(a Danni interlude )
Jared had called and told her that Jensen knew. There was no need to say what it was that Jensen knew because it had been eating at her since she’d blurted out her stupid words.
Her first thought was to head to their … to Jensen’s house. But before she could take a step Jared told her the rest, how Jensen had unexpectedly appeared in Santa Barbara. That Jensen had apologized to Jared and that they were together again. He didn’t say anything else but Danni felt like he’d wanted to, like he was editing himself.
He had said that Jensen promised to stay a couple of weeks with Jared and she didn’t want to interrupt that. She was happy for them. Yet she’d already booked her flight to Rome.
That left only one choice.
Because she could not leave the country with this knot in her stomach. They’d fought before, of course. They’d known each other going on twenty-five years, after all. This time, however, felt different in a way that she didn’t want to examine too closely. She simply could not allow herself to imagine it was the kind of break one couldn’t fix.
Now she is knocking on Jensen’s hotel room door, wondering if this is it, if she has destroyed her deepest friendship. Jared opens the door for her and they lock eyes for a moment.
“I’m heading out, Jen,” Jared says to Jensen. He waits, but there is no answer. “I won’t be far. Call if you need me.”
Danni looks up at Jared and knows the anxiety must show in her eyes. Jared nods his head ‘no’ and Danni has no idea what that could even mean. “Jay, are you sure you should —?” And, wow, who could have even imagined that she’d feel actual fear to face Jensen alone?
“It’s what he wants,” Jays says. He gives her a small smile that hardly assures and squeezes her shoulder once before walking out.
Taking a deep breath, she enters the hotel room and shuts the door quietly behind her. The room is tidy and large, with a huge, professionally made bed centered on one wall, a round dining table holding only a menu near what appears to be the door to the bathroom, and a large TV perched atop an otherwise bare-topped dresser facing the bed. Outside the wide windows there’s a soft peach glow from the setting sun.
She looks for signs of occupancy but only notices Jensen’s cell phone on the bed-side table. With a pang, she realizes that the stark order reminds her of Jensen’s old room in his mother’s house.
“This is your room?” Jensen had nodded. “But where are your toys?”
Jensen lifted up the blue plaid bed skirt and pulled out a flat, plastic storage container. It rolled out on wheels. She thought that part was cool, but when he pulled it out and opened it she nearly gasped.
He had a neat row of three GI-Joes, a small container of matchbox cars, a Gameboy, several board games and a large stack of notebooks. They had plain, solid black cloth covers, not like the cardboard marbled notebooks they used for school.
She couldn’t help but think about her own room, where every surface was filled with something rainbow.
“Do you have a playroom?” she asked hopefully. They didn’t have an official playroom in her house, but all her overflow ended up in the basement family room. Mostly larger things like her play kitchen and train set.
Jensen had shaken his head and Danni stared puzzled around the nearly bare room. There was a bed, a night table and a dresser. As if reading her thoughts, Jensen pointed his chin toward the two windows catty-corner to the bed. “Now that I’ve started school, Mommy’s going to get me a desk and put it between the windows.”
His voice sounded proud and he smiled, showing off his missing front teeth.
Danni smiled back. Her parents were going to get her a desk, too, she supposed. That’s what you needed for school. She tried to imagine where it would go in her cluttered bedroom … she wasn’t giving up her vanity, or her Barbie Dream House, or her … Frowning, she returned her gaze to the meager toy choices.
Candy Land was for babies. She sighed and pulled her backpack off. Thank goodness, she’d come prepared. Turning it over, she emptied the contents – ponies, mostly, of all stripes and colors. Usually boys balked at that but she hoped Jensen wouldn’t mind and call her a girl; it’s not like he was offering much else.
Jensen’s eyes lit up and he immediately reached for the bright blue pony with the multi-colored tail.
“That’s Rainbow Dash,” she volunteered. Peering back into his toy box, she asked, “What are those notebooks?
His face got bright. “They are for drawing.” Then he reached in and she noticed that partially beneath one neat stack were several boxes of colored pencils, a pristine looking 64-color set of Crayola crayons and a box of pencils, the kind she’d had to get for school.
“Are those your school supplies?”
Jensen nodded no, then burst into a wide smile. “Mommy bought those separately for me. Just to draw. Because I was a good boy and helped around the house. And I keep my room tidy.”
His eyes lifted to the closet door and that’s when she noticed the cork board handing on its surface. Approaching she studied the drawings pinned to it in neat rows. Not quite like the hodgepodge of images all over their refrigerator back home.
“My mom hangs these on our fridge,” she volunteered absently and then instantly regretted it because her new friend’s eyes dimmed again to their usual subdued state.
“Mom doesn’t like clutter in her kitchen. But she put up the cork tiles. And she said I can get more for above the new desk. But, I might have to use it for school work. Only I dunno. I might be able to maybe put some of my drawings there, too, if I take on some new chores.”
Most of Jensen’s drawings were done with soft color pencils. They reminded her of the icing on sugar cookies at Easter.
Jensen hadn’t minded playing with the ponies. And they even managed to get the GI-Joes into the game. The room quickly lost its weird untouched state as the soldiers chased the alien ponies around the room, up over the dresser top and even into drawers that made great hiding places. Danni pulled out a neat stack of rolled up socks to create a fort, which Jensen’s soldiers were able to knock down with a super kick.
It seemed a blink before the door opened abruptly and Jensen’s mother stood there saying that Danni’s mom had come to pick her up.
Standing tall and elegant, Jensen’s mother was very different from Danni’s mom who looked like a, well, mom. Jensen’s mom looked like a movie star, down to the perfect makeup that her own mom only ever wore when she was going someplace special. But Jensen’s mom had just been home in another room. In fact, they’d not seen her since she’d opened the door, pointed Danni up the stairs, and told her Jensen was waiting for her in his room at the end of the hall.
Mrs. Ackles’ mouth was pinched tight as she took in the state of Jensen’s room. Danni squirmed under the gaze and quickly said that she’d stay and help Jensen clean up.
“No, Danneel, the playdate is over.” There was a long pause as she noticed the sock pile and shut her eyes a moment. “Your mother is waiting downstairs, dear. It’s time to go home now.”
“Next time you can come play at my house,” Danni said cheerily.
“That’s an interesting idea,” Jensen’s mother replied. “We will have to see when that might be.”
After that, most playdates were at Danni’s house, where her mother laughed at the ‘terror’ they left behind when done. She’d gone back to Jensen’s house a few times. And the room always looked exactly as she had first seen it – only the drawings on the cork board changing.
Jensen is facing out the window, his back to her. Taking a deep, steadying breath she calls his name.
His shoulders flinch at her voice, but he remains silent. It feels an eternity for him to turn around and look at her. It’s her turn to wince because never has she seen his eyes that cold directed at her. “You shouldn’t have come,” he says.
“I had to, Jense. I couldn’t leave the country … Jay told me what happened. You have to know that I didn’t know, not really, not like you think I did.”
Jensen’s eyes narrow to slits and his face reddens. “Really?” His voice drips disdain. “And what exactly were you telling me to ask my mother about? What wasn’t ‘fair to the three of us?’”
He paces sideways in front of the expanse of windows. Danni extends her arms toward him as if trying to calm a wild animal. “I don’t know what I was asking about. I only knew that something wasn’t right … I was a kid, okay? I didn’t understand what I’d heard.”
Jensen heads to the round table, bypassing Danni where she stands. She’s noticed him glance at the door repeatedly and thinks he’s doing all he can to just remain in the same room as her. And he’s yet to actually meet her eyes for more than a second. “You knew.”
“But I didn’t know what I knew,” she argues, walking further into the room.
“Bullshit!” On a stuttered breath he picks up the menu and throws it hard across the room. It smacks the dresser a few feet from where she’s standing and although it’s not really close, not directed at her, she jumps away until her back is against the window. It’s as far she can go and the glass feels cool against her skin.
“That’s a fucking lie and you know it! You knew exactly what she’d done. You’ve known for years. It’s why you thought she was evil. It’s why you’ve hated her for as long as I can remember. But … what you did. It’s just as bad. She had her insane reasons to keep me in the dark. She actually thought it was none of my fucking business because that’s how she thinks. But you … goddammit, Danni, I can’t even …”
On rubbery legs, Danni sinks into the armchair by the window. She knew Jensen was angry but not how much … she couldn’t have imagined this. He looked like he hated her. Like he really believed that what she’d done was beyond redemption. The tears fall hot and fast and she hates it, hates crying, always has. And she finds anger building as well because the few times in her life that she had cried, it had always been over this boy.
“How dare you?” she stutters between sobs that can’t seem to quit. “How could you compare me to her? I was there, I’ve seen it all … every invisible bruise on your body. All those times you defended her and said she never beat you. I know she never touched you, but she fucking tortured you. Hours in a chair, never allowed to do anything, no toys, barely any friends, no messes. And rules. My god, the rules. There were days I thought you’d burst.
“Sleeping around with any boy that looked at you just so you could feel something unstructured for fifteen fucking minutes. You gave up your life for that woman. Trapped in that town, with talent like yours. You think it’s about your beach, I know you do and nothing anyone can say is going to change your mind. But it’s not. It’s her. It’s always been her. And she will never love you the way you want. She doesn’t know how.”
“Shut up. Shut the fuck up. You don’t get to—“
“What? I don’t get to tell the truth? The woman is warped. If you loved it then she’d do everything to take it away. Every toy, book, clothes — nothing lasted. Goodwill must have loved her with her constant ‘donations’. You know what else I never told you? I don’t think any of it ever made it to charity. I betcha she tossed it all. I know for fucking sure she killed Rusty … no way she took him back to a shelter. Probably left him by the side of a highway to get run over.”
Jensen grips the table so hard his fingers go white and she’s afraid he wants to throw something else but the table is bare. He’s breathing hard, nostrils flaring and looks like he wants to say something, but nothing comes out. Finally, he speaks in a harsh whisper, “I’m not stupid. I know how fucked up I am. You want me to just call her the villain and be done with it. But it’s not that easy.”
He breathes in and out slowly in such a measured way she can see his abdominal muscles twitch. After another long exhale, he says, “She didn’t take everything away. There’s my art – and nothing was more important. And while she may never have understood it – she never said no. Everything I asked for I got, even when it got expensive – and it’s not like there was a lot of money.”
His eyes remind her of the Mediterranean Sea, a deep green that flickers as he thinks. It’s like she can see him cataloging every tube of paint or brush or canvas. And she wants to understand, but that’s just stuff. She wonders at how he can defend Donna, even now, even after this ultimate betrayal about his father.
That’s when it sinks in that he’ll choose his mother over her, and the wound reopens as raw as the day he asked her to move out. The tears well again like bubbles and her throat tightens like she’s swallowed an orange whole. Wordlessly she moves to the mini-fridge and pulls out a bottle of water, drinking from it with long gulps.
Jensen waits until she’s back by the windows before doing the same. Only he takes the mini whisky and drains it in one go, swiping his mouth with the back of his hand, then drops into the bed, forehead held in his hands as if in physical pain.
If the tension could manifest physically then the air would be alight with silver crackles.
“Jensen, don’t you see? It took a long time but … she made you throw me away, too. That’s when I … “ She freezes as it suddenly hits her what she’d meant to do. “Oh god, I wanted to hurt her, not you.” The words feel like a knife scraping her throat as they fight their way out. “I wanted to hurt her,“ she repeats in a near whisper. “I shouldn’t have … I’m sorry. And I understand that what I did is unforgiveable.“
It’s hard to breathe and she shuts her eyes and as soon as she can stand she will walk to the door and leave, she knows Jensen must want her gone forever. It takes a moment to realize that he is pulling her up and into his arms and running a soothing hand up and down her back.
“I’m so sorry,” she repeats, fights for breath so she can say it steadier.
“Dan … You’re wrong. I would never ‘throw you away.’ Never. And all those years … Think about it … Mom knew you were my best friend. Yeah, I had to fight her for lots of things. But never you. Even she knew that wasn’t negotiable.”
She hic-cups and nods, “I know that. I do. I’m sorry.”
“I am, too,” Jensen says, although Danni doesn’t think he needs to apologize. “Don’t cry anymore,” Jensen says, but his voice also breaks and Danni sinks into his shoulder and clutches on harder.
They rock silently after that, Jensen murmuring soft words of comfort and Danni trying to soothe back, by placing a soft kiss to Jensen’s neck. She pictures the image she must make with makeup smeared raccoon-like all over her face. With a grimace, she realizes it’s gotten on Jensen’s shirt as well.
“’M sorry,” she says pulling back and swiping at her eyes, frowning at the black on her fingers. “Got your shirt dirty.”
He gives her a half smile. “It’s fine, was going to go shopping tomorrow anyway.”
They both slowly calm and Jensen leads her to the bed to sit. Softly he says, “Tell me when you first learned about my father.”
As she shares the story, her face heats in shame. “I was so scared,” she confesses. “I mean, I was barely thirteen-years-old. And it felt huge. And Mom didn’t know anything for sure. It was like a hunch, she could have been wrong. At first, I was going to tell you what I heard. But I didn’t right away. Maybe I should have. Maybe it wasn’t my decision. But … I was so scared.”
Green eyes burning almost gold, Jensen looks at her hard. “What were you scared of, Dan?”
That’s when she realizes it, or perhaps when she allows it to shift from the recesses of her mind to a front and center position. Nobody knows her like Jensen. Shame makes her shake and nausea rises. Because while she had been afraid for Jensen, she realizes now that she’d been afraid for herself as well.
“If it was true about your father … I thought you’d want to be with him. I thought you’d leave.”
She’s crying again and somehow instead of tossing her on her ear like she thinks she deserves, Jensen is once more cradling her head to his shoulder. “It’s okay,” Jensen says again, even though Danni doesn’t think it is, she thinks that she’s an awful person, a horrible friend.
“No, you’re not.”
Danni startles because she didn’t think she’d said that loud enough for Jensen to hear. But then again, her lips are near his ear.
“I’m sorry,” she repeats, even though it seems lame.
“I forgave Jay. And I forgive you. Both of you, your actions were because you love me.”
“I do,” Danni says and then pulls back so she can see her best friend. “I love you, and I’m sorry I hurt you.”
“I love you, too,” Jensen says and that causes Danni to blink back tears again because he’d never said that to her before. “You and Jay are the most important people in my life. You have to know that.”
Sniffling she hugs him to her one more time before disappearing into the bathroom and splashing her face with cold water, washing the running mascara away. It feels soothing against her tired eyes. Jensen is still on the bed when she returns, once more leaning his forehead into his palms.
She searches in her handbag and offers him some ibuprofen for what must be a killer headache.
He swallows the pills down with the water she’d opened earlier and offers her a weak smile. “I’d better call Jay before he worries himself an ulcer.”
“Yes,” she agrees and tries to smile back. “But, Jensen, I have something else you need to know.”
He looks wary. She swallows hard and continues. “I feel responsible. Horrible about what happened. How it happened.” She pauses and straightens her back for strength. “So, I spoke to my mother and some of her friends.” Danni rummages in her handbag again and pulls out a folded piece of paper. She hands it over solemnly.
Jensen holds it between two fingers like its poisoned. “What’s on this, Dan?”
“Your father’s last name.”
Such good friends
by Suchoon Mo
they were friends
they became old
they were still friends
still good friends
their wives died
their children went away
their cats became senile
just two old men
just two friends
just two good friends
as the sun was going down
they made a vow
that they would come
to each other’s funeral
and both went to each other’s funeral
they were still friends
they were still good friends