All she could remember was leaving the apartment, wearing her partying uniform.
New York City on September second had been cooler than Danie had expected. Instead of venturing back to get something to trap her body heat, the now-sixteen-year-old strolled jovially down the semi-crowded street. Ah, she didn’t need a jacket. It would have only dampened the cuteness of her new outfit.
The Choco-Latte Café had loomed in her sight, the blinking sign seeming to beckon her. The memory of a cappuccino with a huge rice krispy square had filled her taste buds and stomach with hope and longing. Yes, that would have been the lovely reward for being a good birthday girl—even though she did have her figure to maintain.
Unfortunately, the birthday gods had decided they were going to play a cruel joke on Daniella Thomas.
“Oomph!” Danie had cried as someone had crashed into her, causing her to collapse clumsily to the ground. That had obviously messed up her stride. She had been fuming.
That had been, until she had looked up into the most handsome face she had seen since her last photo shoot.
“Um, hi,” Danie had mumbled, the words more or less tumbling out of her mouth.
“Hi.” The guy had offered her his hand. Hmm. Perfect hands too. “Sorry for knocking you over.”
Danie had waved his apology off with a manicured hand. “It’s no matter. On these busy streets, it’s bound to happen.”
The guy had looked her over, making a strange sensation go up and down Danie’s spine. Had she been intrigued? Well, yeah—it was Daniella Thomas, the Ambassador of Flirting and the Dating Field. She would have taken any and every opportunity to hook up with a cute guy.
“Oh are you heading somewhere? You look too nice to be strolling these busy streets alone.”
Hmm, Danie had mused, is he trying to hook up with me? Then a wicked grin had broken out onto her face. This could be interesting…
“Well, it’s my birthday,” Danie had explained.
“Oh! Happy birthday, uh…?”
“Danie,” she had supplied.
“Danie,” he had repeated, savoring her name on his tongue. “You have a nice name, Danie. My name is Alex.”
Danie had smiled as a chilly wind had blown her hair around her face. “You have a nice name too, Alex.”
There had been an inviting gleam in his eyes, as if he had been beckoning her to join him without speaking. He had tilted his head quizzically, bringing her in with his hypnotic golden eyes. There had been no doubt about it. She had been hooked.
“How about we go out for a bite to eat, birthday girl?” Alex had suggested.
Danie had shrugged. She had been game. Besides, what could have happened? “Sure, why not?”
And that was all she could remember.
* * *
She sat with her back to the cold bathtub, her body trembling with fear and sobs. She brought her knees up to her now-empty stomach and took in with heavy breaths the Lysol-disinfected air. Her lunch was in the toilet, half-digested. She recoiled at the taste of bile in her mouth. She hastily stood and stumbled to the sink. She bent with her mouth at the faucet, trying desperately to wash the disgusting taste from her mouth.
She nearly choked on the water. She spit it out, breathing hard. A look into the mirror showed a pale face with sunken eyes and dark circles under them. If she had been in her right mind, she would have called upon the High Priestess of Maybelline for guidance. But this situation called for something else.
Banging on the door nearly startled her to death. She sighed, leaning on the sink.
“Hermanita! What’s taking you so long?”
Jessica. She froze upon hearing the voice of her big sister through the door. What could she say? That she had been puking her puts out a moment ago? She lost her cookies? She couldn’t. Jessica would want to know why, and…
She didn’t know why.
What was wrong with Daniella Thomas?
“I’m fine, Jess,” Danie managed to respond. “I’ll be out in a moment.”
There was silence. Did Jessica take it? She really didn’t feel like trying to explain herself to her big sister, especially since she didn’t know what was wrong herself.
“Oh alright. I’ll be downstairs.” Footsteps sounded and faded away from her. Danie sighed again and flushed the toilet. She splashed water on her face, hoping that the frigid liquid would awaken her. Jessica hopefully would find nothing wrong, hopefully, hopefully…
Danie opened the door…to find Jessica staring at her sternly.
“Jess—” Danie began.
Jessica Thomas’s blue-green eyes were worried although her features were rigid. Underneath her mane of curly auburn hair, she appeared innocuous and fresh. Danie knew better.
“Daniella Elizabeth, don’t you dare lie to me,” Jessica snapped. She grabbed Danie by the shoulders. “When did it start? What are your symptoms?”
Yes, she was back—the Cornell University med school graduate. Danie almost groaned.
“I’m fine, Jess,” Danie insisted.
Jessica released her and took her hand. Danie felt herself being pulled away from the bathroom and down the stairs. It was a wonder that she didn’t trip down them
“Where are we going?” Danie demanded, feeling slightly queasy again.
Jessica hurriedly threw open the closet door and produced two coats. She threw one at Danie without a word and quickly slipped into the other. Danie stood there a moment in amazement. Then Jessica grabbed her and pulled her out the door.
* * *
The small space was quiet but speaking volumes. No one touched the radio. It would only prompt conversation and neither of them felt much like talking.
Out of the corner of her eye, Jessica appraised her younger sister while driving out of the city. She was hunched down in her seat, eyes on the white lines on the road. Her slender fingers lay in her lap writhing nervously like ten ribbons loose in the wind. Perhaps she was thinking of her life passing her by, or how she was now going to have to make a decision to make a life or end it. And Jessica knew the weight of her responsibility would not only affect Jessica herself, but everyone else in their family. No sixteen-year-old girl wanted this. Jessica didn’t think Danie intended for this. But the adults…they wouldn’t understand.
“So how are we going to tell Mom and Dad?” Jessica asked suddenly.
* * *
Thanksgiving dinner was a favorite meal with any family, but for the Thomas family, it was a sacred ritual with certain rules and regulations. Every member of the family upheld their part of the tradition so that the festivities could be carried out as smoothly as possible.
But as soon as Danie had sat down at the table in her usual place that evening, Jessica had the feeling that this was not so.
It had been several days since Jessica found her sister in the bathroom that afternoon. Jessica brought Danie to her and her cousin Cassandra’s apartment in Manhattan so that Danie could make the decision without having to face her mother or father. So far, Danie had been silent, and eating like an anorexic. She even looked like one, with her emaciated figure and hollow eyes. Needless to say, Jessica was worried.
Their father brought out the turkey as he usually did on Thanksgiving. Jessica thought badly of her father, but she managed to hold her disgust for him back to get through the meal. Besides, her mother was already jittery enough. Abuela Constance and Bisabuela Marisol were visiting from Spain and she wanted to make a good impression on them. Jessica was indifferent.
“Would you like to cut the turkey, Abuela?” Irene Thomas asked her grandmother.
The wizened old woman smiled tightly at her granddaughter. Meanwhile, her great-grandchildren watched in fascination as their Bisabuela gripped the carving knife with a shaky hand but managed to slice a perfect piece of meat. They all sighed—with relief—and clapped graciously. Bisabuela smiled again and sat in her chair.
“That was, eh, enough for me,” Bisabuela assured Irene. “Doing such work tires me.”
“Well, Robert can finish cutting, right?” Irene looked at her husband expectantly. He took the carving knife in reply. Everyone held out their plates expectantly, that is, except Danie. Danie just sat there, motionless. Irene noticed this.
“Hija? Are you sick?”
Danie’s hollow eyes switched to her mother. “No, Mama. I’m just pregnant.”
You could have heard a pin drop or a car screech from millions of miles around. The table was in stunned silence for a full minute. Irene turned paler and paler as Robert turned crimson. Jessica felt her fists clench at the look on her father’s face.
But it was Bisabuela who exploded first.
“How dare you defile this family with your looseness?!” she demanded, her old voice rising fear from everyone. “You are nothing but a harlot. You think you can go off and have sex with all these boys without consequence? You bring disgrace upon this family!”
“You do not tell me that I am loose!” Danie cried, banging her fists on the table. “You know nothing about me so don’t bring in your old-fashioned notions of right and wrong to me! I don’t want to hear it!”
Bisabuela glared at Danie, a glare that probably had scared many people in its prime, but it just angered her.
“Don’t you dare talk back to me!” Bisabuela bellowed, sounding like the voice of God. Danie opened her mouth to speak when something large, heavy, silver, and smelling like turkey came flying at her.
A moment later, Danie laid on the hardwood floor, stunned and dizzy. Her arm was bleeding from where the silver platter hit her. And the turkey laid on the floor beside her, in ruins, just like the family ceremony for it.
Jessica abruptly stood, incensed. She stalked away from her chair and to Danie, but Robert beat her to it. Jessica watched in confusion as Robert went to the turkey. Was he going to pick it up? No…he tore a leg off. Danie attempted to stand but it looked as if Robert didn’t want her to stand. Jessica figured it out and pulled Danie away from Robert. His rage switched from Danie to his eldest daughter.
“You leave her alone, dammit!” Jessica ordered. “This was not her fault. She couldn’t stop with happened to her—”
Robert heaved the turkey leg at Jessica in anger. “Don’t you dare even think for a moment to defend her. She called this upon herself by running around town in her skimpy little outfits with her silly modeling friends like a prostitute—”
Suddenly Jessica’s anger reached the point of no return. Before her rational mind could pipe up, her fist sailed through the air and connected with her father’s mouth. In slow motion, Jessica watched him react, stunned, then stumble to the ground.
“Don’t you ever EVER call my little sister a prostitute you bastard!” Jessica spat. “I don’t care who the hell you are. I’ll kill you and throw your remains into the Hudson River.”
Without letting anyone speak, Jessica reached down and picked up Danie, who was sobbing uncontrollably and bleeding just as much. She stalked out of the dining room, blind with rage and protectiveness. It was when she reached the car with Danie that she realized that four sets of eyes were peering at her.
“Where are you going?” asked Claudia.
“Can we go with you?” inquired Gretchen.
“Danie needs help,” noted Moira-Selene.
“That was a nice punch, Jess,” joked Eric.
Jessica stared at her little sisters and brother a moment, incredulous. Her mind whirled with the admission of Danie’s pregnancy, the consequences of her actions in the dining room, and the meaning of her little sisters and brother just merely walking out with her. Then she frowned, back in hermana mayor mode.
“I’m going to the hospital. Yes, you can come with me. That was duly noted, Moira.” Then she paused at Eric. “I’m not going to even dignify that with a reply. Get in the car before Danie bleeds to death.”
* * *
Cassandra Strattford tried not to step on any fingers or toes as she was heading back to her bedroom via the living room. She had come home after a day of work to find her cousins lying on her living room carpet, all asleep. She walked up to Jessica sleeping on the couch and shook her.
“What the–?” Jessica sighed, seeing that it wasn’t an ax murderer—or her father—and calming down. “God Cass you scared me.”
“Jessica…what’s going on here?” An expansive gesture indicated that “what” meant her cousins.
Jessica heaved a heavy breath and sat up, curly hair in a disarray. “Thanksgiving dinner didn’t go so well.”
“Really? Well, I guess I’m glad I had to work in a way.” Cassandra then paused thoughtfully. “What happened?”
“What do you think? The cat of the century got out of its highly inadequate bag.”
Cassandra paused again. It took a moment before she realized… Then her face fell sympathetically.
“Oh Danie. The poor girl…” She clucked her tongue in compassion. “I’m guessing it was like an episode of Jerry Springer.”
Jessica shuddered. “Worse. At least most of the time they don’t draw blood.” She rubbed her eyes sleepily and brought her legs up, Indian-style. “And poor Danie. You know how strict Catholics our grandparents are. She’s got it in her head that she’ll be damned if she has an abortion.”
Cassandra’s pale eyes widened. “So you’re telling me that Danie’s going to have this child? Even though…?”
“Yeah. Even though the guy took advantage of her after he drugged her. Sick, huh?”
“Yeah,” Cassandra agreed wearily. “It is sick. But she isn’t going to raise the baby is she?”
Jessica shook her head. “I wouldn’t allow it. She wanted to be famous, so she’s gonna be. She’ll have to put it up for adoption. We’ll figure something out.”
* * *
Twenty fingers. Twenty toes. Four eyes. Four arms. Four legs. Two noses. Two mouths.
Danie couldn’t help marveling at how identical twins could be. Every time she looked, she couldn’t believe it—and could barely tell them apart. It was a strange phenomenon that she gave birth to two wonderful creatures such as these, and she hoped that they were nothing like or would look nothing like their father. His debauchery didn’t need to be passed on through generations.
She called the one on the left with the volatile disposition Shannon Marianne. The quiet one with the soft cries on her right was Abigail Josephine. That was what she called them. The nurse picked up the names, too, and the names ended up on their birth certificates: Shannon Marianne Thomas…Abigail Josephine Thomas. Danie hoped their new mother would keep their names.
Shannon rolled her head over and stared at Danie. Danie found herself smiling; she had her mother’s eyes. She touched Shannon’s small hand with her index finger and Shannon clasped it. Shannon gurgled and Danie softly laughed.
“You’re so cute,” Danie told Shannon.
Danie froze. Danie disengaged her finger from Shannon’s little hand and turned to find Jessica standing behind her looking fascinated and worried at the same time.
“Mr. and Mrs. Taylor are here,” Jessica announced. “They want to see Shannon and Abby.”
Danie nodded and stood from her kneeling position. She had told herself over and over not to get attached but somehow she had come to terms with the fact that the twins were hers, and that she was their mother biologically. Letting them go would prove harder than anything.
“I’ll leave so that they can visit with the twins,” Danie offered softly. She straightened the hem of her hospital gown. “I’ll be in my room.”
Danie dutifully sauntered out but ended up bumping into Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. They were an affluent-looking couple in their suits and expensive jewelry. Danie felt more sorry for them now than she had some months earlier when Jessica introduced them to her. Danie, after having the twins, now understood the simpering of new mothers and the disappointment of the less fortunate. She felt genuinely sorry for Mrs. Taylor. Victoria was her name Danie remembered.
“Hello, Daniella.” Victoria called her that for some reason. Perhaps it made it easier to exchange two babies with someone with a grown-up-sounding name.
Danie nodded in acknowledgement. “Mrs. Taylor, Mr. Taylor. It was nice seeing you again.”
Victoria frowned, head tilted slightly. She didn’t say a word. Her husband just took her hand and led her into the nursery. Danie turned away and walked back to the loneliness of her sterile room. She didn’t feel like seeing Victoria Taylor play house with her babies.
* * *
Turning twenty-one wasn’t just a milestone in Danie’s life—it was a relief. No longer was she a child, and she survived twenty without any major scrapes. She was now a grown woman, more grown-up than many people she knew. She still remembered that Thanksgiving and her sixteenth birthday but vowed to get through it, for their sake anyway. Instead of being happy though, Danie was melancholy on September 2nd of her twenty-first year. On September 2nd of her twenty-first year, she was at Choco-Latte Café facing a wan and widowed Victoria Taylor and a cold cappuccino. What irony that was.
“You needed to talk to me?” Danie asked.
Victoria nodded, then went to her purse. Afterwards, she pulled out a sheaf of official-looking papers and looked to Danie. “Daniella, there is something you need to know,” Victoria began. Her voice faltered. “I…I haven’t been feeling very healthy lately.”
Danie nodded. “Well, your husband just died. That’s understandable.”
Victoria shook her head and Danie frowned. “No…Daniella…it’s more than that. I…” She sighed then took a deep breath. “Daniella, I’m dying.” As Danie’s heart plummeted, Victoria placed a translucent-skinned hand upon hers. “And I have arranged that you will be able to raise Shannon and Abby in my will.”
Danie exhaled finally after holding her breath through the whole confession. She blinked incredulously. “Excuse me? Are you saying that I—”
“Danie, you need a second chance. I know that you love those girls with all your heart. You were too young to raise them yourself and wanted to give them a better life. I was jealous of you at first but after my husband died I…” Victoria shook her head. “I realized that I couldn’t do this alone either. So I let you back into their lives. And now I see that this will be the best thing.”
Danie was still stunned beyond belief. “Are you sure, Victoria? Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Daniella, I want the twins to have the most of life, and you’re vibrant enough to give it to them.” Victoria played with her ring. “Besides, I couldn’t bear the thought of them going to somebody else.”
Danie couldn’t either. At that point, she realized that she wasn’t the same girl that had started this mess. She was the woman that could rectify it. So what she was twenty-one? So what she enjoyed her freedom? Being a mother, deep down inside, meant much more to her than clubbing at Soul Love Live. She was going to be good at this, and if she couldn’t be, then she’d try her best. That was that.
“Alright,” Danie finally said, sighing. “I accept.”
* * *
Little fingers clasped her arms as the family members and relatives left the Taylor house after the reading of Victoria Taylor’s will. She could hear the whispers, the claims that Victoria had been insane giving Daniella Thomas her children back. She could feel the glares upon her back from the self-assured family members who felt like they had more rights than biology, than blood. But she ignored them. They weren’t worth her time.
“So where to now?” Danie wanted to know.
Shannon somberly rubbed her eyes as Danie picked her up and put her in the front seat of her Sebring convertible. “Can we go for ice cream? I want chocolate ice cream.”
Danie smiled warmly as Abby climbed into the backseat. “Sure, sweetie.” She gently closed the passenger-side door and got in on her side. “That okay with you, Abby?” Abby nodded wordlessly as Danie settled in. “Alright. Ice cream it is. Put on your seatbelts you two. We’re going home.”