Love and Cheesy Poofs
The small blond refilled the candy and other items in the checkout lanes of the store. It was a weeknight in January so not many people were interested in shopping in a toy store. The worker was hanging the last pack of batteries from the box when she heard someone causing a problem in the customer service area. She wandered over in that direction, the empty box in hand.
A "wow" almost escaped her lips as she spotted the woman raising her voice. Saying she was beautiful would have been an injustice. The customer was quite tall, of course everyone seemed to be tall compared to the blond, and she had dark hair that was perfectly styled to complement her features. The stranger was wearing a dark blue pants suit with a deep gray, wool, full-length overcoat.
The worker entered the service area where her co-worker, Molly, was becoming flustered at the angry woman. "Can I help you?" she asked hoping to cease the tirade.
The taller woman seemed to eye her for a second, her eyes moving to the plastic badge she wore on her chest, "Are you a manager, Danie?"
"No, but "
"Then I dont want to waste my time with you. Cant you people get it through your thick skulls I want to see a manager, not a bunch of peons."
Danielle "Danie" Keller turned and used the phone to call the managers office. She knew Bob was holed up in the office, probably drinking, and taking his time to come to service. It wouldnt matter how many times they paged or called, he would get there when he was good and ready. She hung up the phone.
The blond was hurt at first by the customers words, but that quickly turned to anger. She faced the customer again, "You know, if you really want some assistance, you should at least let me try to help you. Just because Im not a manager doesnt mean I have a sub-par intellect. Now why dont you tell me what the problem is," she looked at the slip of paper on the counter, "Ms. Thomas."
Kate Thomas was a bit taken back by the spunky blondes attitude. The smaller womans green eyes gleamed with anger. She was about to give the employee her chance, when a male voice interrupted.
"Ms. Thomas, Im sorry. I didnt know you were waiting up here."
The brunette just managed to keep herself from throttling the man before her. She had heard the counter people page him to the area several times, and suspected Danie had tried to call him as well. The businesswoman didnt care much for Bob. He had a sleazy air about him and she thought she detected the scent of alcohol on his breath, even though he had obviously tried to cover it up with mouthwash.
Kate was about to read Bob the riot act when the man suddenly started going off on the blond who had tried to help her.
"Keller. What the hell were you thinking talking to Ms. Thomas like that? Shes a very valuable customer. Apologize now and maybe Ill let you keep working here."
Danie wanted so badly to tell the balding, too much aftershave wearing, asshole to kiss her ass. But she had just started working there and really needed the job. The scheduling manager was great about giving her shifts that didnt interfere with her other job. She looked up at the customer.
"I apologize for the way I spoke to you. It was totally uncalled for and I would ask that you please dont hold my behavior against my employer." She waited to see what the other woman would do.
"I accept your apology, though I didnt think it was necessary to give one." Kate turned her eyes on Bob to see what his next move would be.
The manager wasnt a man who liked to be second-guessed or questioned, but he knew he couldnt be rude to this customer, so he did the next best thing in his mind. He went on a power trip. "Keller, I want you to go check and clean the bathrooms and then stock the diapers."
Danie eyed the clock; it was time for her to clock out, past time actually. "My shift is over, Ill do the diapers tomorrow."
The manager shook his head. "You do them now or dont come back."
The blondes mind whirled into thought. She couldnt be late for her other job, and if she spent much longer here, she would miss her bus and do just that. Besides, the night job was twice the money. "I understand, but I have to leave." She nodded to Kate, "I hope he can help you." Then she turned and headed back to the break room to get her coat and backpack.
"Dont come back," Bob called after her.
The former toy store employee checked her watch and then turned her attention up the street hoping to see the yellow and white bus approaching. But it was nowhere to be seen. "Crap, I bet it came early again," and she knew the next bus scheduled for that stop didnt get there for at least an hour. "Well, guess its a good thing youre wearing your running shoes." She prepared herself for the three-mile run to the convenience store she worked at as a night clerk.
Kate was driving away from the toy store when she spotted the small blond jogging down the street. Curiosity got the best of the woman and she drove past the runner, pulled her car to the curb and stopped. She wasnt really sure why she was doing this, and considered just pulling away and going home, but something stopped her.
Instead, she exited her Navigator and moved to the front of the vehicle. She saw the employee slow her pace cautiously as she approached the black SUV.
"Do you need a ride?" Kate asked when the other woman was close enough to see and hear her.
Danie stopped running when she heard the voice and saw who it was talking, "Thanks, but it really isnt that far."
"Then it wont take long for me to take you there." Kate could see the uncertainty in the green eyes before her. "Im guessing you missed your ride due to what happened in the store. Let me make it up to you," her mind searched for the name, "Danie."
It was cold and Danie really didnt want to run the rest of the way to work, "If youre sure it wouldnt be an inconvenience."
"Not at all, hop in."
Danie took her backpack off and climbed into the vehicle. The first thing she noticed was the warmth, followed quickly by the smell of leather and a faint scent of perfume.
Kate started the engine, "I dont think weve been formerly introduced. Kathryn Thomas."
"Danielle Keller, but everyone calls me Danie"
"So, Danie. Where are you headed tonight?" The Navigator pulled into the lane of traffic.
"The Git N Go on the corner of Forest and Bent Tree. And thank you for the ride."
The driver shrugged, "No problem. I was headed in this direction anyway, and you dont look too dangerous."
Danie laughed, "No, cant say I do. Though I do play a mean game of pool."
"Really? I didnt think you were tall enough to see over the table," the older woman teased.
A smile pulled at the corners of the blondes lips. "Yeah, I admit it can be a stretch sometime for certain shots."
The SUV pulled up in front of the store. Danie felt a little disappointed that her time with the brunette was over. "Thanks again for the ride, Ms. Thomas."
"Kate. And if you just need to pick some things up, I can wait and take you home." The businesswoman was as surprised as anyone to hear those words come out of her mouth. Must be the guilt of getting the kid fired.
The change in Danies demeanor was evident as she opened the door. "Thanks, but this is where I work."
"You work at the toy store and here?"
"Yeah. Im hoping to finish my degree someday and get a real job. Thanks again for the ride and have a great night."
The blond closed the car door and headed into the store, "Another night, another dollar."
Danie managed to catch the bus home without a problem. Shed spent part of her night reviewing the help wanted ads in the paper. She figured shed give John a call at the store and see if she really was fired.
The blond took the keys out from her pocket and opened the front door. It wasnt much, but it was home. She checked her watch and then went into the bedroom and turned on the light, "Okay monkey butts, time for school."
She heard the moans and smiled. Jacen and Jared were five year olds who attended kindergarten. Course getting them ready in the morning was always a chore. They occupied the bunk beds in the room. In the other bed, tucked under her blankets was Meighan, Danies other stepsibling. She was seven going on fifty.
Danie grabbed the edge of her sisters blanket and ripped it off the girl. Squeals of protest ensued. "Come on Meighan, time to get up. You guys cant miss the bus."
"Just five more minutes," the child protested.
"Nope, now or you wont get any breakfast."
"Fine, Im not hungry." Meighans stomach announced that was a lie. "Okay, Im up," she whined.
"Good, now make sure the twins hurry too."
Breakfast was ready when the trio entered the kitchen, and the meal went off without too much trouble, besides a spilled glass of milk. Danie glanced at the clock, "Okay guys, time for coats and lunches," she announced.
"And kisses, the boys reminded her.
Danie laughed, "Yes, and see you later kisses."
She sent the twins off to get their coats on while Meighan helped her carry the lunches to the door.
"I wish mommy was up to give us a kiss," the girl said sadly.
"I know. Maybe tomorrow will be a better morning for her." She wrapped her arms around her sister and gave her a squeeze.
"I love you Danie. Im glad you came to live with us."
Tears welled up in the blondes eyes. "Me too. Now get your coat on and Ill walk you guys to the bus stop.
Kate was at the office sucking down her second cup of coffee by the time most of the employees in her section arrived at work. Shed always been an early riser. She just seemed to be able to get so much more done when no one was around to bother her.
The executive examined the pink box sitting on her desk. It was her nieces birthday this weekend, which was why shed been at the toy store the night before. A look at the blond fashion doll in the box reminded her of Danie. "Dont think shed be caught dead in that outfit though."
The brunette found herself intrigued by the store employee, and there was something familiar about the womans name. Just for the hell of it, Kate typed "Danielle Keller" into the companys database. She quirked an eyebrow at the return results which were displayed on the screen. "I knew there was something."
Danielle had been accepted into the companys internship program, and would have been working there right now, but it seemed the young woman had submitted a letter resigning from the internship late last fall. The executive scanned through the other documents, transcripts, letters of recommendations and work product examples. Everything pointed to the blond was exceedingly intelligent and good at what she was doing in school. Kate wondered what had happened that caused Danie to end up where she was now, earning minimum wage at jobs she was clearly over qualified for.
More checking was going to be needed, and maybe another stop at Git N Go. But right now she had work to do, money to earn, asses to kick.
When Danie returned from sending the kids off to school, she found her grandmother sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee and toast while reading the paper.
"Morning Grandma," the blond said as she pulled the container of milk out of the fridge and poured herself a glass.
"Ah, morning Danie. Kids off to school?"
"Yes. The twins tried to get me to let them take Spanky for show and tell, but I told them there was no way they were taking the hamster to school. I guess they didnt like that answer and were trying to smuggle him in a jacket pocket when I heard the squeaking."
Her grandmother laughed, "Those two are quite a handful for sure."
Jessie OMalley was Danies maternal grandmother. It was her home that they lived. The house was a three-bedroom dwelling with a basement, which is where Danie stayed. Her mother and the kids had moved in with Jessie after Rex had died. The blond had never liked her stepfather when he was alive, and didnt care much for him now that he was dead either. He was a drunk and a gambler who was usually up to no good. But her mother believed he would change, right up until he got himself killed driving drunk. Rex had left his family with no support, no insurance, and lots of debt. The only thing Danie was thankful for was her stepfather had only taken himself out in the crash, She said a prayer of thanks each day before going to sleep that God had not allowed any of her family to be in that car with him that night.
But the death had brought a period of darkness for their mother who suffered from severe pressure. She lost her job, and with no insurance money from Rexs death, there was no money to pay the bills. Thats when Danie had left school to go to work full time.
"How was work?" the older woman questioned as Danie cleaned up from the breakfast meal.
"It was alright. Pretty quiet overall." And then there was meeting Kate.
Jessie didnt miss the small smile on her grand daughters face. "Danie, I worry about you working all night at that place by yourself, its not safe. Just in todays paper there was a story about a clerk getting beat up. If something were to happen to you "
"I know Grandma. Ill be careful." She walked over and kissed her grandmother on top of her head. "Im going to the gym and then Ill be home. Ill check on mom first."
"Dont bother, shes got the door locked again, but I got her to yell at me through it, so I know shes still among the living."
Danie nodded, "Okay. Do you need anything while Im out?"
"No, I cant think of anything. You watch yourself on that bike Danielle."
The blond chuckled, "I will." She headed to the basement to change into her gym clothes.
Kate sat at her desk going through her inbox when her phone intercom buzzed. She hit the red button that would allow her to communicate with her assistant, Joyce. "Yes?"
"Brian Holt is here to see you."
"Send him in, and could you please have security on standby."
The man walked into the office smugly. The brunette behind the desk really couldnt stand the man, so she was going to get some personal satisfaction from this task. "Take a seat Brian."
The employee took a seat in one of the chairs in front of her desk.
"How long have you worked here?" she decided to start off slowly and build to the climax.
"About three years."
"Uh huh. So youre not a newcomer. Do you feel comfortable with what your job responsibilities are?"
"Most definitely. In fact, Id say I was prepared to take on a greater set of responsibilities."
"You do, do you?" the man nodded, "Then maybe you can explain to me why we almost lost a half a million dollar deal because you refused to meet with a client for a business lunch."
"What? Oh come on, there was no way I was going to meet that fruit for lunch."
"That fruit is Douglas Johnston, Jr. His family is not one you want on your bad side. They have friends and allies in very high places."
Brian shifted in his chair, "I dont give a shit about him or his family. Im not going to associate with some guy whos probably more interested in finding someone to stick his dick in than hear about what we can offer him."
"Well you dont have to worry about that anymore, because youre fired."
"What? You cant fire me."
"I just did. We cant take a chance that youll continue to use your personal biases against clients and cost us accounts and money."
"Thats bullshit. Ill sue." Brian threatened as he got to his feet.
"If thats what you feel you need to do, but you may want to reconsider that threat since I have in this folder several complaints of sexual harassment filed against you. Im not sure how you havent been fired before now because of these."
"This isnt over, bitch."
"Yes it is," Kate pushed the intercom button on her phone. "Joyce, please send security in to escort Mr. Holt to his desk and then out of the building."
Kate smiled as the angry man was led away from her office by security. Some days she just really loved her job. And she actually felt the company would be a better place without his homophobic, sexually harassing ass working there. Now she needed to schedule a meeting with human resources to hire a replacement for Brians former position.
Danie returned home from the gym where shed done some cardio and weights. Then a trainer friend had talked her into going a round with a punching bag, and she felt the stress she was holding in leave her body. She was fortunate that shed won a lifetime membership at the local gym when she was in high school, so she only had to pay the $20 a year renewal fee.
The blond showered, changed into her pjs, and gave John at Everything Toys a call. He told her Bob had left a report of her insubordination and rudeness to a customer, and as much as he liked Danie, and thought Bob was a lying ass, he couldnt allow her to return to work at the store.
She thanked him and hung up.
There wasnt anything else she could do and the kids would be home before she knew it. "Time to get some sleep." She would worry about finding another job tonight when she went through the want ads. After checking on her grandmother and mother, Danie went back into the basement and climbed into her bed. One good thing about being down there was she didnt have to worry about it being too light. She laid there a moment in the darkness recalling the events of her day, and fell asleep with thoughts of Kate running through her mind."
Kate relaxed in her black leather recliner sipping on a bottle of Mikes Hard Lemonade. She flipped through the 135 channels her television received but couldnt find anything she wanted to watch. She considered getting her book out to read or going out to the bar to find some companionship. Her eyes found the clock on the wall. Eleven oclock, wonder if Danie is working at the convenience store.
She wasnt sure why she had this infatuation with someone she had met just once, but it was still there. "You know, I think Im in the mood for some snack food, better go to the store." She went into the bedroom to pick out something to wear for her jaunt to the Git N Go.
Danie had woken up when her alarm went off. Shed so wanted to just hit the snooze and go back to sleep, but the kids would need dinner and she wanted to check their homework before she went to work. Fortunately, her grandmother had volunteered to meet the kids at the bus stop and walked them home, allowing her granddaughter a chance to sleep a little longer and not rush to get ready.
A glance at the clock that promoted a brand of cigarettes told her it was a little after eleven. Seven more hours and she could go home. The store had been pretty quiet, with an occasional customer or police officer stopping in.
Danie had an accounting textbook spread out on the counter along with a pad of paper with calculations written on it. She enjoyed working with numbers as much as she did words, so she liked working on the problems in the textbook to keep her brain working and her skills sharp. But her attention was focused on the employment section of the newspaper. She had a couple of ads circled and would check into them in the morning.
The bell above the door rang and Danie looked up to make eye contact with the person who was entering the store. She liked appraising the customers as they came in to see if there was a chance they could be trouble. Her green eyes grew wide when she saw the tall, brunette walk through the entrance.
Kate barely contained the grin that pulled at her lips when she saw the small blond behind the counter. From the expression on Danies face, it appeared the woman was surprised to see her, but pleased at the same time.
"I was in the neighborhood and needed some snacks. I heard you guys have a good selection." Danie laughed, a sound that caused Kate to lose her battle of retaining the smile.
"Yes, Ive been told we have one of the best selections in the Metroplex. Was there something in particular you were looking for?" Like me.
Kate walked up to the counter, "Im not really sure what Im in the mood for yet." She spied the accounting book on the counter. "You going to school?"
"Hmm?" Danies mind was on other thoughts, "Oh, I was going to A&M but some stuff came up and I had to leave at the end of last semester."
"Okay, so you just do accounting problems for fun?"
"Yeah, its something I like doing, and it keeps me in practice for when I get to go back to school."
Danie pulled her backpack out from under the counter and placed the book and notepad into it. She saw the questioning look on Kates face. "The boss sometimes stops in around this time to see If I need a cash drop. He doesnt really believe in higher education for women, so I put my books away and bring out more appropriate reading material." She took a romance paperback out of the pack. "Borrowed it from my grandmother, cant stand the things myself."
Kate nodded her agreement, but her eyes were focused on the keychain photo holder attached to the bag. It held a picture of three children in it, "Cute kids."
Danie lifted the photo and smiled, "Thanks. These are my brothers and sister."
"If you dont mind me saying so, there seems to be quite an age difference between you and them."
"Yeah there is. Theyre actually my stepsiblings. Theres about a fourteen year age gap between me and Meighan and a little more than that with the twins, Jared and Jacen." She stored the bag back under the counter. "So, have you decided what kind of snack food youre looking for?"
"Well, what would you recommend?"
"Hostess Ding Dongs are a nice choice "
"Chocolate hockey pucks," Kate teased.
"Mmm, Cheesy Poofs," the brunette did her best Eric Cartman impression.
Danie laughed, "That show is wrong, but so funny."
"I know, Cartman is a hoot."
The blond nodded, "Did you ever see the movie?"
"Oh yeah," Kate answered, "I have it on DVD."
Before they could discuss "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," the bell announced a visitor.
"Hows business been?" a man questioned as he walked over to where the women were standing.
"Its been pretty slow, Sir. I think the cold weather is keeping people inside."
Kate didnt want to cost Danie another job, though she knew the woman could do better, so she wandered off to shop for some junk food while the owner checked the till. Mr. Fuller seemed in no hurry to leave the store, which annoyed Danie as she wanted more time to interact with Kate.
Eventually the executive decided she couldnt dawdle any longer in the store without causing suspicion. She brought her items to the front to be rung up.
Danie smiled as she scanned the chocolate hockey pucks and cheesy poofs, and placed them in a bag. "Anything else for you tonight?"
"No, I think that should do it. But Id like to thank you for your assistance tonight. I will definitely be coming back to this store."
The clerk grinned as she gave Kate her change, "Im glad to hear that."
"You have a good night, Danie." The taller woman picked up the sack of snacks.
"Thanks, you too." She watched as Kate exited the building.
About fifteen minutes after Kate had left, the storeowner went home. "Now you decide to leave." She broke out the pad of paper from her bag and turned to a clean page. She suddenly had the urge to write down what she was feeling, as mixed up as it was. The clerk was in the middle of her second page when the bell above the door rang. Her eyes shot to the door, hopeful that it was Kate returning, but found a man there instead.
Danie did a quick assessment of the man. His dirty, unkempt hair, hands that appeared to be shaking and eyes that darted quickly around the store looking for customers made her wary. The smaller womans finger moved so it covered the panic button, but she didnt push it yet. She wanted to make sure there was really going to be a problem. "Can I help you?"
The dark haired man moved to the register, "Yeah, give me a pack of Morleys and everything in the register." He pulled a knife from his jacket pocket, "And make it fast."
Danie pressed down hard on the button under the counter and then moved to complete the mans requests. She placed the cigarettes on the counter before opening the cash register and placing the contents into a plastic bag. There wasnt a whole lot in there.
She handed the bag to the robber, who peered inside and snarled, "I said give me all of it."
"Thats everything in the register. The owner just left with a drop."
"This isnt good enough. Give me your wallet and that watch." He held the knife threateningly close to her face.
"Okay, just dont hurt me." She grabbed her wallet out of the pack and handed it over to the man, then unhooked her watch and set it in front of him.
"What the hell is this? Five dollars! Wheres the rest?" The man reached over the counter and grabbed her hair, pulling it so she was closer to him.
The robbers breath was hot and putrid in her face, and she worked hard not to gag. "I dont have anymore money."
"I dont believe you. Maybe I need to search you."
Where the hell are the cops? What if the alarm didnt work?
"Get over here." The man ordered as he pulled Danie around to his side of the counter.
Danie had done everything asked of her so far, but now she felt it was time to resist. She worried for her personal safety and thought if she could break free, maybe she could make it to the office that had a lock, and a phone to call the cops. She waited until her hair was released and then made her move. A few well placed kicks and punches and shed disarmed her attacker and was about to run to the back when the bell chimed. Now the cavalry shows up. It wasnt the police, but another low life wondering what was taking his partner in crime so long.
The new stranger spotted the man on the ground, and then focused bloodshot eyes on the small blond who seemed to be the cause of his partners predicament. Danie turned to run when a hand wrapped tightly around her ankle and pulled roughly. The ground seemed to race up to meet her as she tumbled forward.
Before Danie had a chance to get back to her feet, the second man was upon her. A kick to the ribs landed her flat on the ground. She soon lost track of how many blows her body absorbed, as her mind wandered away, thinking abstract things like if Kate was enjoying her snacks and if the tall brunette would miss her.
The injured woman became aware of yelling and something that sounded like dry twigs snapping. A hand gently touched her face and she tried to turn away from it, but it hurt too badly to move. Danie figured she was delirious when she heard Kates voice, "Its okay little one, Ive got you now. No one is going to hurt you again."
"Am I dead?
"No, and you wont be for a long time if I have anything to say about it." Kate cradled Danie in her arms.
"Good, cause I have a reason to stick around now." She let the darkness claim her knowing she was safe.
The first thing Danie noticed was the light that shone through her eyelids, but she was having trouble opening her eyes to see it. She began to move her hand to her face, but cried out from the pain it caused.
"Dont move around too much, Danie. Youre a bit banged up."
"Dont lie to her mom, shes a fucking mess."
"Jane, youre not helping things here. Why dont you go out into the hall and let one of the nurses know your daughters awake."
If Danie could have rolled her eyes without it hurting, she would have. Nothing like waking up, feeling like hell and having to listen to your mom and grandmother arguing over how crappy you looked. She managed to open her eyes a little. She was in a hospital room from the look of it. She could hear the beeps of equipment near the bed and figured she was attached to it somehow.
Her mind searched to recall what was the last thing she remembered. Shed been at the store, it was robbed and
"Would you like some water, sweetie?"
Danie tried to speak, but found her throat was too dry and she almost started coughing. She nodded her head slightly.
Her grandmother filled a cup with water and placed a straw in it. She raised the head of the bed a little.
"Here you go."
The patient took a sip of the water and then another. "Where are the kids?" Her voice sounded funny to her ears.
"Dont worry about them. Mrs. Jameson from next door is sitting with them. Do you remember what happened?"
"The store was robbed."
"And it was a good thing your friend Kate stopped by when she did. Shes the one who called the police and ambulance."
"Was she here?"
"Yes, a very lovely woman. She was talking with the police the last I saw of her. She made sure you were in good hands, and then made sure we were contacted and had a taxi waiting to bring us to the hospital."
Danie took another sip of water then relaxed into her pillow. Who knew taking a drink could be so exhausting.
"Okay, Im sure the nurse is going to be in here soon to check you out, and you need to rest. Im going to leave now and get your mom home. If I see your friend, Ill let her know youre awake."
The blond was dropping back to sleep when the doctor showed up to poke and prod her. He told her she was a very lucky young lady. Course Danie didnt feel too lucky when she heard the injuries she had sustained. Two broken ribs, a collapsed lung, broken arm, a minor concussion, and, of course, a lot of bumps and bruises. He said the swelling to her eyes would go down soon and they didnt expect any permanent damage. The doctor told her to rest up and shed be as good as new in a couple of months. They would release her from the hospital in another day or two.
Danie heard a knock on the door and her heart rate increased, as evidenced by the monitor she was hooked to. But it wasnt Kate who entered the room, but a police officer.
"Miss Keller, I was wondering if I can speak to you for a moment."
"Im Officer Coulton, and Im investigating what happened last night. Can you tell me what happened?"
The small woman took as deep a breath as she could with her ribs and released it. "A man came into the store, he said to give him a pack of cigarettes and the money from the register. I pressed the panic button and did what he asked. He was mad that there wasnt a lot in the bag and made me give him my wallet and watch, " she paused a moment to breathe, "He said he thought I was holding out on him and wanted to search me."
"Thats when you kicked his ass."
Danie smiled, "Yeah, unfortunately thats when the other one came in and returned the favor. Thats all I remember before waking up in here."
"So you did push the alarm button? We couldnt tell on the tape."
"Yeah, what took you guys so long?" A tape? Hope I dont end up on the news.
"Were checking into that. But right now it looks as thought the button didnt work. But the suspects were apprehended at the store."
If the button didnt work, then the cops werent coming to save the day and who knows how long it would have been before someone found her. There was a very good chance she wouldnt be alive right now if it hadnt been for Kate. She suddenly felt nauseas.
"Could you come back later? Im feeling really wiped."
"If you could just answer a couple more questions."
"I believe she asked you to come back," a familiar and welcomed voice announced.
"Hello again, Ms. Thomas."
He returned his attention to Danie, "Ill come check on you tomorrow."
She nodded her understanding and the man left. Kate moved the visitor chair close to Danies bed and sat down. "How are you doing?"
"I hurt, but Ill live thanks to you."
"Just glad I needed more junk food," she joked. In actuality, Kate had a DVD in the player and was about to press play on the remote when shed been hit with a feeling like an ice ball sitting in the pit of her stomach. A sudden flash of fear had run up her spine and shed instantly known something was wrong with Danie. She was up and running before shed had time to think about it. "Your family go home?"
"Yes, thank you for helping them get here." She was considering a reach for the water that was sitting on the tray next to her, but Kate seemed to sense her thoughts. "You thirsty?"
"A little yeah."
Kate picked the cup up and brought the straw close to the smaller womans lips.
"I gave your backpack and things to your grandmother, figured it would be safer at home than here."
"Thanks. If you have a marker, you can sign my cast." She lifted her left arm, which had a cast that covered about three-fourths of her forearm.
Kate laughed, "Ill be sure to do that before you get out of here short stuff."
Danie could feel her eyes begin to grow heavy. "If I fall asleep on you, its nothing personal."
"Dont worry about it, youve been through a lot. " She heard Danies breathing slow and steady. "Weve got all the time in the world." She leaned over and kissed the sleeping woman on the forehead. "Just hope you feel the same way."
Kate hated leaving the hospital, and Danie, but she really needed to go home and shower before heading to work; there was a meeting she couldnt miss. She knew the blond wasnt going to be able to handle things on her own for a while, so shed do some checking and arranging of things to help her out.
Fortunately Danie had insurance through Git N Go, and she should be able to collect workers comp since she was injured on the job. The executive would check with her father about what needed to be done to get the ball rolling. It was nice to have a family member who was a managing partner in a successful law firm.
Driving home, Kate thought back to meeting Danies family. Her grandmother, Jessie, had seemed very sweet and kind, and she had no doubt the older woman would watch over her granddaughter. But her friends mom was another story. Shed learned the womans name was Jane Mitchell, but that was about it. The woman was very aloof and honestly seemed put out that she was at the hospital instead of at home asleep. The brunette couldnt remember hearing the woman even comment on her daughters condition.
That was the direct opposite of how her own mother would have been in the same situation. A couple of years ago Kate had broken her arm playing soccer. Her mom had shown up at the hospital demanding to see her daughter and make sure she was okay. It was a strange concept to Kate for a parent to react as Danies mother did with an injured child.
The doctor had left orders for the nurses to wake the patient up every two hours and check her because of the concussion shed suffered. Danie was getting pretty fed up of the disruptions to her sleep, but while she would be returning to dreamland she would think about Kate. The blond was sad the older woman had left, but a note saying shed be back to check on her made it better.
She hoped she wasnt reading anything into this new friendship because she found herself really liking Kate. Danie was afraid she was feeling more for the executive than was felt in return. Guess Im just going to have to find out. Course I have to get out of here first.
That line of thinking brought with it a whole other set of problems. If she couldnt work, how would she support her family? She wondered if shed be eligible for workers comp or something like that until she was back on her feet. It wasnt like she was going to be one of those less than honest people who tried to milk the system to keep from working. She wanted to get back as soon as possible.
A woman in a white uniform entered the room carrying a breakfast tray. She set it down on the bed table and moved it over to Danie., "Since you arrived a little late to fill out your own choices, the staff decided what you received. But here are your choices for lunch and dinner if youd like to choose now."
"Do you have a pen, please?"
The worker took a pen from her pocket and placed it in the patients hand. Danie had to raise her arm a little to circle her choices, which caused the pain in her ribs to flare up. She gritted her teeth and handed the pen and paper back. "Thanks."
The hospital employee had caught the glimpse of hurt on the blondes face, "Do you need any assistance with your food? I can have a nurse arrange to have someone help you."
"No, thats okay. Ill be fine." The lady left and Danie suddenly realized there was another need, besides hunger, that was begging for attention. Not wanting to bother anyone and wanting to avoid embarrassment, Danie decided she was going to try and get to the bathroom on her own.
"Okay, I can do this." She raised the head of the bed some so she wouldnt have as much work to sit up. She scooted herself slowly over to the side of the bed. She waited a moment for a bout of dizziness to stop. Danie checked out the IV machine she was attached to, it had wheels which was a good thing. They had removed her from the heart monitor earlier in the morning. She found with her bum arm it was a bit difficult to push herself upright off the bed, but she was eventually standing on her feet. And stayed that way for about 30 seconds before her legs gave out.
Kate finished her lunch meeting and decided she had some time before she needed to be back in the office. After a quick stop at a nearby store, she went to the hospital. The first thing she noticed was the pallor of Danies skin and the new bandage she sported on her forehead. She placed the bag on the chair next to the sleeping woman and stalked out to the nurses station.
"What happened to Danielle Keller?"
"Im afraid Ms. Keller took a spill this morning. Apparently she was trying to get to the bathroom."
The executive shook her head, "Why wasnt the rail up on her bed? And arent you supposed to check on patients to make sure things like that dont happen."
The nurse went back to reading the file she had in her hands. "The incident is being investigated. We are quite busy you know."
"I dont care how busy you are, youd better make sure that woman in there is taken care of." She resisted the urge to yank the file out of the womans hand and beat her over the head with it. Instead, she went back to Danies room to sit with her a little while before she had to leave again.
When Kate entered the hospital room, she found Danie sitting up wide-eyed as though something had scared her. "Hey, are you okay?"
The blond saw her friend and relief seemed to flow through her body, "Must have been a bad dream." She relaxed against her pillow.
"You want to talk about it?" she held a smaller hand in her own and stroked the skin with her thumb.
"No, I dont really remember it," she lied.
Kate nodded her understanding, "Heard you took a dive earlier."
Danie blushed, "Yeah, I was trying to make it to the bathroom. Guess Im not ready for that kind of field trip yet."
"You know the nurses are here to help you with that sort of thing."
"I know, but they were really busy and I didnt want to bother them."
"Youre too nice sometimes, and maybe a little stubborn." Kate smiled to show she was teasing. "But you really need to let others help you right now. Okay?"
"Okay, Ill try. Are you on your lunch break?" Danie admired the well-tailored suit that looked perfect on the tall form in front of her.
"Yes, thought Id stop by and see how you were doing and drop off a few things," she picked up the bag. "Some pajamas, which youll need to have the nurses help you with because of the IV, socks to keep your toes warm, a magazine and last, but not least, a marker."
"You shouldnt have," Danie protested.
"Trust me, Ive been in the hospital before and you always feel better wearing your own PJs. Those hospital gowns can get a bit breezy."
"Isnt that the truth. So you have a marker, you ready to sign this sucker?" she lifted up her cast.
"I think I can do that," she took the top off the marker. "Where would you like me to sign?"
"You decide. Im really bad at making decisions."
Kate laughed, "Okay, how about here?" she chose a spot on the underside of her cast.
The brunette thought a moment before applying the maker to the cast. "Thanks for the cheesy poofs, Kate."
There was a knock at the door and a person with Danies lunch tray entered, "Here ya go." He set it down on the table and left.
"And what fine cuisine do we have here?" Kate joked as she took the top off the plate of food. "Ooh, looks like something that might be chicken, green beans, mac and cheese, and the ever popular green Jello."
Danie chuckled, "A gourmet meal for sure."
"So what should we start with?" Kate picked up the fork.
"Im not really that hungry. And you should probably be getting back to work."
"Mac and cheese it is then. Good choice, it does look the most edible." She placed a little of the food on the utensil and moved it to Danies mouth. "Do you want me to make airplane sounds? Or maybe a choo choo?"
The smaller woman rolled her eyes and opened her mouth. "Not bad," she commented when she finished chewing, "but not as good as Bone Daddys."
"You have good taste in restaurants." Bone Daddys was a local restaurant with a menu that consisted of bar-b-que items and a kick ass chicken fried steak, all of which was served by scantily clad waitresses. "I think when youre up to it well have to make a trip there for dinner."
"Its a date," Danie replied, and she really hoped it would be just that.
Kate had managed to get Danie to eat most of her lunch before she had to get back to the office. On her way out, she stopped by the nurses station again and told them she thought her friend might need some pain medication. She could see the effort Danie was making to keep the pain under control.
Now, she was back in her office, sitting in her comfortable chair, trying hard to pay attention to the teleconference call she was on. Which was made more difficult by the monotone voice on the other end droning on endlessly about figures and sales projections. The executive clicked her mouse on the Internet button and opened up a search window. She typed in "Jane Mitchell" and hit enter.
As she sorted through the results, she would make an occasional "uh huh" or "yes" sound to satisfy the ruse that she was solely focused on the call. She weeded out some obvious choices and clicked on one particular article, an obituary from several months ago. It was for a Rex Mitchell, who was survived by his wife, Susan, and 3 children. That sounded about right, and seemed to fit the time frame for Danies coming home. A search of Rex Mitchell brought up a couple newspaper articles about the crash that had taken the mans life. Apparently he was drunk when he wrapped his car around a tree.
So, Danies stepfather got himself killed, leaving behind his wife and children, and caused his stepdaughter to quit college to come take care of them. Youre lucky youre dead, or Id be kicking your ass right now you stupid son of a bitch. Now she knew why Danie had dropped out of the internship program, but she still had some questions about what was going on with her family.
Danie was on the verge of waking up when she heard the sound of little voices and shuffling feet. She opened her eyes and found Meighan, Jared and Jacen peering at her from her bedside. "Shes awake!" The twins announced in unison.
"I told you to not to wake her up," Their grandmother chastised.
"We didnt," Meighan protested, "she opened her eyes on her own."
"Hi everyone." Danie smiled.
"I hope you dont mind Danie, dear. But the children really wanted to make sure you were okay."
"No, Im glad to see you. I missed you guys." She shifted her position a little to get a better look at them.
Jacen spotted the cast, "Ooh can we sign your cast? Can we?"
"Yeah, Danie. Can we?" Jared joined in.
"Sure." She took the marker from the table and handed it to her sister, "Meighan can go first since shes the oldest.
While the kids were signing the cast, Jessie looked her eldest grandchild over. She was now sporting a pair of blue pajamas with yellow rubber duckies on them. The older woman would make a guess that Kathryn Thomas was behind the new attire. She didnt know a whole lot about the woman, but she seemed to be sweet on her granddaughter, and Danie could do a lot worse. Heck, when she thought about her own daughters track record with men, she was glad to see Danie hadnt inherited her mothers bad taste in partners. But she worried Jane would not be as open minded about the topic.
Finally the time came for Danie to be released from the hospital. She had enjoyed Kates frequent visits and the two sets of pjs the executive had given her, but it would be nice to be home.
Kate pulled the SUV into the driveway and stopped the engine, "Ill get you in the house and then come back for your stuff."
"I think you can probably pawn the bag off on them," she motioned to the three children running towards the car.
"Cheap labor, I like it." She exited the Escalade and hurried over to the passenger side knowing Danie would probably try to get out on her own, Sure enough, the door was already open and the recently released patient was about to slide out of her seat.
"Dont even think about it," Kate warned as she used her body to block the escape.
"Come on Kate, Im fine now."
"You need to watch those ribs, Shorty. Im betting theyre already sore, and if you twist the wrong way getting out of this car, its going to make it much worse."
Danie conceded and allowed Kate to help her out of the SUV, "Happy now?"
"Not until we get you settled inside."
As Danie walked slowly towards the house, Kate handed Meighan the bag of her sisters belongings. The twins complained they wanted to help too, so the woman reached into the bag and gave them each something to carry.
With her long legs, it was easy for her to catch up with her shorter companion.
Jessie was at the door waiting for them. "Welcome home, Danie." Due to her injuries, Jessie had offered to move to the basement and let Danie have her room, but the young woman wouldnt hear of it.
"Thanks, Grandma, its good to be here." She steered Kate inside.
"Why dont you go on downstairs and Ill bring you something to snack on."
"How about I get her comfortable and come up and help you?" Kate offered.
"That would be very nice."
"Dont I have a say in this?" Danie protested.
"No," The other two women announced in unison.
"Fine, I know when Im outnumbered." She took Kates hand in her own and marveled at how warm it was. "This way to the dungeon." A nickname the kids had given her living area.
They arrived at the bottom of the stairs and the executive did a quick survey of the area. There was old shag carpeting on the floor, a wooden set of drawers and a green couch that looked like it had seen better days. Next to the couch was a small end table that held a lamp and a few paperback books. A well-worn recliner completed the room.
"Umm, Danie. Wheres your bed?"
"Oh, the couch folds out into a bed." She saw her friends questioning eyebrow. "Really, its pretty comfortable."
"Uh huh. The thing looks older than you are."
The injured woman laughed, but the pain in her side prematurely cut off the sound. Danie tried to play it off, but Kate had seen it.
"Okay, step back and Ill break out your bed, then Im going upstairs to get you your pills and something to eat."
When Danie didnt argue, Kate knew things were bad. She made quick work of taking off the cushions and unfolding the bed portion. She took the clean linens folded on the arm of the couch and made the bed up. "I think its all set now. Ill tuck you in, then go see your grandmother."
Kate helped Danie get under the covers and made sure her pillow was adjusted so she appeared semi-comfortable, though the brunette had never found a sofa bed that she would actually classify as comfy. "Ill be right back. Are you going to be okay?"
"Youre just going upstairs. Ill be fine."
Kate went into the kitchen and saw Jessie taking a teakettle off the stove. "Can I help you?"
"Could you grab the milk out of the refrigerator please?"
The taller woman opened the door of the appliance and pulled out the jug of milk. She noticed there wasnt a whole lot of stuff sitting on the shelves and made a note to pick up some groceries the next time she came over. She took the milk over to the counter where Jessie was pouring steaming water into three cups with tea bags in them.
"I hope you like lemon tea." She dunked the tea bags in the water.
"Yes, very much."
"Great, Ill let you decide if you want milk or not. Danie seems to like quite a bit of it in her tea. Used to make her mom ill to see the pasty white color of her tea. She believes tea should be strong and milkless.
"Does Danies mother live here as well?" Kate questioned as the older woman retrieved some cookies from a cupboard.
"She does, along with the kids and Danie of course. They used to have their own place, but then Rex went out and got himself killed. Poor Danie had to come back from school to take care of everyone. I have hopes that shell be able to return soon and finish. Shes way too smart for working at a store. Its a waste." Jessie realized she didnt know a lot about the woman in her kitchen. "How did you and Danie meet?"
"We met at Everything Toys, actually."
"Oh, I forgot all about that place. Someone should call them and let them know Danie wont be able to work."
Kate nodded, "Ill be sure to take care of that." She was pretty sure Danie was still an ex-employee there, but didnt want to upset the woman before her.
"Thank you. Youre a very good friend to my granddaughter."
"Shes a very special person." She motioned to the tray Jessie had placed the two cups of tea and cookies on. "Let me get this downstairs before Danie decides to come up looking for us."
Jessie laughed, "And she would too. That child has always been an independent one."
Kate sat down at the table across from the man already sitting there. "Hey Dad, thanks for meeting me."
"No problem, kiddo. Anything for my favorite daughter."
The woman smiled, "Im your only daughter"
"Well, theres that too." Phillip Thomas agreed as he pulled a folder out of his briefcase. "Heres all the paperwork your friend should need to get the process moving. Let me know if she has trouble understanding any of it, or if there are any problems."
"I will. Shes a pretty bright girl. I think she should be okay. Im just not sure how her employer is going to react to her filing a workers comp claim."
The server came over and Kate ordered a glass of iced tea. She planned on going over to Danies later and bringing dinner with her.
"Your mother would like for you to bring your little friend over for dinner sometime." He chuckled when he saw blue eyes roll at the usage of the term "little friend".
"Her name is Danie, and shes only been out of the hospital a couple of days. Maybe when shes feeling up to it well come by."
"Ill let your mom know. Have you talked with Lucas lately?"
"No, whats going on with my big bro?"
"Well, he told me hes planning on having a dinner party for people at work soon, and I believe hed like for you to watch Eryn for the night. Your mother and I would do it, but we have tickets for the theatre."
"Thats fine, shes a pretty good kid, and maybe shed like to make some new friends." Meighan was about the same age as her niece, maybe the girls would like to hang out.
Kate had asked during her last visit what their favorite food was, and fortunately they all picked the same thing, pizza. Course they all liked different toppings, but at least it would be one stop shopping. The executive stopped by her favorite place and picked up a few pizzas since she wasnt sure how much kids could eat. She walked up to the door carrying the boxes of food, and balanced the portfolio of papers on top of the load. She rang the doorbell and waited as she heard several sets of small feet scrambling to get to there first. The door swung open and three little faces peered up at her. Meighan appeared as though shed recently been crying.
Kate frowned, "Whats wrong kiddo?"
The young girl sniffled, "Nothing."
"Mom was yelling at Danie," Jacen supplied. "Are those pizzas for us?"
"Yeah, they sure are," she glanced around as she walked into the house, "Is your grandma here?"
As if on cue, Jessie OMalley made her appearance. "What do we have here?" she asked trying to be jovial.
"Kate brought us pizza," Jacen explained.
"Well, wasnt that nice of her. Too bad no one around here likes to eat pizza."
"I do I do," the children yelled. Even Meighan got into the act.
Maybe we should let out guest take the food into the kitchen so we can eat some of it."
"Yea!" the twins took off leading the way. Meighan followed after them, but at a slower pace.
Jessie turned to Kate as they walked, "Im guessing the children told you what happened."
"The only thing they said was their mom was yelling at Danie."
A gray head nodded, "Yes. Jane is in one of her moods again. Its never a good thing. Danie tries to shield the children from her mothers nastiness, even though it makes her a target herself."
The women had to stop talking for a moment while Kate placed the pizza boxes down and opened them. The children had already retrieved the plates and napkins, and really wanted to start grabbing pieces, but waited until their grandmother said it was okay. The scene reminded Kate of something from shark week on the Discovery Channel.
Jessie laughed at the look on the younger womans face, "Pizza is a special treat, Im afraid theyre going to be little pigs."
Kate smiled, "Thats fine. Do you know what kind of pizza Danie likes?" She planned on taking some slices to her friend in the dungeon, and make sure she was okay.
Jared overheard the question, "She likes anything but ant-toeys." He announced around a mouthful of pizza.
"Ewww," his brother added, "who would want to eat ant toes?"
The grandmother laughed, "Why dont you take my granddaughter some food and Ill try to explain anchovies to this group."
The executive balanced the tray with the pizza and two colas on it as she made her way down the stairs. She could see her friend was in the bed with the covers pulled up. Kate sat the tray of food on the side table. "You awake?"
A face with red-rimmed eyes and a matching colored nose peeked out from under the blanket. "Yeah."
"I thought you might be hungry so I brought you some pizza."
"You didnt have to do that." Danie wasnt sure how she was going to repay Kates generosity.
"I know, but I wanted to. The kids said you liked everything on yours but ant-toeys so I brought a few different kinds down."
"Thanks, but Im really not hungry," her stomach was still in knots from the earlier encounter with her mother, and also a phone call from her boss at the store.
"You need to eat Danie. I know you might not feel like it," Kate picked up a slice and brought it up to her friend.
"I dont know if I can." She didnt want to burden her friend with anymore of her problems, afraid the executive would think her too much trouble and she would never come back.
Kate returned the pizza to the plate, "Whats going on?"
Danie hated to cry, especially around other people, but she saw such compassion in the eyes of the woman before her, that tears began to well up in her own eyes, "Im sorry, its just been a really bad day." Danie began to explain.
"Mr. Holt from the store called, and the company is going to refuse my workers comp claim. They are saying I went against store policy when I resisted the robber."
"What? They cant do that. I saw the tape, you didnt have a choice." She wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and held her. "Do you trust me?"
"Yes," Danie replied without hesitation.
"Then believe me when I say this will be taken care of. My father is an attorney and hes given me some papers for you to sign. And if those pricks you work for even think about refusing your claim, my father will hit them with a lawsuit so fast itll make their heads spin."
"Kate, I appreciate your help, but I cant afford "
"Stop right there. My father hates to see the little person get screwed, no short joke intended, so he takes many of these types of cases on a pro bono basis. His payment is to see the companies held responsible for doing whats right and fair."
"Even so, Id still like to do something to thank him."
"When youre feeling up to it, my parents have issued an open invitation for us to come over for dinner. Thatll be payment enough for them."
Danie grinned a little, "Okay, I get dinner and get to spend time with you, how exactly does that benefit your father?"
"Lets just say theyll be happy to see me at their dinner table, and having someone as lovely as you to accompany me will make it doubly so."
"Alright, that sounds like a very nice plan. And you can help pick out
a gift to bring with us."
"Nothing would make me happier," Danie embraced the taller woman and suddenly it didnt matter what anyone thought about them, not even her mother. They were enjoying the warm feeling caused by their togetherness when the blondes stomach announced it was ready to eat.
Kate laughed, "Sounds like youre ready for some of that pizza now."
The hungry woman blushed, "I guess so."
The pair sat together eating pizza. The problems of the day left behind as they talked and laughed. There would be enough time later to deal with events of the day, right now was a time to enjoy their friendship and what each hoped would become a lasting relationship.
The end for now.
Thanks to TLC and AB for all your assistance with this story.