The Liberation of Daniella Thomas (Unedited)

“The Liberation of Daniella Thomas”

If there was one thing that Danie could say she learned in life, it would be that people loved to gossip.

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

And it looks like America’s favorite fiery princess has met her Prince Charming. This is no rumor, folks—Miss Daniella Thomas is betrothed to the one and only Theodore Baxley. Maybe they’ll make more than just beautiful music together—

Danie couldn’t take anymore. She crumbled up the newspaper in a ball and threw it across her bedroom, not caring that the trash can was on the opposite side and she threw it in the wrong direction. She snorted in annoyance.

“Dammit Danie—?!”

Oops. She’d forgotten that the door was right there, and it was open. She looked contritely at the sullen face of her older brother Eric, who rubbed his forehead and held the flying projectile in his hand.

“Oh Eric! I didn’t even know you were here.” She frowned, standing from backless stool in front of her vanity mirror. “Jess told me you weren’t coming from Audbone Heights for another two days.”

Eric tossed the newspaper in with Danie’s other trash, then shrugged. “Well, the engagement party’s tomorrow night, and I can’t miss it so…” He threw up his hands. “So I’m here instead of New York.”

Danie sighed. She dropped to the bed, fingering the stitching in her orange-red comforter. “Well, I’m glad I have some support,” she admitted.

“Support?” Eric sounded a shade uncertain.

Before Danie could answer, footsteps clamoring up the steps caught her attention. A girlish laugh filled the hallway, then Evie appeared, black hair up in a ponytail. She waved at Eric then addressed Danie.

“Danie, Mrs. Baxley is here,” she told her.

Danie looked at the digital alarm clock on her nightstand. It was a little after noon; Mrs. Baxley wasn’t supposed to be at the Tiger House until one. Turning back to her younger cousin, Danie nodded. “Tell her I’ll be down in a second.”

* * *

“I declare, you girls sure are mighty enthusiastic about washing your cars.”

Claudia-Michelle smiled apologetically at Savannah Baxley in her suit reeking of Southern high society and Chanel No. 5 as her cousins and sisters frolicked around squirting the water hose at each other like beach bunnies in some hot-blooded male’s wet dream, no pun intended. Theodore, in contrast, looked slightly amused at the scene, catching glimpses of his fiancée’s relatives that was bordering on licentious. Not that he cared any.

“Well, you can’t help wanting to get out in this beautiful California weather,” Claudia said with a terse smile, trying not to feel threatened by the disdainful eyebrow that was raised on Savannah’s face. “And it costs much less than having someone else do it, you know?”

Savannah waved the idea off with one of her jeweled hands. “Why, I don’t worry about things of that sort.” Claudia-Michelle had to fight the eyeroll that threatened. Gee, why am I not surprised? “I usually have the boys take care of maintenance for me.” Not your boys, of course. Wouldn’t want to overwork them. Claudia stole a glance at her oldest son, who had started up a flirtatious banter with Jennifer and Gretchen. Horny jerk.

“You girls do this kind of thing all the time?” he called out to them.

Claudia-Michelle saw Jennifer and Gretchen share a quick glance. Samantha, who had been lathering the exterior of the Jeep Wrangler that she shared with Gretchen, paused a moment.

“Oh yeah,” Gretchen said carefully, the sarcasm in her voice almost indiscernible. “All the time. Especially when we have an audience.” Theodore looked pleased, but Claudia could see Gretchen’s face in her mind when she turned back around, and in Claudia-Michelle’s mind’s eye, Gretchen was rolling her eyes.

The door behind Savannah, Claudia-Michelle, and Theodore swung open and teenaged Evie rushed out, nearly mutilating Savannah, but she had strong legs and jumped over them. Evie landed on the grass and prompted laughter from her cousins. Savannah placed a hand over her heart like she was about to have a heart attack.

“Danie’ll be out in a second, Mrs. Baxley,” Evie said before running to join Gretchen and Jennifer dancing and rinsing off cars. Savannah appeared miffed, remaining silent. Claudia-Michelle tried not to laugh.

The sun is down and the lights come up
So we move on to a club
Surround yourself with the feel-good groove
People dancin’ everywhere
Make your move, go turn it up
Rockin’ rhythm at the rasta club
Singin’ in the dark and heart thumpin’
London Town is pumpin’
I said it was jumpin’

The music blasting from Evie’s boombox filled the silence that fell among the trio sitting on the porch of the Tiger House. Before Claudia-Michelle could try to fill the silence, the front door opened again. This time Savannah and Theodore stood, as if they were afraid they’d get trampled on.

“Daniella,” Savannah drawled. “So nice to see you, sugar.” She lightly hugged the younger woman and then appraised her at arm’s length after Theodore kissed her on the cheek. “Have you lost some weight?”

Claudia-Michelle’s younger sister shook her head. “No, these clothes are just…a little large, that’s all,” Danie replied. “But let’s not worry about that. Let’s talk about the engagement party.”

Savannah’s face grew pinched. “Oh yes. Your sister—Moira I think—insisted upon the decorations. She said you’d like them—white roses and such.”

Danie smiled, pleased. “I do like white roses, Mrs. Baxley. Don’t worry. Moira-Selene has an artistic touch.”

“If you say so, sugar.” Savannah patted her hands. “But I picked you out a dress for the occasion. It’s a design of a friend of mine, and I think it’ll fit you perfectly. I’ll have Marco drop it by the house before the party. There are still some adjustments that need to be made on the bodice.”

Danie blinked, overwhelmed. “Wow. Thanks, Mrs. Baxley. You didn’t have to—”

“But I did, sugar.” Savannah touched Danie’s cheek, and Claudia-Michelle winced. “You are going to be a lovely socialite if I have anything to say about it, and it begins now. I hope you haven’t let your stature go to hell, because they’ll be looking at you at the party.” Savannah’s attention was diverted by the appearance of a black limousine. “Teddy and I have to go, sugar. Get some rest. And don’t forget what I said.”

Danie nodded obediently, reminding Claudia-Michelle of a robot. “Yes, Mrs. Baxley. I will.”

Savannah squeezed her hand. Theodore gave her a light kiss on the lips, one Danie didn’t know how to respond to, but it was all over before Danie could do anything. She watched them slide into the limo with a strange look in her eyes, nothing like the Danie that Claudia had grown up with, nothing like the supernova with the silken voice who had no regrets. Claudia-Michelle walked up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Danie, I told you, you are fine the way you are,” Claudia-Michelle insisted. “You can be all snobby and pretentious when you get old enough to start having to replace your teeth.”

Claudia-Michelle didn’t expect Danie to listen to her and wasn’t surprised when Danie entered the house again, away from Jennifer, Samantha, Gretchen, and Evie being silly. Claudia-Michelle shook her head. Her stature was perfect.

*That night * Soul Love Live*

“Whose idea was this anyway?” Melanie 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.”

“Girl, 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 all 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 a 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-Michelle shook their heads. They weren’t surprised.

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

“Poor Danie,” Jennifer said sorrowfully. “She doesn’t even realize that her relationship with Theodore is based on a secret.”
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 between 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 short 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 too. 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 by the arm, 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 going in opposite directions 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-Michelle and Gretchen.

“I guess this means the wedding’s off,” commented Jennifer, sounding not too 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 more 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-Michelle 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 Gretchen. 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 impending 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 and waited until it was safe. Samantha, Jennifer, and Melanie sighed with relief.

“Whatever you do,” Claudia began, trying to catch her breath as the line finally moved, “do not, under any circumstances, tell Jessica.”

*The Tiger House * the next afternoon*

“That bastard Theodore Baxley did what?!”

Claudia-Michelle rubbed her forehead in exasperation. Jennifer bit her lip and looked to Gretchen, who was doing the same thing. Samantha winced a little. Even Nicole and Melanie had the grace to look miffed.

“Calm down, Jessica,” Cassandra said softly.

But Jessica could not be tamed. Her fingers were taut, ready to scratch Theodore’s eyes out. Her auburn hair seemed to be smoking. Her blue-green eyes smoldered with wrath that longed to be quenched.

Her customary reaction; no one was profoundly shocked at all, just a bit alarmed.

“I will not calm down until I have the testicles of that cheating, lying, two-faced sonofabitch in my bare hands!” Jessica growled, pounding an ardent fist on the counter. “I can’t believe that he is doing this to my sister!” She strode to the phone. “I ought to call Mom right now—”

“Whoa, chief, hold the beef a second,” Nicole broke in, waving her hands. “I mean, it’s not your place to break this off. It’s Danie’s deal. She’s gotta know the truth and she’s the one that has to confront him. Then you can rip off his balls or…whatever.”

“I vote for the whatever,” Gretchen added, trying to joke. It fell flat. No one laughed.

“Nicole has a point,” Cassandra amended. “I mean, Danie’s just going to think that you’re trying to get her to break up with Theodore just because you hate the fact that your father arranged the marriage, and she is not going to believe you.”

Jessica sighed heavily, plopping down on the stool. Everyone sighed inwardly with relief, seeing that Jessica’s temper had flared out. “I don’t even know why she cares so much about Theodore anyway,” Jessica murmured, lost in thought. “Sure, they dated long ago, but she said he wasn’t her type.”

“Things change,” Claudia-Michelle amended. “Maybe she just decided to have a change of heart.”

“Whatever,” Jessica muttered, sighing. “I know one thing though: this wedding better not happen. Not while Theodore Baxley’s having Charlene Daniels on the side.”

“And who knows what’s gonna go down at the engagement party tonight,” Nicole mused.

Jessica suddenly looked up, a devious gleam in her eye.

Melanie groaned. “Oh please no. Tell me you are not going to—”

Jessica slapped the counter with her palm. “Damn right, I am. But I’m just going to lead Danie to the truth, not tell her.” She gazed upon Samantha, Claudia-Michelle, Jennifer, Melanie, Nicole, Gretchen, and Cassandra, crossing her arms. “And you are going to help me.”

“Aw hell,” Nicole swore. “Here we go again.”

Melanie slapped her on the back. “Watch your mouth. We’re helping Jessica, got it?”

“Fine, whatever,” Nicole grumbled.

*The Tiger House * that night*

Her most favorite part about a party was getting ready for it, but this time Danie couldn’t find the strength to get into the life of the party. She could hear her housemates running around in various states of readiness, yelling about lipstick and asking about pantyhose with no runs in them. Danie pressed her cold hands to her face and took in a deep breath, not even consoled by the powdery smell of foundation.

“Knock, knock.” Danie looked up to find Jessica standing in her doorway, wearing a black evening gown that made her eyes luminous and blue. Her hair was pulled up away from her face, revealing her slightly worried expression.

“That dress looks nice on you,” Danie commented as Jessica entered and sat on her messy bed.

“Thanks.” Jessica looked at the door. “Can’t wait to see yours. Did you pick it out?”

“No.” Danie paused to put on lipstick. “Savannah did.” After puckering her lips up at the mirror, she turned to her older sister. “You think this color makes me look risqué?”

Jessica’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Risqué? How so?”

Danie shrugged and put the tube back into its place with all the other lipsticks. “I dunno. I just thought I looked a little racy sometimes. I want to look a little different tonight. More grown-up.”

“Danie,” Jessica began, “if this is about what Mary said to you—”

“Mary has nothing to do with this,” Danie interrupted. “I’m twenty-two years old. It’s time I start acting like an adult and not like a hormonal eighteen-year-old.” Danie went back to her mirror. “Hopefully marrying Theodore will give me that chance to grow.”

For a long moment, nothing happened but staring. Waves of discontentment emanated from Jessica, nearly choking Danie with their thickness. Then Jessica spoke.

“Hermanita.” Danie blinked back tears at the sound of the nickname Jessica had given to her little sisters. “Quiero que ayudarte. Escuchame, hermanita. No veo casarte con Theodore. No puedo.”[1]

The words affected Danie deeply, and she could not halt the torrent of salty tears that spilled onto her cheeks. “Porque?”[2] she asked.

Jessica swallowed. “Porque hay muchas cosas que no sabes. Es necessito que saber sobre Theodore.” Jessica lightly touched Danie’s cold, pale hand, then climbed to her high-heeled feet, troubling Danie with her ambiguity. “Te amo, hermanita. Ten cuidado esta noche.”[3] With that, she drifted out of the room, but not without gazing back at Danie once, blue-green eyes resigned to something Danie feared to know about. And when Jessica left, Danie peered up at her own black dress hanging on the door in its garment bag, feeling a strange tremor of an unknown emotion. She looked back to the mirror.

“Ten cuidado,” she murmured to her tearstained reflection.

* * *

“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 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 a heavy, exasperated sigh that silenced them both. Jessica snickered a bit, receiving glares from both 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 them. “Is this your date?”

The shorter brunette, wearing red, beamed at the boa-clad Gretchen with a certain venom that seemed on an even keel 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 as Charlene found other interests. 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,” Gretchen 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 Moira-Selene and her friends Christine and Megami Takumi-Hill, having 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 opted to base her vision off of Danie’s favorite flower, the white rose, 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 though 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. She shrugged at the coincidence and concentrated on appraising the other guests. 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 Andrews’s, her father’s current wife. “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 a bit of 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 came and placed her hand on her arm, Moira would have snapped.

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

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

* * *

Meanwhile, Jessica and Cassandra stood amid the other party guests, glancing around for Danie, or Theodore and Charlene. Gretchen talked with Izzy while Samantha was carefully tearing her younger sister away from the food. Seeing nothing, Cassandra frowned. Nicole and Melanie were by the door, waiting for Jessica.

“Jessica, the plan’s not going to work,” Cassandra said. “Theodore’s sisters have Danie occupied, and well, the girls have found other interests.”

“You’re going to have to tell Mom, Jess,” Claudia-Michelle told her.

* * *

“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 else but the wedding. She’s supposed to be entering here in a second.” 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 visibly perturbed. Mary covered her mouth with her hand. Irene walked up to them, grabbing Theodore’s wrist 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—people like you.” 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 like a runway model and led her sisters, her mother, her aunt, and her cousins out of the ballroom, getting nothing but openmouthed stares and nasty looks from people she had thought to be influential to her social growth. But she didn’t care anymore, because she knew who she was and where she belonged—with her girls.

“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.

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. So watch out for “Them Girls,” folks…‘cause they’re gonna be singing it loud and proud.

“The Walk of Life” originally performed by the Spice Girls. Written by Geri Halliwell, Victoria Adams, Melanie Chisholm, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, and Watkins and Wilson.

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

[1] Little sister. I want to help you. Listen to me, little sister. I can’t watch you marry Theodore. I cannot.
[2] Why?
[3] Because there are many things that you do not know. It is necessary that you know about Theodore. I love you, little sister. Be careful tonight.

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