But We’re All Friends Here, Pt. 1

But We’re All Friends Here
Part One
Secrets, Lies, and Rumors (Danie)

September was not only the month in which autumn began, but it seemed that it was also the month in which something else other than the season seemed to wind to a close.

A week or so earlier, young adults filled the Kaminari[1] University campus with their excitement and eagerness. People clamored to buy books, settle into dormitories, and meet new people. Parties were planned, gatherings were instigated. Class schedules were made, some were purged, and the bursar’s office was crowded per usual. The usual players settled into their roles and looked out for the new flock to join their game.

And during this back-to-school uproar, the life of Daniella Thomas had changed.

Turning seventeen last year was hard enough for the young woman for many reasons. Danie had barely graduated the previous May due to the misfortunate events that she had endured on her sixteenth birthday. As she stood in the winding line at the campus bookstore with her basket of books, she firmly resolved not to think about it. She would be turning eighteen in a week, and the whole ordeal was nearly two years behind her. Danie still had the stretch marks to remind her of her so-called “mistake,” but that could be easily covered as anything else could. As long as no one knew.

Secrets, she mused as the line inched along. How many secrets do we all hold within us?

A moment later, she laughed inwardly at herself, for she figured she shouldn’t be all philosophical about something so…oh…silly. The inner subtleties of human beings probably would be analyzed and debated upon for centuries to come. Besides, she was a freshman in college, and she wasn’t old enough to start thinking about that sort of thing. At least until next year.

Or was she? Could age be determined in experience rather than time?

“Oh Daniella dearest!”

Whew. Danie blinked, and then turned in the direction of the voice. It took some time to register in her brain that her best friend Charlene Daniels had called out to her. The petite brunette was practically stalking toward her in a fire-engine red shirt and a denim skirt. Danie noticed some guys glancing upon Charlene with those red-blooded male looks, and she fought an eye roll, turning attentively to her friend as she prattled on about someone she had just met.

When Charlene was finished with her spewing, Danie asked, “So do I get to meet this awesome guy, or are you going to keep him from me?” Then she frowned. “And what was his name again?”

“Isidore Corcoran,” Charlene replied a bit impatiently. Danie inched forward and Charlene followed suit, desperate to tell anyone her good news. “Have you ever heard of him? He’s really tall, plays for the university football team, and has dark hair and these totally orgasmic eyes that aren’t quite green or blue…”

Danie could only chuckle at her friend’s description of the guy she was newly enamored with. “Well, when I ever run into Isidore Corcoran, I guess I’ll know it’s him if I have to change my underwear afterwards.”

“Danie, you’re so funny,” Charlene simpered, then she rushed on. “But we met at the rush party–”

“Oh shit!” Danie bellowed in sudden frustration. Many of the bookstore patrons turned to look at her, but it was in usual Danie fashion that she didn’t give a, well, you can guess the word.

Charlene bit her lip. “Oh, right, I forgot to tell you about that.”

Danie sighed. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be then. Now that I think about it, I don’t have time for sorority life, you know? I mean, not with everything else going on…”

Charlene patted her friend on the shoulder. “Oh, Danie, you’ll get your modeling contract back, I know you will. You’re so beautiful and talented…”

Danie thought that sounded a bit false, but she ignored the nagging feeling. “Thanks Char.” She swallowed the bile that came with thinking about the past and smiled. “Maybe when you get into the sorority you can spare some time for your old fat friend over here.”

“We’ll have plenty of time to each other this year, I promise.”

* * *
Meanwhile, a little farther back in the line, Jennifer Dunne blew her blond bangs out of her face and noticed her younger cousin standing nearby. She was talking to a short girl in red and holding a plastic basket. As the brown-haired girl turned, Jennifer recognized Charlene Daniels immediately, and figured she should have known by the signature red top.

A hint of a smile appeared on Jennifer’s face. She was proud of Danie for picking herself up from her bad luck and moving on. Everyone was. Well, everyone that knew that is. The Thomas cousins vowed a pact of secrecy when it came to Danie’s incident, and so far, the pact had been airtight. The thing that worried Jennifer was Charlene’s reaction when she found out about it. No, Charlene had not been present when Danie suffered her fall from grace; she had been away with her parents over in the more affluent parts of New York state for the whole school year. By the time Charlene returned the following summer, Danie only seemed a bit more somber than usual and a little round-faced. And Danie offered no explanation, just pressed Charlene on what she did while she was away. Jennifer knew this because she had been there when Charlene came back. And even afterwards, no one had asked. No one told. It remained hidden.

The repressed has a way of speaking out, she mused. And of course, that alarmed her.

Charlene would be pissed whenever she found out that Danie had kept something very important from her. Charlene was Danie’s self-designated best friend, even though Jennifer herself had been one of the ones to hold Danie’s hand throughout the whole ordeal. Jennifer didn’t care for titles and designations when it came to her friendship with her cousin; it was so deeply rooted in time and experience that that sort of superficial thing did not matter. To Charlene, however, it would matter.

There had been times where Charlene had stuck up for Danie like a best friend should, but there were times when Jennifer felt nothing like sisterly devotion emanating off of the petite brunette. She figured that Danie’s beauty and charm sparked some jealousy within Charlene, but there wouldn’t be any reason for Charlene to do anything hurtful to Danie when she found out Danie’s secret, would she?

But still, as Danie and Charlene went off into the crowd outside the bookstore, Jennifer sensed a twinge of something ominous.

* * *

The next afternoon, Charlene met Danie outside Kimagure Hall after freshman orientation activities. Danie, who had yet to meet her roommate and fully unpack her things from home, felt nothing like she was oriented with anything. But she pushed the uprooted feeling aside and pasted a smile upon her face for her approaching friend.

“You look happy,” Danie commented, taking notice of Charlene’s flushed face.

“I am happy,” Charlene confirmed. “You wouldn’t guess what happened to me!”

Before Danie could say anything, they heard a shout from nearby. Beyond the path that lay before them, a dark-haired young woman wearing a flowered blouse and dark jeans was telling off a brawny jock with an eclectic mix of English and Spanish.
Danie was intrigued.

Charlene was pissed.

“Gee, I don’t think I’ve heard English ever being spoken that way in my life,” Danie said, awed. Charlene said nothing.

The girl slapped the jock and stalked up the steps to Kimagure Hall with the obvious intent of going inside. The guy followed her and jerked violently on her arm. The other hand released the piece of paper that it had previously grasped, and the paper fluttered to the ground in front of Danie’s feet.

The space titled “Name” was filled with two words: Miranda [2] Willard.

Oh holy crap. That’s my roommate!

Suddenly, Danie walked down the steps before she knew what she was doing. Charlene knew that if she tried to stop her, it would be impossible, so she didn’t try.

“Hey estupido!” she called. Miranda and the guy looked up. He appeared mildly shocked that a pretty girl like Danie was yelling at him but was mostly aggravated about the interruption.

“Hey, what the fuck do you want?” he demanded.

Danie raised an eyebrow. He even sounded like an asshole. “What’s your name, son?” she asked, arms crossed.

“Greg, if it’s any of your fucking business.” He leaned in closer to Danie. “But I think it’s not so butt the fuck out.”

Danie tried not to gag at the overwhelming smell of alcohol on his breath and spoke evenly. “I think you should take your hand off of her, pronto.”

Greg, who was not averse to showing a girl where he thought that she belonged, let go of Miranda and stepped up to Danie. Much to his surprise, Danie was about the same height as he was after she straightened to her full stature. Sensing his surprise, the corners of her mouth turned up.

“I didn’t ask you what you thought,” he said ominously. “So mind your own, bitch.”

Oh hell no. Irritation shifted into full-out anger. The corners of her mouth went downward as it tightened then morphed into a feral smile. There was something in the combination of his acrid breath, his menacing stature (well, in his opinion), and the use of the word bitch at the end of his last sentence that pushed Danie from sane to insane.

A few minutes later, Miranda watched in awe as Greg stumbled away holding his bruised and dangling genitals. And she knew she had a new best friend.

* * *

“Where the hell did you learn that move, chica?”

Danie shrugged and looked at Miranda over her milkshake. The Moon Spot was semi-crowded but she could still hear Miranda without having to strain. The evening dinner rush had not yet begun, much to their relief. “I guess I learned it from my sister Jess. She would have probably twisted his off, though, if he talked to her like that.”

Miranda chuckled into her own milkshake, imagining the scene. Beside Danie, Charlene sipped her Diet Coke and giggled. Danie watched her new roommate and wondered why such a vivacious, strong-willed young woman would associate with a pile of horse shit like Greg the Jock-Strap.

“I thought he would be an interesting guy to date,” Miranda admitted after Danie had asked.

Danie nodded in understanding. “I suppose that’s why we all do things like that. We think it’ll be interesting or challenging or something.”

“It was certainly a challenge. I thought he was going to try to rape me on my doorstep.”

“Well, you know what I would have done.” Danie and Miranda shared a glance and laughed.

For a moment, there was silence among them. The din filled in the nothingness, but none of them spoke. Danie got the feeling that Charlene was a bit annoyed because she wasn’t quite in the limelight anymore.

The bell above the door to the Moon Spot opened and a few guys strode in. Charlene immediately perked up.

“There he is,” she murmured. Louder, she said, waving her arms in the air, “Izzy! Izzy, over here!”

Danie looked in the direction Charlene gestured. Four guys in jeans and T-shirts had turned at Charlene’s shout, but one of them acknowledged it. He was tall, with thick, dark hair and light eyes, and Danie felt herself getting a bit itchy as she remembered Charlene’s description of his eyes. Miranda gazed at Izzy speculatively and couldn’t help admiring him like a woman her age would. Danie, knowing Charlene was interested in him, tried to remain objective about the six-foot-two-inch hottie that was standing among them and stealing glances at her.

It was damn hard.

“These are my friends Danie and Miranda,” Charlene was saying to Izzy.

“Nice meeting you, Miranda…” Izzy trailed off as if something were brimming on the edge of his brain. “Danie! Oh! So you’re the Daniella Thomas I’ve heard so much about. Funny, Charlene doesn’t talk about you.”

Danie frowned as Charlene covered the thick silence with a laugh and insisted that she hadn’t had a chance to mention her bestest friend in the world. Miranda’s eyebrows seemed to disappear into her bangs. Danie tried to smile, too, but it came across as a grimace.

“Well, I’ve got to go to practice,” Izzy told them. He looked meaningfully at Charlene. “I’ll see you later.” Pause. “It was nice meeting you, Danie, Miranda,” he added, gazing at them both as he said their names. Danie felt an odd thrill that came with being admired and at the same time the usual dread that came with being admired by her best friend’s love interest.

It was going to happen again.

Charlene excused herself to walk him to practice, telling Danie that she would call her later and Miranda farewell. Danie echoed her sentiments, and then went back to her milkshake. Miranda said nothing, just staring at her.

“What?” Danie asked, feeling uncomfortable.

“He likes you,” Miranda responded simply.

“So? That doesn’t mean it’s going to turn into anything.”

Miranda said nothing.

“Miranda… Come on. I won’t touch him. Charlene’s my friend.”

“You think so?” Miranda probed thoughtfully. “I mean, do you really know, chica?”

Now that was an interesting question if there ever was one.

* * *

A few weeks later, midterms began. In one American history class, Professor Harriman passed out the study guides for the exam and dismissed class. The students knew that Aunt Flo was paying her a long and painful visit, so they cheered inwardly among themselves and celebrated the time that had been bestowed upon them. Melanie Smith, however, decided that this was a good opportunity for them to actually study for the midterm. In their exultation, none of her classmates wanted to join her.

Amid the class thinning out, Melanie spied Izzy saying goodbye to a fellow classmate with a strange look in his eye.

“Hey,” she greeted him as a few girls who had hoped to have a word with him passed them by. “I’m going to the library to start studying for the midterm. You want to join me?”

Izzy shrugged. “Might as well. It would get my mind off of things.”

Melanie frowned at the tone of Izzy’s voice. When they traveled into the emptying hallway, Melanie paused a moment before speaking, trying to find the right words to bring Izzy out of his protective shell.

“Something wrong?” she asked gently. “I mean, the football season’s awesome—”

Izzy chuckled humorlessly. “It’s definitely not football I’m worried about.”

“Well…? I mean, I know you’re doing okay in class so it can’t be that. So what is it? Is it family problems? Did Kai finally kick your ass like he’s been promising to?”

This time Izzy laughed as they exited the building. Kaine Corcoran was his older brother and was not averse to kicking his little brother’s ass. But it was all in good humor, as it was more like playful wrestling than a beating.

“I haven’t seen my brother since he started his new job,” Izzy responded. “So my family’s fine.”

Melanie crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, then, dammit, stop beating around the bush and tell me what’s going on! I can’t play Sally Jessy if I don’t know the problem.”

There was a pause. It was Izzy’s turn to find the right words to say. But Melanie waited patiently for them. She was not merely a gossip seeker, waiting for the newest information; she was a good friend of Isidore Corcoran outside of his football exploits and the hordes of jock groupies.

Finally Izzy spoke. “I’m having relationship problems.”

Melanie frowned thoughtfully. “Relationship problems?” she repeated slowly, the meaning not quite dawning on her quite yet. Her mind clicked and whirled for a moment, then in a flash, it came to her.

“Whoa…are you and Charlene having problems?”

“Well, Charlene might not think so…”

Melanie walked through the door of the library as Izzy held one open for her. She sought out a nice private space for her and Izzy to talk and found one near the periodicals. She quietly settled herself at an empty table and Izzy followed suit, taking the seat next to her. Still looking perplexed, Melanie took her history notebook and textbook from her backpack and set them upon the table top.
“Maybe you want to elaborate on that comment you just made,” Melanie said while opening her notebook.

Izzy opened up his own text. “It’s just that Charlene has been acting weird the last few weeks. She’s been breaking dates with me, saying that she’s got to go home and do family stuff.”

“She could be telling the truth, though. I mean, her father works for Baxley Incorporated and he’s got a nice pile of money. I’ll bet that her parents have got her playing her little society role.”

“I guess. I thought of that, too, but something doesn’t seem right about that theory. She’s a lot more enthusiastic than you would think she would be about some silly parties thrown by her parents.”

“What? It seems like she wants to go?”

Izzy nodded.

“Oh.” Melanie halted pensively. “Well, what do you think is going on?”

“Have you ever heard of Harold Gray?”

Melanie nearly choked on her saliva. “God, who hasn’t? That jerk is the most disgusting piece of skin and bones since…” She broke off and allowed herself a shudder. “God. I’m sorry, Iz, but have you heard about what he does to girls with his ascot? Damn, that bastard’s nauseating.”

Izzy raised earnest eyes to Melanie’s. “I think she’s cheating on me with Gray.”

Pause.

Melanie’s mocha eyes widened. “What?!” Izzy glanced around as some irate studying enthusiasts glared at them and then shushed her. She sighed, chastised. “Sorry.”

“I can understand your shock. I felt the same way.”

“But Harold Gray, though?” Melanie shuddered, still imagining the ascot. “Whatever. So what are you going to do? I mean, if you call her out on it, she might deny it.”

It was Izzy’s turn to sigh. He tapped his ink pen against his history text. “You’re right,” he agreed. “I’ve got no choice. I’ve got to break it off with her.”

“Good. A guy like you deserves better.”

“I know.” A long pause. “So, um, I was thinking of possibilities of new girlfriends, and…”

“And?” Melanie’s perfectly arched eyebrows quirked. “Well who do you have in mind?”

Izzy fidgeted for a moment, and Melanie felt a twinge of alarm and intrigue despite herself. This could not be filed away in the usual section of jock conquest, and not because this young man was an unusual jock. Something in his eyes hinted that this was different. And maybe risky. Or foolish. Uh oh.

“Who is it?” she prodded. She had to know. No matter how much her instincts told her to stay away from the question, she gravitated toward it before she could fight the urge to utter it aloud.

His iridescent eyes lifted to hers again. “Danie Thomas.”

Well, damn. She should have just stayed out of it.

* * *

A few weeks later, in the euphoric aftermath of the assault of the plague called midterms, Jennifer knocked on the door of room 310 at Kimagure Hall.

Danie answered with her black hair piled on top of her head and a mysterious mixture that covered her face. “Jenny darling, I thought you’d never come,” she drawled and drew in her cousin with an exaggerated motion. Jennifer giggled as she entered Danie and Miranda’s room.

Music was playing loud and strong. Drink cans in various stages of empty and full and bags of junk food added to the mixture that was affectionately dubbed girls’ night. Three girls already filled the two beds. Miranda sat on her own bed, her hair wrapped in hot rollers. Melanie Smith and Megami Takumi[3] occupied Danie’s messy bed, squealing at the most recent Cosmo magazine.

“You guys started without me!” Jennifer exclaimed with half-consternation.

“Well, we couldn’t help it,” Melanie told her. “Cosmo has this recipe for the perfect homemade face cream and I wanted to try it.”

“Translation: I wanted to use someone else as a guinea pig,” Megami piped up.

“We dared Danie to do it,” Miranda added.

Danie crossed her arms over her chest. “You all are just chicken.” She glanced over at Megami and Melanie. “If you guys are checking out that section on ‘101 Sex Moves from All Around the World,’ then I should warn you that it probably won’t help your dormant sex life.”

Melanie responded to that by heaving a pillow at Danie, which hit her in the face. The room erupted into laughter.

“Damn you all to hell,” Danie seethed, trying not to laugh. “You got my pillow dirty.”

“Well,” Melanie began between laughs, “at least we got your face clean.”

Danie muttered something unsavory about what Melanie could do with her homemade face cream and flopped down on Miranda’s bed where Miranda herself was stretched out and laughing. Danie shoved her aside and made herself room. Jennifer pulled up a desk chair and peeled off her jacket and shoes. As Jennifer pulled up her legs Indian-style, Danie’s phone jingled.

“Aw hell—if that’s anyone with a penis, you gotta tell him to call you back,” Megami said.

Miranda leaned over to read Danie’s caller ID. “Well, this person might as well have a penis,” she proclaimed. “It’s Charlene.”

Danie shoved Miranda again, but not because she was taking up too much room. “I told you to leave Charlene alone, Miranda.”
Miranda put up her palms in a gesture of sheepishness. “Hey, I’m sorry. I just go by what I hear, chica.”

“Aw shit, the gossip begins…” Melanie muttered. She turned to Miranda. “Girl, I hate to be evil, but what you heard, I probably heard, too.” Then she turned to Danie. “Danie, you can’t say your ears have been closed on this one.”

Danie inhaled. Instead of saying anything, she stood and walked to the sink. There was silence as she washed her face.

Jennifer bit her lip. “Danie?”

Silence. Danie pressed her face into a towel.

“Chica?” This entreaty came from Miranda.

The towel fell, and Danie’s olive-complected face was revealed, stained red with anger. “How the hell do you expect me to talk trash about my best friend not to mention hear someone else do it?”

They all fidgeted as if they were trying to find a way to say what they wanted to say but Danie’s question was met with more silence. Danie tossed the towel into her hamper. Jennifer rose from her chair.

“Look, Danie, we’re sorry,” she said through the thick silence. “Sit down and we’ll talk about something else.”

“I can’t,” Danie responded, face ashen.

“The hell you aren’t!” exclaimed Miranda. “Sit the fuck down, Danie. It’s about time we talked like mujeres about this Charlene Daniels.”

“Don’t tell me what to do, Miranda.”

“Do you think I’m listening to you right now, chica? You, who stands by while her supposed best friend while she’s out there gaining a bed rep for you both and whoring around?”

Danie trembled. Jennifer recognized the look in her violet eyes but found herself mute to explain to Miranda. Miranda, oblivious to Danie’s rising anger, barraged on.

“I have met muchachas like that Charlene Daniels you’re so loca about, and believe me, I would save myself from the trouble if I were you.”

“Charlene and I have stuck by each other through a lot of shit, thank you very much. What would that say to her if I left her now while you are making these accusations?”

“It would say to her that you’re not as estupida as she is making you out to be,” Miranda shot back. “Stop allowing her to make an ass out of you.”

“Charlene is not making as ass out of me,” Danie insisted.

“Well, her exploits certainly are,” Miranda countered.

The two young women stared at each other for a long time. Danie remembered the conversation she had with Miranda after meeting Izzy at the Moon Spot some weeks earlier. Miranda had seen it then. Charlene had been spending less and less time with Danie lately, but Danie knew that her family had some influential people to coddle and host, so she hadn’t minded the absence so much. In that time, she spent time with Miranda or Jennifer.

So what the hell did that mean?

“Jennifer has the right idea,” Megami murmured. “We should change the subject.”

“Meg’s right,” Melanie agreed. “Did you guys hear about Sakura Tsukimori Memorial Ball next semester?”

Melanie’s contribution was the thing that revitalized the party. The girls spoke excitedly about what they would wear, who would be there, and how grand it would be.

That is, except Danie.

It was one of those moments where she could not commit herself to the exchange. Instead, she reached across Miranda for her cell phone as the Spanish girl unraveled the hair rollers from her thick dark hair. The voicemail message seemed to beckon her to answer it. But she couldn’t. What could she find out?

And a nagging voice told her that Miranda was only telling the truth. And that fact scared her.

[1] Kaminari: Japanese, lightning or thunder. This is why the characters refer to any University students as the “K-Storm” crowd. Most of the major buildings on the University campus have been given Japanese names.
[2] Miranda: I gave Miranda her name because it is a sort of play on words. In Spanish, the word mirando is the present participle form of mirar, which means to look. Mirando means “looking,” so expect Miranda to be seeing things that others do not see, namely Danie.
[3] Megami: Japanese, goddess. Takumi: Japanese, skillful.

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