The tall olive skinned girl flicked another pitchfork of old hay into the trailer attached to the bright red four wheeler. Her dark hair was tied back from her face and beads of sweat rolled down her face. The chestnut mare nudged her right breast tenderly. “Wait.” She said with a smile. The last bit of hay landed in the trailer. “You are so spoiled.” She said patting the horse gently on the nose. She moved over, grabbed a square hay bale, and quickly cut the string holding it together.
It only took a few seconds to spread it out in the stall. The horse returned to poking at her chest, knowing it was time. Danielle Todds reached into the pocket of her flannel shirt and pulled out a sugar cube. She let the horse eat its snack. “If only every woman in my life was so easy to handle and please.”
“Damn you are so gay.” A male voice came from behind her. She turned and saw Alvin McDouglas leaning against the fence. He was dressed almost identically to her, blue jeans, flannel shirt, and muck boots. “Hey Al.” Danny said with a grin.
“I see you beat everyone else done again.”
“Not all of us have the luxury to be the boss’s son.” Danny pulled off her gloves after hanging the pitchfork on the side of the barn.
“True, you want a beer?”
“Nah, my Dad has a big order for the Jacobs trucking contract. Three brake replacements and some general maintenance on four more so he might want some help.” Danny said as she shook her head. She doused her hands with disinfectant and scrubbed them together quickly. A thick citrus smell filled the air.
“We never hang out anymore.” Al said in a whiny tone as she moved over and took a seat on the four wheeler.
“That happens when people break up.”
“You didn’t mind hanging out with me before Sherri moved away.”
: Touché, :
“C’mon, I’ll give you a ride to your house.” Al offered and Danny caught wind of motive.
“What’s up?” She asked after he climbed behind her.
“Can’t I just want to hang out with the person who used to be my best friend?”
Danny laughed at that statement and twisted the throttle, bouncing the front wheels as they took off. She felt him reach around and hold her waist. His grip tightened as she opened it up all the way. “Are you nuts?” He yelled.
“Are you going to tell me what’s up?” She called over the sound of the engine. He leaned close and she felt his body shake with amusement and fear. “Lisa.”
Danny backed off the throttle and let the speed drop to something safe. “So talk.”
“She says I just want one thing.” Al said as he released his bear hug and held gently onto her left shoulder.
“Ok, is she right?”
“NO! … Ok so I want it but it’s not the only thing I care about. We go out plenty of times that it doesn’t even come up.”
“So what did you do that got her riled up?”
Al let out a groan then answered. “I rented a hotel room for a week, I just thought it would be nice if we didn’t have to worry about her parents walking in or my parents or the cops when we mess around in my truck. I didn’t expect her to move in or anything.”
“Ok so how did you present it to her?”
“We were in my truck and things were getting … you know. So I suggested we go to the room and she freaked out. I tried to explain that it didn’t mean we had to do anything different than what we normally do and then I said if she just wanted to hang out that would be cool to.”
Danny suddenly had a spark and she groaned. “What hotel?”
“You tried to take her to The Hooker.” Danny slammed on the brakes. She turned in the seat and started punching him on the shoulder. “Dumbass.”
“Hey!” He said as he tried to defect her punches. “She’s not a hooker.”
“And that’s why she’s pissed. Go tell her you’re sorry and rent a room at The Edger’s.”
“Ok. Ok. Just stop hitting me.” He said and she stopped.
“You have to remember, girls like sex too but we get called names for it. Remember what Jed and his bunch started saying about me after it got out that you and I did it?”
He looked down at the ground and nodded.
“So you got some butt kissing to do.”
He nodded again and she started forward again. They had almost reached the shed when he leaned forward and laughed. “I still love telling people about when you kicked his ass.”
Greg Todds slid out from underneath the truck and found his youngest child kneeling down over him with a plate. “Hey Danny.”
He took the plate and plastic fork his daughter held out next. “How was your day?”
“Pretty good. I got the word they’re building another horse barn so I might get another horse or two.” Danny said with a smile.
“You don’t need to do that. We’re doing pretty good, right now.”
“Hey then I can spend more on a new telescope.” Danny smiled playfully at her father.
“Is Victoria talking to me yet?” Greg asked as he glanced toward the house. Danny shook her head negatively.
“I wish we had the money to get her a car but it’s just not in the budget right now.” Greg shook his head sadly.
“Well Herb offered to fix up a car if she can find a junk heap but she wants a new car.” Danny just shrugged. “Tina is taking her side of course.”
“Maybe she’ll come around. Herb is getting to be a top notch mechanic, between the two of us we could fix up a car pretty good for her.”
Danny started to rise pausing to brush off her baggy blue jeans. Greg sighed at the sight of his daughter in a pair of her brother’s old pants. “You do remember you’re a girl right?” He joked.
“Sherri kept saying that to.” She laughed as she walked away.
Danny had just sighted on the Horsehead nebula when she heard someone moving behind her on the roof. “Sneaking up on someone while they’re hanging off a roof is generally a bad idea.” She said as she noted tonight’s figures.
“Could you be any more of a nerd?”
“Are you busy this Friday?”
Danny put down her pad and turned to look at her sister. “Excuse me.”
“Are you busy this Friday?”
“Since I know you would rather be tarred and feather than hang out with me I have to ask why?”
“Bobby’s cousin is in town and his Mom is expecting him to play babysitter on Friday which means no date … unless we double date. And since you aren’t seeing anyone right now.” Tina said with a huge grin.
“I know I’m going to regret this but what’s she like?”
“She?” Tina shuffled her feet weakly.
“Yes she, … because I know my sister that loves me, wouldn’t try to set me up with a guy.”
“I’m not trying to set you up, I know you’re gay but what’s wrong with hanging out with a guy. No one is saying to make out with him.”
Danny sighed and gave it a moment of thought then shook her head. “No, it might give the wrong impression. The minute anyone in this town sees me with a guy, I’ll have to listen to the remarks every day for the rest of the year.”
Tina sighed. “Fine but what about if we wanted to hang out in the garage? You know listen to music.”
“Have a couple of beers and sneak off and gamble on a condom not breaking.” Danny said with a teasing smile.
“You’re one to talk little Miss. Didn’t even notice Victoria walking in on you and your girlfriend while you were performing an act that’s usually described with a number.”
Danny blushed brightly. “Fine but set him straight before Friday. If he makes a single move, I’ll adjust his soft parts with a torque wrench.”
Susan Todds pulled off her high heels and moaned in relief. “Hey baby.” Greg said reaching down and picking up his wife’s feet and depositing them on a footstool.
“You bought the tickets for this week right?”
“You know I did. Is that sleezeball still trying to get you to dance?”
“No but now he’s dealing with the police after they caught some underage kids drinking. Thank god none of them were sitting at my tables.”
Greg sat down on the couch and passed a beer over to his wife. “Here’s to small favors.” He said holding his up and taking a drink. She popped the lid off hers and lifted it slightly before taking a drink.
“Victoria is still giving me crap about not getting her a car.”
“She’ll get over it. I wish … .” Susan started before shaking her head and sighing.
“Maybe one day baby.”
Danielle sat at the table eating breakfast wishing for a repeat of the weekend. Manual labor would never hold the horror for her that attending high school did. She looked up and saw her oldest sister enter the kitchen. Among their family, they alone inherited their grandmother’s coloring, hair and eyes. When she was younger, Danny had foolishly thought that this would help bond them, she found out how wrong she was later on.
“Good morning Danielle.” Victoria said as she made herself a bowl of cereal.
“Morning, Victoria.” Danny said with a smile. “Another job interview?” She said indicating with her hand to the woman’s business suit her sister was wearing.
“You look great; I know you’ll get it.” Danny fought the urge to add a ‘this time’ to the statement.
“No offense but anything that keeps me from having to work in fast food or with animals is a dream for me.”
Danny felt the hackles on the back of her neck stand at attention. “Well I’m rooting for you.” She said without looking up.
“Thank you.” Victoria said in a condescending tone.
Danny sighed and tried once more. “I’m heading to school; do you want to walk to the bus stop together?”
“No, my boyfriend is picking me up.”
: Don’t do it. : Danny thought as she walked to the sink and poured out what was left of her breakfast into the garbage disposal. “Ok see you tonight.” She said after forcing a smile on her face.
Victoria didn’t answer and as Danny headed out the front door, she somehow felt her sister’s silence was for the best. The walk to the bus stop only took about ten minutes and as she had left a full twenty minutes early, she found herself standing alone with nothing to do. A car pulled up a few minutes later. “Hey baby, want to go for a ride.”
Danny sighed and prepared herself for the insults. “No, I don’t want a ride.”
“C’mon, Danny why you always playing hard to get? If you want a girl, I got no problem with that. Just gives me something to watch while I’m recovering.”
“Screw off Joe.”
“Or I’ll give you a lesson on why Jed missed three months of school last year just like the last three times you decided to get mouthy with me.”
“Oh I like it when girls get all rough. Nothing beats a tomboy in the sack.” Joe said as he started to get out of the car. He had made it about half way when she kicked the door closed. Of course, his body stopped it but the impacts on his leg, arm and face sent him crying to the ground.
“Is that rough enough for you?” Danny said then spotted the bus turning onto the street.
“You know you could just call the cops.” A female voice said behind her sounding amused. Danny turned and saw the single goth kid at her high school. “Why?”
The girl shrugged. “It’s the fourth time you’ve kicked his ass at the bus stop, either he really likes it or you do.”
Danny pushed away the revulsion as the bus pulled up and opened its doors. Joe had managed to make it back into his car and was preparing to drive away. “Thank you for ruining what was the last pure thing I could enjoy.” Danny said with a grin to the goth.
“Then I guess I shouldn’t tell you the Santa isn’t real either.”
“That’s it, I’m telling the Easter Bunny on you.”
“Now wait, he’s real. I steal plenty of his eggs from the lot next to the church every Easter.”
The conversation continued as they made their way to the middle of the half empty bus and sat across from each other. “He’s just a drunk jerk that actually thought graduating from High School was going to change his life all by itself.” Danny said pointing toward the car that growing smaller and smaller.
“That’s half this town, anyone that knew better has left already or is leaving soon.”
“So why are we still here?” Danny laughed.
“Because we’re slaves until we’re 18. Hell, dogs have more rights than we do. But come graduation I’ll be heading to California to make movies and you, you’ll be heading to some big named college to argue wither or not Pluto should count as a planet.”
“I expect to get an invite to the first film you get credit for.”
“I expect you to name some floating rock after me.”
“Are they going to let your film in?” Their school district held an annual video project festival.
“Of course not. That’s half the point of making a movie, finding someone to hate it.”
Danny laughed, Jennifer was the closest thing she had to a best friend and truthfully, they didn’t even like each other that much. : I asked her once, ‘why do we hang out?’ I have to respect her answer. “Because the only thing more of an outcast than being the death loving freak in black is the gay girl and vice versa.” And that’s my best friend. : Danny thought with an evil grin.
“Quit undressing me with your eyes. I don’t swing that way.” Jennifer said with grin.
“Fine but you know you’d like it.”
“Only if you’re planning on tying me down and sending your brother in after you’re done.”
Danny sat in the principal’s office and waited. Feel good messages covered almost every surface in the room and she knew without doubt she would be leaving with at least 5 flyers for anything from anger management to stopping peer pressure. Mrs. Taggert entered the room after leaving her waiting for only ten minutes. : I didn’t really want to attend history anyway. :
“Good morning Miss. Todds, I hear we had an accident at the bus stop.”
Danny smiled and tilted her head slightly. “No, not that I know of.”
“I got a call that you got into a fight with someone involving a car door.” Mrs. Taggert said with a smile. “Are you having problems with someone?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Danny tried once more.
“What students do on the way to school is a concern of the school. Since you won’t cooperate, I have no choice to take the statements I received at face value.”
“He slipped on a bar of soap.” Danny said with a sigh.
“You can do better than that.”
“Well lets pretend that a grown adult, a former graduate of this school kept cruising for an underage girl. Maybe she’s getting tired of him harassing her all the time. And if what happens on the way to school is the school’s business … why aren’t they stopping it?”
Taggert jerked in response and Danny knew she had won. “I’ll contact the Sheriff and ask him to speak with Mr. Williams.”
“Has he … done … anything … I mean … more?”
Danny wasn’t surprised at this leap and was truly grateful that the only time things had gotten physical were when she was decking him. “No.” She saw the relief on the older woman’s face. : At least she knows when to stop the feel good crap. God could there be a worse person to work at a school? :
After school, she caught a ride with another of the hired hands at the McDouglas horse ranch. She changed into her work clothes quickly and started her work, she was assigned to four horses and pay was by the day not hour.
She was brushing down the second horse when she heard Al lean against the stall gate. “You were right, … again.”
“Am I to assume by that statement that Lisa is no longer mad at you?” She said in a teasing voice.
“Well I added a bracelet to the package but I’m out of the dog house.” He laughed.
“Mark just got fired; you want one of his horses?” Al asked seriously.
Danny blinked to focus her eyes. “Really.”
“Ya, Dad says you and Tyler can each take one.”
“What pay rate?” She asked crossing her fingers. She hadn’t heard about anything special with those horses but only senior hands were allowed to handle the racing horses that wintered here.
“Same for any racer, thirty a day.”
“They get any special treatment?” Danny kept her voice calm. “You know they don’t. Muck the stalls and keep them clean after you give them some exercise.”
“I’ll take it.”
“I already assigned it to you. Tomorrow Brown Star will be moved down here.”
Al started away and Danny had to ask. “What did Mark do?”
“He was joking around in town about taking bribes to dope the horses before races. Nobody thinks he would really do it but we can’t take that chance.”
Danny noted the ‘we’ and the ‘I assigned’ in the conversation. “Your Dad is taking you off labor isn’t he?” Al just nodded. “What did he put you in charge of?”
“I’m sorry Al, I guess that means … .”
“I wasn’t going to be able to go away to school. State is the best my grades will allow anyway.” Al said turning back with a sad smile. “Not all of us are as smart as you. You had better enjoy getting out of here enough for both of us.”
She checked on her father in the garage and ended up helping him put the tires back on the big rig. They washed up as best as possible in the garage. “Thanks for the help. That would have taken me all night alone.” Greg said rubbing the top of her head fondly.
“Herb still working second shift with the wreaker?”
“For the rest of the week. If business would pick up a bit, I could afford to have him on here.”
“That would be cool, you two arguing about who makes the best wrenches all day.” Danny laughed.
“That boy needs to get off the Craftsman wagon.”
“Ahhhhh.” Danny said covering her ears.
“Ok, ok I’ll stop.” Greg said as he pushed his youngest child into the house.
Danny saw her mother sitting at the table with Victoria eating. Tina wouldn’t be home from her job at a fast food restaurant for another hour at least. “Jeez, you smell like horse and oil.” Victoria said, wrinkling her nose at the smell. “Eat your dinner and then hit the showers.” Susan told her daughter and husband.
“Yes ma’am.” Danny said grabbing a plate and filling it from a pot that sat on the stove.
“Sausage and rice, all right.” Greg said elbowing his daughter out of the way playfully.
“I don’t know how you can eat when you smell like that.” Victoria said getting up from the table.
“How’d the job hunting go?” Danny tried to relax her sister.
“I have another interview on Friday. Why don’t you tell Mom and Dad about getting in another fight.” Victoria said walking out of the room. : Thanks sis. : Danny thought at her sister’s back.
Susan sighed and glanced in the direction her eldest child had just disappeared to. “I got the call from the Sherriff. That boy won’t be bothering you again.”
“If I see him I’ll finish what you started.” Greg almost growled.
“It’s fine.” Danny said with a sigh. “He’s just a jerk who thinks that it’s ok to talk to people anyway he wants.”
“Not my daughter.” Greg said firmly.
“He likes to visit the club every week, I think I’ll arrange to have one of the girls step on his toes.” Susan smiled.
Danny was up on the roof watching the stars after finishing her calculations for the evening. She loved to stare at them, lose herself in the vastness. : Sherri hated it but she understood it was my thing. Maybe I’ll meet someone who I can share even this with. : She laughed at the thought of her ex-girlfriend up here on the roof or camping with her.
Danny laughed as Henry told another joke, despite her misgivings the night was turning out quite well. He had insisted on being shown the torque wrench in question then agreed at once to behave. “So then clerk said ‘Would you like me to bag up your clothes?’.”
“That’s crazy.” Danny laughed as she got up to get another beer. She could feel his eyes following her but it didn’t bother her. When he looked, it was more in appreciation and less a leer that she had to deal with on a regular basis.
“Shame you live out here in the sticks. My buddy’s sister is gay and she would flip to meet you.” He said as she started back with two beers.
“How far away did you say you lived?” Danny said with a smile. “Because I’m really looking.”
“Only about five hours, by plane.”
“Of course.” Danny took a drink of her fresh beer. “Just my luck.”
Henry rolled off the worn out couch laughing. The sounds of her sister enjoying her date reached them. “Man no offensive but your sister is hot too. Are all the girls in this town as hot as you two?”
“No but there is a disproportionate number of 10s running around.” Danny said with a smirk.
“I might have to come visit my family more often. Maybe you could point out some of the more friendly girls.” Seeing he was serious made her start laughing. “I’m the town dyke. Most of the girls are afraid of being nice to me because people might think they’re gay too.”
“That’s got to suck.”
Danny just nodded and was about to throw out a great line about the intelligence level of the town when her oldest sister walked in. “Hey Victoria.”
“Where’s Tina and what are YOU doing out here with him?”
“She’s with Bobby and this is Henry, they’re paying me 50 bucks an hour to babysit him.” Danny said with an elbow jab to his ribs.
Victoria moved over to the door of the feed room and started pounding on it. “Tina get off your damn knees and get out here.” She yelled.
A loud cry of alarm came through the door. The sounds of hushed talking followed by what could only be two people trying to get dressed quickly, in the dark. “Those are mine!” Tina’s voice said at one point.
The door opened and Tina came out looking rather annoyed. “What?”
“Doesn’t he have a house to take you to?” Victoria said looking at the state of her sister’s clothes.
“What do you want?” Tina said through clenched teeth. Danny buried her face against the couch to prevent the giggles that were threatening to break free.
“I thought you were going to apply down at the bank?”
Tina let out a groan. “You interrupted me for this! Mr. Coberg offered me an assistance manager position.”
“So I’ll be making two dollars more an hour than I would working at the bank. I took it.” Bobby started out of the room only to be grabbed by the collar and pushed back. Tina turned and smiled at him. “We’re not done yet.”
“Stop thinking about your hormones and start thinking about your future. Just because you might make more money now doesn’t mean you won’t be making a lot more in the future.” Victoria said, the look on her face was one of complete disappointment.
“I don’t plan on having a ‘future’ in this town. Once I have enough saved up for two years at some third rate college, I’m out of here.” Tina said turning back to her sister. “Now I’m a little busy, go away.” With that statement, Tina walked back into the room and slammed the door shut.
“Great then you can be the highest educated person serving french fries.” Victoria said through the door. She started to stomp away then paused as she moved past the couch. “I hope they didn’t get your hopes up. She bats for the other team.”
“Ummmm.” Henry decided it might be best to limit his mouth at this point.
“You’re certainly a bitch tonight.” Danny said with a sigh.
“Well excuse me for caring about my sister’s future a little. Maybe if this family started focusing on the future a bit more we wouldn’t be broke all the time.”
“Funny how focusing on the future only counts if it’s the future you think people should have. Way I see it, the future isn’t going to come if you starve to death waiting for it.”
“You’re just a kid. Why do you think Sherri doesn’t call anymore, oh wait she never called. Not once since she moved. Did you really think she wanted to watch you throw away your life with all this astronomy junk.”
“It’s Astrometry and it’s not junk. Starting pay when I get out of school will be ten times anything you’ll ever make.” Danny said standing up, her fists clenched tightly. “As for Sherri you need to keep your mouth shut about her.”
“Or what?” Victoria said with the sneer that only older siblings can manage.
Danny started her swing only to feel arms wrapping around her and pulling her back. “Hey!”
Henry pulled her a good ten feet away before speaking. “I don’t want to get involved but smacking her is only going to make it worse.”
“Let her try.” Victoria said. Danny caught both her parents coming into the garage behind her sister.
“What’s your problem?” Danny asked. “We’re just out here hanging out and you come in here yelling at people.”
“Someone has to try to get you from throwing away your lives.”
A loud cough came from behind her causing Victoria to freeze. “That would be our job.” Susan said coldly. “You need to head on up to your room to calm down.”
“Alright, I want my daughters in their rooms in the next 10 minutes. Everyone else go home.” Greg said loudly. Susan Todd pulled her eldest daughter with her as she returned to the house. Greg followed behind shaking his head.
Tina’s near scream of frustration echoed behind her father’s departure.
The next morning the three girls were sat down in the living room as their parents gathered their thoughts. “I know that times can be hard and we would love to give you girls everything but we can’t. But we haven’t done such a bad job raising you kids that anyone should be trying to take over for us.” Their father said first.
“I just …” Victoria started.
“You were just running off at the mouth. You’ve spent so much time looking for the right job that you’ve forgotten that Tina and Danielle have been working for the last few years. Times are a lot better now and we don’t need the help paying the bills anymore but it certainly pulled us out of the hole a few times.” Greg said proudly. Danny tried not to let sound of pride in her father’s voice puff up her head too much.
Victoria saw this and grunted. “Ya and if I squint she looks like girl but with what she wears I’m not sure and she gets in more fights than Herb did.”
“That’s enough. I would rather my daughters wore gowns, to go to dances and dinners where you have to eat with the right fork but that’s not our life.” Susan paused. “As for the fights well she’s a tomboy and I would rather get the call that she beat some boy up for crossing the line with her than the one most mother’s get when their daughters are attacked.”
“And Tina?” Victoria said with a smirk.
Susan looked at her middle daughter and smiled, the resemblance was more than passing between the two. “She’s 18 and takes precautions to prevent … complications. I’m not happy that she uses sex as her personal motivation system but we all reward ourselves in some way.”
“Great so since I got my new job, I should go out and get laid.” Victoria said in disbelief.
“Stop it.” Danny said. “You’re acting like she’s a tramp or something. She’s been dating Bobby since they were 14.”
“That doesn’t mean much coming from a sexually active 16 year old.”
“Go screw yourself.” Danny said as she felt her temper hitting across her defenses.
“Danny, you are a girl, try to remember that.” Susan said with a sigh. “Victoria it isn’t like you haven’t dated.”
“Look I’m getting sick of listening to you three pick each other apart. Either settle it peacefully or I’m bringing out the gloves.” Greg said with a loud sigh.
Danny leaned back on the couch will a grin. “Ok.”
“I don’t think so.” Tina said pushing her over. “I’m not getting my butt kicked when there are so many other things for me and my butt to be doing. What! It’s not like it’s a secret apparently.”
“So you solution to the problem is to let your favorite beat us senseless.” Victoria said looking hurt.
“Tina is the favorite.” Danny said with a laugh.
Susan was about to give the no one is our favorite speech when someone started knocking on the front door. “I’ll get it.” She said moving to the front door. “We’re not done yet.”
All three girls started laughing at perfect quote from the night before. Even Victoria couldn’t contain herself. Greg looked at his daughters laughing together and shook his head in confusion. : Women! :
“Greg!” Susan said looking upset as she returned with a well dressed man with a briefcase.
“It’s about your father.” She started. “He’s passed away. This is his lawyer.” She said pointing to the newcomer.
“Malcom Smith, I am handling the dispensation of your father’s assets and estate.”
“I’m in charge of his will.”
Greg nodded that he understood then asked. “So did he leave me something or what? Why are you here?”
“Pardon me.” Malcom said looking surprised.
“I haven’t spoken with my father since I left home at 17. He made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. That’s surprising considering … .”
“He left you everything, his entire estate.”
“I’d hardly call it an estate. He managed a shipping company.” Greg said with a shake of his head.
“I don’t mean to contradict you but he did far more than that. He was worth over 200 million by when he died.”
Danny caught her mother and thankfully, Tina and Victoria were both sitting so they didn’t fall far. “How much?” Her father asked with a shaky voice.
“Two hundred million. Most of it is in real estate and stocks but 41 million is in liquid assets.”
“Cash, Dad that means cash.” Danny said in shock.
“We’re rich.” Greg said looking as shocked as she felt.