"So," Danielle began, "I didn't always live here with my mother. Six years ago my Dad was still in the picture. One day, instead of calling a sitter, Dad took the day off to hang out with me when I was home sick. I was supposed to take the meds before eating so Dad gave it to me and then went downstairs to make some spaghetti and meatballs; the medicine made me sleepy and so I fell asleep upstairs before he finished cooking. When I woke up the house was on fire and Dad was shaking me awake. By the time he grabbed me and tried to get us out, we couldn't. We were trapped. And," sniffle, "he just held me and we just stayed in the corner of my room. When I regained consciousness I was in an ambulance, on my way to the hospital. When I looked around, didn't see him and the paramedics wouldn't meet my eyes I knew he was gone," she finished.
Danielle let herself fall back on to her bed, her long ginger hair flying up around her and splaying out around her face. I lied on my side with my jaw on my hand and my elbow propping me up. I honestly didn't know what to say, so I said nothing.
"Say something, please," she begged.
"Well, I've got nothing – the standard 'it's okay' just won't cut it, will it?"
We were quiet for a while, which I was beginning to noticed, happened a lot. But our silences were mostly comfortable and so it was okay.
"Are you sorry you told me?" I found myself asking.
"No. Sometimes it's good to let someone else know. That way you don't have to walk around with so much baggage by yourself," she sat up and crossed the room over to her vanity. She picked up one of the many pictures of Tara and dug into a drawer and pulled out a few envelopes. She brought them over to me.
"As part of my 'healing process' my therapist suggested that I tell someone everything. Three years before, Mum, Dad and I had visited his family in Jamaica and that's how I met my cousin Tara - we're something like third or fourth cousins or whatever, but we're cousins. Since we had become friends really quickly and had promised to write to each other but hadn't gotten around to it, I decided now was as good a time as any. So I addressed a letter to Tara, telling her everything. I hadn't intended to mail it off but somehow Mum got a hold of it and accidentally mailed it off. I didn't even realize it was gone until a month later when I got a letter from her; that's where this all started," she gestured to her wall filled with letters from Tara.
"What was he like? Your dad, I mean," I asked.
In response she reached under her bed and pulled out a few pictures and showed them to me. She took entirely after her mother. The man in the picture was young, healthy and clearly happy as he held his wife and daughter close. His skin was a little darker than a caramel colour and he had brown eyes. He had black hair that he kept short.
"He used to teach me all these little sayings from when he was growing up in Jamaica," she said, nostalgia shining in her eyes.
When she came back from her reverie I handed her the pictures and she put them back in their place.
"You know they have creams for burn marks, right? I mean I don't know if they'd completely go away, but the marks would probably fade at least."
She shook her head 'no', "Besides the pictures and memories, this is kind of all I have left of him. Plus, he died all I got were a few burns, I think I can handle that."
I didn't know how to proceed, but I was still curious, so I asked, "How did the fire start?"
"It was electrical. Um, they think he was probably doing something somewhere else in the house and so he didn't notice until it was late. We had a lot of curtains and flammable stuff in the room the fire started in. Huh," she snorted, "Dad had always said concrete houses were the way to go, because they're stronger and won't burn so easily."
By now I wasn't sure how I felt about Danielle opening up so much to me. We were never friends at school, we hardly ever interacted before our parents outed their engagement to us, so why? I was glad, however, that she thought I was good enough for her to confide in me. But all this made me feel like I owed it to her to open up; to tell her about mother. No. I didn't want to do that. I wasn't going to bring her up, not today, not ever and not to anyone. Peggy and Evan already knew, but no one else had to.
I looked at Danielle, who had her soft-looking ginger hair tossed over one shoulder. I turned my entire body to face her. She noticed my movement and looked over at me and suddenly my hands reached out to touch her scarred shoulder. She jumped a little at the sudden contact, but said nothing. Just as suddenly and almost as if it had a mind of its own, the simple touch turned into a caress.
Her breath hitched in her throat and before she could say a word in protest I kissed her. She didn't hesitate to kiss me back, and for a few seconds we forgot everything else. That was, until we heard footsteps on the stairs. Quickly we broke apart and Danielle rushed to grab a shirt. She had barely slipped it on when Winnie opened the door.
"Where've you been?!" Winnie asked.
I casually consulted my watch, it was 3:45 pm. "Oh, sorry I totally forgot," that was not a lie. I had honestly lost track of time and forgot to pick up my siblings.
Winnie was never one to stay mad for long, "What just happened here?" the slightly accusing tone in her voice was noted. Danielle looked at me. I was almost out the door when I said, "Nothing" and casually greeted Nat.