Freakin' with the Enemy Ch. 05byStardog Champion©
Danielle Craft may have been a generation or two removed from truly understanding the "Jan Brady" reference, but being the 'middle child' between two very popular, very pretty and very accomplished sisters suited her analogy to a tee. Her older Sister, Kirsten was just finishing up her Senior year of college with a career already lined up and an entire wing of the Craft house dedicated to her many awards and commendations. Her younger Sister, Caitlyn, had always been the spoiled one. She was also her Mother's last hope to gain all the accolades that Darlene Craft herself never accomplished, creating an environment where Caitlyn got most of the added attention once it was a fait accompli that Danielle wasn't going to be shoehorned into that typecast her Mother expected.
"They don't care about your grasp of 'geometric theorems' during the evening gown competitions," Danielle remembered her Mother telling her once when she was around 13, in an effort to try pulling her way from her studies long enough to follow in Kirsten's footsteps on the pageant circuit.
Then came the 'don't play too much softball or volleyball' speech around the same time because it just wouldn't be looked at as 'lady-like' in the eyes of a wanna-be socialite like Darlene Craft.
In truth, Danielle could have spent 24 hours a day from the genesis of her birth trying to be a beauty queen, but it wouldn't have made a difference. In the gene lottery, she'd drawn her looks from her Father's side of the family, and frankly, she'd been blessed with a healthy dose of introspection from her formative years and was utterly turned off by the superficiality of much of the world around her, especially at home. Naturally observant with a halfway decent intellectual grasp for a shy girl of 18, Danielle Craft had grown into a halfway dangerous fly on the proverbial wall.
In a lot of cases like Danielle's, the daughter tends to gravitate towards being a tom-boy or becoming much closer to her father, but she didn't even have that to fall back on. Whether Curt Craft was comfortable allowing his Wife to tend to their three kids so he could chase his career, and his own selfish diversions, or whether it was his own deep seeded disappointment that Darlene had never bore him a Son, but there was an unconscious but definite, and growing, disconnect between him and the rest of his family.
All that served as an invisible yoke around Danielle's neck, but luckily she'd been the one of the three that had the built-in backbone to handle it. Growing up in her upper middle class environment, she knew things could be much worse, but even though she never wanted for anything materially, trying to find her niche or anything to truly feel good about became a daily struggle for the 18 year old.
That's not to say that Danielle didn't have some dirt on the world.
The evidence, albeit subtle at first, was all around her. Even as a child, seeing the way the parents of her friends and neighbors interacted was different than the way her parents seemed to. Her Mother had become increasingly obsessed back then with Kirsten mainly, and all the primping and planning that went into her pageant success. It was clear as well that even though her Father was supportive of his Daughters' endeavors, he increasingly sought out ways to get as far away from the house, and all the drama within it, as possible.
As quick, and as hip, as kids are to things these days, once Danielle got old enough to see some of her friends' parents going through divorces, she started to notice many of the tell-tale signs in her own Mom and Dad as well. The extended business trips and the long nights at the office were almost cliché by then, but it seemed to work for the Crafts to live two separate lives under the shared veil of marriage.
Danielle had no qualms admitting to herself that her Father had strayed on her Mother, probably more times than she wanted to count. As absorbed as Darlene was about keeping up appearances and making constant public splashes, Danielle didn't think her Mom was of the mind to cheat, but as with most things in life, sometimes those assumptions do make an ass of you.
Such was the case that fateful afternoon when Danielle had returned home early from school with a tummy ache.
She could have probably made it through the rest of the school day if she'd tried, but Danielle knew it was the one day that week that the house would be empty so she could sneak home and just enjoy a couple hours of peace and quiet. She knew her Father wouldn't be home until late evening, her younger Sister would be in school until after 4 and this was the day her Mom as supposed to volunteer for some Godforsaken reason at that church mission across town.
Needless to say, when Danielle pulled up to the house and saw her Mother's car still in the driveway, her head began pounding more than her belly.
"DAMN," she muttered before smacking the steering wheel hard. Twice.
Knowing it would be stupid to turn around and head back to school, Danielle figured she could sneak in and disappear up to her room before Darlene Craft even knew her truant Daughter had locked herself in her room.
Before Danielle could set both feet into the house however, she froze hearing the shrill sounds coming from upstairs. It was clear even in that briefest of moments that her Mother was way past the point of distraction. Looking over her shoulder to make sure she didn't miss a stranger's car parked in the driveway, Danielle racked her suddenly overwhelmed brain, trying to discern just who it could be up there with her Mom.
"Was it someone from the neighborhood or someone she'd met online? Was it one of her Father's friends..one of Danielle's?", were all questions that squealed like angry buzzards through Danielle's head as she tried unsuccessfully placing the voice moaning at the top of the steps.
Before she even realized it, Danielle's psyche grabbed a hold of her feet and dragged the young girl back outside, and back into her car.
If her belly hadn't already been unsettled, it definitely was now as she tried fending off the echoes remaining in her head from the snippets of sound she'd overheard in the house. Driving in circles through the neighborhood as she tried to regain her bearings, Danielle finally found herself at the park a few blocks from her house, sitting there under the late Autumn Sun, watching the leaves change at a way slower pace than apparently her own life was at that moment.
Being a school day, the area was barren for the most part, giving Danielle all the seclusion she needed to smoke a few cigarettes and assess the fallout of what she'd accidentally stumbled into. Listening to some music to settle her nerves as she de-compressed in her car beneath the shade of a huge weeping willow tree, around an hour or so after Danielle pulled into the lot, she saw her Mother's car slip down the main road, with the clear profile of a man in the passenger seat.
It didn't dawn on Danielle until much later the lunacy of tailing her Mom as she drove the stranger she'd just had sex with across town. Not really able to get a good look at the guy in the passenger seat from the three or four car buffer she tried to keep behind, Danielle sensed they were weaving through neighborhoods her Mother wouldn't normally venture otherwise.
Not really knowing what she'd do with the information if she discovered the identity of the man, Danielle felt like she was out more to satisfy her own morbid curiosity. After all, her Father had been having affairs for years, but to the best of Danielle's knowledge, he hadn't dared bring any of those women into the family home like her Mother obviously just had.
The young girl's adrenaline started to race and she nearly rear-ended the car in front of her when she saw her Mom stop on a dime and let the man with her out at a bus stop on the corner.
Danielle didn't know whether to feel relief or angst when she didn't recognize the guy getting out of her Mother's car. He certainly didn't look like any friend of the family, and even though he was significantly younger than Darlene, he was older than any of the boys she knew from the neighborhood.
Seeing a couple of tattoos adorning the gentleman's flesh as he stepped from the vehicle, Danielle prophetically laughed to herself thinking the guy looked like the type that may have done some time in prison.
Expecting the guy to wait for a bus considering the spot where her Mom had dropped him off, Danielle had to adjust her eyes when she saw him take off walking down the sidewalk in the same exact direction her Mother drove off in her car.
With the crush of traffic behind her, Danielle knew she couldn't just putter along following the guy on the sidewalk. Drifting past the man, doing her best to crane her head around to get a better look, Danielle simply couldn't picture someone as 'refined and gilded' as her Mom ever conversing with someone as rough as that gentleman looked, much less inviting him into her own bed.
Stealing another glimpse in the rear view as she drifted forward, Danielle eventually settled into a parking space two blocks up and waited to see if the man would continue towards her.
The entire world seemed to drift away for Danielle as the guy approached. It was almost like tracing the path of a ghost as he neared the car and silently shuffled by, paying her no attention as she sat like a leering pillar of salt behind the wheel of her car. The aura of gratification and conquest was clear to see however, almost shrouding the man as he glided one block further up the street and made the turn right.
Putting the transmission in gear and easing into the flow of traffic, when Danielle made the turn behind him, she immediately saw where Denny Pilson was headed.
Seeing her Mother's Beemer parked in the lot with a sign reading "Loughlin House" out front, it only took a few seconds for the guy to bound up the steps and disappear through the front door. The cards were clearly laid out in Danielle's hand, but she was at an utter loss over how to play them.
A senior in high school, the clock was ticking on Danielle to get her college applications in order. While her grades were good enough to get her into most any school in the state, between her normal teenage procrastination and occasional detached ambivalence, Danielle had let more time slip by than she really should have. Knowing she could always just go to the local junior college for a year or two in a pinch, the faint bit of ambition she still possessed did yearn to head to a four year school.
Unable to really look her Mom in the eye after the secret discovery that afternoon at the house, Danielle much preferred getting her Dad's help getting her college mailings together. With him spending so much time away from home however, Danielle eventually had to bite the bullet and ask her Mother for help.
Catching Darlene balancing the checkbook one afternoon at the kitchen table, Danielle eased up to her Mother as calmly as she could with a packet of information for her to look over. Before she could so much as slide the papers from the packet however, Danielle's younger Sister, Caitlyn, came bounding down the stairs to steal her Mother's attention.
Within a few seconds, Caitlyn's news that she'd been accepted into the local Christmas pageant trumped the dry, monotonous duty of trudging through Danielle's college applications.
Disappearing into the woodwork as she'd grown accustomed to, Danielle re-treated upstairs and spent the next hour or so crying into her pillow.
"I should go to Dad and tell him everything I saw," Danielle decided between sniffles but quickly changed her mind when she realized the kettle of fish that would open.
Besides the way it would rip apart the family's veneer of tranquility, if Danielle was in fact going to go to college next Fall, the strain a potential divorce would put on everyone's finances might cripple those chances. Behind that soaking wet pillow case, Danielle's bubbling cauldron of dissonance would have to be vented in a much more subtle way.
It was a classic 'forest for the trees' scenario, but long before Danielle realized it, her family was beginning to spin apart. Her older sister Kirsten was on the verge of graduating college and moving on with her life while her Mom had shifted every last bit of energy and vicarious existence to her little Sister Caitlyn. With her Father off chasing his own liberal pursuits, Danielle was often left to her own devices.
For better or worse, Danielle had been constructed with a combustible mixture of ingredients. Blessed with quite an intellect for a kid her age, with the capability of deep rational thought, she was equally burdened with a lethal dose of teenage hormones, mercurial apathy and suburban angst. In one breath she could be cool, calculating and fully on task, then in one breath be transformed into a mish-mash of fear, insecurity and loathing.
If there was one thing missing in Danielle's life, it was for someone to appreciate her for who she was, not who they wanted her to be. While certainly not a unique refrain among today's youth, Danielle hadn't taken the tried and true route of throwing herself at any boy who would show her some 'appreciation'. Even though she had fudged about it on several occasions just so she wouldn't feel 'left out' , Danielle was in fact the only virgin in her entire, albeit small, circle of friends.
Each time Danielle found herself coming home with only her Mom's car in the driveway, she couldn't help holding her breath, waiting to hear the sounds of sex coming from the corridors of the house. Even during their increasingly rare sit down family dinners, Danielle would flick her fork through her potatoes wondering which parent had committed the most recent marital indiscretion. She'd even found herself driving by that halfway house where her Mom volunteered on occasion, on the rare chance she'd actually get another look of the guy who'd gotten out of Darlene's car that day weeks back.
Even though she outwardly had no idea how she'd carry out her revenge, Danielle Craft's subconscious was feverishly at work. Having not been the pageant winning socialite her Mother had wanted, and not having the counterbalance of a dotting Father to fall back on, that primal part of Danielle's still developing brain searched for a way to even both scores in one fell swoop.
In the end, she used the one indisputable tool God had given her.
Having taken that stray trip across town to drive by the Loughlin House a half dozen or so times since she caught her Mom with a guy living there, one afternoon the man in question was actually bounding down the steps leaving the place.
"Oh Shit," Danielle mumbled out loud, having not put all that much thought into what she'd do if she happened to see him again.
Part of Danielle wanted to run up and smack the guy for contributing to the growing chasm in her parent's marriage. Another part wanted to get as close as she could to the man, just to see what carnal hold a specimen like him would have over a snobbish, if not outright boorish woman like her Mother. Mostly, Danielle wanted to drive by and study him, to commit his profile and the ease of his gait to memory, to try and understand his silent but seemingly potent allure.
Even in those brief moments driving by, Danielle didn't truly grasp just how far she'd stuck her hand into the lion's cage.
Unlike most teens her age, Danielle Craft had never so much as had even a fender bender, much less running over a pedestrian. Both of them came within inches of happening however as she tried sizing up the man walking obliviously down the street. Forgetting there was a stoplight up at the next block, Danielle nearly rear-ended a car, unaware the light had turned red. A few seconds later when she was preparing to make the right hand turn at the intersection, Danielle attempted to steal one last look at the guy in her rear view, only to slam on the brakes when a guy yelled "Look where the fuck you're going you crazy Bitch", from the crosswalk just in front of her.
Adrenaline racing like kerosene through her veins, Danielle should have just floored it and hastily headed back to her side of the tracks. Whether it was her own simmering teenage angst or simply her subconscious morbid want, Danielle peeled off the main drag and made a right into the 7-11 parking lot.
Every nerve in her body boiling, Danielle switched off the ignition and tried to catch her breath.
Having no clue the man she'd been looking at was even walking in that direction, Danielle rung her hands together around the steering wheel as she watched the sidewalk from the parking space she'd pulled into at the far back corner of the lot.
"He probably went the other way," a voice in her head started to say before she saw Denny Pinson stroll into view, obviously making his way towards the front of the store.
The heart that had been jumping like a dog on a chain inside Danielle's chest suddenly lodged squarely in her throat.
It could have been more trite perhaps if she'd beckoned the stranger over to help look at something wrong on her car, but an underage girl asking a grown-up to buy her some beer in a convenience store parking lot seemed a tad overdone. In the fraction of a second Danielle had to make the decision however, it more than served her purpose.
Startling herself by how forceful her words came out, Danielle was loud enough to draw the man's attention without causing anyone else milling around to pay much notice. It didn't take long for the young girl's intestines to start twisting into knots when he turned and started walking towards her car.
The rhythm of his footsteps on the pavement echoing in Danielle's head, the 18 year old could feel an invisible, but very real layer of danger encircling her as he approached.
Asking him to do the impromptu deed once he'd eased up to the driver's side door, Danielle quickly found herself withering beneath the same heartless yet hungry stare her Mother had seen so many times over the previous month.
"I've got $20..you can keep the difference," she looked up and told him.
"I've.....I'm.....I only need a sixpack..I have a few friends....," Danielle continued to spin her yarn, trying to concoct a reasonable story on the fly as she felt herself melting under Denny's gaze.
"....If you can't..that's OK," she stammered a few disjointed breaths later, unable to read whether the man was going to do what she was asking or simply grab her Twenty and calmly walk away.
Seeing the man take a small step back before shifting his eyes, first to the left then to his right, it dawned on Danielle the implication a man in his spot might be facing if he was residing at a place like the Loughlin House.
"If he gets caught buying beer for an underaged girl, that'll mess up his parole and send him back to...," she started to tell herself before Denny reached in and grabbed the bill in one clean and effortless gesture.
An audible gasp left Danielle's throat as the lingering friction from the swiped Twenty sizzled on her fingers.
"Domestic or import?" he asked as he stuffed the bill into his shirt pocket.
"It ...doesn't matter," she replied before realizing the question was just a sarcastic prod.
Watching intently as the man disappeared inside the store, a gnawing urge to start the car and leave welled inside Danielle.
"So what....you lost a $20....if he comes back out and you're waiting, its bad news," she told herself, her forehead pressed in the death grip of her right palm.
"At least you got to see the guy face to face..start the car, you could be a mile away when he comes out, " her conscience railed.