- there were no Blue Angels in sight. Nicole herself was standing with the far taller Michael, smiling and playing with her hair as he explained something to her. Both she and Jenny had taken off their soccer attire and were redressed in normal clothing.
"Are you okay?" Jenny asked. "You keep spacing out."
Lisa gave her a warm little smile in return. "I'm fine. Just thinking about some stuff."
"Okay. Well, we're getting ready to go now. Are you coming?"
The pizza thing. Lisa glanced over in Nicole's direction. She was still talking with Michael. Her gaze returned to Jenny. "Um, I think I'm just going home. I want to be back before my parents and I've got some homework to finish up. You guys go. Have fun."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. It's fine. Tell Nicole I'll see her tomorrow morning, okay?"
"Why don't you just tell her yours-" Jenny then glanced in her and Michael's direction. They were laughing with each other about something. It gave Jenny a brief little smirk, though Lisa couldn't tell what it was that she found amusing about it. "I guess someone just made a friend. Is she normally this distracted by a cute guy?"
Lisa shrugged. "I wouldn't know."
"I guess. Alright then, I'll tell her," affirmed the taller girl. "Look, thanks for coming to watch the game with everyone. It's really cool when we have some support while we're out there."
"It was my pleasure," Lisa then gave Jenny and Megan parting nods. "I'll be seeing you."
She turned to leave the field just as Jenny and Megan approached Nicole and Michael. Lisa didn't wonder if she was missing out on anything. It might have been nice to head out with them for pizza tonight but she wasn't really in the mood. It wasn't that she was feeling lousy or anything. Right now Lisa just didn't feel like she was in the right... `space`. All she'd wanted was to support Nicole during her first soccer game and she'd done that. So the blonde left the field in the opposite direction and exited Alderson High through the rear gates. She strode down to the bus stop and waited. When one arrived she took it all the way to her street. When she got off she walked the rest of the way to her door. Then she saw a familiar wagon parked in her driveway.
And the girl herself was leaning on its hood in wait, arms crossed, jaw clenched. A brief smile tugged at Lisa's lips, not just from seeing her, but for seeing how she appeared. She looked a lot better than she did last Saturday. Her black eye had faded. It was still noticeable but it could be concealed with the right cosmetics now. There was only one fresh band-aid on her cheek, the rest of her cuts were healing up nicely, as was the skin around her knuckles. Her right hand was still bandaged (as her ribs probably still were) but all in all she looked far better than before. It was a welcomed change. What Lisa did not welcome was the embittered look on Danielle's face. In fact she was positively angry. And she wasn't looking at anything other than Lisa.
The Whitfield girl was cautious as she approached her. "...Are you okay?"
"Where the hell do you get off calling my Mom?" Dani barked.
It was now that Lisa remembered that Dani hadn't been in school since Friday. When she called Eliza that Sunday morning she expected Dani to be mad at her -- but she didn't imagine that that was the reason Dani hadn't called her since. Now she knew that it probably was.
Somehow Lisa understood why Dani was angry but that didn't stop her from being defiant about it. "...I did it for you..."
Dani sneered. "Bullshit! I told you to keep this to yourself!"
"She had a right to know..."
"This is my family! My Mom and Dad! I said I'd be fine and now you're screwing everything up!"
The blonde balled her hand into a fist. "I just... I thought I was doing the right thing..."
"The `right thing' would've been to stay out of it! This is none of your business, Lisa!"
At that Lisa took offence. "You made it my business when you had that intern call me!"
A stalemate. Both Lisa and Dani silenced themselves, staring at each other. Lisa's eyes then darted around her. The lights were off in the house so her parents weren't home yet. They couldn't talk out here either. Someone was bound to overhear. So the studious girl put aside the hostility for a moment to fish her keys out of her backpack pocket.
"What are you doing?" Asked Dani, whilst she unlocked the door.
Lisa frowned. "Come inside."
When they both walked in Lisa shut the door behind her. The last thing she wanted was for one of her neighbours to overhear them again and start spreading rumours around the street. It would get back to her mother in time. So that left the two of them standing together silently in the corridor. It was Lisa who eventually broke that quiet when she asked;
Dani exhaled. "Mom came to the apartment Sunday evening while my Dad was out. Told me to grab my stuff and took me back to her place in West Hollywood. I've been living there since."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Said Lisa.
"What's he gonna do on his own? Without me there?"
"Why do you even care?"
Dani looked away. "...I cannot believe we are having this conversation again."
"...Look," Lisa shrugged off her backpack. "I'm... so sorry I went behind your back, okay? I didn't do it spite you or
anything like that. I only did it because I'm worried about you."
There was a pause then. Danielle turned to Lisa again. The expression was blank but questioning, hiding poorly a quite palpable confusion. Her words were suitable pithy. "Why?"
A shrug. "Why?"
"Why what?" Lisa repeated, not getting it.
Dani stepped closer to her. "Why? After everything that happened... why?"
Now she knew what Dani was talking about. So she looked away.
"I mean... after everything I put you through...?"
Lisa's limbs trembled. Without realizing it she had taken steps back. It only occurred to her when she felt her back hit the wall. Dani came up to her then, holding her in place without a single touch. Even so she did nothing else but look away. "...I don't know..."
Yet still Dani was insistent. "Lisa. Why would you? I mean... why did you-"
"I don't know! Okay?" In her frustration Lisa finally met eyes with Dani again. In the older girl's face she could see her own bewilderment. It wasn't pretty. But it was sincere. "I don't know. I just... I hate seeing you hurt... and I just hate thinking about him... hurting you..."
It was true. Anytime Lisa thought about what Vino had done to Dani, and she pictured the end result that she saw that cold Saturday night, she felt a churning in her stomach. It sickened her. But worse still it made her heart ache. Anyone who had been heartbroken will tell you unequivocally that it was truly a physical pain. She could feel it in her chest, that pain. And she couldn't bear it. Even now she was feeling its weight. Lisa shut her eyes, tilted her head back, and swallowed down all the emotion she'd been forced to feel these past few days. She took deep breaths to calm herself, to try and not let those thoughts overwhelm her, and in time she opened eyes once again.
She found herself staring into Dani's deep chocolate eyes. She couldn't even read Dani's expression, she was so into them. From then on she simply lost sight of her surroundings. Whatever her own thoughts were at that point weren't mattering much, because the next thing she knew, Dani's lips were pressed softly against hers. Her bright blue eyes slipped shut as a whimper escaped her. Her hands, now no longer shaking, were pressed flat against the wall behind her. Lisa's entire body melted into ineffectiveness as she stood up against that wall, Dani kissing her like that. Every feeling was animate; the smoothness of Dani's lips, the firmness of Dani's hands upon her little shoulders, the tautness of Dani's stomach pushing into her own. But it was different from every other kiss they'd had before. Dani was soft with her, tender, and warm. It didn't feel forced. But as soon as Lisa really realized that she was kissing her back, that she was relenting to it and pleading for it all in one breath, she stopped. Her hands went to Dani's own shoulders and pushed her back, breaking their kiss.
"...Wait. Don't..." She whispered in gasps.
Dani's eyes darted from side to side, searching the younger girl's reaction, then hung her head. "I... I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that..."
"No, it's... it isn't that," Lisa caught her breath, ignoring the heat she felt in her cheeks. "It's... I just... I don`t know how I feel about you. I need to... figure that out first, okay? I just need more time. Please give me that."
"We need to... understand each other again, you know? Really learn each other."
Dani visibly swallowed. "I really want to try."
Lisa gave a gentle caress of Dani's cheek. "Then can you do something for me? To prove it?"
"I need you to apologize to Nicole for what you said."
She could tell that that wasn't what Dani had in mind when she asked the question. But that was want she wanted. She was sick of having to worry about what Dani and Nicole would do to each other if they ever bumped into each other again. So Lisa watched for the older girl's reaction, watched her pull back, release her shoulders, and quietly debate with herself about it. But she soon got her answer.
With a heavy sigh Dani exclaimed, "I'll do it."
Lisa smiled at her for it. "Thank you."
* Another ridiculously long chapter. For those that hate reading lengthy chapters (and you guys are out there, I've heard from some of you) I apologize. Big things are happening and the cast of the story is slowly expanding so I kind of have my hands tied.
* I'm aware that there hasn't been much sex in this story recently but bear with me on that one. It'll get steamy again real soon, I promise.