Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Twins Chapters 1 through Chapter 24

The Twins
(the first 12 chapters were previously posted last March. But I have done some editing, so I am posting the whole thing here for those of you that didn't read it previously)

The Twins
Copyright Deni Wom
Edited by James Friedman

Chapter 1 - The Clearing

She: 7th Grade; He: 5th Grade
Under a dreary grey sky, they watched the flock of kvetching honkers align their glide path toward the ruffled surface of the lake.
Without turning to look at her, the boy asked, “Can I stay here tonight?” He was nervous.
The girl turned her head, slightly, to study the stranger out of the corner of her eye. A full head shorter than she was, dressed in dirty coat and jeans, dirty hands holding a bed roll.
She wondered if he knew, despite her boyish clothing and very short hair, that she was a girl. She glanced around the darkening clearing. Not a great place, no comforts of home, but the trees did blunt the wind. They even helped a bit with the penetrating cold.
The boy was young, too young to have sex in mind she decided. Whatever happened, it couldn’t be worse than what she had already been through.
She shrugged. “Got a sleeping bag?”
“Naw. Don’t need a sleeping bag. I got a blanket.”
“Suit yourself.”
They gathered some wood, then lit a fire as the light shrank from the sky. They bantered back and forth for a while, then withdrew to opposite sides of the clearing to sleep.
Sometime in the night, awakening to the unfamiliar sounds, she heard his teeth chattering. The wind had come up. The temperature had dropped precipitously. The fire was out. No moon.
She listened.
The kid was crying. Not loud, just soft whimpers and sniffles. He sounded scared. He sounded lonely. He sounded as if his heart had broken.
She made her decision. “Bring your blanket over here and put it on top of my sleeping bag. We’ll both be warmer,” she said. Just in case he came over, she unzipped her sleeping bag a bit to let him in.
It took him a few moments, but the cold overcame his sense of pride. She was shocked by how cold he was when he finally kicked off his shoes and climbed in beside her. With the compassion of an older sibling, she rolled over and put her arm around his thin frame, pulling him to her. It took a while, but his shivering eventually subsided. She had almost drifted back to sleep when he started whimpering again.
His soul seemed to pour from his clenched teeth. He cried for a long time.
When he finally quieted she asked, “What happened?”
He shook his head, unwilling to verbalize the horrible things that had been done.
She thought long and hard before deciding to tell him the reason that she had run away from home, of the unspeakable things her parents had done to her.
When she started talking, she could tell he was listening intently. When she was done, he sniffled. “How’d you stop him?”
She described how her knee had caught him in his unprotected groin, how her fingers had dug out one of his eyes, how her forehead had knocked him out.
He thought for a while. Finally he said, “Wish I could’ve done that.”
“I’ll show you,” she offered.
He groaned when he shifted. “My butt’s soooo sore; it bleeds when I go.”
He still didn’t seem to suspect she was a girl. “I’ll take you to the ER in awhile, after the sun comes up, when it warms up a little.”
He snuggled a little closer. “Would you be my sister?” he asked, almost too softly for her to hear.
So he did know.
She sifted through her fears and reservations. “OK,” she finally said.
“My name’s Tony. What’s yours?”

Chapter 2 – Emergency Room

After the sun came up
“Let’s clean up before we go to the emergency room, Tony.”
“You mean bathe in the creek?” Tony sounded skeptical, even slightly frightened by the idea.
“The lake, actually. It’s warmer.”
Tony still didn’t look so sure. “Am I going to be naked? In front of you?”
Dani chuckled. “I’m your big sister, remember? We’ve seen each other naked lots of times.”
Tony looked a little squeamish. “Never had anyone see me naked … ’cept ….” Tears glimmered as he stifled a sob.
“If we’re going to live like brother and sister, here, we’re going to have to get used to bathing together. I have no intention of being dirty just because I’m homeless.”
Tony could see the logic in that. He shrugged, then walked, gingerly, toward the lake.

It took them two hours to walk to the emergency room. Walking obviously caused the boy pain. Once there, it took another hour and a half to see a nurse. It was long enough for both of them to warm up. After an half hour of explanations in which Tony swore that Dani was his big sister, and that they had no other family alive, they were placed in a curtained off area.
Tony was instructed to take his clothes off and put on a backless paper gown.
An hour later a doctor examined Tony. To Tony’s humiliation, another nurse was present for the examination. Dani could tell by the expression on the nurse’s face that she was deeply moved by the trauma the boy had suffered.
As they left the ER, the nurse followed them out. She asked Dani if she could talk with her for a moment.
Though ashamed, Dani decided to come clean with the nurse. Staring at the floor, she explained their situation, about her stepfather, about Tony’s traumatic molestation.
Tears in her eyes, the nurse watched her. “We have a little bedroom that is off the back of our house that you two are welcome to use, if you want to. There is a laundry room and bathroom with a shower right by it too, which you could use. What do you think?”
Dani looked into the nurse’s compassionate eyes. “How would we pay for it? We have no money.”
The nurse thought for a moment, then nodded. “I understand what you are saying. My husband and I have several acres, and we raise a few sheep and chickens. How about if you two do the yard work and take care of the animals and mow the fields in exchange for both food and shelter? I’m Henrietta by the way. My husband calls me Eta.”
Dani promised to talk to Tony about her kind offer and get back to her. Eta gave Dani a card with her address, and work and home phone number. “Just show up if you want to use it. Things are crazy here in the afternoon; I may not be able come to the phone. So if you decide to call, leave a message if I’m tied up. Okay?” She seemed to struggle with whether she could give Dani a hug.

After Tony was released from the ER, Dani and Tony walked the two miles to the address the nurse had given them. It was a pretty house, with a huge yard and even larger fields. They counted ten sheep and at least fifty chickens. The house was only a few blocks from Tony’s school.
A man saw them through the living room window. He watched them as they looked at the house. After a few moments he came out. “I’m Ralph. I’m Henrietta’s husband. She called and told me a little bit about your conversation. Would you like me to show you the room?”
Dani and Tony looked at each, eyes sparkling, not quite believing how lucky they were. They nodded.
The room was large, had twin beds, two desks, and even an old TV. The entry to the room was off the back porch.
“Our two sons used to live in here before they went off to college and got hitched. It’s been empty ever since. What do you think?”
Dani rushed to the man and hugged him. Tony waited for a few seconds, then hobbled over to him and hugged him as well.
“It’s going to be great to have this room used again.” Ralph said with a wistful grin. “Now let me show you how we feed the sheep and chickens. We collect eggs every evening. Come on, I’ll show you.”

Later that night Dani heard whimpers. Tony was crying again. She lay there for a few seconds, thinking, then proposed that they push the single beds close together so that they could snuggle if he needed to.
Tony quieted. A few moments later he murmured. “I’m sorry.”
“For what, little brother?”
His whimpers escalated to outright crying. When his sobs subsided a little he gasped, “How come you’re so nice to me? You’re white, I’m black.”
Dani was surprised. She puzzled the question. Why would he think that made a difference to her? Then it dawned on her. It made a difference to him. “Tell me why you think that makes a difference, little brother.”
As he thought about her question, his crying lessened, then turned to sniffles. “I dunno. Cuz everybody says it does, I guess.”
The room became silent, except for their breathing.
Dani asked, “Why do you say you’re black? I mean, I don’t understand that sort of thing. People have one parent that’s Caucasian, and one parent that has some African heritage, and invariably they call themselves black. They have less ‘black’ in them than they do ‘white;’ yet they automatically think of themselves as being black. Why is that? It makes no sense.”
After a few more moments of silence, Tony said. “I dunno. It’s just what I been told. All my life I been told I’m black.” He added softly, beneath his breath, “That I’m worthless.”
The silence lengthened. Dani thought that perhaps Tony had gone to sleep.
Then, his voice barely audible, he added, “Thinkin’ ‘bout it, I guess I jes don’t wanna be called no uppity nigger.”
Dani bolted upright in bed. She was shocked. She had never heard anyone actually use that word before. The ‘N Word’. She thought that actually say it out loud was the ultimate in crass. She felt shame just to hear the word.
Her indignation continued to rise. Trying not to sound angry, she replied, “Little brother, since you ARE my brother … now … I forbid you to think of yourself in such a horrible way. You are my brother, and you are intelligent and loving and kind and thoughtful and ….” She ran out of words. “And I forbid you to say … or even THINK … such awful things about yourself.
“You can be anything you want to be in this world. The only person that can stop you from succeeding is you. One of the things that can stop you is thinking of yourself as less than other people because of something you have no control over, such as your heritage. Make your friends see you for who you really are. Excel in anything you do. In everything you do. Like Yoda said, ‘Don't try, DO!’ ”
The room was silent again for a bit.
“And, little brother, if I ever hear you put yourself down like that again, I’m going to give you noogies. We’ve both had horrible things happen to us, but it isn’t our fault. It was some SOB that did it us. We didn’t deserve it. And I’ll be damned if I am going to let it hold me down. Now let’s shove these beds together so we can both feel like we belong to someone, and go to sleep.”
They wrestled the beds from the sides of the room to the center, leaving the sheets and covers to hang down between the beds, tacitly signifying that there was a definite boundary between them, a mutual, unspoken agreement that they would not be physically intimate.
They got back into bed, still wearing their clothes, yet another indication that they were indeed brother and sister.
Dani grinned at Tony’s shy smile. She turned out the light.
Tony wriggled back against the barrier of the covers. “Would you put your arm around me until I can get to sleep … please?”
Dani did so, her mind sifting through the things she needed to say to her young friend. She took a deep breath, then opened up her heart. “Look, Tony, I’m a girl. I could use that as a way of feeling like a victim. Just like you are using your race to play the part of a victim. It’s bullshit. I can be anything I want to be so long as I don’t play the part of a victim. On top of being a girl, I am also sort of good looking. The bastards that want to control me will use both against me. If I were ugly, they would use that against me.
“I won’t let them. No way. I will be me, and I will accomplish the things I want to accomplish. I will not let my family, or friends, or enemies, or anybody else deflect me from the goals that I choose for my life.
“I’m just starting getting boobs. I’ve watched other women allow themselves to get side tracked by their femininity. Or their looks. Or their gender. I will not. I know what I want and I am going to get it, despite any roadblock that I come up against.
“And that’s what you need to do too. Decide what you want out of life, and go for it. Don't let drugs or smoking or assholes or manipulators get in your way.
“Forget that other people see you only as a black male in America at a time when they think they can manipulate you with that. Be you. Be ALL you want to be.”
Dani was silent for a moment or two. “Or I’ll find you and give you noogies. Understand?”
He giggled.
Then, silence again, until Tony asked, “What’s your goal in life?”
Without hesitation, Dani said, “I am going to be the best soccer player in the world.”

Two Weeks Later
They had the chickens fed, the cows were hayed, and their clothes were washed. “Wanna play some soccer?” Tony asked.
“You feel up to it?” Dani said as she looked at him.
Tony shrugged. “Won’t know for sure till I try.” He kicked the ball to her.
Dani deftly trapped the ball, shuffled it perfectly to her other foot and passed the ball back.
They passed the ball back and forth for several minutes before Ralph came out of the house. He stood on the back porch, watching, then walked down to where they were scrimmaging. Without asking, he joined in. It was immediately apparent that he had some skills when it came to soccer. Before long they were laughing as they played, Dani and Tony against Ralph.
An hour later, breathing hard, the sun fully set, Ralph asked, “You kids want some hot chocolate?”

“WOW! This is good!” Tony said when he took a sip.
Dani grinned. “It is, isn’t it? Thank you, Ralph.”
Tony’s face seemed to cloud before it cleared. “Thanks!”
Ralph said, “I used to coach my kids soccer team when they were growing up.”
Tony looked at Dani. “Dani is going to be the best soccer player in the world,” he stated.
Ralph looked at Dani. “That right?”
Dani blushed, but then sat up straighter. “Yes, it is.”
Ralph nodded. “Well then, young lady, it would be my pleasure to assist you on your journey.”

Chapter 3 - Dojo

A Year Later
Dani: 8th Grade; Tony: 6th Grade

Dani came out of the grocery store with her arms full of grocery bags. She saw Tony down the street, staring through a window. She walked to him, and handed him two of the grocery bags. He took them without looking at her, his eyes riveted on what was happening inside the window.
Dani looked through the window too. People seemed to be dancing with each other in a very forceful way. As she watched, one of each of the dance partners stepped in close, put their hip against their partner’s hip, then threw them to the floor.
Tony said, “Judo. Don't you think?”
“Kind of graceful, isn’t it?”
Each of the partners turned to the other and bowed. They then turned as a group and bowed to a man at the front of the room. The man bowed back.
Everyone went to the coat closet and prepared to leave.
Tony and Dani were just turning to walk on down the street toward home when someone behind them called to them. They turned to see the man that everybody had bowed to a few moments earlier. He motioned for them to walk back to him.
Feeling as if they had been caught cheating at something, they did so.
“Are you kids interested in learning self defense?” the man asked.
Tony nodded furiously. “Yes sir.”
Dani looked at Tony. She saw his look of determination. She thought about what he had said the night they first met. She looked at the man. “We have no way to pay you sir, but we would be happy to clean your place once a week if we could learn from you.”
The man stared at her, then at Tony. Then his lips curled ever so slightly into the tiniest of smiles. “This ‘place’ is called a Dojo. I am Sensei Mac. Sensei means teacher, or instructor. And I accept your offer. Please come inside for a few moments. I will show you where the janitor’s closet is and what you will need to clean every week. He turned on the ball of his foot and went back inside the Dojo.

2 Weeks Later
As they had started doing every night, on Ralph’s the suggestion, Tony and Dani were passing the ball back and forth between them as they watched TV. Dani flipped the ball upward to her head, then gently headed it back to her right foot, where she caught it on the top of her shoe. She then passed it back to Tony.
A commercial came on.
Tony turned to face Dani. His face was shining with happiness. “I’ve decided what I’m going to be when I grow up.” His dark eyes sparkled as he grinned.
Dani smiled back at him. “Great! What?”
“I’m going to be a medical doctor like Sensei Mac, and be the best martial arts fighter in the world.” He stood, then turned to face her, holding his fists and arms exactly the way that Sensei Mac had taught them. With consummate grace he kicked then punched with both fists, twisting his hands as they shot forward, exactly the way that they had been shown.
Dani gathered her little brother into her arms. She kissed his forehead then said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that you will be exactly that.”

A Week Later
Dani laughed; a deep belly laugh, the kind that make your eyes water. Tony couldn’t stop himself from joining in.
They had been passing the soccer ball back and forth between them, using only their feet. Over the time they had been roommates, brother and sister, they had used the soccer ball to hone their attention on what they were working on, like homework. They could now study or watch TV, or even walk down the street as they passed the ball back and forth. Both of them could pop the ball up, dribble it in the air with their feet, then pass it off to the other person, without even looking at the ball.
Tony had passed the ball to Dani using his forehead to tip the ball her way. The ball had landed smack dab in her lap, wedged between her flat belly and the front of the desk. When she scooted her chair back slightly to free the ball, the chair legs moving on the floor had made the sort of sound that is best contained in a restroom.
They knew each other well enough by now that they felt able to pass gas in each other’s presence. They could even discuss the flavor of the odor when they were particularly bored.
But the sound of chair legs scraping on the floor resounded so loudly in the room that they could not help themselves. They laughed until they had tears in their eyes.
All the while, they kept the soccer ball moving between them, tipping it up. Passing it foot to foot, catching it between their feet or knees, tipping it up to bounce on their foreheads as they laughed.
Tony finally calmed down enough to comment, “You know sis, we are getting really good at controlling the ball. I bet you could use your ball control to get by the opposing players when you need to pass them on the field.
Dani visualized how that might be beneficial for a few moments, then grinned. “Good idea, lil bro. I’ll think about that, try it in my next game.”

Chapter 4 - Soccer

A Years Later
Dani: 9th Grade; Tony: 8th Grade

The Cowgirls soccer team was behind 4-zip, the first string players bitching constantly about the heat. When Coach West had enough of their attitude, she turned to her bench and pointed at Dani. “Yer in! I don’t want to hear a word about the heat! Just go in there and play your heart out. That’s all I ask of you.”
The Cowgirls won the game 5-4. Dani scored all five points.
Tony was jubilant as he picked his sister up and swung her around. “Sis, you’re incredible!” He looked down at her flushed face. He was a full foot taller than she was now. “I can’t believe how you can dribble around the other players like that! And that last goal! MY GOD! You put that ball right in the upper right corner of the goal! Perfect! No way a goalie could ever reach that!”
Dani hugged her little brother tight. Her arms were wrapped tightly around his waist. She pressed her cheek against his chest. “Thanks lil bro.”
Henry joined them in a group hug. “Mighty fine play, young lady! Might fine play!”
Most of the first string quit when she was named to first-string starter at center the next week. The rumor mill went wild about how Dani was the bed-buddy of the coach, who was suddenly rumored to be a dyke. It was the only thing that could possibly explain why such a young player could be promoted to 1st string, after all. Dani was only a freshman! Good god! Besides, with a bod like hers, why did she even play sports? She could have any guy she wanted, why be an athlete? The innuendoes grew nastier every day.
The Cowgirls won their next game, 9-0. Dani scored every point. A triple hat trick! Unheard of! Coach Dowling promoted a number of other players that showed promise, and good attitude. Having a team that actually played as a team really helped, of course.
The School Board began receiving complaints from the well-to-do parents of the girls that were no longer first string, each complaint including a reference to the dyke coach that moved such young players onto first string.
During the next School Board meeting, one of the School Board members asked what soccer was; several members of the other Board just shrugged, confused.
One of the parents complained vociferously about Coach West being a dyke.
The Board seemed to be unfamiliar with that term as well.
Coach West let her husband of 18 years speak for her on the subject.
The Board chairwoman, not wanting to give further credence to the rumors, tabled the discussion until the next regular Board meeting.
The Cowgirls won their next three games, Dani scoring every point.
Recall petitions were brought to the ensuing Board meeting. An election of School Board members was duly scheduled for the next regular countywide election.
The reconstituted Cowgirls team, with Dani’s fervid encouragement, gained both experience and a desire to score. The new players carried no sense of entitlement. As they their teamwork improved, others on the team began to score as well.
The Cowgirls won their last regular season game, 14-2. They arrived at the State Soccer Tournament seeded #7 out of 14 teams.
They did well at the State tourney, taking first place, outscoring their opponents 2 to 1.
The following week, Dani received a scholarship offer from a prestigious all-girls high school in a neighboring county. This season had been the first season that the nearby school’s girl’s soccer team had not taken first place in the tri-county tournament. They aimed to rectify that situation.
The crap hit the fan locally as those people that considered themselves to be the “in crowd” branded Dani as a traitor and a turncoat. Those casting aspersions were, of course, the same people that had been criticizing her earlier in the year, still branding her a lesbian, unworthy of her place on the team, the coach’s pet, and on and on.
Ralph and Eta were excited for “their kids”. Over breakfast they gently steered Dani into accepting the scholarship, reassuring Tony that he could continue on at his school. He would, after all, be able to see Dani every night when she came home.
That summer Ralph fixed up an old, dark-blue, ragtop Jeep that he had bought several years before. Dani and Tony helped him with the repairs and repainting.
Both Dani and Tony earned their brown belts at the Dojo that summer.

Dani loved her time at the all-girl’s school, graduating with both academic and athletic honors, first in her graduating class against worthy scholastic competition.
Despite her perfect grades and hard work on her studies, she played soccer every year, becoming the team leader and lead scorer. The all girl’s high school once again took state every year, further riling the miffed parents of the Cowgirls soccer team. They were especially caustic when the prestigious girl’s school beat the Cowgirls 17-0.
Dani was offered a full-ride, four-year, academic/athletic scholarships to several universities of her choice. She chose the college that had the best women’s soccer team, expecting the coach, Coach Dowling, to be exceptional. She hoped that her teammates would give her plenty of competition.
Tony was already a 2nd degree black belt; Dani was now a 1st degree black belt.
Tony entered his senior year one year ahead of his previous classmates. His grades put him at the pinnacle of his class.

Chapter 5 - College

One Year Later
Dani: College Freshman; Tony: 12th Grade

Dani had still not gone on a date when she entered college. She had not kissed a single boy, nor even held hands. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to. She did want to. It was just that whenever a boy came toward her, his eyes would rivet onto the heavenly vision of her Twins. The boy would invariable become tongue-tied, unable to speak.
Once she had even tried asking a boy to join her for a burger after class, but as usual the young man could not answer. He never did look at her face.
Humiliated, she didn’t ask again.

Dani made a point of coming home from college (a three hour drive each way) at least every other weekend. The Jeep was perfect for winter weather driving over the pass. While home, she and Tony compared their experiences, enjoying each other’s company more and more each visit.
When Dani came home for Spring Break, Ralph had facial bruises. “What happened, Pops? Are you OK?”
Ralph grinned. “Let your brother tell you about it.” He went back to reading his paper.
Dani turned to look at Eta, her eyebrows raised in question.
Eta chuckled. “We had some excitement. Your brother was the hero.” She pointed at the back porch as she tilted her head in that direction.
Dani set her suitcase down and headed out to talk with her brother, a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. “What happened to Pops?” she demanded as she walked through the door to their room.
Tony glanced up at her as he set his pen down. “Promise you won’t get mad at me, Sis?”
The sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach became a massive weight. “You did that?”
Tony shook his head as he pointed at her perfectly made bed. “Sit down so we can talk. I really need to get this off my chest. I need your absolution … and guidance, Sis.”
Dani sat down, her face full of worry. “Talk to me lil bro.”
Tony laid on his back. “Well, we were coming back from the State Aikido Tournament. I was flat worn out. You know, the adrenaline letdown after a big match. So I crawled into the back seat and laid down. It was after dark. I fell a sleep.
“You know how it is, when the car stops you sort of wake up? Well, I felt the car stop and figured that Pops was stopping for gas, or to take a leak or something. I didn’t sit up, just tried to go back to sleep. But something in my chest told me this was not a routine stop. I sat up and looked out the window. There was like a biker gang or something outside the car. Some big burly dude yanked Pops’ door open and pulled him out of the car. He was using the “F” word and being really abusive. Told him he needed the “F’n” car more than Pops did. Mom was screaming in terror.
“By the time I got my seat belt off and out of the car, he had hit Pops several times in the face and stomach. Pops was down on the ground, bleeding. So I knocked the biker dude out. One strike. Four others came at me. I knocked them out too. One punch each. The rest of the gang jumped back on their bikes and took off.
“Mom called the cops. Of course they didn’t believe me when I told them what happened. Mom went to the hospital with Pops in the ambulance, leaving me there with the cops. They handcuffed me and put me in the back seat of the cop car. After three hours of BS, they let me out again.
“The biker dudes had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance too. One of them, the guy that was beating on Pops, is now blind, apparently.”
Tony looked at Dani. “Did I do the wrong thing, Sis? I mean, holy crap, five big biker dudes with at least ten more backing them up. I was scared! I mean REALLY scared. I just reacted.” He sat there, his head hanging down. “Anyway ….”
Dani moved over beside him. She put her arm around his shoulders. “Sounds to me like you did exactly the right thing, little brother. As we’ve discussed before, some people are bullies. They think they can bully anyone. They tried to bully the wrong person this time. They didn’t expect a high school kid to be as good as you are. They gambled. They lost … big time.
“But I heard you say, ‘Of course, the cops didn’t believe you.’ That’s victim thinking. The cops arrived on site, saw a high school kid had beat up four bikers and jumped to the assumption that that was highly unlikely. They acted rationally. They had no idea that you’re the superman that you are. They know now. And the bikers will think twice before they try to steal a car from some old folks next time. I think you did great. I’m mighty proud of you! Good job, little brother! You’ve done incredibly well in your martial arts. Obviously you learned well. You have now applied your knowledge and training in the real world, and can be justifiably proud of saving Pops’ life, and probably Eta’s too. You dun good, kid! Damn good!”
Tony stared at Dani’s face, seeming to have a hard time believing her. “Really?” Tears welled up in his eyes.
Dani pulled him to her, giving him a tight hug. She kissed his head. “Damn straight I’m proud of you, Bro!”

Chapter 6 – Tony’s Graduation

Spring of that Year
Dani: College Freshman; Tony: 12th Grade

Tony bowed to his opponent, his right fist pressed to his left palm. He then turned and faced the judges, which included his Sensei. He bowed, showing his reverence for their advanced knowledge and skills.
Sensei Mac and the other judges returned his bow. When they stood upright, Sensei Mac grinned broadly. “Congratulations, Tony. Your Kata was perfect. You meet the requirements for 6th Dan.”
Dani, Eta and Ralph clapped loudly, cheering enthusiastically.
Dani was impressed, and excited. Her little brother was progressing through his martial arts much faster than normal. His ability to teach younger martial artists exceeded even that of Sensei Mac. Dr. Mac had reverently told her that he had never seen a more promising martial artist.
And tomorrow the tall, handsome young man would graduate from high school as valedictorian. His grade point average was a perfect 4.5, almost unheard of nationwide.
The next morning, Eta and Dani fussed with his graduation cap and gown. Tony chuckled at how much they wanted him to look perfect.
“Oh my goodness!  You are the most handsome young man I ever did see!” Eta exclaimed several times. Her eyes teared up as she thought about their little room being empty again when Tony went off to college. “I shall miss you two every single day.”
Tony had received a full-ride scholarship to the university of his choice. He was almost guaranteed entrance to a prestigious medical school if he did as well in college as he had done in high school. And there was a highly respected Dojo just off his university campus. Sensei Mac had introduced him to the 9th Dan Sensei, a Sensei Goro, that ran the Dojo. Tony had liked the man immediately. The two of them had sparred for a short while. Tony was impressed with his skills. Sensei Goro was equally impressed with Tony’s abilities.
When he could stand no more of his sister and mother’s fussiness, Tony fled to the protection of his classmates.
Ralph had saved seats in the third row of the audience section. Eta kept saying, “He’s so handsome!”
Dani had to agree. Her brother was tall, well groomed, had a gorgeous smile, and eyes that watched her face while she spoke. It was so refreshing to have a male’s eyes staring at something besides her Twins.
The high school band started playing ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ The line of graduating seniors shuffled down the aisle to their seats. Tony led the procession, his eyes straight ahead, an amused expression on his face.
When he passed Dani, he looked at her and winked. He mouthed, ‘Thank you sis!’
When introduced, Tony rose to speak.
Dani looked down to start to record his speech on her cellphone.
Tony looked straight at Dani, then Eta, then Ralph. “I have been blessed in my life by a sister, a mother, and a father that adopted me into their hearts when I was a young and bitter  young man. I was horribly abused by my birth mother’s second husband, my stepfather.
“But my new, adopted family refused to allow me to feel sorry for myself. They refused to let me see myself as a victim.
“And they were right. When we see ourselves as a victim, we do not push ourselves to do, to be, our very best. We accept our own lame excuses for not rising above our problems. We do not push ourselves to our full potential.”
Tony’s dark, handsome, earnest face exploded in a bright red and white flash of blood and brains.

Chapter 7 – Aftermath

Dani rose in horror, then collapsed into her chair, her scream strangled in her throat. Eta toppled sideways into her husband’s arms.
Dani heard nothing, felt nothing. Everything faded to black.

A voice came out of foggy darkness. “Ma’am! Ma’am! Are you alright Ma’am?”

Someone was shaking her shoulder.

Her chest hurt. Somebody was pumping on her chest. Then covering her mouth with theirs. She gasped twice, then faded back into the darkness.

“Good morning, Dani.” A pleasant female voice seemed to come from above her. The voice was not familiar.
Dani opened her eyes. The room was too brightly lit. She squinted, shying sideways as she tried to cover her eyes with her hand. Something was on her hand, keeping her from covering her eyes.
Somebody turned the lights off.
“Welcome back,” the female voice said.
“Where am I?” Dani asked. She didn’t hear her voice. She said it again, but still couldn’t hear her words.
“Just lay still, honey, we’ll help you adjust to sitting up if you want us to. Just nod if you want to sit up.”
Dani nodded. Gentle hands slid under her back. Whoever they were helped her to sit.
“Where am I?” she asked again.
Still no sound came from her mouth. She felt pain in her throat.
“You have a tracheotomy, Dani. It will be in place for another day or so. Until then why don’t you write down what you want to say. I’ll remove the drip line that is connected to the back of your hand so it’s easier to move.”
Dani felt as much as saw the tube being removed from the back of her hand. “Thank you,” she tried to say before she remembered that she could not speak.
She took the pen and notebook from the nurse and wrote, “Is my brother OK? Where am I? What happened?”
The nurse took Dani’s hand as she sat down on the bed beside her. “You’re in the hospital. There was an explosion at the graduation ceremony. The FBI tells us it was quite likely a terrorist attack, although no group has taken credit for it. Yet.”
Dani frantically scribbled, “Is Tony OK? What about Eta and Ralph.”
The look on the nurse’s face answered the question. The woman shook her head, grasping both of Dani’s hands. “I’m sorry, Dani. But at least none of them suffered. It happened so fast that the explosion killed everyone in your vicinity. You are the only person that survived. Frankly, we don’t have an explanation for why or how you survived. The explosives experts say it defies explanation.”
Dani’s whole body wracked as she sobbed.
She made no sound.
There was a knock on the door to her room. A head peeked around the doorjamb. “Can we come in?”
The nurse looked at Dani with one eyebrow raised in question.
Dani shrugged.
“Come on in,” The nurse said as she walked out of the small room.
A man and a woman walked in. Their faces were full of curiosity.
“Hi. I’m Ron, Ralph and Eta’s son. We heard about the situation. I wanted to meet you. I have no idea why I never came home to meet you and Tony. I guess it’s just been a very busy time for us. But that’s no excuse. I know that … now. It’s not until the person that you love dies that you wake up and realize that you don’t have unlimited time. Anyway, I wanted to see if there is anything I can do for you … even though I’ve never met you before. And I am sorry.”
Tears streaming down her cheeks, Dani stared up at the man.

Chapter 8 – Recovery

Three Months Later
Dani forced herself to return to college that fall. She spoke at no one; she smiled at no one. For her, there was only determination, focus, goal driven tasks, and resolve. She refused to think of herself as a victim. She would reach her goal. She would be the best soccer player in the world. She would not allow whoever had killed over 300 innocent people, in a seemingly senseless attack, to interfere with her future. Even now, after months of investigation by the police and the FBI, no one had taken credit for the explosions.
At least once a week she awakened in terror, having had the same dream. In the dream there was a distinct sequence of events that occurred. First, always, Tony’s head exploded. Second, always, the bomb went off, and Eta’s fell sideways into Ralph’s arms. Or was she blown sideways into her husband? No matter how hard she tried to decipher the dream, the meaning eluded her.
Every fourth weekend she returned home to visit the graves of her “family”, the only family she acknowledged. Their graves held the only solace she could find.
Intensive soccer practice started that winter. With daily practice came welcome relief from her studies. She had perfect test scores in every class. Still, it wasn’t enough to heal her heart.
Her soccer coach, Coach Dowling, was a man, perhaps only a few years older than she, but it was impossible to tell by looking. She had yet to catch him looking at what lay below her shoulders. Instead he invariably looked her directly in the eye as he coached her. She didn’t feel threatened by his casual, friendly, but always professional attentions. He did not ask her why she never spoke, which allowed her trust for him to build each week.
And she did well, constantly outperforming anyone else on the team. None of the other players seemed to care if she was friendly to them or not. She was never unfriendly. She passed the ball to whoever was in the right position on the field. In scrimmages, she passed off to a teammate far more often than she shot at the goal.
That changed during the first game. Her teammates seemed to have forgotten everything Coach Dowling had taught them. No one was sprinting ahead toward the other team’s defenders. No one was setting themselves up for her pass to them.
So Dani simply started dribbling the ball around the other team’s players and scoring herself. By halftime they were leading 12 to nothing.
Coach scolded the team for not playing as a team. He made the point that the only player that consistently drove for the goal was Dani.
The other players glared at her.
Coach noticed, and again scolded them for not getting their butts in position for a pass and score. “Wake up! Get into a position so she can pass forward to you!”
The second half was better. The forwards made a point of sprinting into position. Dani shot the ball to them resulting in three goals by the forwards.
The final score was 15 to zip.
Dani was awarded Best Offensive Player and Most Valuable Player.
While they were dressing after the game, a teammate, Robi asked Dani why she never talked.
Dani shrugged and continued dressing.
Robi didn’t let it drop. “Look, you’re going for a soda with me. I’m buying. I‘m not taking ‘no’ for an answer either. So get your butt dressed and lets go.”
Dani shrugged and finished dressing, which consisted of shorts and a sweatshirt, running shoes and bobby socks, and a man’s felt hat.
“How come you wear that hat? Looks like a man’s hat,” Robi asked.
Dani looked at her. “It was my dad’s before he was killed.” Dani burst into tears.

Chapter 9 – A Friend

They had no more than walked out into the sunlight when Robi dropped a soccer ball onto the sidewalk then kicked it over to Dani. Dani, without thinking, trapped the ball under her foot, flipped it up to bounce from knee to knee as she walked, then let it drop back to the ground. She trapped it, then tapped it back to Robi.
Neither of them missed a step as they kept the ball in play, chatting with each other as they walked back to the dorm. It felt so good to have someone to talk to again.
“We should room together,” Robi suggested.
Dani looked at her out of the corner of her eye. Robi was smiling to herself, her eyes focused a few yards ahead of where they walked.
Dani’s current dorm room was tiny and dark. ‘Maybe a double room would be better,’ she thought. She shrugged, “Sure, how do we make it happen?”
“I think we just talk to the dorm mother. Her office is on the first floor by the stairs. Want to stop in on the way?”
Dani could feel her heart skip a beat at the thought of having a friend again. The idea was both a little scary and a little exciting.  She shrugged. “OK, sure.”

Dani’s few things fit easily into the larger room. A small laptop, a few pairs of jeans, t-shirts, two sweatshirts, a coat, and her sneakers. Her allotted desk was right in front of the window. She could see into the quad, watch people as they played tennis, or sat about chatting or studying.
“Mmmmm, peaceful,” she purred.
Robi chuckled. “It is, isn’t it?”
Dani unpacked her book bag then plopped down at her desk. The room reminded her of the room that Eta and Ralph had so kindly loaned them. It was bright and airy and comfortable. The sudden memory was warm and fuzzy, but only slightly sad. In a short while, she felt thoroughly at home.

About midnight a knock sounded on their door. “Come in babe,” Robi called.
A boy stuck his head around the door. “You two decent?” he asked, a lopsided grin on his face, his eyes immediately checking out the Twins.
“Would it matter?” Robi chortled as she sprang up and ran to him, wrapping her arms around his neck, pressing her body against his. She kissed him for quite some time, then pulled her head back.
She looked at Dani, who had been nervously trying not to look at the two of them doing something she had never experienced. “Mind if he stays over tonight? We promise not to get too rowdy.”
Dani didn’t know what to say. She shrugged, trying to appear blasé about the subject, then turned back to her studies. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t remember a single thing she read. Their soft sounds of kissing and petting made Dani feel as if she were a voyeur, someone that was sneaking into a naughty place she didn’t belong. To make matters worse, she began having physical sensation in her lower tummy; feelings she had never experienced before; squiggly, inside feelings, down ‘there.’ She tried to squirm a little, perhaps to itch the sensations away. It only made matters worse.
“I’m going to go take a shower,” she said, grabbing her bathing kit and towel. She walked rapidly out of the room.
She became aware that she was breathing hard.
As she undressed in the bathing facility’s dressing room, she heard whispering coming from the shower area. It got louder as she selected a shower booth and stepped inside. She was partially though her ablutions when she heard a moan, a female voice muttered, “Deeper … harder … yes baby. Yes! Right there baby! Yes! Right there! Right there! Right there!”
Dani froze. What in the world were those people doing? Right where? Why did she sound so desperate?
Dani tried to make no noise as she washed herself. When she washed the Twins, or her lady parts, the sensations made her feel as if they were quickly getting out of control. She stopped moving her hands so that the sensations would go away. She was breathing hard again.
The other people were still making odd sounds, saying unintelligible things to each other. They sounded frantic, out of control. Suddenly a male voice groaned, “OH FUCK! OH FUCK!”
Then they were silent, except for heavy breathing and a few happy murmurs.
Dani finished her shower, being careful not to touch herself ‘there’. She dried herself, then put her terry bathrobe back on.
As she padded back to her new dorm room, she wondered if the two in the shower had been doing the same thing that Robi and her boyfriend were probably doing. She stopped outside the door to her room and listened. No sounds were audible from inside. She pushed the door open and stepped in. The lights were out, except for one small night-light.
Relieved, she slipped out of her robe and crawled into bed. She thought about what she had heard tonight, and tried to compare it with the sterile teachings during health class years before. Her teacher had presented sex as a boring unfulfilling subject. That certainly didn’t seem to be what the two couples she had heard tonight were experiencing. They seemed to be enjoying it immensely.

Chapter 10 – A Special Friend

The Next Morning
Dani felt her bed wiggle. The cover rose. Someone slipped in behind her. An arm slid around her waist.
She stiffened; was it Robi, or her boyfriend? She didn’t feel anything poking her, not below, and not in her back. A finger began to circle on her tummy. It was gentle, tender, slow.
The person behind her snuggled in a little closer. Now Dani could feel nipples, pointed, pressed against her back. The fullness of breasts.
The finger continued to circle. The circles moved, slowly, up her tummy, then just as slowly, back down, lower.  And lower.
The finger circled just above her panties. Then touched them. Lightly.
Then the soft touch again circling upward, toward her heart, toward her mind, toward the Twins. She felt her nipples stiffen. Her tummy muscles began to tense, just like the night before.
Soft lips kissed the base of her neck. Then again, even softer.
Dani remembered some of the sounds she had heard the night before, the sounds of kisses, the murmurs of delight, the wet sounds that she could not place. The grunts and gasps and sounds of heavy breathing. The low moans, obviously Robi’s. Dani wondered what had caused that?
Robi’s hand caressed her shoulder, then pulled Dani gently onto her back. The girl’s face appeared above her. Her lips kissed Dani, ever so gently, softly, lovingly. “Your boobs are incredible Dani,” she murmured.
Robi moved her hand up, placing it over Dani’s breast, the center of the palm of her hand pressing against Dani’s nipple.
It felt so good.
Their tummies touched. Robi’s mound pressed against Dani’s. More kisses, kisses on her eyelids, her ears, on her lips. A flick of her tongue crossed Dani’s lips.
Dani moaned.
The tip of Robi’s tongue slipped inside, touching Dani’s teeth, then her tongue.
Dani felt her thighs part, instinctively, moving laterally, then wrapping around Robi’s hips. Her arms went above her head, pressing downward against the sheets. Her chest arched, her eyes closed, she moaned. Her legs captured Robi’s hips, pressing them against her.
“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” filtered across the room.
Startled, Dani looked over toward the source of the sound. Robi’s boyfriend was staring at them, his mouth open, his eyes wide.
Dani erupted from under Robi, landing on her feet, her hands searching frantically for her robe. Robi ended up half on and half off the bed; her eyes out of focus, confusion written in her expression. A sob escaped her lips.

The tension between them that day wore at both of them.
Robi had kicked her boyfriend out of her life.
They could not meet each other’s eyes. They exchanged no words, not even during soccer practice.
Coach watched them both, noting their tense interaction. The strain between them led him to believe that they had fought about something. His experience had taught him that such was the lives of students, especially female students.
He made a mental note to talk to them individually, lest their animosity get in the way of the team comradery that he worked so hard to foster.
After practice, Robi looked at Dani. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
Dani’s eyes teared up. She turned away.
There was no soccer ball passed between them on their way home.
Robi glanced at Dani. “I need to stop in at the store and get some … stuff.”
“Me too,” Dani replied without looking at her.
They both walked directly toward the women’s necessities. Embarrassed, they both scanned the Tampax shelf for their preference.
They both picked the same item.
As they were paying, two football players walked in. “Damn, bro, look at those two broads over there! I bet they need our dicks! Let’s pick ‘em up!”
The person that had spoken put his hand on Robi’s shoulder. “Hey bitch! Let’s go back to my place!”
Dani’s growl was full of menace. “Take your hands off her!  NOW!”
The football player laughed, putting his hand on Dani’s shoulder, intending to shove Dani away.
He was not expecting the broken thumb, or the broken forearm, nor his dislocated knee. But the worst pain was his ruptured testicles.

Chapter 11 – Football

At the end of Practice
Coach Dowling looked Robi and Dani in the eye as he jerked his head toward his office. “I need to see you two for a couple of minutes.”
Dani and Robi looked at each other, shrugging in bewilderment, then headed toward Coach’s office.
Coach pointed at two chairs then sat behind his desk. He looked at them for a few seconds, then said, “Tell me about last night at the drug store.”
Robi spoke first. “Two dudes were getting nasty with me and Dani set them straight.”
Coach nodded, then shifted his gaze to Dani.
Dani looked him directly in the eye. “The guy that was trying to paw Robi was both high and drunk. I could see it in his eyes and smell it on his breath. She was in danger. He was manic and ignored our protest about his actions.”
Coach thought for a few seconds, then picked up his phone. He dialed, waited a few seconds, then said, “Come down here.” A pause, then, “Yeah, my office.” He hung up, then looked back at them. “The football coach, Coach Paulson, is pissed because the guy that was trying to assault you two is one of his star players. Scholarship, the whole thing. He wants to talk.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Coach Dowling said.
A really fat man waddled in. Before he could even start ranting, Coach Dowling said, “Your player was both high and drunk, would not take no for an answer to his inappropriate comments to these two young ladies, and started to manhandle Robi, the girl on the left. I suggest that you back off and listen, not yell.”
The fat man looked taken aback.
Dani looked at him. “Your team’s biggest problem is you don’t have a good place kicker or a point-after kicker. Why don’t you let me do that for you? I’ll be the highest scoring player on your team … the way your team is going this year.”
The fat man turned scarlet.
Coach Dowling started laughing.
The fat man wilted into a chair. “Shit!” he said. He looked first at Dani, then at Coach Dowling. “Could she do it?” he asked.
“Well, let’s go find out,” was Coach Dowling’s grinning reply.
They followed the waddling man out of the office, down the hallway, and out onto the field. Several football players were there, rudely shooing the last few soccer players out of their way.
The fat guy retrieved a kicking tee from a bag of equipment and tossed it toward Dani. Dani caught the tee with her foot, letting it drop into place without even touching it with her hand.
Coach Paulson yelled at one of the football players to throw him a football. The player threw the ball to him, but the Coach Paulson dropped it.
Dani, using only her feet, trapped the ball, then tapped it onto the tee with her toe. She backed up about seven feet, then without preamble kicked the ball right through the center of the uprights. The ball was so perfectly placed that it was centered both vertically and horizontally.
“Sheeeeezus!” the Coach Paulson said, eyes wide. “Do that again!”
Dani flipped the tee up into her hand with her toe, then jogged another thirty yards away from the uprights. She dropped the tee to her toe and placed it on the 65-yard line. She held up her hand for a football.
The Coach Paulson yelled at a player to ‘toss that girl’ a ball.
The player, who Dani recognized as the team’s snobby quarterback, rifled the ball as hard as he could throw it three feet over Dani’s head. Without apparent effort, she did a backflip, catching the football between her feet, and deposited it perfectly on the tee as she came down. She backed up 7 feet, then, barely looking at the goal posts, kicked another perfect field goal.
Dani held up her hand for another ball.
Coach Paulson tried to heave one of the footballs that Dani had kicked through the goal posts, but his throw was about twenty feet short.
Dani jogged to the football, trapped it, then dribbled it toward the quarterback with her feet. When she was about ten feet away from him, she kicked it, hard, right into his crotch. The pointed end hit his nards perfectly.
He screamed and went down, hands cupping his injured parts.
“Asshole,” she said as she walked by him, doubled over on the playing field.

Chapter 12 – The Proposal

Back in Coach’s Office
“Have a seat, ladies,” Coach Dowling said, waving at couple of empty chairs in front of his desk.
Dani wondered if she had gone too far when she kicked the football into the quarterback’s nuts. She hoped that Robi wouldn’t have to pay a price for her impulsive actions.
Coach Dowling saw the look on her face. “No, Dani, don’t worry about me being pissed at you. I thought what you did was right on. Coach Paulson is impressed with your abilities. I told him that you would choose when or if you want to practice with his team. We fought it, a bit, but when I pointed out that you could kick field goals far better than anyone else he’s ever seen, and needed to focus on soccer, he agreed that you could just go to the games. You do need to get fitted for a uniform and helmet though.”
Dani nodded, trying not to grin when she remembered the quarterback staring up at her in fear, his injured testicles cupped in his hands.
Coach Dowling continued, “I would also like for both of you to consider taking martial arts classes. What do you think?”
Dani looked at Robi.
Robi shrugged.
Dani looked at Coach Dowling, shrugged, as she asked. “When?”

Coach Dowling, as it turned out, was also Sensei at the Dojo. The girls warmed up, then sparred for a few minutes, Dani teaching Robi what she needed to know as she did her warm-ups.
Coach was shocked at how precise Dani’s skills were. When they took a break, Coach Dowling looked at Dani, “Where in the hell did you learn that?”
Dani looked at Coach, surprised by his comment. “My younger brother was 6th Dan before he was murdered. I used to tag along.”
“So, which Dan are you?”
“4th,” Dani said, her cheeks blushing in embarrassment.
“Dayam!” Coach Dowling said softly.
Robi was having fun with the kata and exercises she was learning.
In the shower, Robi looked at Dani. “You’re really good at this, aren’t you!”
Dani shrugged. “Not as good as my brother was.” She teared up.
Robi moved to stand in front of Dani. She carefully wiped the tears off Dani’s cheeks.  She looked a little scared. “Dani, could we … um … you know … um … make love tonight?”
Dani’s face turned bright red. She studied her feet. “I don’t know anything about that stuff,” she said softly.
Robi giggled. “I’ll teach you that if you’ll teach me how to fight.”
Dani glanced at her new friend. “Really? I mean … I don’t even know how to kiss. Or anything.”
“Even better,” Robi said.

Coach Dowling motioned for Dani to join him in his office again. He looked at Robi. “I need to talk to Dani alone for a couple of seconds. Could you wait out here?”
Coach closed the door behind Dani as she slipped into a chair.
“What I want to talk to you about is something that must be kept only between you and me. NO ONE ELSE is to know what I say. Understand?”
Dani stared at Coach. “What’s it about?”
Coach dug into his desk drawer and removed a sheet of paper. He slid it across the desk to Dani. He plopped a pen on top of the paper. “Read this carefully, ask any questions you need to, then when you fully understand what it says, sign it … if you’re willing to abide by what it says.”
Dani picked up the paper and began to read. There was a lot of legalese, but it seemed to ask her to promise to never divulge anything that she heard, saw, or did in relationship with a certain group called ‘Retri’.

Chapter 13 – Retri

Dani looked at Coach Dowling. “What’s Retri?”
Coach grimaced. “Unfortunately I can’t tell you until you have agreed to keep everything I tell you confidential.”
“What if after you tell me, and I have signed this, I realize that I need to talk to someone about it?”
“It would be … the … wrong thing to do,” Coach Dowling replied with emphasis.
“I don’t like this, so no, I won’t sign it.” She shoved the piece of paper back across the desk.
Coach stared at her for a bit. He was clearly disappointed with her decision. He pursed his lips as he contemplated what to say. Finally he took a deep breath.  “Dani, there’s a lot of really bad people in this world. Unless the good guys start being proactive about that, it’s only going to get worse.
“You, young lady, have skills that are better than most I have met in my life. I think that you could be one of our good guys, one of the people that could help us level the playing field. Please think carefully before you decide not to help us.”
Dani watched Coach’s face as he talked. There was a slight tightening in the corner of his eyes that showed how strongly he felt about the subject. She felt tears in her eyes when she said, “Would this help me find out who killed my brother and parents?”
Coach nodded. “That is definitely one of the ... um … events we’re working on.”
“Have you made any progress?”
Coach shoved his chin toward the sheet of paper she needed to sign.
Dani thought for a few more seconds, then picked up the pen and signed the sheet of paper. She shoved the sheet back toward Coach. “Talk to me.”
Coach did, for over an hour.

When Dani unlocked the door to their room, Robi rushed to her, wrapping her arms around her, holding her close, her head against Dani’s shoulder. “What’s the matter, Robi?” she asked, holding the trembling woman for as long as Robi needed.
“I was so scared!” Robi said after a while.
“About what?” Dani asked.
“I was afraid you were going to get kicked off the team.”
“For what?”
“For what you did to … protect me, and … how you showed that awful fat coach and his quarterback up.”
Dani giggled as she held Robi. “Everything’s fine, baby. Just fine!” She bussed Robi’s neck. “Don't worry honey, I will not let anything, or anyone, get in my way of becoming the best soccer player in the world. Not now, not ever.”
Robi nodded. She felt a soothing peace flow through her. “I think I love you, Dani,” she murmured softly. When she looked up, she looked worried. “Is that OK?”
Dani smiled as she nodded. “Yes baby, but we will love many others during our lives. You understand that, right?”
Robi snuggled closer. “I guess so, but I can’t imagine it right now.”

Chapter 14 – Big Changes

Three months later
The whole soccer team met at a local soda fountain to celebrate the end of the spring soccer season. Not one team had come close to defeating them. Dani was voted as Best Player, unanimously. She had scored at least a double hat trick in every game.
Embarrassed, but proud of her accomplishment nonetheless, Dani accepted the trophy from Coach Dowling. She was so glad she didn’t have to give a speech.
Then the football team tromped in, led by their quarterback.
The fat coach, Coach Paulson, came waddling in behind them, screaming at his team. “Stay the hell away from her you idiots! You want to get kicked off the team? I’ll do it, you better believe I will!”
The team ignored him.
The quarterback jumped up onto the stage and strode straight toward Dani, his face red with anger. “You lesbian dike! Who the hell you think you are? You break the leg of one of my best players, kick me in the nuts, just cause you think your shit don’t stink! I’ll teach you, ya dam dike! Don't think we don’t know about you and your twat roommate. Yeah we know all about that! We done put a video camera in yer room and been watching you two queers going at it! Ya dam dikes!”
He took a swing at Dani.
Then he was writhing on the floor with his throwing arm bent strangely at the elbow. He screamed at the rest of the team, “You freaking pantywaists get her! Get the dam dike! She dun broke ma arm!” He started crying.
The rest of the team backed toward the exit, then turned and ran.
The fat coach pulled out his cell phone and called for an ambulance, then turned to Dani. “Are you alright, Dani?”
Dani nodded.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see Coach Dowling trying hard not to laugh; he was almost cross-eyed in his effort to hold it in. After a couple of more seconds he lost control and began to guffaw.
The rest of the soccer team joined in.
Even fat Coach Paulson was laughing.
Soon they were laughing so hard they fell to their knees, then sagged sideways and began rolling on the floor.
Finally Robi regained her feet. Bent over, still laughing, she choked out, “You should have seen the looks on their faces when their butt-puke quarterback was suddenly lying on the floor screaming and crying! CRYING I tell you!”
It took awhile, but the laughter finally died away. They dried their eyes as they agreed that the quarterback was a narcissistic SOB that deserved exactly what he got.
Coach Paulson mentioned that the team would probably be better off with the second-string quarterback playing anyway. He grinned as he explained that the first-string quarterback’s daddy had threatened to stop his overly generous donations to the athletic department if his son didn’t play as the starting quarterback.
“Se la Vie!” chortled the man as he seemed to lose a fifty pound weight from his shoulders.

Back in their dorm room Dani and Robi searched high and low for a video camera, but found nothing. After an hour or so they gave up, deciding that the asshole had lied about the camera.
Robi looked at Dani. “Are we lesbians?”
Dani stared at her roommate. “I’m not, are you?”
Robi looked puzzled for a while. “Well, I like sex with boys, but probably not as much as I like making love with you. So I guess not. I mean, I do love you, and I love making love to you, but … I guess I would say that I’m bisexual … so … no, not a lesbian.”
Dani was silent for a few seconds. “What’s it like having sex with a boy?”
Robi blushed. A ghost of a smile curved the corners of her mouth. She winked. “Want to find out?”

Chapter 15 – What the H***?

A Week later
“I’m going to go take a shower, Robi. Be back in a couple.” Dani didn’t notice the twinkle in Robi’s eyes as she left their room.
As was often the case, a couple was copulating in the showers a few stalls down. Dani was used to it by now. She even understood most of the things the frenzied couples said to each other. She recognized the sounds of their ardor, and even of orgasm, though she had never had one herself. Robi had peaked several times recently as Dani got better at caressing those parts that turned her on. But despite Robi’s loving attempts, Dani had never ‘gotten there’.
Her belly felt the now-familiar trembly sensations as she listened to other couples making love, sometimes almost as much as when she and Robi were playing around. But it never led to the same explosion that she had caused in Robi those few times.
When the randy couple was finished, had dried off and left the shower area, Dani turned off her shower and dried herself, finishing by putting on the huge, fluffy, terrycloth robe that Henrietta had given her as a going away present when she left for college.
As she padded down the hallway toward their room, she puzzled over why Robi could peak and she couldn’t. It made no sense. She pictured what Robi did, and what she did to Robi, and what Robi did to her. It all seemed to be the same. As she opened the door to their room, she was looking down, rather than where Robi was in the room. She stepped out of her robe as she closed the door.
She heard Robi giggle. Dani looked up to see a boy standing naked, facing her. Robi was behind him, slowly stroking his hard dick as her eyes twinkled at Dani.
The boy’s eyes bulged out when he saw Dani’s naked body. “HOLY MOLEY! Your gorgeous!” he exclaimed.
Dani gasped in surprise. She stared back at the boy’s dick, so beautifully hard, pulsing in its tumescence, a little moisture seeping from its tip. The boy ogled Dani’s naked body as his dick began to pulse with even higher energy.
His eyes rose from her almost hairless pudenda to her Twins. He licked his lips. “Fuck!” he gasped.
Then his eyes rose to Dani’s face. “OH SHIT!” he screamed. His expression turned to panic. He grabbed his trousers, trying to put them on as he hopped toward the door. “I didn’t mean nothing bad! Don't hit me! Don't break my arm!”
His erection was gone, flopping now as he tried desperately to flee the room.
Dani watched in horror as the boy fled her presence. His face showed his fear and panic. She stepped aside to let him pass. Her eyes filled with tears. She stood there for a long time, staring at the door through which he had fled. Her tears dripping from her trembling chin.
Robi didn’t know what to do, what to say. She stood there looking at the woman she loved. She stared at Dani’s cheeks, wet with tears. “I’m so sorry, Dani. I’m so sorry.”

Chapter 16 – Trip of Solitude

Dani picked up her jacket, purse, and keys, and fled their room.
Robi sagged to her bed. ‘Shit shit shit. Why didn’t I listen to her when she told me she didn’t like surprises?’ Robi burst into tears.
Dani took the stairs two and three at a time. When she reached the ground floor she burst through the EXIT door then sprinted to her Jeep. Her hands were shaking so badly that it took her three tries to get the key in the ignition. Thank god the Jeep started right up. She threw it into reverse. Backed out of her parking spot, then slammed it into first and took off.
She managed not to cry until she had made it to the freeway.

At the top of the pass she pulled into a turn-off rest stop. She checked her new cell phone, but of course Robi didn’t have her secret number. Only Coach Dowling had the number that could only be used for official business. She did have a cell signal up here though.
Dani got out of her Jeep and stared at the shimmering water of the lake. She decided to take a short walk before driving on. Her hands were still trembling, even an hour after the awful thing that had happened.
The sounds of the ripples, and the soft breeze in the trees seemed to be trying to comfort her. Her tears came again. Dani sagged against a tree trunk and sobbed her heart out.

When she got back to her Jeep, there were two other cars parked near hers. One was a tan family-style four wheel drive with three rows of seats. The sounds of a family with young children came from the lakeshore. THe other vehicle was a sleek, shiny-black Corvette. The driver was just returning from the restroom facilities. He seemed to be about Dani’s age, perhaps a little older. He wore a corduroy jacket and khakis with penny loafers.
He smiled at her shyly. The top was down on the Corvette. He reached in and retrieved a pizza box. “Want some cold pizza? I got a large, thinking my buddy was going to come along, but he was a no show. So I got way more than I can ever eat.”
He held out the box toward her.
He was looking at her face, not at the Twins.
Dani shrugged. The guy was cute, seemed respectful, and had a nice car. Seemed to be trustworthy to her. She reached for a piece of Hawaiian pizza. “Thanks.”
“Thanks for helping me out.” The young man looked up at the sky. “Look at how blue the sky is today, up here at the top of the mountain!”
They stood there, about three feet apart, both munching on pizza, enjoying being in the mountains, near a lake, on such a perfect day.
Then he started chuckling. His eyes were twinkling. His chuckles turned into a laugh, then into guffaws.
Dani couldn’t help herself, she started snickering too. Her snickers turned into a full-blown fit of laughter. She didn’t know why she was laughing ... THEY were laughing ... but she couldn’t stop herself.
When their laughter finally slowed, he looked at her again. “Damn I liked hearing about what you did to that prick quarterback! That was perfect! And to that lineman. Those two shits deserved exactly what they got. And to have a gorgeous woman like you being the one that kicked their asses makes it even better! If I had a hat on, I would tip my hat to you!”
Dani looked at the man nervously. She searched his expression for signs of insincerity, but found none. Did he really mean it? At least he didn’t look afraid of her.
“Another piece of pizza?” he asked, holding the box out to her.
She took another piece.
So did he. He looked her straight in the eye. “You’re a dam good soccer player, Dani, better than most of the men on the men’s team. I wish you could play with me on the men’s team. I love how open you are to passing off to other players; so unselfish. And your ball handling skills are incredible!”
Dani looked at the man. He wasn’t BSing her, she was pretty sure. “How could that happen? In your opinion.”
He didn’t look at her when he answered. “First we go talk to Coach Dowling. You know that he’s the men’s coach too, right? So if he agrees, then I suspect it would have to be run through the athletic director. He can be a bit of a stuffed shirt. But I think we could talk him into it, if Dowling’s on our side.”
He turned to look at her. He held out his hand. “I’m Jake.”
Dani shook his hand. His handshake was firm, professional, and not overbearing like so many athletes.
Dani felt tickly, distracting tremblings in her tummy.

Chapter 17 – Him

Dani looked at the man. She felt less shy than she normally did when she was around a guy. “You know me, tell me about you”
He grinned. “Sorry, I play center on the men’s soccer team. Where you headed to, anyway? Bend?”
Dani looked him directly in the eye. He was still looking at her face. “Yes. I’m going to go home and stay at my house for a couple of days.”
“Wanna get together for dinner? I’m headed for Bend too. I have something I need to talk to you about anyway. Where’s a good place to eat?”
Dani was a bit taken aback, but was intrigued enough to move forward anyway. “How’s about Baldies? They have good steaks there. And ribs. And incredible bread pudding.”
“Sounds perfect. Text me when you’re headed that direction.” He handed her a card that had his phone number on it.
Dani blushed. A boy … well, a man … that seemed to like her a little bit. “OK. It’ll be about 5:30 or so.”
“No problem. Looking forward to getting to know you a little better. I sure hope we can get you on our men’s soccer team!” He waved as he turned and strode to the Corvette. It made a nice rumbling sound when he started it up. He didn’t peel out when he drove out. He waved again as he pulled onto the highway.

Dani found herself distracted, nervous, as she vacuumed her house. She hadn’t felt like cleaning since she had found out that Eta and Ralph had willed their house to her. She had been shocked at their unexpected generosity. She wondered why they had not given it to Ron.
She couldn’t make herself sleep in their bedroom. She felt far more comfortable out in the room that she had shared with Tony for those blessed years. Tears came to her eyes as she thought about him. She still missed him with all her heart. He had been an incredible person, an even more incredible friend. Such a waste.
She wondered again what kind of animal would set a bomb that killed so many people.
On a whim she drove to the amphitheater that had been the location for Tony’s graduation. She stood at the entrance gate, still there even though the wreckage of the rest of the stadium had been removed and cleaned up. The light poles were still in place.
Then it hit her. She had been saved from the bomb’s blast because she was on the other side of a concrete stanchion that supported a tall light pole.
Based on that revelation, she traced the only place that the bomb could have been hidden. A trash container. The bomb had been hidden inside the trashcan!
She turned and looked back in the direction the bullet that had killed Tony had to have been fired from. The only thing in that direction was the administration building. Whoever had shot Tony was in the very top floor of the admin building. In fact, the shooter had to have been in the south end of the top floor.
Dani stored that information in the recesses of her heart.

Dani drove back to her house.
It felt so strange to think of it as ‘her house’. But it was.
She looked at her watch. She had an hour till she should call Jake. She said his name out loud, just to feel it on her tongue. She turned to look at the barnlike structure on the periphera of the back field. She had never snooped around in there before. She decided to do just that. It was hers now, after all.
An hour later she had found nothing that caught her interest. Then, just as she was texting Jake, she noticed a small suitcase-like valise at the edge of the roof, stuck up between the rafters.
She decided she would find a ladder and get the case down the next time she had a minute.

“Hi Dani. Thanks for the text.”
His curious eyes had not once glanced down at the Twins, nor did he try to hug her or touch her. She began to wonder if he thought she was attractive. Then she felt stupid for wanting him to do the very thing that made her angry about the less mature males in her life.
When they were seated on the patio he asked, “So, tell me … then I’ll tell you …what was the best day of your life?” He smiled slightly.  Not a big fake grin, and not a ‘flash my teeth so you’ll like me’ smile; just a nice, curious smile.
Did she dare say it to this relative stranger? She had never voiced it before. Not once in the 12 years since it happened had she mentioned it to anyone. She decided to take a chance. She took a deep breath. “The day my stepfather died.”
Startled, he stared at her for a moment. “Oooookay … fair enough. Well, the best day of my life was when I stood on tip-top peak of Mt Hood for the first time.”
They looked at each other for a few eternal seconds.
“Dani, I have to admit, I would never have expected any one to say that something like … that was the best day of their life. What in the world happened that caused you to feel that way?” His eyes were moist, glistening, as he looked deeply into her eyes.

Chapter 18 – The Secret

Dani closed her eyes. Why had she said that? Why had she shared her most carefully guarded secret with someone she barely knew? She didn’t dare look at him. Her vulnerability ate at her with vicious gobbling bites. Why did she feel so unprotected around this guy?
Her lower lip began to tremble. Then her hands. Tears started to flood her eyes.
She began to sob.
She felt so stupid. What kind of idiot was she? She never let anyone see her vulnerable inner self. What in the world was she doing?
What kind of hold did this stranger have on her?
Then she felt his arms surround her.
“It’s OK Dani. It’s OK. Everything’s going to be fine. Just let it out, let it flow. You’re safe now. Let it flow.”
Slowly, a muscle at a time, she melted into his arms.

“I feel so stupid,” she said, wiping her cheeks.
“Been a while since you’ve been with someone you trust?”
She nodded. She looked up at him. What was it about this guy that made her feel safe enough to have an emotional breakdown like that? What was so different about him? Could she really trust him? Or was he just a sociopath that knew how to push her buttons?
She watched his eyes. They lost focus when someone came near their table. His eyes darted toward anyone coming though the front door, or from the kitchen.
She thought about how she also was constantly watching the people around her. She stiffened at that realization, then went back to picking at her food.
She watched his face as he said, “So what was the worst day in your life? Mine was the day that my parents died in an automobile accident.” His face showed his pain.
His admission struck a responsive chord in her heart. When she started talking about the death of her dear “brother”, Tony, and her “parents” Eta and Ralph, her words and thoughts came in a torrent of tears and sounds that seemed never to stop.
His arm was still around her. “Has your arm gone to sleep while I vomited all that?” she asked, looking up at him with a tiniest of moist twinkles in her eye.
He chuckled.
“I’m glad we’re out on the patio where no one could see me,” she admitted. “I don’t know what gotten into me. I’ve never done that before!”
“I’ll take it for the huge complement it is,” he said with a sad smile. “We’re two of a kind, you and me.”
She nodded, admitting to herself that it was far too true to deny.
He said, “Maybe we should become a warrior pair, like the Greeks used to do.”
She was silent for a few moments. “Do you know any martial arts?”
He smiled. “Let’s go to the Dojo and test each other’s skills, oh beautiful Amazon Queen.”

The competition between them was fierce. Neither could gain a decisive advantage over the other. After two and a half hours, they agreed to take a break, call a truce, shower, and go eat again.
When seated side by side in the front seat of his Corvette, she said, “You would have liked Tony, my brother by a different mother. His goal was to be the best martial artist in the world. He would have been too, if he hadn’t been murdered.” Dani’s eyes moistened.
Jake looked at her. “So what’s your goal?”
She smiled softly. Looking at the passing scenery, she said, “To be the best soccer player in the world.”
Jake nodded. “Good goal. I think you might just accomplish it too, from what I’ve seen.”
“What’s yours?”
Jake looked introspective for a bit, then said, “Short term, to find the drunk SOB that ran my parents off the road, and either get him sober, or make sure he doesn’t ever kill someone else again because he’s drunk ….” He left the sentence hanging.
Dani nodded. “I’d like to find the murderer that killed my brother and my parents. Want to join forces?”
Jake chuckled. “I was beginning to think you’d never ask!”

Chapter 19 – 1st Assignment

Jake’s expression changed. He tensed. His eyes hardened. The corners of his mouth turned downward. His eyelids narrowed, his top lip twitched. He leaned forward, as though preparing to strike.
Dani tensed. She forced herself to relax, knowing that the hundredth of a second that it took her muscles to relax could be the difference between being first to strike, and being struck.
“Retri,” Jake said, his eyes boring into hers.
The word surprised her. Could she relax? Was this a threat … or a warning of some kind? “Retri?” she replied nervously. She knew that it was the name of the group that Coach Dowling had talked about.
Should she strike first?
Then it dawned on her. Jake was also a member of Retri. Her mind scrambled through the permutations of what that might mean.
Jake leaned back in his chair and chuckled. “We have a job to do this weekend.” He looked at her expression. “Did you like my theatrics?” He chuckled again.
Dani burst out laughing.
Jake grinned. “I’ve always wanted to say something like that. I have waited soooo long to say it too! Since 3rd grade in fact!” He waggled his head; then he chuckled. “WOW that was fun! Kind of James Bondy, huh?”
Dani shook her head in wonder. ‘Who is this guy?’
How had he known that she would be driving toward Bend? How would he know that she was a part of Retri? His timing had been way too perfect. And … how could a job come up on the same weekend that she had suddenly felt the need to head home? ‘Coach Dowling has to have told him that I am a part of Retri. But what about the rest of it?’
Jake watched her face as she processed her misgivings. “Did I scare you?”
Dani hesitated, then nodded slightly.
“Oh god, I’m so sorry! I was all caught up in the moment. You know ….” He shook his head. “This is my first job!”
Dani felt a small smile forming. “Mine too.”
“I know. When Coach Dowling heard you were headed over the pass he sent me out after you, to catch up. He told me all about the person we need to find while I was driving up trying to catch you. I was surprised, delighted, to see your Jeep in the parking lot at the top of the pass. Dowling told me to make friends with you; see if I thought we could be a working pair.”
Dani looked at Jake’s eyes, trying to assess his sincerity. She saw nothing to contradict his words.
Jake pulled out his cell phone. “Call Coach and ask him. He’ll back me up.”
Cautious as always, and a bit perplexed by about how this had all transpired, Dani pulled her out own phone, then speed dialed Coach Dowling. After a short conversation, she felt much more confident. “Thank you Coach. Talk to you later.”
She looked at Jake. “Warrior pair huh?” She grinned. This was getting sort of exciting.

Chapter 20 – Joinder

Jake looked at his watch. “I better call and let them know I’m still coming in to stay at the motel tonight.” He pulled out his cell phone, brought up his call log, then dialed the motel’s number. He moved his finger in a circle to signify that he was on hold as he stared out the window into the murk of a darkening city.
 He drummed his fingers on the table top. “Awful music,” he whispered to her, grinning. After about five minutes he straightened up. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” he said, disgruntled by the recorded message he had just heard.
He tapped the disconnect button on his phone then looked at her. “Some sort of police thing going on at the motel. No one is allowed in there for the night.” He was quiet for a few seconds. “SHIT!” he said. He consulted Google but had no luck finding an alternate place to stay, even after ten or twelve calls. He even tried using a reservation website. “Some big dealy-ma-bob going on in town I guess. Well, looks like I’ll be sleeping in my car.”
Dani thought about Eta and Ralph’s room at her house. It was empty, the bed was made, fresh clean sheets, it had a nice, newly cleaned bathroom just outside the bedroom door.
Dani felt a little queasy. She felt badly about not offering the room to Jake.
But could she relax enough to sleep if he was that close? What if he wanted to do more than she did? What if he expected her to want him? What if he was some sort of pervert? What if he wasn’t what he said he was? She shuddered.
‘I’m thinking like a victim,’ she thought. She realized Jake had been talking. “Huh? Sorry.”
He chuckled. “I just got a text from Dowling telling us to go look into the situation at the motel I was supposed to stay at.”
Dani forced herself to think through what he said. “Does it maybe have something to do with our … what do we call it … job … this weekend?”
“We probably won’t get past the police tape, but at least we would be familiar with the layout.”
Dani nodded. “Shall I meet you there? Drive myself?”
“Why don’t I ride with you?”
Dani felt a tug of panic in her belly. She shoved the panic down, determined to ignore it. “OK.”
When she started the Jeep, Jake cocked his head. “Dang this thing runs smooth! Who does your work?”
“My adopted father rebuilt it a year or so ago.”
Jake nodded. “He does good work.”
Dani almost said, ‘Did good work,’ but decided not to. She felt a tear form in her eye. “Which way? Where were you going to stay?”
“The River House,” Jake said. “Know where it’s at?”
Dani nodded as she flipped a U-turn and headed toward the motel.
They watched from the raised shoulder of the highway as policemen bustled about below, medics carried people out of the place, and women cried.
Dani happened to turn her head as someone walked out of the restaurant to the north of the River House. She could have sworn it was Ron, Eta and Ralph’s son. She couldn’t be sure, she barely remembered the man that had come to see her when she was in the hospital, after the bomb blast. He was talking intently on a cell phone as he stared at the wreckage twenty feet below.
Whoever it was watched what was happening at the River House for a few minutes, then grinned, hung up, dropped his cell phone in a trashcan, got into a big black car, and drove away.
Dani stared at the trashcan. Her hand was shaking when she pointed. “We need to get the cell phone that guy dropped into that trashcan.”
Jake glanced over at her. Dani drove to the first intersection. She turned around in the first driveway, then drove to the turn-in for  the restaurant. She pulled in beside the trashcan.
Dani got out, sifted through the can for a few seconds until she found the phone. “Do you have a hanky or a paper towel or something,” she asked.
Jake dug into his pocket to retrieve his hanky. “I think it’s clean,” he said.
Using the hanky, Dani retrieved the phone, carefully wrapped into the folds of the kerchief, then got back in the car.
“Did you see who threw it away?”
“I think so,” she said. “But I am not absolutely sure. If it was who I think it was, I only saw the guy once, when I was still groggy in the hospital after the bomb blast.”
Jake looked at her, shock on his face. “YOU were one of the bomb victims?”
Dani glanced at him. “You didn’t know?”
Jake shook his head his eyes tearing up. “Holy shit, you’ve been through hell in your life!”
“You really didn’t know that?”
Jake shook his head. His face softened. “Wanna hug?”
Her eyes filled with tears as she nodded.
Jake put his arm around her, pulling her to him.
It was the first time since Tony died that she felt safe.

Chapter 21 – Hints

Jake’s mouth was next to her ear. “What’s your major, by the way?”
She sat up, turning to look at him. “What brought that up?”
Jake shrugged. “I dunno, it just occurred to me that I don’t know what your major is.”
Dani’s forehead furrowed. “Well … I’ve been thinking I’ll go pre-law.”
Jake nodded. “Myself, I’m in pre-med, leaning toward psychology.”
The spell was broken. Whatever it was that had made her feel comfortable in his arms had popped, like a child’s birthday balloon.
“What are we going to do with this phone?” she asked.
“Let’s take a pic of it and send it to Dowling,” Jake suggested.
“We need somewhere with more light to take a good picture.”
Jake nodded. “Let’s go in the restaurant and see how the light is in there.”
They did. The light was bright enough for them to capture a good photo that emailed.
Dowling called a couple of minutes later. After a short dialogue he told them to wait at the restaurant and he would have someone pick it up.
They sat, not really comfortable talking with each other. Boredom set in quickly. Music started up in the bar. “Let’s go in there and wait for whoever comes,” Jake suggested.
The room didn’t have live music, just karaoke. They selected a booth that was in a dark corner, but visible from the entrance.
Jake went up and perused the list of songs the karaoke machine had loaded into it. Then he picked up the mic, put in his four quarters and waited for the music to start.
Dani stared. Can this guy sing too? She found herself hoping so, for reasons she didn’t understand.
The first strains of the song weren’t familiar to her. Then, when Jake started singing the words, she got it.
Jake’s voice was a deep bass. He sang with a throaty passion that made her whole body want to quiver.
Someone seated at a nearby table whispered loudly, “That’s that song ‘First Time Ever I saw Your Love’! I love that song!”
Jake riveted Dani in his gaze as he started to croon.

The first time
ever I saw your face
I thought the sun
rose in your eyes
And the moon
and the stars
 were the gifts you gave
To the dark
and the endless skies, my love
To the dark and the endless skies

And the first time
ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth
move in my hand
Like the trembling heart
of a captive bird
That was there
at my command, my love
That was there at my command, my love

And the first time
ever I lay with you
I felt your heart
so close to mine
And I knew
our joy
would fill the earth
And last
'til the end of time, my love
And it would last 'til the end of time, my love

The first time ever I saw your face
Your face
Your face
Your face

Jake sang the whole song without ever taking his eyes away from hers. When it was over, he beckoned to her. “Come up here, Dani, sing with me. The lyrics are right here to read.” He pointed at the karaoke machine.
Dani, flattered by his invitation, slightly aroused by the words he had sung to her in front of everyone, and titillated by the deep vibrations of his voice, decided to take the risk. Encouraged by the loud applause from the crowd, she walked up onto the tiny stage.
Jake pointed at a song title, ‘Islands in a Stream’. “Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers sang this to each other.”
Dani thought she remembered that. She shrugged. “Okay.”
Jake handed her a mic then dropped in quarters. They clunked. Opening strains played the song that Dani recognized.

Baby, when I met you
there was peace unknown
I set out to get you
with a fine tooth comb
I was soft inside,
there was somethin’ going on
You do something to me
that I can’t explain
Hold me closer and I feel no pain
Every beat of my heart
We got somethin’ goin’ on
Tender love is blind
It requires a dedication
All this love we feel
Needs no conversation
We ride it together, ah-ha
Makin love with each other, ah-ha

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in-between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me
to another world
And we rely on each other, ah-ha
From one lover to another, ah-ha

I can’t live without you if the love was gone
Everything is nothin’ if you got no one
And you did walk in tonight
Slowly loosin’ sight
of the real thing

But it won’t happen to us
and we got no doubt
Too deep in love and we got no way out
And the message is clear
This could be the year
for the real thing

No more will you cry
Baby, I will hurt you never
We start and end as one, in love forever
We can ride it together,
Makin love with each other,
Sail away
Oh, come
sail away with me

Sail away
Oh, come
sail away with me

Sail away
Oh, come
sail away with me

And the message is clear
This could be the year for the real thing

No more will you cry
Baby, I will hurt you never
We start and end as one, in love forever
We can ride it together, ah-ha
Makin love with each other, ah-ha

Sail away
Oh, come
sail away with me

Sail away
Oh, come
sail away with me

Sail away
Oh, come
sail away with me

Dani sang melody all the way through the song. To her surprise, Jake sang perfect harmony. He was pretty good, she had to admit; in fact, their voices sounded really good together.
Yes, together, they did seem to be pretty good.
The others in the bar stood up to clap for them, a boisterous, standing ovation.
Dani hurried off the stage, almost tripping as she went down the miniscule stairs. Red faced, she sat down as fast as she could.
A man she didn’t recognize sat down beside her. “Phone,” he said in a gruff voice.
The hair on the back of Dani’s neck stood up.

Chapter 22 – Agreement

“Who the heck are you?” Dani asked.
“Give me ma goddam phone!” the stranger spat back.
Dani looked him straight in the eye. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The man grabbed for Dani’s purse. She bent his fingers back across his knuckles. He screamed in pain.
Dani kept the pressure on. She leaned in close to his ear. “What are you taking about? Why do you think I have your phone? Who are you?” She wrenched back a little harder on his fingers.
His eyes clenched in pain, tears forming in the corners of his eyelids, the man slid out of his chair and sank to his knees on the floor.
Jake appeared in the periphery of her vision. He pressed a small knife to the man’s carotid artery. “You’ve accosted the wrong woman, buddy. Just so you know, I have a gun in my holster and will not hesitate to use it if you try anything stupid. Just relax, bud. Lets go outside and talk about why you’re in your predicament. Nod your head if you understand and agree.”
The man nodded his head, his eyes raging hatred.
Dani loosened her grip slightly on his fingers. He didn’t try to get away. She let his hand slip from hers.
He took a swing at her. Then he was writhing on the ground holding his wrist. He started crying.
Two bouncers appeared. “What’s going on here?” the taller of the two asked.
“He tried to steal my purse, then threatened me when I wouldn’t let him have it,” Dani said.
The bouncers looked at each other. They reached down, grabbed the man by his belt and shoulders and carried him from the room, out to the front entrance, and heaved him onto the pavement in the parking lane.
Dani and Jake followed them out, waited a few seconds until the bouncers had gone back inside, then collected the man from the pavement. He was still moaning, holding his wrist.
“Alright, explain who you are. Don’t BS me either,” Dani said.
He kept moaning.
Jake crunched his foot on the man’s ankle. “Speak up, asshat. Answer the lady’s questions, or it gets worse than it is now. Far worse. We might even kill you.”
“All right, all right!” He tried to regain his footing.
Without asking, Jake reached into the man’s rear pocket and retrieved his bill fold. He popped it open, found the man’s driver’s license, then squinted at it in the darkness. “This picture on your ID isn’t you, idiot. Where’s yours?”
The man’s face showed his confusion. “What?”
“What … is … your … name?” Dani asked slowly, just to make sure his apparently addled brain could follow what she was saying.
“Uh, George Jensen,” he said.
George Jenkins?” Jake asked.
“Yeah, who are you?” the man replied. Suddenly a knife appeared in his hand.
Jake kicked the man’s hand, sending the knife skittering across the pavement.
“This guy is one shady, stupid piece of bull pucky,” Jake observed. He dug though the rest of the man’s pockets. He found only a comb, some spare change, and some business cards in a metal card holder. He pulled one of the cards out and read the name. “Joseph Folah?” Jake shook his head. “We’ve got ourselves a bona fide shark here! Looks to me like we would be doing the world a favor by making sure he doesn’t survive through the night! A liar from the word go! Poor liar. Can’t even remember what lies he told a few seconds ago, right Joseph Jenkins?”
The man seemed more and more confused. “Whadaya want?” he mumbled though his pain.
“I’ll call the number on the card and see who answers,” Jake said. He called on the phone that Dani had fished out of the garbage can.
“FBI,” a male voice said.
Thinking fast, Jake said, “I’m calling for a Joseph Jenkins. Is he available?”
“Just a moment please. I’ll ring his office.”
Jake waited for a few minutes until the voice came back on line. “He is apparently out of the office for the next few days. Would you like to leave a message for him?”
“Thanks,” Jake mumbled, and hung up. He looked at Dani. “We’ve got a mystery man here. Make up any name and he answers to it, and so do his cronies.”
Dani watched as Jake surreptitiously slid something very small and thin into the man’s left rear pocket as he replaced the man’s wallet in his right rear pocket.
“Here’s your stuff, get the hell out of here before I decide to beat you till you’re dead.” Jake handed the man’s things to him, then motioned for Dani to follow.
The man ran toward parked cars on the other side of the street, trying to cradle his belongings in his good hand. A black car door opened for him. He scrambled in, dropping his knife in the process. He did not try to retrieve it.
Using her sleeve to keep her fingerprints off the knife, Dani picked it up after the black vehicle, a big black Suburban, left the parking lot. She slipped it into her pocket as she followed Jake back to her Jeep.

Chapter 23 – A Building Need

“Why don’t you drop me off at my car,” Jake said, looking straight ahead.
Dani thought about the empty bedroom at her house again. She felt guilty about the prospect of Jake sleeping in his car. She started to speak, but found herself gasping for breath, near panic. ‘What if he really doesn’t like me? What if he thinks I’m ugly? What if he doesn’t want to be around me, except just to help out Retri?’
Jake sensed her change. He looked at her. “What’s the matter, Dani?” he asked, concern in his voice. His eyes stayed on her face as she drove.
“I … I … It’s just ….”
He put his hand on her arm. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, girl! Are you okay?”
She nodded, her head bobbing like a frenetic puppet. “I … I ….” She couldn’t make herself stopping thinking about when she had asked the boy, long before, to go have a soda with her; the way he had not even looked at her face. It was like her boobs scared men away.
“Talk to me Dani. Tell me what I’ve done that has upset you.”
“No, no, it’s not th…th…that.”
He watched her for a few more seconds. “What then, girl? Talk to me. Please.”
She took a deep breath, then in a rush, too loudly, said, “Wanna stay at my house?”
His head shuddered, as though he had been slapped, or perhaps had received an electrical shock, he was confused. He thought for a few moments. “Does the idea scare you that much? I don’t want to do anything that scares you, Dani.” He looked lost, as though he had passed through the looking glass. Nothing was making sense to him.
Dani braked as she pulled her Jeep to the side of the street. When she had placed the vehicle in park, she burst into tears.
“Dani?” Jake asked, trying to decide what to do. Anything was better than this.
She turned to him. Unable to control her vulnerability, she screamed, “WELL!  DO YOU?” She burst into sobs, her whole body stiffening so that she could carry the burden of his rejection.
“Yes! I would like to. Thank you for offering it.” He looked wounded by her outburst.
Dani froze. “Y-y-y-y-you would?” Had he really said that? ‘Does he mean it? Is he lying to me? Can I trust him?’ Cautiously she turned to look at his face. “R-r-r-really?”
Jake knew that he did not yet understand this woman. But the more he was around her … the better he got at predicting her actions and reactions … the more he wanted to know every single thing about her. It wasn’t just her beauty, or her shape, or her attentive gaze. It was her mind, her ability to take action, her willingness to act to protect her friends. ‘If she truly has friends,’ he thought.
Dani put her Jeep in gear and steered back onto the street.
Dani drove as Jake thought through what had happened.
In less than ten minutes she turned into the driveway of what seemed a well cared for small farm with a cute little house, a shed, and a barn.
She looked at Jake, trying to read his expression in the darkness. She shut the Jeep off. “Will your car be alright over night?”
Jake nodded. “This is place is as cute as a ladybug in a rug!”
Dani exhaled in relief. “Thanks. Eta and Ralph worked really hard on this place, god bless their souls.”
“Looks like it.” Jake surveyed the pasture. He didn’t seem anxious to get out of the Jeep.
Dani looked around too. “They had sheep and cattle when they were alive. And some chickens too. Tony and I fed the animals, and gathered eggs, while we lived here. That was how we paid them rent, and for our food.”
“They must have been incredible people.”
Talking through renewed tears, she said, “They were. I miss them so much. Tony was incredible too. It’s amazing what a single blink of an eye can do to a person’s life.”
Jake looked at her. Her eyes and cheeks were glistening. “Need a hug?” he asked.
Dani nodded as she began to sob.
He put his arm around her, gathering her to him.
She buried her face in the crook of his neck.
He pressed his lips to the top of her head. “Dani, were you adopted as a child?”
Embarrassed to admit it, reluctantly she nodded her head.
This enigmatic woman suddenly made sense to Jake.

Chapter 24 – Truths Revealed

Dani showed him around the little house. “Here’s where you will be sleeping. Sheets are fresh.”
She turned and pointed, “Bathroom’s in there. Feel free to take a shower if you want to. Towels are all clean.”
He looked around. “No other beds?” He seemed reticent about that issue.
“I sleep in the outside room. Off the back porch.”
He nodded, his face showing relief.
“I’ll get some food out of the freezer for us to eat, after I shower.” Dani turned to leave.
“Dani ….”
She turned back to face him. “Yes?”
He looked embarrassed. “Thank you for rescuing me from having to sleep in my car.”
She thought he had perhaps wanted to say more. But he only looked at her.
She turned again and went to her own room. Once there, she remembered the small suitcase she had seen in the barn. ‘I need to get that down and bring it into the house before I shower,’ she thought.

After retrieving the valise, she showered, enjoying her privacy. No distracting sounds from her dorm mates, or their paramours, thank god. As she relaxed in the warm water, her thoughts turned to Robi. She wondered how her roommate was doing. She wondered if she missed her. She thought about how she had left so abruptly, not even saying goodbye. She felt a growing sense of guilt. She remembered how good Robi’s hands had felt on her body as she slowly caressed her. ‘She really is a good person,’ Dani admitted.
She thought about the man that had plopped down beside her earlier. ‘Was that Ron?’ she asked herself. She simply didn’t know. She could not reconstruct the face of the man that had stuck his head in when she was in the hospital. Whoever he was, he had been a real ass to her earlier.
It suddenly occurred to her that she should look through the things that Eta held dear, see if she could find a few pictures. Perhaps pictures of their children, the children which had been left out of their bequeath, would show up if she searched.
Dani finished her shower, dried off, and threw on one of Tony’s long, V-necked T-shirts. She returned to the living room, found the shelf that held Eta’s photo albums, and began rummaging through them.
She was busy searching through pictures, her presence hidden in the book nook, when she heard the sounds of footsteps. She looked up. There was Jake, just standing there, finishing drying off, hair still wet, naked but for a towel around his waist, his chest glistening with droplets of water. He had no idea that her eyes were staring at his chest, the rippling muscles of his shoulders, the six pack of his abs, the bulging quadriceps of his thighs. He turned ninety degrees. The round curve of his butt, covered by the white towel, stood in sharp relief against the darkness behind him.
Dani barely breathed as she stared. She had never beheld such a perfect body. The ripples of his musculature was pure poetry. Her tightly erected nipples felt as though someone was squeezing them.
Her eyes slid downward from his chest. Her breathing was shallow. He turned ninety degrees and sat down in the chair. He crossed his right foot over his left knee. Dani could see all the way to his pubic hair.
His sack looked shriveled, a very dark brownish-pink.
Her eyes adjusted to the reduced light under his towel.
She stared at where his penis should be. There was only a tiny nubbin of flesh, barely thicker than her little finger, and only a third as long.


Coach Dowling Soccer Coach, also Sensei Dowling
Coach Paulson: The Fat Coach: Football coach
Eta: aka Henrietta, husband is Ralph
Jake: warrior pair to Dani
Ralph: Husband of Eta
Robi: College roommate
Ron: Ralph and Eta’s son
Sensei Goro: College
Sensei Mac: High school, Medical Doctor
Tony: ‘adopted’ black ‘brother’ to Dani