Danielle clicked on the cordless and started up toward her room. "Yeah well, I forgive you, but you are not going to believe this..." She began to tell Ashley the whole embarrassing story, in embellished, teenage detail, of how Brian came to meet her mother. Brian had a way of making a girl forget about her problems with a simple word (which just happened to be "us"). But it all came crashing back to Danielle as she began to tell her best friend all about it. When she was done she flopped down on her bed and stared at the ceiling, waiting for Ashley to say something—anything—that would be remotely helpful.

"Yeah, but," said Ashley. "What about before that…you know, grabbing a burger with Brian? What happened there?"

"Oh Ma Gosh! I almost forgot completely… It was so great? Danielle squealed with delight. "Well I got into his truck and we drove over there, we were listening to a great song." Danielle continued on her girlish tirade for over an hour, and far longer then every thing that had actually happened. Finally she got to the point when they were exiting the burger king.

"Ashley it freaked me out so badly. A car back fired, and it sounded like a gun shot! Brian grabbed me and pulled me down, it was so heroic… I was about to cry I was so scared…you know why with what happened to dad." Danielle got quiet and looked down at her floor, her breath turning uneven as she struggled to reign in her emotions.

Ashley's heart reached out to her friend. She knew all too well her sister's pain in that moment. Her father had worked as an officer for the Alabama Police force in their small town of Greenville. Danielle loved his job, mainly because all little girls knew their daddy's were invincible. It was just that Danie's daddy had the badge to prove it—or so she thought.

Danielle had gotten A's in school and that Friday night she and her dad went out to celebrate after he got off work. It was no big deal for Danielle, she'd be celebrating good grades since she was six, but Mr. Thomas always made it a party. It was sort of a father-daughter thing; they would ditch the mom and have fun eating out.

He was still in uniform that night and some drunks who'd gotten on the bad side of that law decided to stir up trouble. As he told her to, Danie got under the table while he tried to make them go home and sleep off what they would regret in the morning, but one of them had a gun and there was no turning back from that moment on.

Ashley almost started crying herself as she remembered going through the funeral of a man who was like a beloved uncle to her. She closed her eyes and said a quick prayer. God please, give me the words. "Danie, sweetheart…it's ok to cry, but just…you have to breathe," she tried to joke.

Danielle let out a long, slow ragged breath, her eyes were misted with tears and her room was nothing more than a gray and pink blur. She sat down on her bed, not noticing its squeak of protest. Ashley felt positively miserable now for her lifelong friend.

"Danie… It's gonna be okay… You still gotta come here tonight and stuff." Danielle nodded for a moment unaware of the obvious fact her friend couldn't see here. "Danie?"

"Yeah, it'll be great… I'm fine." A lie, a big lie. Danielle wiped away the tears, which were now brimming over her eyelids and rushing down the soft skin of her cheeks.

"Are you sure…"

"Yeah I'm fine." A loud beep interrupted Danielle; the call waiting was beeping in. "Ash, I'll call you back in a minute."

"Okay…"

Danielle looked at the phone and hit the flash button. "Hello?"

"Hey, Danie? It's Brian."

Danielle was almost ecstatic on the other end of the line. She clenched her fingers up and closed her eyes and floated back down to where she was laying on her bed. Sorry Ash, she thought, feeling a bit of betrayal. If it were the choice of talking to Brian or Ashley on the phone at that exact moment, it would definitely have been Brian. But, of course, Ashley understood that, Danie reassured herself. She has Matt to float on cloud nine with.

As much as she could just sit and listen to him talk…he wasn't talking! And then Danielle realized that she hadn't said a word and she didn't know how to break the silence. "Hello?" asked Brian over the other end.

He sounded confused and Danielle thought quickly. "Oh, sorry," she laughed. "I had to go and…go somewhere where I wouldn't be heard. Mothers, you know. They like to eaves drop on conversations." It was a lame excuse for an excuse but…it had to work.

Brian laughed under his breath. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

Danielle sighed in relief. "Yeah so um. Anyway, you got us a ride?"

"Well kinda, you don't mind riding in a beast up old station wagon do you?"

"No, as long as the company is good." Danielle gave a girly giggle.

"Oh you bet it is."

Danielle closed her eyes resting them from staring up at her light fixture. She didn't notices as her door slowly creaked open a hair. "So what we'll do is you'll pick me up at Ashley's house say around… eight?"

"Sounds good to me."

Danielle was still absorbed in the conversation as her cat, Gabriel, snuck into the room. She let out a small cry as he pounced on her bed. "Gabriel!"

"Who?"

"Oh…it's my cat he scared the bajeezus out of me…"

"Oh," he said shortly.

Danielle turned sideways, propping her head and the phone up on one elbow, using the other to stroke her cat. Cats were so picky. They teetered between wanting your company to wanting to be left alone. After a couple strokes, Gabriel kept his distance, expecting her to reach for him. Danielle decided to leave him alone and she rolled on her stomach, her legs hanging off one end of the bed, her head looking down at the floor on the other.

"So…" he started. She hated that he was the one to break the silence. But it wasn't like she was practice at talking on the phone with guys. "Are you going to Ashley's tonight?"

Just the sound of his voice again made Danielle grin as she moved the conversation along. "Yeah, me and her are going to stay up, talk all night long, paint each others nails, stuff like that."

Brian laughed. "Girl stuff, huh?"

"Yeah," Danielle giggled. The door creaked again and Danie figured Gabe had finally given up and gone downstairs.

"Honestly Woman! You never get off of the phone!" Danielle jumped up, and yelped as Ashley invaded her room.

"Danielle?!? Are you okay?" asked Brian on the other end, a bit of desperation in his voice because he was only on one end of the telephone.

"Yeah Brian, Ashley just scared the pants off of me…."

"Really now." He sounded like he was secretly laughing at her, his voice deep and cut short.

Danielle rolled her eyes. "I'll call you back."

"Bye."

"See Ya…"

Ashley was grinning ear to ear like a Cheshire cat as she flopped on Danielle's bed. "Gotcha!"

"HA Ha, very funny… NOT."

"Sorry it was just too tempting."

Danielle rolled over and nearly squished Gabriel who was now curled against the pillows. Giving an indignant mew he crawled over to Ashley for more petting. "So are you ready to go?"

"As soon as my heart beat returns to normal!!"

"Can we take Gabe?" Ashley asked nonchalantly.

"NO!" Danielle reached over and snatched up Gabriel, making his feet flip up helplessly. The smoky colored tabby gave a bewildered meow of protest and tried to grab onto the bedcover and slink back on his belly. It was to no avail as he was cradled on his back in Danielle's arms. His feet sticking up in the air, dead-dog style, he looked upside down at Ashley with his green, sunburst eyes. Ashley giggled as Danie started dancing with Gabriel in her arms. The poor kitty's eyes got bigger and bigger, finally resting on the floor as it stopped spinning, in hopes to reaching that solid paradise. Danielle now felt foolish as Ashley continued laughing, but her silliness dissipated as she ran a finger along Gabe's belly.

She always thought he was the coolest cat in the world. He had smoky colored fur, with black stripes along his ribs, face, and back. On his belly was the only part of him that was white, a very thin scraggly line going from his chest to the tip of his tail. Danielle and Ashley shared giggles as she rolled Gabe from her arms to the floor; he took off like a shot out the door and down the stairs.

Danielle looked at the door after Gabe for a moment, trying to keep a smile from coming to her face. She finally let out a giggle and stood on shaking legs; Ashley looked at her with a raised eyebrow but didn't say anything. Instead of being a good friend and helping as Danielle packed some last minute items into her bag, Ashley busied herself trying on random pieces of jewelry from the Carver wooden jewelry box that stood on Danielle's vanity. She decided on a pair of simple blue stoned stud earrings and a matching drop necklace.

"Hey Danie…do you think these will go with the dress I'm gonna wear, I'm not sure if the stones are the exact color."

"Yeah Ashley they will, the stones are close enough fro people not to notice…would you help me with this?" Danielle tossed a full book bag at Ashley before shouldering her heavy duffle bag. "I'm ready now…"

"Ok," said Ashley, putting the backpack on her back and walking out the door after Danielle.

Danie seemed a little flustered and Ashley wasn't quite sure why. They were best friends, but Ashley wasn't always about to read her mind or finish her sentences. Was it something I said, thought Ashley. "Danie are you ok?" she asked as they headed down the stairs.

Danielle was an inch close to telling Ashley what was wrong. She was nervous. She was emotionally exhausted with this whole thing. But, Danielle thought; if Ashley doesn't know that already, I'm not going to tell her; there's no point. Though Ashley couldn't see, Danie rolled her eyes as she poked her head into the living room to find her mother watching TV. "I'm gone to Ashley's, Mom."

As expected, her mother wasn't just going to let Danie go without a farewell game of twenty questions, and Ashley leaned on the doorjamb and watched. Danie was lucky. Her own mother wasn't heartless, goodness knows, but she certainly didn't care the specifics of Ashley's life. If her mother wanted to know anything, it was why she had to be such a failure. Ashley's smile didn't quite meet her eyes as Danielle turned, finally free to walk out the door.

Danielle smiled up at Ashley as they both walked out the front door. They didn't say much as they began walking up the street, their footfalls making rough smacking sounds as they walked. Biting her lip, Ashley was deep in thought. She didn't pay attention to the perfectly manicured lawns or their neatly arranged flowerbeds.

Danielle toyed with her cell phone that rest in its holder on her hip. She kept her eyes on the ground in front of her though, all she really saw were her and Ashley's shadows running ahead of them like long thin giants made of darkness. "You're sure your mom won't tell mine about the dress?"

"I'm positive, I hardly think she'll notice…. and I'm pretty sure she's working."

"You okay Ash?"

"I'm fine, just thinking…this dance is gonna be the best ever." Her smile still didn't meet her eyes. Danielle didn't notice because her thoughts had once again returned to thinking of Brian, and the dance.

It wasn't hard to think of anything else. Their neighborhood wasn't as safe as it was when their parents were kids, but safe enough for two 16-year-old girls to walk down the street at night. Ashley and Danielle thought nothing of the world's evil around them but of their lives in that exact moment.