* * * Starring * * *
Danielle 'Dani' Cooper
Copyright © 2008
Copyright © 2008
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created originally by Chris Angel and are copyrighted to him, any reposting or archiving without written permission is an infringement on the copyright of this series. So in other words You damn well better ask before you steal it.
Feedback: Every author in his or her own way makes it a point to ask for feedback when posting a story, well me I don't usually. But there are several reasons as to why a reader should consider taking the time to give it. The simple fact is that giving some form of feedback is truly the most important thing a reader can do after reading and enjoying a story. Hopefully in the process providing that author with at least one viable reason as to what you liked about the story. This small amount of time spent will no doubt inspire the author to write more and possibly at a quicker pace, knowing that they have a fan base who are waiting on their next works. So thanks for the feedback and please keep it comin.
Summary: From writer/producer Chris Angel comes this intoxicating tale of lesbian lust and...love? Poison.
Original Airdate: November 19, 2008 @ 9:00 p.m.
(following an ALL NEW ' Friends and Enemies')
Story Codes: no sex
She didn't often carry a lot of money on her. It wasn't her thing. Someone had told Lisa once that that wasn't such a good idea, not only because it left you shafted if you happened into a spot where you needed that money, but also because your average mugger wouldn't just walk away if you told him you were broke. He'd want something else. But Lisa still made no sweeping attempts to carry money around. This night, luckily enough, was the only exception. As soon as the portly Latino taxi driver pulled up at the curb of Headings-Stanley General Hospital's Accident and Emergency wing, Lisa shoved into her purse and fiddled open her wallet. She had about fifty bucks on her. She grabbed one of the twenties into a hand and thrust the paper money at the driver. He took it with a confirming grunt then went into one of his pockets for change. Lisa completely ignored that and grabbed the handle of the door, yanking it open. Before she could leave the cab driver called out to her with tough Mexican flavouring, "Whoa, whoa, wait a minute! You forgot your change!"
"Just keep it!" Lisa slammed the door behind her. He didn't seem to have a problem with that. Because the next thing he did was put his foot on the gas and peel out of the asphalt. Within seconds the yellowness of his taxi drove out into the heartbeat of the traffic blazing across the way and became indiscernible.
It didn't matter very much. Lisa now found herself standing outside the tall and intimidating walls of the Headings-Stanley A&E. Somewhere deep in her head she reminded herself that this was her father's hospital. If he caught her here or if someone recognized her then she would have some explaining to do. Just how would she do that? How would she explain why she was here? It was a tough-ass question to answer. But Lisa didn't percolate on its cusp because it wasn't really her concern now. What was her concern was the woman whom had been the dominating force behind every tumultuous emotion (each one of them lumbered with demi-orgasmic fury) that she'd felt recently. That woman was Danielle Cooper. And she was here for her now.
It was funny. When Lisa first learned of what happened to Dani through the simpering intern that had been taking care of her, her first thoughts were to rush to the girl's side, irrespective of anything she'd happen to be doing at that point in time. But when she finally got there, there was a suspension. She found herself standing at the Accident and Emergency department's transparent glass doors, silently lingering with chill in the cold night air, watching a few people exit; old women with broken arms, young boys with recently pumped stomachs, people with bandaged gashes and burns. There was no one exiting under the labours of illness -- merely of mishaps that may or may not have been their own fault. Lisa glanced at each one in turn with their own problem. How miserable and wretched they all looked. Vitality had been drained from them and filtered off into the dust of their creation, leaving behind nothing but skin-encased sacks of blood, muscle and bone whom went about things with bemused gracelessness.
Would Dani be anything like that?
If there were anything Lisa found attractive about Dani that did not relate to her seraphic body, it was her almost relentless steadfastness. Dani was like the non-existent dream of the Southern States, she'd always 'rise again'. But what about this time? Seeing Dani with the paste kicked out of her was one thing. Seeing her with her spirit broken was entirely different. There was a firm reluctance on that score. It bugged Lisa. But as strong as that base reluctance was, it paled in comparison to her need to be with Dani right now, her need to be there for her. She couldn't have explained it and in coming days she'd struggle to understand it overall, especially considering all the shit that had gone down between them and all the pacts she'd made with herself to end the cycle. But Lisa knew with impunity that this was where she had to be.
Her free hand balled into a fist. It then clenched and unclenched. That tiny little action gave her the means to calm her nerves and her small feet started to propel her forward. The glass of the double doors slid either side of Lisa as she strode into the lobby of the Accident and Emergency wing's lobby. Numerous metal benches had been built in the centre left side of the room. Seated on many of them were varied people afflicted with various ailments ranging from purple-coloured black eyes and stomach upsets to searing migraines and the odd severed finger (the remnants of which now chilled in bags of ice). Babies were crying in the background, either because they had a problem or because they were being carried by someone who did. To Lisa it was all a malady. How her father came to all of this everyday was beyond her -- hospitals were never her cup of tea.
So the first thing she did was cross the lobby to the reception desk, built for five but manned by two, and she addressed one of those receptionists, a thirty-something woman filing her nails. When she saw Lisa she looked up with dismissive passivity.
"Can I help you?" She asked.
Lisa bit her lip. "Um, a... uh... friend of mine was brought in last night. Danielle Cooper? A doctor called me and he said that, uh, she was, uh... ready to, you know... be picked up, so... could you tell me where she is? I, uh, I appreciate it."
Although she didn't notice it beforehand this woman was chewing bubblegum. She nonchalantly blew it up into a small pink bubble before it broke and she chewed it back into her mouth again. A single instance of this and she went to her computer. Rouge-polished nails tapped in Dani's name. Some mere moments later she glanced back at the young woman and said, "The girl you're looking for is in room eight of the Lovington ward."
"How do I get there?"
She used her nail file to point at a door across the room. "Go up that corridor and take the third left. Climb the stairs to the third floor then hang a right and then another left at the end of that hallway. Follow that to the end and you'll be at the Lovington ward."
Lisa nodded. "Thank you."
As soon as she got that information Lisa pulled her purse off her shoulder and stepped, a bit quicker than usual, to the door that the woman had pointed at. Each of her directions were followed to the letter until she was brought to the green-painted double doors of the Lovington ward. With a single breath taken she pushed inside. It was really just a large chamber -- on one side were the nurses, standing beside shelves of medication and cupboards of breakfast-like food; milk and teabags, coffee and cream, cookies and juice. On the other side were a row of rooms. Twelve of them in total. Each one protected by respective doors with a single translucent window fixed in them. And each door was painted with a number. Dani laid behind the one with an '8' on it. Lisa scanned each number as she walked past them -- to find her.
Her heart quickened when she saw the eighth.
She could feel it pounding forcefully in her stomach. There was a chalkiness in her mouth as well, all of her nervousness had yet to be vanquished, but in this case she could put it to one side -- she had to. As a result Lisa's hand turned the knob and pushed. All thoughts of retreating or rethinking her move disappeared when she stepped inside. When she finally did see Dani her breath froze in her throat, gasping.
She was a wreck.
Whatever happened to her before was a speck on the horizon compared to this. The flesh around Dani's right eye had swelled into a glassy purple. There were at least sixteen cuts across her upper body, arms and neck. Most of them were shallow and patched up band-aids laced with disinfectant. Her pouting lower lip had been cut and crusted flakes of blood remained in her nostrils. A tight set of bandages had been wound around her right hand. The knuckles of it had been skinned -- razor bloodied skin lingering tenuously. The knuckles of her left were only slightly bruised. And of course her ribs had been bandaged too -- Lisa couldn't see them because of the bleach green smock Dani was wearing but she knew they were there. Her normally wavy black hair was now straightened and frayed. Her beautiful skin, tanned by California sun, seemed almost pale now, almost as pale as Lisa's own skin. It didn't suit her. The Italian girl sat slumped in her sterile bed with a kind of distant pondering gaze in her eyes, like she was evaluating something. That gaze curved into a pallid smile the second she caught sight of Lisa.
Not even Lisa could ignore the haunting look relief simmering in Dani's eyes.
"You came..." even her voice was weak. "I'm glad."
She didn't know what to think or what it was she should do. Lisa was in control of nothing, the moment she saw Danielle Cooper, arguably the strongest woman she'd ever known, looking so meek. In the future she'd recall this moment as a blurry cluster of images that she lacked the power to understand. It was instinct that took the fold at that point. The next thing she knew, she was huddled up against Dani, crying openly, arms wrapped around her neck. A significantly weaker Dani embraced her, feebly at first, not oblivious to her own pain, but she prepared to put it all away for her weeping blonde angel. They spent the next quarter of an hour like that. Holding each other. Lisa sobbing into Dani's shoulder. Dani slowly petting Lisa's hair. Those soft and tender minutes, which seemed so prolonged and yet so tranquil to both of them, were like a cool bath on a hot summer day. They did something, something so miraculous and so unexpected that neither Dani nor Lisa would begin to understand until a later date. But with imperceptible slightness it made its mark.
Once Lisa calmed down she snivelled a little. She noticed the hoarseness in her throat. Then she noticed Dani's fingers reaching up to her eyes. The brunette softly wiped the wetness from them with a gingerly administered touch. That hand then evened out and cupped Lisa's baby-soft cheek. Watery blue eyes locked in with meekly optimistic caramel ones. Emotions were communicated through that exchange that no words were needed for. The look alone was enough. Lisa smiled a bit, wiping her eyes herself, getting her breathing back under control, trying hard to keep her lip from trembling anymore than it already was.
Dani smiled back at that, saying, "Are you okay now?"
It was her who should have been asking Dani that. Of that Lisa was conscious. But like most thoughts in her head Lisa didn't voice it, she simply fulfilled the natural response. "Yeah. I think so."
The light smile Dani had diminished. "I'm... really happy you came. After what happened with... that girl, the fight, I was... I was kind of worried that I might've blown it."
"I had to come," Lisa said simplistically. "I didn't think to do anything else."
"...That's nice." Dani tilted her head back. She sighed.
Then there was a pause. Lisa stopped snivelling a moment and wiped up the last of her tear tracks. Dani didn't say anything more. She simply shut her eyes and kept her arms around Lisa's waist whilst Lisa herself sat on the edge of her plain bed-gurney hybrid. From then on every moment was a moment that Lisa would recall with true clarity in the future; because it was the moment she started thinking again. And the thought that stuck out hardest was a question that needed to be answered once and for all. Lisa's breath had one final hitch before she pulled her face from Dani's shoulder. Her little pink tongue poked out to lick off the salty taste of her tears before she cast her gaze and asked with paced finality, "What the hell happened...?"
That was the big question.
And from the look on Dani's face it was still a question that she didn't want to answer. She met Lisa's probing stare for a moment, licked her own lips, then looked away. The grip she had on Lisa's shirt tightened; perhaps more out of nervousness than anything else; but she didn't say anything. But this really wasn't something that could just be shuffled aside or dismissed. This wasn't some childish play fight or some immature little fracas in a high school lunchroom; this was serious. Someone had kicked the crap out of Dani and methodically so.
"Dani," there was a pleading tenor in Lisa's voice now. "Dani, please. Tell me what happened."
Silence. Then; "It's... nothing. I must've just gotten into a fight or something."
It was bullshit and she knew it. Lisa wasn't buying it either. "Come on, Dani! Look at you! Someone beat you up and this isn't the first time! What happened to you!"
"I said it's nothing, alright?" She yelled back defensively.
Lisa tightened up in frustration. She'd almost forgotten how stubborn Dani could be about things. She should have remembered that after everything they'd been through in the short time they'd known each other. But this was an entirely different story. This was assault -- it was nothing to be tight-lipped about. All of a sudden Lisa started to recall all the times before this that hinted something was wrong. She remembered the bruise she'd first seen under Dani's eye. Then there was the pasting she'd gotten in the middle of the week, the one she had to patch up herself. Now there was this. The former two could be explained as random; being clumsy, falling down the stairs maybe, but this was nothing like that. It was no accident or personal mishap. Someone had willingly done this to Dani and there was no excuse for it.
So why wouldn't she explain?
Truth be told it pissed Lisa off. The joke of it all was that Lisa wasn't the type of girl to get 'pissed off'. But who wouldn't be in this situation? However any anger Lisa felt became a weight on her. It was useless now because she needed to be there for Dani. In her constantly analytical mind she knew Dani would become even more closed off if she tried to coax the truth out of her. Now probably wasn't the time for it. So Lisa resolved to be the cement to her bricks at the moment -- and do what she could to repair some of the damage.
She heaved a sigh before peeled Dani's arms off of her and stood up.
"What are you doing?" Asked the older girl.
Lisa straightened out her skirt. "...I'm taking you home."
At the mention of 'home' Dani got terse again, looking away. Lisa noticed it.
"Is there a problem?" She questioned.
She didn't need to be told what to do after that. Dani pulled the covers off and winced in pain when she edged off the bed. Her bare feet plopped on the cold floor so she could stand upright, even if a bit shaky. Beside the bed was a wooden side unit. Dani gradually pulled it open and revealed her clothes. Lisa noted that they were the same set of clothes that she'd worn to school on Friday. That meant that whatever happened to her happened fairly soon after leaving Alderson High. Then the young woman went about pulling the unbecoming smock from her torso. She wasn't really sure why but Lisa watched this by the corner of her eye. She quite soon wished that she hadn't though. When the gown reached as low as the crests of her ass Lisa saw Dani's ribcage. Though all the wrappings were tightly in place you could see streaks of purple and blue by their fringes. It was horrifying. Dani hadn't just been beaten -- she'd been battered. From the looks of things she was lucky not to have broken a rib.
Lisa tightened up and tried desperately to block that out of her head. She quickly went around the bed and came up to Dani who was now, aside from the bandages and underwear, naked. It was the first time she'd seen Dani undressed without succumbing to sexual desire.
The blonde girl took up Dani's blouse. "Lift up your arms."
She obeyed. Lisa stood up on her tip-toes and pulled Dani's blouse down onto her, fitting her arms through the arm holes then buttoning it when in place. Then came the khakis. Lisa unbuttoned then unzipped them before she kneeled down for her. Whilst taking great stress not to aggravate her injuries Dani lifted her foot and threaded her left leg through. She did the same with the other leg. Lisa pulled them up to her waist and refastened the zipper and the button. Next she went for the socks and boots that she'd been wearing. "Sit down, please." Lisa asked of her. Dani did as she was told without a word of protest. So Lisa crouched down and took Dani's left foot into her hand. The older one giggled a bit, clearly ticklish down there, whilst Lisa busied herself.
Although it was perhaps a stupid thing to note, especially at a time like that, she couldn't help but notice that Dani's toenails were pained the same colour as her fingernails -- lavender. For some reason it just seemed to suit her best of all.
Lisa shook her head, not even knowing why she was thinking of something so irrelevant, and slipped the first of the sock pair up her foot. The second one followed afterwards, the cotton fabric gliding up effortlessly. That just left her boots (as far as the lower half of her body went). They were lengthy and had three inches worth of heel. Typical. The worse possible footwear for someone in Dani's condition. Lisa sighed then helped Dani put them on one after the other. Finally there was her trademark jacket, a tiny but well-suited array of ebony leather. Lisa told Dani to stand up and stick out one of her arms. She did, and Lisa pulled it along the length of that arm. The other arm she helped slipped through too.
After that Lisa started buttoning the jacket, informing Dani that it was cold out. She went about this unhurriedly though. They stood face to face together. Close enough for Dani to feel Lisa's breath tease her cold lips with their warmth, close enough for Lisa to smell Dani's intoxicating scent -- poisonberry and mint. They stood like that for perhaps longer than they should have. Danielle watched silently whilst Lisa finished up the last of her jacket's six buttons. She stopped then. Lisa's hands lingered on the bottom of her jacket. Her bright blue eyes rolled north and met Dani's. They happened to glance at each other then, unmoving, not really saying anything, just staring at each other. They'd never been this close to each other without kissing.
"Thank you." Dani said evenly.
Lisa felt her heart race again.
But before she did something stupid, Lisa pulled away awkwardly, walking toward the ashen door. Her hand went to the knob and she turned it. She didn't look back. "I'll speak to one of the nurses about discharging you. Wait here."
Dani replied something but Lisa didn't wait around long enough to hear it. She exited room eight and called on one of the nurses. She spoke quick to get the information. Apparently Dani just needed to sign something and then they could go. After learning that she returned to room eight and Dani was exactly where Lisa had left her, standing beside the bed.
"Lets get going."
A nod was Dani's reply.
By the time they stepped out the nurse that Lisa had spoken to was already back with the form, complete with pen and clipboard. Dani signed the thing then put the pen down. When she did Lisa was at her side. The slightly shorter girl wove an arm around her waist (she was really careful about touching Dani there though) to help guide her to the doors leading out of this ward. They then walked back through corridors and down through stairs to the lobby of the Accident and Emergency wing.
Lisa pointed at the bench seats. "Sit down for a minute, okay? I'll call a cab."
"...Okay." Dani slowly hobbled over to the long seats and parked herself with care. Meanwhile Lisa walked over to the phone compartment that had been mounted on the wall. It was a one-button service. Once she pressed it the number was rung. A short wait later a voice came through. "How can I help you?"
Lisa held the receiver close. "I need a taxi. I'm at Headings-Stanley A and E."
"...Okay. It'll be about fifteen minutes."
"Thank you," Lisa then put the phone down. She sat with Dani after that and waited out the minutes, most of the time in silence, a silence broken only when Lisa swiftly popped into the bathroom for a quick pee. Five minutes or so after she came back a middle-aged guy walked through the door and said, "Taxi for Lisa?". The girl in question shot up her hand, declaring that she was Lisa, then helped Dani to her feet. The two of them followed him out of the hospital and back into the cold night air of the car park. His auto was parked by a delimiting wall. As he unlocked it, Lisa opened the lower left door and helped Dani to climb in. The teen secured her belt then shut her door and got in through the other side.
Once she was buckled up herself the driver asked, "Where to?"
"Crenshaw," Dani whispered.
Lisa glared at her. "...That's where you live?"
"Yeah. Where did you think I lived? Beverly Hills?"
Lisa ignored that sarcasm for the time being. The driver grunted his understanding and put his foot down. He drove them from this relatively suburban setting. The ride took about an hour and a half, longer than what Lisa had expected, but when they got to Crenshaw it certainly wasn't the time taken that bugged her. The place was a dump. Dilapidated waste after dilapidated waste, broken windows, burned out youths hanging around menacingly astride stoops. Police sirens bleared in the murky black distance. In all honesty the place was... well, scary. Lisa glanced back at Dani, questioning her silently, as if to say "is this a joke?". But if there was a joke here then Dani wasn't the one telling it. She turned when she noticed Lisa staring at her and she seemed to understand what Lisa thinking; because she offered the blonde a brief and conforming nod. Dani directed the driver the rest of the way until they pulled up at a quite rundown apartment building.
"That'll be twenty-two bucks." Said the taxi driver.
Dani turned to Lisa. "My wallet's in my jacket pocket."
She would have paid for it herself but she wanted get inside as quickly as possible. Lisa went into Dani's jacket, removed her wallet then took out two tens and two singles. The driver claimed his pay without qualm. Then Lisa went about helping Dani climb out of the back. When they were out on the pavement the taxi peeled off down the street like a bat out of hell.
Dani sniggered mirthlessly. "That's a grown man."
"Can we just get inside please?"
With Lisa being scared it was slightly different. So she nodded and they walked together toward her building. It was a horrible place. The windows of the twin doors into the foyer were smashed open. Its fractured bits of glass were splayed all over the steps and the inside of the hall. Lisa carefully pushed it. The first thing that struck Lisa when she entered was the smell. The whole place reeked of a pungent mix; cigarette smoke, urine, and a robust herbal odour that Lisa would one day come to know as the stink of marijuana. The floor of the lobby was littered with broken glass, crushed beer cans, used needles, burnt spoons and hundreds upon hundreds of cigarette butts. The place looked like it hadn't been cleaned in months. Across the way Lisa saw a drunken old homeless man, shaggy and unkempt, sleeping in the corner.
Lisa was staggered. "...This is... this is where you live?"
They wasted no more words where they were and started walking. There was an elevator but it had an `out of service' sign on it so they were forced to walk up the stairs. The stairwell was of pure stone and its miserable grey walls were hatefully decorated with graffiti. The smell now became one of pure urine, wet patches on every corner, the atmosphere truly foul. Lisa flinched when they passed by a puddle of vomit on the way up. They couldn't have gotten to Dani's apartment fast enough. When they finally came to her door Dani asked, "My keys are in my back pocket. Could you...?"
Lisa slid her hand down the rear left pocket of Dani's khaki's (unintentionally) cupping her ass. She pulled out the keys set and used them in Dani's stead. It took a bit of fiddling because the lock was sort of old, but she got it unlocked soon enough. It swung open with a creaking groan and gestured like a welcoming hand into the place that Danielle Cooper called home.
Lisa was surprisingly surprised to see that Dani's apartment was little better than her building. Aside from the carpeting (which was inexplicably pristine) everything else was a mess. The wallpaper pasted on the walls was coming down in strips or stained into darker shades by the condensation of cooking steam. Aside from one spot on the sofa of the living room the place was littered with empty lager cans and old pizza boxes and the like. A clothes rack stood alone in the corridor. Though she hadn't noticed it before the window of the front door had been broken through, perhaps by a rock or something, and was boarded up with three planks. The kitchen door hung loosely from its rusty hinges and looked ready to snap off at any time. There was a smoky tinge wafting in the air, which was odd because she knew that Dani didn't smoke, but those she lived with clearly did. It all amounted to very inhospitable climate that Lisa herself couldn't stand. It was beyond her how ANYONE could have lived like this, let alone someone like Dani.
The girl in question grinned darkly at it all. "Make yourself at home, Lisa."
Lisa was so stunned that she didn't even know if Dani was kidding or not. She took her arms from Dani now, letting her walk on her own. Then the older girl feebly pushed the kitchen door to one side so she could get in. When she did she called out and asked, "You want a cup of coffee?"
Lisa swallowed the lump in her throat. "No... thank you."
"Okay. Go sit down in my room. It's the second door on the right."
That door was already open. The apartment was only one floor so she simply gaited into Dani's bedroom from the corridor. The first thing Lisa noticed was that this room was better kept than the others. There was a still a bit of damp on the walls but they were painted rather than wallpapered. There were only a few bits of furniture. A single bed (with unmade chequered linen), a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, and a plastic table with a stack of music CDs next to it. Her schoolwork lay strewn along the floor, along with random articles of her underwear and shoes. There was no smoky smell in this room. Lisa felt slightly more comfortable here. So she sat down on the edge of Dani's bed, pausing, trying hard to work all this out in her head. It was then that she noticed a picture frame on the chest of drawers. It was surrounded by other items, a jewellery box, make-up, more CD cases, a plate with a half eaten tuna sandwich on it, an address book, car keys, etc. But the picture stood out for some reason.
Lisa reached over and took it into her hands. Inside it was a picture of a much younger Dani, she was perhaps eleven or twelve when this was taken, and she stood alongside a much taller and more strident woman. That woman looked a lot like Dani did now actually. She had the same pastel olive skin tone, the same rich and luscious black hair, the same charming brown eyes, a true Italian beauty. But there were some differences. Dani's mother was clearly older, wiser, and from the wistful half-smile her face sported -- a little melancholic. The picture had been taken in the lush green foliage of a park. Clearly these were happier days. After a few more moments of admiring that photo (there was no mistaking how adorable Dani looked as a kid with those cute little pigtails of hers) she set it down. Lisa then sat back down and let her eyes wonder again.
Being the kind of girl she was it was only a matter of time before she was curious enough to stare at all the work Dani had scattered across her floor. Something about observing her schoolwork seemed intrusive, but if there was anything that could take Lisa's mind off her horrid environment she'd take it. Her blue eyes rolled downward and observed. There were tests and essays amongst the piles. Quick gazes searched through them all on face level. It was only after checking out the eighth paper that Lisa noticed something.
Dani had fairly decent grades at school.
The lowest grade Dani had gotten (at least from what Lisa could see of the work she had at her feet) was a C+. For everything else it was mostly Bs and the occasional A. It seemed odd to her at first. For some reason, she really didn't expect Dani to be doing well at school. Then she wondered why she would even think that. Dani was a year older than her so they didn't share any classes. And it wasn't something they talked about. She had no way of knowing how Dani performed at school. All of that, coupled with this ghastly apartment and the scummy neighbourhood it was in, made Lisa realize something. She didn't know Dani as well as she thought she did. She'd always taken Dani for some spoilt brat of a young woman who got things too easy in life. She figured that was why Dani was so damn unaccustomed to the word `no'. But that clearly wasn't the case. What else was there that she didn't know about Dani?
Before Lisa could ponder that, Dani slowly ambled into her bedroom with a mug of hot coffee. She gently eased onto the bed next to the blonde, cracking a gentle little smile, nothing like the arrogant smirks Lisa had been so used to seeing from her.
"Enjoying Chez Cooper?" She chuckled, in spite of herself. "Yeah, I guess not."
Lisa stared at her. "I can't believe you live in a place like this."
"...Yeah. It sucks, I know. But what'd you expect, I'm not rich. It's a little shithole, this place. I can't even keep my car anywhere near here, it'd get torn apart. I've got a friend a few districts down though. He has an empty garage. He lets me stash it there most of the time."
"Is that even the point?"
Dani sipped her coffee. "I'm not rich, Lisa."
"You keep saying that," she replied. "I don't get it."
"Maybe I'm trying to make you understand that I'm not like you, okay? I didn't grow up with silver spoons in my mouth and fifty dollar bills flying out my cat's ass. You can smooth it over, ask for anything, and you'd probably get it. You're going to college. You'll get a great job, climb the ladder and be successful; whatever it is you wanna do. I just... I'm not like that. I don't have that."
Lisa nudged closer to her. "You could go to college..."
"College? Yeah, right."
"Of course you could. You've got the grades for it."
Dani paused a moment, mug at her lips, apparently wondering how Lisa knew something like that. She dismissed it just the same though. "It doesn't matter anyway. I haven't got the money for it and I haven't got any specialty so a scholarship isn`t likely to happen either."
"So you're just... content to live like this?"
She didn't reply to that one. Dani just sipped down more of her coffee whilst staring at the wall ahead. Lisa glanced at her. When it became clear that Dani didn't plan on answering though... she looked away. Inevitably her eyes roamed. Even more inevitably those eyes ended up on the picture Dani had on her chest of drawers, the one of her as a kid. Lisa picked it up once again.
Dani blinked. "What are you doing?"
"This is you, isn't it?" She whispered obliviously. "And the woman beside you is...?"
The older girl mellowed some. "...My Mom."
She thought so. The resemblance between them was uncanny. Though Lisa had to wonder, "Does she live here with you?"
"Here? No. She's in West Hollywood with her guy."
With the way she said that it was clear that by `her guy' she meant someone other than her father. Dani sipped some more of her coffee before looking up nostalgically. Her memories became informative pieces for Lisa when they were uttered verbally. "She sends me letters every week. Calls me up every other day. She keeps talking about me moving out there with her."
Lisa was incredulous. "And you won't?"
"She has a kid with him, Lisa. She started up a whole new family. I'm not gonna crash in there and wreck all that."
"Does your Mom know what this place is like?"
"She wouldn't call me so much if she didn't."
"Then she's worried about you."
"More fool her."
Lisa's expression hardened. "I'm worried about you."
Dani stared at her -- blankly. "...Why?"
It was a one word question. At first it struck Lisa as a relentlessly stupid one. Then it dawned on her what Dani meant when she asked "why?". She wasn't asking "why are you so afraid of this place" but rather "why do you even care what happens to me?". And it wasn't some kind of Goth-fabulous or Emo-licious self-loathing in play. It was a strident and simple question in reference to her own personal wretchedness. Why would Lisa even begin to care what happened to Dani after everything she'd done to her? Lisa went quiet again when she caught on to the point Dani was trying to make. She had no answers. She didn't understand why either. She didn't understand why she was here, why she had gone to such effort, why feelings she'd tried so hard to bury started stirring up again. When did Lisa ever have the answers to anything?
So when Lisa said nothing, Dani did what she had to. "...Look. I've been really shitty to you, Lisa. I wanna say I'm... that I'm sorry. And I really mean that. Of all the people in my life, you're... the one person that I just... I'd never want to hurt. I don't know why, it's just... when I'm around you, I get stupid, you know? You make me stop thinking. I just see how sweet and pretty you are and I get... fuddled. I don't know how to fucking explain it, but you just... do things to me. That's all I can say. You make me stupid."
It was some kind of apology wrapped in a hurried and malformed compliment. Lisa was still not able to handle any complements. She blushed, not really smiling, but not uncomfortable either. This was the first time she and Dani had ever sat down and had a serious conversation about anything, the first time she and Dani had shared some byplay that didn't involve her domineering way of doing things. Lisa felt herself melting, relenting, acquiescing and capitulating, all at the thought. She liked Dani this way. Not when she was throwing her weight around or when she was coming onto her without regarding her feelings on the matter, but when she was like this; open and available. It felt like progress.
But that moment was soon ruined. It was ruined when they heard the lock of the front door turn. Dani's brown eyes flashed with panic. "Oh shit! He's back already...! Lisa, you gotta get under the bed...!"
"Just get under the bed...! And keep quiet!"
Lisa shook. "Dani, I don't understand, what-"
"Please just do it...!"
She still didn't get it but the horror in Dani's eyes confirmed to her that she'd best just do what she was told. The girl crouched down to her knees and slid under the safety of Dani's bed, alongside a baseball bat and a worn-out catcher's mitt. Dani carefully put her coffee down before she stepped out of the bedroom into the corridor. The walls were quite thin though. Because of that she could hear Dani's voice almost as clearly as she could when she was inside the room. Almost.
What she was able to make out was her saying, "...Hey, Dad..."
A gruff and disagreeable baritone voice answered her, the voice of Dani`s father. "...I, uh. I got all the way down to the bus stop then I realized I forgot my damn work keys."
"...I haven't seen them."
"...Are you alright? Did they fix you up?"
Cogs started to turn in Lisa's mind when she heard Dani's delayed reply. "...Yeah. I'm okay."
"Alright. I'm... sorry I lost it. Just... go lie down or something, okay? I gotta find my fucking keys."
There was some shuffling and the stomping of boots over carpeting -- boots that clearly weren't Dani's. Then the door was jimmied open and the girl slipped in as carefully and as quietly as possible. Lisa heard the bed springs compress when Dani sat down on the bed. She uttered nothing else. Off in the distance though, she heard wooden drawers being shunted around. There was grumbling, which got louder and louder, along with matching curses of varying offensiveness. Then there was a punt. The 'punt' was of glass being smacked. The next thing heard, so forcefully, was the sound of glass (probably a bottle) being smashed to pieces. Lisa juddered. If she hadn't been so focused on listening to him she would have known how terrified she was.
"...Motherfuck it. Where's my goddamned keys?" Yelled Dani's thunderous father, tearing around his apartment like a madman. There was a silence after that. But it was broken, and Lisa whimpered, when he bestially shouted, "WHERE THE FUCK ARE MY KEYS?!"
The walls shook. There were some people who could send chills down your spine just by hearing them speak. Dani's father happened to be one of them. She heard him stomp around some more, wrenching out more drawers and rifling through spare coat pockets. Then there was a little jingle. Those were his keys. The man whispered a calmer curse before stomping to the door and slamming it behind him.
Dani exhaled, transparently relieved. "You can come out now."
Lisa poked her head out from under the bed before climbing out entirely. As soon as she was on her feet, she cast her gaze directly at Dani. The look wasn't returned. The older girl simply glanced away, partly ashamed, partly embarrassed. So when Dani wouldn't look at her Lisa spoke the reality that neither one of them wanted to broach.
"He did it, didn't he?"
Dani said nothing.
"He's the one... the one whose been..." Lisa tensed. "Your father's been hitting you?"
The truth had been unfurled yet still Dani spoke no words. That silence said all that needed to be said, as did that jaded look in Dani's eye. Now everything made sense. Why Dani was so secretive about it, why her mother wasn't living here anymore, why Dani seemed to negative about parental authority in general. Lisa had seen it before from Dani so many times but she never posited it as some kind of trend. Now it was clear that it was. The way she disparaged Lisa's parents, the way she was so cold about Nicole's father's disability, her old claim that 'parents were overrated'. It all made sense now. Dani's father was abusing her. Suddenly every kind of preconception she had about Danielle Cooper and every pained feeling she'd expressed in her own life flew out the window. What really was her indecision in comparison to the shit that Dani had been going through? More questions came to her then. Like how long had this been going on? Was this the reason her Mom left? Why hadn't she gone with her Mom?
But every question she could think of fell to the wayside at the behest of single one that surged forward harder and faster than any that had come before it. Lisa had to ask, "Why didn't you tell me?"
That, Dani was quick to answer. "When have we ever talked about anything? We never did. I never let you. And I didn't want to. When I'm with you, you know, I just... I don't think about it."
It became quiet again. Lisa watched Dani and her expressions, probing her, trying to understand all this. But there was no solid logic for it. You couldn't step around it or sugar-coat it. This was abuse. So Lisa's only answer was to do what anyone in her position would have done. She yanked the purse strap from her shoulder and unzipped it, dragging out her cell phone.
Dani glanced at this. "What are you doing?"
"I'm calling the police."
"Lisa! Don't-" When she moved to stop her there was a painful, fiery spasm at her ribcage. She stopped and grimaced, the pain holding her in check. Lisa saw her in agony and quickly went to her side. Two thin arms came around her shoulders and waist to keep the young woman still.
"You can't move around like that." Exclaimed Lisa, holding her cell phone tight.
Dani, cringing, glared at her with desperation. "...Lisa, please. Please don't call the cops..."
"...You're out of your mind..." For the first time in a while Lisa started to speak the things that were really on her mind. Her free hand tightened into a fist and the frustration she was feeling from all of this swept over her like a composed torrent, unbidden. "That... bastard! That bastard! That bastard's been hitting you, Dani! He's abusing you! We can't let him get away with this!"
The Cooper girl paused. And in spite of herself, staring at Lisa, she chuckled.
"What is so funny?"
"I think that's the first time I've heard you swear."
Lisa released her. "Is this all a joke to you? That man is a lunatic and he could have killed you...! Why would you even begin to defend him after what he did?"
The reply Dani gave was delayed... but heartfelt.
"...He's my Dad."
"I don't care who he is, he-"
"Lisa," she stopped the girl with an earnest stare. "He's my Dad. I can't do that to him."
Part of her was wondering if Dani really meant that. But Lisa saw Dani's seriousness. She really was trying to protect that psycho. At that point ninety-nine problems swam around freely in her head. An outspoken league of emotions cajoled her. There was anger. Anger at that asshole for hurting Dani, anger at Dani for wanting to protect him, and anger at herself for not realizing how bad things really were. There was also frustration. A frustration with how things had played out, how powerless she felt, and how desperate she was to help Dani. Then there was shame. Lisa felt shame when she compared her life to Dani's. She hated her Dad, Richard, for ignoring her. But compared to Dani's father he was a saint. All the bitching she'd known herself to do up o this point, about her life and how isolated she felt at home and at school, now seemed so trivial and meaningless. But most of all... there was one thing Lisa Whitfield felt that haunted her above all others and it wasn't something she felt for herself. That feeling was fear. When she turned to Dani, her sparkling blue eyes were already quivering with it.
"...I'm so scared for you..."
Dani smiled a bit. It wasn't a smile of jollity or happiness, just one of calming grace. Her arms soon enfolded Lisa's body to bring them together. It was a tender embrace that approximated more intimacy than Lisa had known Dani capable of. But it was always there. Behind all her bravado, behind all her sexual possessiveness, behind all of her overconfidence and immaturity, there was warmth and elegance. Lisa couldn't possibly describe it any other way. She had seen it before. She remembered the last time Dani's father had knocked her around. She helped Dani clean up her face. The vulnerability and softness was there back then. But Lisa had taken it as just a side to her. It wasn't just 'a side' though. It was who Danielle Cooper was. All of the assurance and overt strength that attracted Lisa to her in the first place was an obscuring cloud, a smokescreen. When Lisa finally had the chance to see beyond those billows she found Dani anew. And the woman she saw glistened with a quite different strength now.
If only Dani had been upfront with her from the beginning, they might have...
"Lisa," before she became lost in herself again she heard Dani call on her. "Listen. He... my Dad, you know, he... wasn't always like this. When Mom was still around... I remember him being kind to me. Sure, he got angry every now and again... but he never hit me. Then Mom left and everything changed. He got depressed, started drinking, he lost his job and then he fell apart."
A tear fell from Lisa's eye. But she didn't sob. "...You can't stay here with him."
"I'm not going to. Senior year is gonna be over in a few months. As soon as it is I'm gonna get a full-time job and earn some money. When I save up enough I'm gonna find myself an apartment, far away from this hellhole. I just have to tough it about a bit longer, okay?"
It wasn't okay.
"...I understand, but..."
"Lisa, I know what I'm doing," then Dani pulled away a bit. "Now I think you need to get going."
Though she didn't like it here she certainly didn't want to leave Dani alone here either. Dani seemed to get that sentiment without being told about it. "I'd love for you to stay longer, Dad won't be back until morning, but you can`t. It's early hours yet but this block gets really rough after ten. I don't want you hanging around here. Call a taxi then go home. Don't worry about me."
How could she do anything but worry about Dani? It was annoying but there was little she could say at this point. Dani wouldn't budge. For a moment Lisa even considered bringing Dani back to her place but dismissed the idea just as quickly. It would never work with her parents. They weren't exactly the charitable sort and they certainly wouldn't take well to a girl like Dani. Then her thoughts went to someone else, Dani's Mother. All of the well-oiled gears in her brain did their job flawlessly. Lisa was quick to remember that Dani had an address book on her chest of drawers. Time to be sly again.
"I uh..." Lisa acclimated herself, wiping away her tears. "I'll call for one. Have you got a number?"
Dani pointed at the table across from them. There was a little card there.
"Okay, thanks. Before I go, could you, uh... go get me a cup of coffee?"
Lisa shrugged. "I'm a bit cold."
"Oh. Okay." Dani lifted herself up and trotted out the door, across the hall and into the kitchen. As soon as she was out of sight and earshot, Lisa launched up and snatched the address book. She skimmed through it all the way to the 'M's and looked up Mom. There were two numbers there. Home phone and cell number. So Lisa took a pen out of her purse, tore off a piece of paper from one of Dani's old essays, and scribbled down both of her mother's numbers. Then she thrust the note into her purse.
Dani was still in the kitchen.
Now all she had to do was call for the taxi. Lisa took to the card Dani had pointed out then flipped open her cell phone to make the call. Though she hadn't realized it she'd actually turned the thing off before. So when she turned it on again she was startled to see the screen display seven unanswered messages -- and all of them were from Nicole. Lisa gasped. It didn't take long for the penny to drop. She had forgotten all about Nicole the moment she got the call from the intern. In her head she pictured how it must have looked -- her running off without saying a word and leaving her, Jenny and Megan in her wake. How did she forget something like that?
It was a pickle but Lisa had to order the taxi first. She had to get out of here, call Dani's Mom, tell her everything, and then she could think about the consequences of her actions. So Lisa tapped in the number of the taxi firm to get in touch with them. When she got through she told them where she was and the guy told her it would be there in about five minutes. Apparently their office was pretty close by. Once that was confirmed she put her cell back in her purse. Shortly afterwards Dani stepped in with another mug, this one slightly cracked, with coffee in it.
"Here." She said.
"Thank you," Lisa sipped some before telling Dani that, "The taxi will be here in five minutes or so."
"Yeah. I knew they'd be quick." A pause. "Look, Lisa, before you go. I wanna say something to you."
Dani sighed. "...Thank you so much for... you know, being there for me tonight. You really don't know how much it means to me. And I'm so sorry for everything that happened. I swear to God, I didn't mean to hurt you. If I knew how I was making you feel I wouldn't have done it. I know I'm a bitch for saying this, but... if you could forgive me sometime... down the line... I'd really like that."
For some reason that was the furthest thing from her mind right now. She didn't want to dwell on it. Something had changed tonight, and while Lisa wouldn't be able to place it now, there would come a time when she knew implicitly what had happened. For now she only wanted Dani's safety to be her concern.
"Lets not talk about that now, okay?" Asked Lisa.
A nod. "Okay."
The rest of the time they sat together in silence. Not a single word was spoken. They didn't need to speak. They only exchanged small glances, Dani giving Lisa tiny, reassuring smiles and a more distracted Lisa meeting those smiles with more reactionary ones of her own. Lisa took her in like a glass of water. It was weird, but... even with a cut lip and a black eye, Dani still looked beautiful. With her current frailty, maybe even more so. A car horn soon bleared outside.
Dani knew that was the taxi. "You'd better get going."
All of a sudden Lisa tensed, like she didn't know what she wanted do to, but quickly she settled on something. She hugged Dani and she held on tight, like she would a life preserver in the middle of the Atlantic. "Be careful, okay?"
"I will. I'm fine."
An exhale. Then Lisa let go of Danielle and stood up again. It was time to go. She claimed herself one last look at the girl that had been such a big part of her life recently then turned on her heels and walked out of the bedroom, the out of the Cooper apartment. She closed the door behind her, feeling the whip of the cold night air, and ran as fast as she could to the stairwell, then down it, into the lobby, and finally out of its broken doors. Lisa jogged up to the window of the car and knocked it.
The cabman rolled it down. "Taxi?"
He unlocked the doors. Lisa shuffled into the backseat and shut the door behind her. As soon as she was inside he turned at the wheel and started driving. Thankfully Lisa had told his firm earlier where she needed to go. While she was whisked away from the decrepit urban waste that was that part of Crenshaw, Lisa took out her phone and flipped it open. There was something she had to get out of the way now. Something she felt guilty about. She scrolled through the few programmed numbers she had on it and selected Nicole's.
It started ringing.
She was quick to pick it up on the other end. "...Lisa? Is that you?!"
"Yes. It's me."
"...Oh thank God...!" There was a sigh of relief on the other end. "Jesus Christ, where the hell have you been? I've been worried sick! You had a phone call to answer or something, I remember that, and then you were just gone! What the hell are you playing at?!"
Lisa squirmed. "...I'm sorry. I didn't think..."
"...Well, at least you're okay. You are okay, right? Did anything happen?"
Something did happen. But it was nothing like what Nicole was probably thinking. All of a sudden Lisa's priorities had changed. Things were different. Yet all of it was nothing she could confess to Nicole. She couldn't even begin to tell her what she'd seen tonight. Dani wouldn't have wanted her to and she doubted Nicole would've been able to understand it.
"Lisa, what happened?" Repeated Nicole.
While she couldn't explain the details... she could still speak from the heart. "...Someone I know was in trouble. I had to help her. That's... all it is."
She heard Nicole pause on the other end. Lisa knew Nicole was aware that there was much more to it, that the surface of something more important had only been scratched. Even Lisa's little placating admission was clouded. She said "someone I know". That wasn't what she wanted to say. It was becoming clear now. What she wanted to say wasn't "someone I know" but rather "someone I care about".
The task now was to find a way to protect her.