The Liberation of Daniella Thomas (Revised)

The Taming of the Supernova
Local Singer’s Next Public Engagement May Be at the Altar
By Claudia Miercoles

Much to the unhappiness of millions of adoring male fans in the world, singer Daniella Thomas is finally settling down.

Yes, the young solo guitarist is giving up life being a loner, reveals an insider. After playing the field with many highly publicized hookups, one of which tied her to NSYNC crooner Justin Timberlake, Thomas has turned in her dancing shoes for a diamond engagement ring.

The lucky guy is none other than Theodore Baxley, the son of the late Jonathan Baxley and the heir to the Baxley fortune. Baxley, 27, and Thomas, 25, had grown up in the same neighborhood in Audbone Heights, New York, forging a tight bond that would help them hook up some sixteen years later. They met again while Thomas was touring in Europe, and after Baxley asked the singer out, the two were inseparable.

“The rendezvous in Rome helped Danie and Theodore fall in love with each other again,” said a close friend. “They liked each other in high school, and when Danie became famous, she met all kinds of people after her money and fame. It was refreshing to meet someone that was as down-to-earth as she was and wasn’t concerned with getting something from her in return.”

Of course, the question now concerns the future of Thomas’s music career. Thomas, who got her start in modeling and even had small roles in movies with one lead role in the independent film Teensanity, broke into the business with her debut, Supernova, which did modestly well. Thomas got her break when she performed on stage at a concert in nearby Los Angeles, and her first single, “Where Did the Time Go?” nearly sold out at music stores. Ever since her big break some two years ago, Miss Thomas has been in extremely high demand, joining some A-list celebs like Jessica and Nick, and Britney Spears at parties and clubs. But will she give up the Hollywood high life to be a multimillion-dollar corporation heir’s wife?

“Danie is not the type to go into something that she doesn’t want to do,” said Thomas’s manager Mark Timberlake, who is no relation to the aforementioned Justin. “She’s headstrong and stubborn, and for her not to want to be Theodore’s wife yet going through with it anyway would be quite out of character.”

Thomas’s family was quite appalled with the engagement. Even though Baxley had been a friend of the family, the union of the pair seems quite discordant.

“Theodore Baxley is not the man for Danie,” declared her oldest sister Jessica, who is the CEO of Baxley’s rival company. “He may be the society gentleman and have his weight in greenbacks, but no amount of money can make anyone happy, nor can it make a marriage last for years and years. I believe that this marriage thing is a big hoax anyway.”

Thomas’s younger sister, Gretchen, from the local band The Fray shared her big sister’s sentiment: “Theodore’s good-looking and all—don’t get me wrong—but you need more than looks, you know? Danie needs more than looks, and the dynamic between them is totally wrong. Danie may like to paint the town red or however you like to put it, but she needs someone that will dance with her, make her scrambled eggs, and then be willing to go shoe shopping with her. Theodore doesn’t seem like the type to me.”

There isn’t a wedding date set yet, but witnesses have spotted Miss Thomas with her future mother-in-law Savannah Baxley looking at wedding dresses. Rumor has it that Vera Wang is on her speed dial. But whatever she’s doing, the world will be waiting for the wedding and the emergence of the new Mrs. Theodore Baxley.

____________________

If there was one thing that Daniella Thomas could say that she learned in her twenty-two years of life, it would be that people loved to gossip.

This was no surprise to her. She was worldly wise and keen enough to know that once the news about her engagement to Baxley Incorporated heir Theodore Baxley, people would jabber about it until their jaws fell off. Unfortunately, this revelation about life and human nature didn’t make the article from The Gracia Journal’s entertainment section any more savory. In fact, it made it more dismal.

Danie crumbled the paper in her hands. But that was life, sadly. Danie realized that the fellow specimens of her Cristal-guzzling, Prada-wearing, BS-spouting species enjoyed finding discontent in other’s lives for conversation over tea and ginger snaps. Or was that beer and peanuts? Oh she didn’t care. She just knew that she was not happy with everyone’s rapt interest in her life. But that wasn’t to say that she didn’t expect it. That was just how things were in America, she realized. To sell magazines and newspapers, somebody’s life had to be butchered. Even to the point where people came out of the woodwork, claiming to know the story to get a buck. Danie snickered at the “close friend’s” quote about her and Theodore meeting in Rome. Sure they had seen each other, but nothing romantic had ensued.

Danie found herself picking up a magazine—Rolling Stone. She spied herself on the cover, wearing a red leather halter and hot pants with red heels, even brandishing her guitar with sex appeal. Her expression was very come-hither. The sexy woman in the picture was very happy—overworked, strained, and two years younger, but happy. The woman looking at the magazine living, breathing, and two years older was still strained and overworked but deeply unhappy.

Danie heard a squeal from outside. She stood up and drifted to her window. Outside on the lawn of The Tiger House was her sister Gretchen along with her cousins Samantha, Jennifer, and Evie. They were having a good time washing Samantha and Gretchen’s Jeep, dancing to the music blasting from Evie’s boombox. Danie recognized the music. It was Gretchen and Samantha’s, who were starting a band with two guy friends of theirs. The Fray, they called themselves. Danie smiled at her little sister in her lime-green bikini. At least she could live her own life.

That stray thought wiped the smile from her face. She found herself going back to a day nearly a year ago, even though she would have rather forgotten.

* * *
One year ago.

The room was slightly stuffy. Mahogany and leather were everywhere, infecting the room like some strange epidemic. The forest green walls held pictures of several dark-haired children, along with two equally stunning older women. The first had black hair, pallid European skin, and fatigued but piercing blue eyes that just about made up for the pale visage. The next woman was a ravishing brunette, the golden highlights in her hair matching the golden glint of her eyes. As a casually dressed Danie perched in the chair in front of her father’s mahogany desk, she wondered why her father displayed the picture of her mother when she’d been sick after having Jessica. Then the brunette, or at least an older version of her, walked in. And she was wearing red, per usual.

“Your father’s upstairs getting his dialysis treatment, so he sent me down here to talk to you,” said the slightly accented voice of Marian Andrews—Mrs. Bullock if you wanted to be frank. But Danie didn’t care about being frank, because if she did, she’d have dubbed her stepmother the Wicked Witch of the West Coast.

No, Danie didn’t like her stepmother. As a matter of fact, her stepmother wouldn’t have become her stepmother if it hadn’t of been for her home-wrecker ways (as Jessica so eloquently put it). Marian Andrews and Robert Bullock had been the Romeo and Juliet of Audbone Heights University (with the star-crossed lover thing to boot) when Irene Tomás, renamed Irene Thomas upon her arrival in the United States, sashayed into his life and captivated him with her European elegance and startling blue eyes. Perhaps that was all that held them together, because Robert found himself in Mary’s arms and produced his eldest child Amber. A nearly year later, Irene gave birth to her first child Jessica, not knowing of little Amber borne out of adultery. Being married to Irene Thomas didn’t stop Mary from seeing Robert, and they had two more children, Derrick and Emily. As Danie looked upon her stepmother as she settled into Robert’s leather chair, she had to fight the bile rising in her esophagus.

“What was it he wanted to talk to me about?” Danie asked, a prickly itch starting under her jeans.

Mary folded her hands in front of her on the desk. She was the picture of a UN Ambassador, but Danie knew better. She was readying herself for war.

“Well, you know that your father is ill,” Mary began.

“No shit,” Danie retorted, satisfied with the shocked look in Mary’s eyes. “I think all of the newspapers and tabloids know that my father’s about to kick the bucket.” She peered at Mary closely, noticing the tightness of her Botox-injected face. “So what do you want to talk about? And please, get to the point. I have other plans.”

Mary gave Danie an evil look that reminded her of the evil stepmother from Cinderella. A smidgen of uncertainty grew in the pit of her stomach. Just what is this Evil Queen think she’s doing?

“Honestly? You want to know what I want?”

Danie had to fight an eyeroll. “Yes, Mary. Tell me what’s going on.”

Before Mary could dignify her with an answer, a tall, graceful blonde knocked politely on the door, making Danie and Mary look up. Danie’s stomach fell to her feet. Oh lord, she thought. Here comes Cruella DeVil.

“Why Savannah!” Mary exclaimed. “You’re early.”

The older woman smiled, appearing almost cat-like and predatory to Danie. She didn’t sit down but stood instead, coming behind the desk as if she and Mary were ganging up on Danie. Or that was the feeling Danie got.

“We were just talking about you the other day, sugar,” Savannah drawled. “And you know what came up?”

“Gee, I don’t know… Plastic surgery?” Danie countered sarcastically.

The look on Savannah’s face was unpleasant, but not as bad as the insults that were probably in her head. Imbued with Southern hospitality, she smiled tightly at Danie and answered. “No, sugar. We were talking about two relations of yours. We saw them in New York. They were with an attractive woman named Victoria Taylor.”

At the sound of that name, Danie felt her blood disappearing into thin air, leaving her as an immobile mass of bone and muscle. She suddenly felt the phantom pain of giving birth in her bones, the crushing agony of afterwards giving them away. She imagined their two faces, rounded and fleshy in two five-year-old structures that would have mirrored her own. Then the blood came back, blistering her veins with rage. Realization came with it, and the smirks on Mary and Savannah’s faces made sense.

“Damn you bitches,” Danie choked out, voice hollow. “Damn you bitches to hell. At least have the decency to keep them out of whatever malevolence you plan to inflict upon me.”

“We have no choice,” Mary told her. “Savannah and your father had an agreement, and you have to agree to it. This is the only way we know how that we can persuade you to comply.” And then, in a slightly satisfied voice, Mary told Danie basically that she was bound by an agreement her father had made with Savannah Baxley when she was born to marry Savannah’s eldest son, no questions asked, or the truth about her children would be a bigger story than Britney’s quickie marriage.

Danie stood and stalked out, rage blinding her vision.

She heard Savannah muttering as she stalked out of the mansion: “She’s shocked but she’ll soon get over it. After she realizes our intent, she’ll be back.”

 

* * *

“Mija?”

Danie floated back to the present to find her tall, vivacious, and olive-skinned mother standing in her doorway. Irene Wolfe looked nothing like the picture hanging in Robert Bullock’s study; her eyes were sharper than ever, and the skin was no longer pale and wan. Danie hoped to be that beautiful (naturally) and happy when she got to be her mother’s age, unlike some people.

“Mom!” she cried, running to hug her. After embracing and exchanging informative banter, Irene led her daughter to the bed and sat her down.

“So, I hear my daughter’s getting married soon,” Irene remarked proudly.

Danie smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Mom, it’s been nearly a year. Stop being silly.”

Irene laughed, patting her hand. “Okay, okay.” Her expression turned serious. “Are you ready for this?”

“I’m going to do it, Mom,” Danie told her. Her voice was strong, but Irene could hear an undercurrent of uneasiness. “I’m going to try at least. I mean, Mary doesn’t think I can do it, so I’m going to do it.”

There was a mixed reaction inside Irene. She seemed pleased and proud that Danie was crusading to prove the Botox Baroness wrong, but she also worried about the risk. It seemed like Danie approached marrying Theodore Baxley like a marathon through Gracia Row. At what expense would Danie keep up a charade?

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Irene asked carefully.

Danie paused. She was listening to the laughter from outside, feeling detached. Her eyes went glassy. Her expression slackened. The fire was gone, replaced with the ashes of the burnt former self of Daniella Thomas.

“It sure is,” she replied.

* * *

Later on that day, Irene found herself at a restaurant, meeting Savannah for lunch. The restaurant smelled of wealth and too much cholesterol. Underneath the crystal chandeliers reminding her of Dynasty reruns and amid the din of spiteful conversation, Irene felt out of place. Although she was successful at her profession and considered a jewel at her law firm, no amount of money could have prepared her for the dog-eat-dog mentality of the affluent society.

“Irene! Over here, sugar.”

And Savannah Baxley.

Savannah Baxley was still exquisite at her age—the age that no one knew about, even the clerks at the records office. But her well-guarded age made her appear ageless, almost ethereal. That and frequent visits to her doctor, which were not secrets to anyone. Her late husband’s fortune, combined with the Hollingsworth family fortune that was bestowed upon her when her father died, kept her and her six children in silk and pomposity. Her white suit is a costume, Irene figured, and she is prepared to put on an act. But what kind of act?

Irene sat down at the small table, expression neutral. “Nice to see you again, Savannah.”

“Likewise, Irene.” Savannah fingered the rim of her amber-colored drink with a bejeweled finger before taking a sip. “And I must say, your daughters are getting lovelier and lovelier every time I see them.”

Irene placed the napkin in her lap. “Well, you’ll have to attribute that to them. They’re independent girls.”

“Almost too independent sometimes.”

Irene’s blood ran cold at the sound of the disdain in her voice. “What’s that supposed to mean? There’s nothing wrong with a little backbone.”

The waiter, upon noticing Irene, drifted over at that moment. Irene ordered crab legs, knowing that she would not eat them. Savannah didn’t speak for a while, sipping on her drink.

“As you were saying?”

Savannah continued. “It’s a little dangerous to be so headstrong. You have no humility if you think you are right all the time.” She tilted her head. “Perhaps they need a little bit of decorum.”

Irene frowned. “My daughters are well-behaved—”

Savannah’s grating laugh broke Irene’s sentence. She sat there in steaming incredulousness for several moments. When that passed, Irene would have said something more had it not been for their food arriving at that moment.

“Irene,” Savannah drawled, “I hope you don’t take this personally, sugar.”

Irene looked at her without speaking. Of course it wasn’t personal, right? It dated back centuries to the old battle of North vs. South. Irene had heard, when she had first arrived in America as a teenager from a struggling Spanish family, about all of the Hollingsworth men killed in the Civil War, fighting against what Savannah thought of as “their kind.” Suddenly, Irene understood Savannah’s bile. It was learned, a habit she couldn’t break. But there was something else in those blue eyes: jealousy?

“How can I not?” Irene demanded. “You’ve insulted my daughters and their upbringing. How can I not take that personally?”

Savannah shrugged, appearing as if she didn’t care to answer the question. But she did anyway, and it didn’t settle Irene’s nerves. “You said it yourself, sugar. They’re independent. It’s not your fault.” Savannah patted Irene’s hand. “You gave birth to them, but the world has to mold them. The world will do its duty.”

Irene placed her fork on the plate, which was untouched. She raised her chin a little and reached around for her purse. “I regret being this way, Savannah, but I cannot stomach anymore of your pretentious logic.” Savannah appeared as if she wanted to stick the fork into Irene’s throat. “I hope you have a good rest of the day.”

II

“Whose idea was this anyway?” Melanie Smith inquired, looking a bit miffed at the long line in front of Soul Love Live that seemed to be getting longer as the steamy night air frizzed her dark hair.

“Hey, we’ve got to support Danie,” Gretchen insisted, adjusting her lime-green fedora on top of her head. “We promised. Besides, I don’t think I could stand any more talk about the wedding.”

Jennifer shuddered. “You’re telling me. Savannah Baxley wants to make this an affair that makes Princess Di and Prince Charles’s wedding pale in comparison.” She shuddered again. “And the horrible bridesmaids’ gowns! I could just puke, I could.”

Samantha slapped her on the back and she gagged appropriately. “You mind saving it for later, sis? We’ve kinda got an engagement to go to.”

Beside Samantha, Claudia-Michelle looked to her cousin. “Couldn’t you make some design and have Danie look at it, Jen? It’s her wedding, after all.”

“Man, hell no,” Melanie spoke up, looking at something across the street. “You know this ain’t Danie’s wedding. It never was.” She paused thoughtfully as if her attention was across the street, but she began speaking again. “This is the celebration of Savannah cashing in on the Bullock family fortune.”

“What family fortune?” Gretchen and Claudia-Michelle asked in unison.

“Don’t play dumb. You know you Bullock children are well off. Especially now since your father’s about to bite the big one.”

Gretchen looked to her older sister in astonishment. She had heard that her father had been planning to put aside some money for each of his ten children as sort of repentance for his mistakes, but this…this was ridiculous! And to think that Savannah Baxley arranged the marriage with their father for mere money…

Gretchen and Claudia shook their heads. They weren’t surprised.

“Dad’s dying wish,” Gretchen muttered, recalling the meeting he had with them. “Dying wish, my ass.”

“Poor Danie,” Jennifer moaned. “She doesn’t even know this marriage with Theodore’s based on money.”

Melanie crossed her arms over her chest. “Not that Teddy dear cares any.”

Samantha was the first to notice that Melanie was not merely referring to the secret but the action that was going on across the street. Her blue eyes followed Melanie’s brown ones…

“Ohmigod,” she breathed in a rush.

“Hey yo, isn’t that Theodore over there?”

The quintet turned to find a black girl with long hair standing behind them, mouth agape.

“Nicole?!” Melanie cried.

“Um, aren’t you supposed to be with Emily and them?” Gretchen asked.

Nicole waved them off. “Nah. Emily, Julie, and them split to go to the Moon Spot and I wasn’t hungry.” Then her features hardened. “And it looks like I came just in time. That jerk needs to be told a thing or two about getting his freak on in the middle of Gracia Row with his booty call.”

Melanie grabbed Nicole, looking embarrassed. “Nicole, you are not to go over there.”

“The hell I ain’t!” Nicole exclaimed, wrenching herself out of her older sister’s grasp. Before any of them could stop her, the brazen Nicole dashed across the street. Melanie covered her eyes as two cars squealed to a stop and honked irately at Nicole, who was heading straight for Theodore helping his date into his black Porsche.

“This is bad,” remarked Claudia and Gretchen.

“I guess the wedding’s off now,” commented Jennifer, not sounding broken up about it.

“Nicole is going to blaze him,” noted Samantha.

“I’m gonna kill her when she gets home!” growled Melanie.

“Hey Baxley!” Nicole called. “Know of a good place where I can cheat on my significant other?”

The hand above the passenger side door paused. A pair of blazing brown eyes glared at Nicole. Nicole, with her iron-clad will, glared back at Theodore. Before they could exchange words, a brunette head popped up.

“Teddy darling,” said his companion. “I thought we were—” Then she paused, seeing Nicole with an air of visible disdain. “Oh. Never mind. I guess you have to take care of some garbage first.”

“Charlene Daniels. You dirty little heifer!” Nicole declared hotly, heifer sounding like heffa. “I oughta kick your fake designer clothes-wearing, blonde-wannabe, upper lip-waxing, stank perfume-reeking, high-orange ass!”

“God,” groaned Melanie, hearing the whole barrage. “We gotta stop her. She’s rolling up her sleeves. She’s taking off her earrings. She’s gonna kick Charlene’s ass!”

Samantha, Gretchen, Jennifer, and Claudia looked to her, blinking. “So?”

Melanie raised an eyebrow as the people in line turned to see the commotion. “You guys…”

Gretchen snapped her fingers. “Goodness. Do we have to?” When Melanie gave her a look, she sighed and stalked across the street fearlessly, not even looking both ways. Samantha called after her, but Gretchen was deaf to her call. Claudia’s breath caught when a car stopped suddenly and narrowly missed her. Claudia’s little sister stumbled against the bumper, teetering on her lime-green heels.

“Sorry,” said Gretchen sheepishly. The young male driver gaped at Gretchen, surprised at her walk across and the length of her lime mini. She dashed to the sidewalk, expertly striding up to Nicole and Theodore locked in standoff. She pulled on Nicole’s arm.

“Nicole, come on,” Gretchen suggested gently. “We can take care of this later.” She couldn’t resist one slight jab that she hoped would bring Theodore guilt. “We’ve got to see Danie perform.”

Gretchen tossed her hair (or attempted to, since fully doing so would make her lose the hat) and led Nicole back across the street. This time, they looked both ways. Samantha, Jennifer, and Melanie sighed with relief. As they headed inside, Gretchen frowned, wondering how in the world she was going to tell Danie.

* * *

“Knock, knock!”

It was some three hours after Danie’s set at Soul Love Live, and most of the house was asleep, leaving the Tiger House eerily quiet. Danie glanced up from the guitar balanced on her bare thigh to find Gretchen standing in the doorway in lime-green cotton pajamas. Gretchen’s long black hair was up in pigtails, and she looked almost as if she were going to join Jessica in bed after having a nightmare about the Boogieman.

“Qué estás haciendo?” Gretchen asked in a singsong voice, sitting on Danie’s bed.

Danie shrugged. “Nada. Just making up stuff.” She strummed a chord. Her fingers traveled along the strings, inspiring soft notes. She suddenly felt light and far away as words formed into music.

I need to get rid of you
Because it’s good for us
But if it’s supposed to help
Why does it hurt so much?

“Planning for your next album?” Gretchen asked when silence had fallen in between them.

“I guess.” Danie sighed, moving her fingers. “I’ve got some studio time next week.”

“Does Theodore approve?”

The burning question. Danie almost lost her hold on her guitar. The truth was, Theodore didn’t know about Danie’s plans to work on her follow-up album. She knew that if she told him, he would flip his phone open and call his lawyer to have her out of her recording contract faster than the speed of light. Before, she had almost been willing to give up the whirlwind that had accompanied the last ten years of her life, but now…

“Estás bien, hermana?” Gretchen asked, breaking through her thoughts. “You look sick or something. Maybe you should go to bed. It’s been a long day. You had to do your set and SLL and had lunch with Mary…”

That was something she wanted to forget. Ever since that meeting in her father’s office a year ago, Mary had her bound with a secret that she didn’t want revealed. Now Danie wondered if the consequences would be as horrible as Mary was making them out to be. The thing that held her back even in her rebellious states was the recollection of their large violet eyes, two pairs, identical, young, hopeful, bright. She didn’t want to drag them into this. They barely knew who she was, who she really was, and a part of her, the part of her that cringed every Thanksgiving and went to confess to a dark-clothed man behind a screen every March 17, wanted them not to know.

Gretchen waved a hand in front of her face to get her attention. Danie looked up, eyes dull and tired. “Hey Danie… Whatcha wearing to the engagement party?”

Danie tilted her head at the door. “Savannah got me a dress. I haven’t seen it yet.”

Gretchen didn’t catch the lackluster tone of voice in which Danie spoke, and if she did, she didn’t let on. “Well, we’re all wearing black to the party. Something Sam came up with. You know. ‘cause we’re losing you and everything. Well, not like you’re dying or anything, but you won’t be living at the Tiger House anymore.”

“Oh.” Danie strummed another chord. “Well, you can come to visit me. I won’t be far away.”

There was a long silence. Danie got the feeling that Gretchen was trying to tell her something. Danie stared at her as the clock ticked in the hallway. Tick. Tock. Tick .Tock. Gretchen raised her eyes to Danie’s finally, and Danie had the odd sensation of apprehension.

“Hermana.” Danie blinked at the sound of Gretchen speaking in Spanish. “Quiero que ayudarte. Escuchame, hermana. No veo casarte con Theodore. No lo puedo.”

The words affected Danie deeply. “Porque?” she asked.

Gretchen swallowed. “Porque hay muchas cosas que no sabes. Es necessito que saber sobre Theodore.” Gretchen lightly touched Danie’s cold, pale hand, then climbed to her feet, troubling Danie with her ambiguity. “Te amo, hermana. Ten cuidado.” With that, she drifted out of the room, but not without gazing back at Danie once, green eyes resigned to something Danie feared to know about. And when Gretchen left, Danie peered up at her black dress hanging on the door in its garment bag, feeling a strange tremor of an unknown emotion. She looked down at her fingers still on the strings.

“Ten cuidado,” she murmured to her guitar.

III

“Girls are on the town tonight…nothing’s gonna stop us…you can see it in our eyes that we’re not gonna sleep tonight…” Gretchen belted out, clad in a black dress with a signature Gretchen touch—a lime-green boa. Many people, probably of Savannah Baxley’s coterie, turned to stare at Gretchen making a clamor as the cluster of Thomas girls, sans Danie, walked up the stairs to the Serenity Ballroom in their black dresses. Jennifer groaned and hit her with her shoe. Gretchen protested loudly, but she stopped singing.

“Shut up, would you?” Jennifer snapped, putting her shoe back on. “And take that boa off. You look silly. It messes up the glamour of the dress.”

Gretchen opened her mouth to say something unsavory about Jennifer’s glamour, but Cassandra gave an exasperated sigh that silenced them both. Jessica snickered, receiving glares from Gretchen and Jennifer. She raised an eyebrow and they looked forward obediently like two children.

“Hey!” exclaimed a male voice. “It’s you!”

A caustic murmur about decorum went though the older party guests milling around the girls as a tall young man came striding up the steps behind them. Cassandra, Jessica, Samantha, Jennifer, Claudia, and Gretchen turned…and saw that he wasn’t alone…

“Charlene.” Gretchen’s mouth formed the words before she could stop it. “Is this your date?”

The shorter brunette, wearing red, beamed at Gretchen with certain venom that seemed even with jealousy. “Oh no! I came stag tonight. This is Izzy, a good friend of mine. Don’t we look good together, though?”

“Aren’t you the girl I nearly ran over last night?” Izzy asked, ignoring a fuming Charlene. “I’d recognize that color of lime-green anywhere.”

Gretchen blushed. “Um, yeah… I am…”

Charlene pulled on Izzy’s arm, and Jessica’s mouth twitched. “We should go. We’ll be late.”

Izzy allowed himself to be pulled by Charlene only an inch before he looked to Gretchen and gave her a heart-stopping smile. The blush on Gretchen’s face intensified. Charlene’s face darkened, and as suddenly as it happened, the expression disappeared. Without even an explanation, Charlene trotted up the steps to meet with someone, reminding them of a rabid groupie. Cassandra and Jessica’s eyes followed her. They grimaced. Theodore.

“Well, I guess she had other plans,” Izzy said, shrugging. It didn’t look like he cared very much. He extended an arm to Gretchen. “Would you do me the honor…?”

“Gretchen,” she supplied, looping his arm with hers. “But you can call me anything you want.”

Jessica rolled her eyes as the group moved toward the grand foyer of the ballroom, led by Izzy and Gretchen. “Oh God. We haven’t even gotten to the disgusting show of female possession by our lovely groom-to-be yet and already I want to puke.”

* * *

The ballroom for the engagement party had been decorated by Danie’s sister Moira-Selene and her friends Christine and Megami, who had some knowledge of what Danie liked and didn’t like. Savannah had wanted a party with all kinds of strange adornments, including an ice sculpture that probably would have done more harm than good, but Moira based her vision off of Danie’s favorite flower, so hundreds of white roses covered the room.

Moira herself was seated on the makeshift stage at the grand piano, white to match the rest of the room. She wore a black dress like her sisters and cousins, and her hair, cut short, was uncurled. Her fingers played a song of which she could not recall the name, but her eyes examined all of the guests filtering in. Most of them were Savannah’s friends and relatives. Moira spotted her own mother and stepfather in the crowd near the food. She smiled faintly at the sight of them and peered around more, finding that the only women in black were the Thomas sisters and their cousins, her mother, and her aunt Rebecca. Danie and Theodore had not made their entrance yet.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Savannah Baxley nodding at some guests in her off-white evening gown, blond hair pulled up into a bun behind her head. Something about her manner reminded her of Lady Macbeth without the wringing of the hands.

“Well, Savannah, I have to give it to you, this has turned out well in your favor.” Moira recognized the voice as Mary’s. “Everything has gone as planned.”

Savannah sounded pleased. “Yes, I guess I might as well say it has. And so far none of those crazy Thomas girls have messed things up. I was quite shocked when I went to visit their house. They were vamping around in their skimpy little outfits—nothing like ladies should act. People see them as nothing more than common street trash—especially the loud one.”

Moira nearly missed a note. Mary replied, “Jessica? No, she has restraint. You mean Gretchen.”

“Oh yes. That’s the little Jezebel’s name. You’d think with the background they’ve had, they’d act a little better. I guess the Spaniards have different values for self-control.”

Moira’s fingers tightened. Her hands were shaking. She felt very hot in her dress. Red dots swam in front of her eyes. If Christine hadn’t come and placed her hand on her arm, Moira would have snapped.

“What’s up, mate?” Christine asked. “You look like you’re about to mess someone about.”

Moira stood, blazing green eyes on Mary and Savannah. “I probably could.”

* * *

“Mama?”

Irene turned away from David a second and found Jessica behind her, Claudia and Gretchen accompanying. Moira had just disappeared into the crowd after talking to her. She found herself inwardly smiling at the sight of them in their dresses, looking elegant and mature. Although Gretchen’s lime-green boa turned some heads, Irene saw the accessory as the proclamation of her daughter’s individuality and couldn’t help admiring it. She hugged each of them, marveling still about how they had grown.

“You girls enjoying yourselves so far?” Irene inquired.

Jessica shared a glance with her sisters. “I guess you could say that. Have you seen Danie?”

“She’s been acting strange,” Gretchen broke in. Claudia shook her head in half-exasperation. Irene could tell something was going on as Jessica’s eyes flickered toward the door. “I think Savannah’s getting to her—and something is going on with Theodore. Has she talked you any?”

“Danie hasn’t talked to me about anything but the wedding. She’s supposed to be entering soon.” Irene gave David her flute. “Now if you would excuse me, I have to use the bathroom.”

Upon excusing herself from her family to go to the bathroom, Irene realized that her soon-to-be son-in-law was nowhere to be found. His absence brought disquietude to Irene without her knowing why; both her maternal and female instincts were pointing to the suggestion of infidelity. Unfaithful? Irene asked herself. Theodore wouldn’t dare be unfaithful to my daughter. A statement, sure, but in Irene’s head, it sounded more like a threat.

The bathrooms were located near the elevators, the wooden doors separated by an Impressionistic painting. Irene’s focus was on the door for the women’s bathroom until a reflection in the shiny wooden floor caught her attention. For a moment, the image was blurry like a picture with a median filter, until the figures ceased in their hurried movements. Irene could not see their faces very well, but she instantly recognized the hue of a certain red dress. Ironically enough, no anger came, just an overwhelming sense of relief and renewed purpose. Irene had the feeling that Robert’s grand scheme was not going to work, and if this wasn’t any indication, she didn’t know what was. She calmly walked over to the duo and crossed her arms over her chest. They both looked at her, eyes full of surprise, and didn’t object when she motioned for them to follow her.

When they re-entered the ballroom, things went quiet. Savannah looked perturbed. Mary covered her mouth with her hand. Irene walked up to them, grabbing Theodore and slinging him toward his mother.

“I think this poor excuse of a man belongs to you, Savannah,” Irene said tightly. “And before you say any damn thing about my daughters and the way they act, I suggest you give your son a lesson in fidelity first.”

Irene was dimly aware of four of her six daughters, Rebecca, Jennifer, and Samantha joining her at her back, like an angry, formidable female mob. Savannah’s gray eyes hacked into Irene like ice picks, but she held Savannah’s gaze. Her determination was broken by a voice behind her.

“I’d stop looking at my mother like that if I were you,” ordered the booming voice of Danie. “People often receive punishment for not giving a woman the respect she is due.” She put her hands behind her back, and at first Irene didn’t know what Danie was doing—until the strapless black dress fell from her svelte form and to the floor. Clad in only a bra and underwear, Danie threw the dress at Savannah. “I believe this monstrosity belongs to you.”

She turned to Theodore with a sick smile…then punched him in the mouth, making him stumble into his mother. The crowd gasped. Theodore gaped at Danie while Charlene ran to his aid, mopping his bleeding lip. Ignoring him, Danie turned to her little sister and smiled, taking the feather boa from Gretchen’s neck and adorning it on her own. She squared her shoulders and led her sisters, her mother, her aunt, and her cousins out of the ballroom, getting nothing but openmouthed stares and nasty looks. She suddenly didn’t care if they or the whole world knew her secret.

“You go on, girl!” declared Nicole. Charlene glared at her. Nicole flicked her off.

Melanie and Christine shuffled out, a yelling Nicole behind them. After that, the party ended.

IV
From the next morning’s Did You Hear? in The Gracia Journal
Could it be? Songbird Daniella Thomas is single again, much to the relief of her male fans—but much to the chagrin of her once-possible mother-in-law, who shall remain nameless…well at least for this issue. Danie talks of making plans for more music and more mayhem, aided by her sisters and cousins, but no talk of love or men at all. She also talks about going to see two special children in her life. But that is also for later.

“So what are we going to do now?”

Robert neatly folded the newspaper and looked at his wife patiently. The blanket thrown over his legs shifted a bit as he wheeled closer to her. Emily was playing loud rock music upstairs, and it was bothering him, but that was something for later.

“Mary,” he began, “we should have known that Danie would have gone back on her agreement with us.” When Mary opened her mouth to speak, he silenced her. “Quite frankly, I’m surprised there wasn’t a bigger outburst.” He glanced at the heavy wooden desk. “Call my lawyer. We need to change the will again.”

* * *

Dear Mommy Danie,
Today I wore my new pink dress to school that you gave to me. Everyone liked it. Except for Matilda Herron. She is mean and snobbey so she does not like anything that is not good that is not hers. I told her that my mommy Danie gave it to me and I do not care what you say. So she stomped off and took her nap. Abby says hi. She also says I needn’t be so spiteful. Whatever that means. Can me and Abby come visit you? We will be good, I promise. Okay, I have to go eat dinner. Mommy Vicky says so. Bye Mommy Danie!

Yours truely,
Shannon Thomas

Danie covered her hand with smiling mouth, trying to hold back the tears that were threatening to dribble over onto her cheeks. Seeing the words written in Shannon’s five-year-old penmanship almost broke her down. But it was in a good way. She felt happy to have Shannon’s letter in her hands, even after all the drama that ensued the two weeks before at the engagement party.

She sighed heavily and refolded the letter, putting it back into the envelope for safe keeping. Her father’s lawyer had informed her that she could officially be cut from his will, but she hardly cared at this point. But she was mildly pleased at the admonishment that Mary received for her role in the whole charade. Robert’s intent hadn’t been to blackmail Danie, just ask her to do him a favor before he died. Perhaps now her father would put that woman on a leash—or a metal chain.

In short, her secret was safe.

However, that did not mean it was forgotten. During the last twelve months, she had been in the process of making a big decision, and now as she held the pen and paper in her hands, it was about to come to fruition. Her hand’s shook a little. Could she do it? Shaking her head, she willed her hand to move, knowing once she started, it’d be hard to stop.

Dear Shannon and Abigail,
There are things you two need to know. I know right now that you can barely understand the world around you, but when you do, you will hear things that might not sound like things you want to hear. But I am telling you now so that when you hear these things, you will not be misled.

My dears, I am your mother no matter what anyone tells you. I gave birth to you, and as you age, you will know what that truly means. For circumstances both out of my control and in my control I had to give you two up. I wanted the two of you to have a better life than I could have given you myself, so that is why you live with Victoria now instead of me. I am in your lives because of Victoria’s benevolence. Probably that and your aunt’s bossiness. But that’s for another story.

The two of you are the most important part of me, even through all the glamour and the glitz. I am not here to make music, or pose in pretty pictures, or shoot off some lines from a script. I am here to be ever-present in your lives, and I will be. Forgive me for my mistake, for I was young and stupid. Curse your father, for he inflicted this upon me. Though, don’t be afraid to bless him for helping to bring you into this world. Even though he is not here and you do not know him, you wouldn’t be here without him.
I love the two of you, remember that.

Mommy Danie

[1] Whatcha doing?
[2] Are you alright, sister? (Literally “Are you feeling good, sister?”)
[3] Sister, I want to help you. Listen to me, sister. I can’t watch you marry Theodore. I can’t do it.
[4] Why?
[5] Because there are many things that you don’t know about Theodore. I love you, sister. Be careful.

“We’re Not Gonna Sleep Tonight” originally performed by Emma Bunton. Written by Emma Bunton and Rhett Lawrence. Copyright © 2001 Virgin Records.

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