Daniel In Love?


He didn’t know if it was possible, but he thought he was already in love with this woman. He’d known her for five hours. He tried to imagine what a first date with her would have been like, since she admitted her first date was that long. He tried to imagine taking the same steps as Psycho Boy Ben… starting with glazing at the pottery place, then going for coffee on a blistery cold February evening, then sitting in the cold for at least an hour, it sounded like… and finally ending up having drinks at Bar Louie, which is where their acquaintanceship began.

Fear is a Liar by Zach Williams on Spotify

And then after all of that, they ended up back at her place, though she didn’t specify what happened… just that she kicked Ben out after a while even though he’d brought everything to stay the night.

Now he sat at her kitchen table, nursing another Blue Moon as she watched him. Her tears had finally dried up, but only after all the animals had come to her. She procured a bone for Max from somewhere. She must have ordered the dog treats with the groceries, but he didn’t notice that at the time. She also fed the cats their soft food for the night and their medications. It was 8:30 pm and, honestly, the night was young for him. He wondered if it was for her, as well.

He really could love her, he thought. He definitely felt the most amazing soft spot for this brave beauty. It’s not every day someone admits they’ve been raped to a near stranger, he thought. He did want to understand the situation in full, but the more he heard, the more he realized it was exactly like it looked: she was a battered wife. He wasn’t sure if they were even married, but four and a half years is a long time to be beaten up again and again by an asshole. And being raped for over two years was something that tied his stomach in knots. He wanted to kill the man for what he did. His job was easy enough now. If push came to shove, the man would be dead. He knew this woman would tell the courts it was absolutely self-defense of a trespasser, because it would be.

Psycho Boy Ben didn’t have her address. He’d have to get it from a friend. Damn, he thought. Did she tell anyone where she was? He found himself asking without second thought. She shook her head at him. “I just… ghosted everyone. Only one person was worth their weight, but I couldn’t take the chance of being found out. I told everyone I went home to my parents and that was that. Most of them just know the state… but the problem is, I took him back there once or maybe twice. I can’t remember… I thought it was only one time for a long time, but now I question it like I question everything else.”

She sighed and continued, “I hate double-guessing myself. I never used to be this unsteady.” She started crying again, noiseless tears rolling down her cheeks steadily if not also quickly. His heart melted, going out to her in that moment. He had a period in his life, too, where he second-guessed everything. It was extremely frustrating, to say the least. He found it interesting she’d said double instead of second.

“Please say you’ll stay,” she half-whispered, not even trying to look at him. Her eyes were fixed on an invisible spot on the table. “You seem like the man for the job. What I said earlier still stands, but I realize you must have a firearm if you mentioned it. I don’t. I’ve never even dreamed of owning a gun before a month ago. I don’t want to own one, either. Not ever. I’m a pacifist. I never even hit that man for what he did to me.”

Somebody Else by Katelyn Tarver on Spotify

She retrieved her phone from her jeans pocket in that moment. He watched her curiously as she tapped around rapidly. He thought she might be sending a text to someone. Maybe she had a friend in the wings in case this day had gone sour, someone to rescue her from him if necessary. The message was too short, though, she’d only typed out one or two words before tapping some more. Suddenly, a song he’d never heard began to play from her phone. That thing had pretty good audio, he thought as the song opened up.

Don’t know what I wanna do tonight
Sick of feeling like I’m picking fights
I get mad at almost everything
No, I’m not the way I used to be
I just want somebody to tell me that I’m okay
Yeah, I want someone to tell me that I’m okay
Some peace of mind
Is all I’m trying to find
Tell friends I’m fine
But I feel broken inside
I wanna be somebody else
Somebody who’s not scared as hell
Somebody who don’t second guess themselves

Yeah, I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be like that
Never used to think about it much
I just took it all for what it was
Now all I do is think about
How it’s never really working out
I just want someone to tell me that I’m okay
Yeah, I want someone to tell me that I’m okay
Some peace of mind
Is all I’m trying to find
(Some peace of mind, some peace of mind)
Tell friends I’m fine
But I feel broken inside
(Broken inside, broken inside)
I wanna be somebody else
Somebody who’s not scared as hell
Somebody who don’t second guess themselves

Yeah, I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be like that
I wanna be somebody else
Somebody who’s not scared as hell
Somebody who don’t second guess themselves
Yeah, I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be like that
Feel the wind start to change
Take me through the night
Now I’m not far away
From the brightest side
I wanna be somebody else
Somebody who’s not scared as hell
Somebody who don’t second guess themselves

Yeah, I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be like that
I wanna be somebody else
Somebody who’s not scared as hell
Somebody who don’t second guess themselves

Yeah, I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be like that
Feel the wind start to change
Take me through the night
Now I’m not far away
From the brightest side

Katelyn Tarver’s Somebody Else (lyrics)

As if the song wasn’t impactful enough on its own, he could hear her singing along under her breath with the refrain. It hit him in the feels all over again, jerking more tears out of him. He wondered if she was playing him on purpose. Her countenance was sullen and she was ignoring him as she had her moment by herself, as if she was oblivious he was still sitting there.

She sighed heavily and turned her phone off at the culmination of the song. She dried her tears again and stood up to pace around the kitchen. She glanced at her window and saw her blinds weren’t yet shut, so she drew them closed. “I hate hiding from an asshole who hurt me. I didn’t do anything to him! I keep trying to figure out if I did something terrible or not, but I have drawn a blank for over a year now, Diego,” she said. Apparently she’d forgotten his name was Daniel. That made him shoot out of his chair, standing on his feet.

He wanted to go to her, but he stopped himself. He didn’t want to crowd her or make her feel uncomfortable. He didn’t want to force his presence on her. She blinked a few times and looked at him. She spoke first, “Oh, sorry, do you need another beer? I’m already up, I can get it.” She meandered to the refrigerator to pull out the fourth. That would make six for him. They were well spaced out, but he thought he should stop after that if he was going to remain a gentleman. She’d stopped drinking almost an hour ago, so he should follow suit, he thought.

“Diego… no, wait, you said your name is Daniel. I’m sorry… I have this weird thing with names getting stuck in my head,” she said as she waved a hand around next to her left ear. “In fact…” She sighed heavily as she set the beer next to him. “No, maybe I should stop telling you my sob story. I don’t like complaining. It’s not your burden to bear.

What on Earth happened to this woman? He was still standing but this time he decided to hold a hand out to her and see if she’d take it. She stared at his hand for a time, silent and motionless. It seemed like an eon as she stood there, dumbly staring at his offered hand. In fact, he almost put it back down before she moved. She slid her hand into his, still staring.

“I… don’t understand,” she said. Daniel cried and pulled on her hand, gently urging her to step closer, or trying to. Her arm simply extended, however, instead of her body following.

“May I comfort you, lovely woman?” he asked. Her arm must have gotten tired or something, he thought, because she shuffled closer to him. Then a little closer still. “Is a hug alright?” he asked her. She nodded, not looking him in the face yet. He knew in that moment there had to be a lot more to her history than she’d told so far. His heart was breaking for her. This was not the usual conversation, not the usual kind of evening, not the usual anything. He put her arms around him and then his arms around her.

She was stiff for a long time, but didn’t move away. He kissed her hair and just held her there. He was either the biggest sucker on the planet or she was really a doll that was scarred on the inside. He’d find out sooner or later, though nothing she said or did betrayed manipulation. If she was playing him, she was a pro.

Eventually, her arms became less limp around him and she applied light pressure. It seemed like it took minutes for that to happen, though. She was shattered, she had to be. He wanted to hurt every asshole who ever hurt her in that moment, but he stuffed that anger down to pay attention to the moment. He didn’t dare move his arms, so he kept them still, keeping the same pressure he’d begun with. He wished his couch was already here so they could be seated side by side, but alas, there were only two chairs he’d seen.

“I have bad news,” she said. “I need the bathroom.” She slowly let go of him and looked at him as she pulled away. “Thank you, that was nice.” She looked away again before scurrying down the hallway to the restroom. He decided it was a great time to let Max into the yard again and put down a bit more food for him. He probably should use the facilities himself once she returned.

It seemed like she returned from the bathroom much faster than she’d given into the hug. How long had they stood there while she was lifeless, he wondered? He could have looked at the clock on the wall, but he never did.

“I’ll be right back myself. Would you mind listening for Max? He’s in the yard.” She nodded and went out into the yard before he even got to the bathroom, actually.

Crystal crouched down next to the doggo as he wagged his tail so energetically that his rear end went both left and right. “I love your enthusiasm, Max,” she told him as she pet him steadily. “What do you think of Di… Daniel? Is he a good guy?” she asked her former puppy. “Let me look at all of you, buddy. Will you lay down?” Max, eager to please, plopped onto his side and looked up at her lovingly.

“Well, you’re about the same weight as when I gave you up, so that looks pretty good. I saw your teeth look good earlier and the rest. What about your paws, buddy?” she spoke to him calmly as she inspected him. Her patio door was so quiet, she didn’t hear it open or slide close again as she spoke to Maximilian. It didn’t help that one of her neighbors had a radio on, playing rock music at a medium loudness. She inspected each paw, checking the length of his nails. She’d always taken him to the vet to get them cut. He loved car rides, so it was no big deal to him.

“So did you learn any new tricks with him or what?” she asked the dog, as if he’d give her some sort of answer.

“Just stay, I think,” Daniel said from behind her. He wasn’t that close or that loud, but he half-expected her to jump to her feet, if she was as traumatized as he thought she might be.

“Ah, Daniel… Will you help me up? My knee is stuck. I really hate what’s left of my body,” she said. That stood out in his mind. What did she mean, what’s left of her body? He walked to stand in front of her and offer her a hand, staying quiet as he helped her to her feet once more. “Thanks,” she said and started rubbing her left knee as she stood there.

He chose to take the bait, if that’s what it was. “What do you mean, what’s left of your body?” He didn’t let go of her hand and she didn’t let go of his, either.

“Oh… I lost about one hundred and fifty pounds and my dignity,” she replied. He gawked at her. One hundred and fifty pounds? Is that how that motherfucker justified hurting her? “The more weight I lost, the more Ben wanted to keep me, I think… It got to the point where I would be in a store, looking at a display, and he’d come up to my elbow real fast to pull me away. The store clerks started asking me if it was okay he was doing that. I asked myself why my friends weren’t asking me if I’m okay with him, and that’s when I started distancing from them all.”

He still couldn’t tell if she was reading his mind, but he didn’t care. He wanted to bash that asshole’s face in with a hefty flashlight. He really was the man for this job, it turned out.

“Not to change the subject,” he began gently, “But are there any gentleman callers you expect around here?” He tried to touch her chin tenderly and turn her gaze on him so he could look her in the eye as she answered.

“No, D… Daniel,” she said, looking into his eyes and looking fierce suddenly. “I’m not interested in that right now.”

God Only Knows by For King & Country on Spotify

He nodded and held an arm out to offer her another hug. She just stared at it, her mouth set in a thin line. She let go of his hand instead. He sensed he made a wrong move, so he tried to explain himself, “I just wanted to know if I can assume any male intruder is Psycho Boy Ben.” She paused on her way to the patio door and looked at him.

“I’ve had enough for now,” she declared and went into the house, closing the door gently behind her. She took one of the bottles of wine and a glass and started walking upstairs to her bedroom.

“Uh… hey, wait a minute! Won’t you lock me out?” he asked before she got too far away. She looked at him, then set her wine bottle and glass down. She reached into her pocket and took a key off her key ring before throwing it at him unceremoniously. It bounced off him and clattered somewhere out of sight as he stared at her in disbelief. He thought about telling her she needed the corkscrew, but he saw it peeking out of her back pocket.

“Do it yourself, roomie,” she declared and resumed trudging up the stairs. He could tell it wasn’t that easy for her to climb the stairs because she had a falter in her gait. He waited, listening to her unsteady ascension to the third floor. He nodded to himself, thinking that was better for security reasons, especially if his room was on the way to hers. Before he forgot, he walked to the patio door and locked it. He found the key she had pelted him with and looked around once more.

He took note that the living room had two book shelves on it full of psychology text books and comic books. Large leather bound Absolute Sandman volumes, actually. Those were at the bottom of the shelf while the psychology books were lined up in alphabetical order by author. There was a nice modern lamp there, as well. The bay window had blinds that were closed, thankfully. She did seem to take her security pretty seriously. He’d noticed a Ring doorbell on the front door as they came in, as well.

He thought about adding more cameras for security purposes. Of course, his tiny male lizard brain took off on a flight of fancy involving that woman on camera, but he tried to make it go away. Daniel, he thought to himself, Stop it! She’s a rape victim that’s trying to heal!

Max nudged his hand just then. Oh great, could the dog read his mind, too? He had his leash in his mouth and was wagging his tail back and forth. “Ah, you want to go back to Steph’s now? We can get going, you’re right… I have time to look at all this stuff tomorrow.” He frowned a little, knowing he was going to leave her without the chain in place. Ultimately, chains were of little protection, though. A determined man could find a way inside, no matter what.

He thought about his eight gauge shotgun. Yup, that would stop just about anyone in their tracks. He wondered if she would let him stay for lower rent than what she was asking for so he could get an SUV sooner than later. It made sense to him to have a vehicle himself to get to and from places quickly, should she end up calling him in the future.

He stopped in mid-step. He never got her number. He was just getting ready to leave, but he turned around. Did she leave her phone on the table? He looked hopeful at the black rectangle he could see from the hallway. He picked up her phone and tried to unlock it.

Great, it wanted a fingerprint. He set it down and looked around for a pen and a piece of paper. He found one in the island. It was actually a pad of paper that had the beginnings of a grocery list on it. He carefully tore off the page underneath that and wrote his full name, his current address, and his phone number.

He wanted to write “I love you” but instead he wrote “Please text or call when it’s okay to bring my things.” He turned off the kitchen light as he left the room that time. It was going to bother him all night, failing to write those three little words on that paper.

He shook his head from side to side. He had to be a sucker. There were no bones about it. She even called it a sob story herself. Still… he had the nagging feeling some jackass said that to her in the past and she legitimately believed what she said. That her story was worthless. That meant she thought she was worthless.

Those tears were real, Daniel!’ he reprimanded himself. ‘Don’t you go victim shaming a victim. You weren’t there, you don’t know what went down. The truth of the matter is she picked you because you can offer protection.’

He wondered if she could be tied up with the mafia somehow. That would explain why she stayed so long with such a bastard. She’d used a term he’d never heard before, he thought as he turned off the living room light. He decided to look it up from his ex-wife’s home and locked himself out of Crystal’s house. He’d slipped the key on his own key ring, hoping she had more copies already. He thought about how he ought to make a copy while he waited for her to contact him.

It was 9:30 pm when he arrived at his ex-wife’s. She was just about ready to turn in for the evening, it looked like. She stared at him since he’d been gone an awfully long time – almost seven hours in total. “Where were you?” she asked pointedly.

“Learning all about my new roommate,” he replied. “I got a room and I’m moving out this week. We had a bunch of beers and shot the breeze.” That was more like a gale force wind, of course, but he didn’t want to tell her that.

“Is it a woman?” she asked without couth. He eyed his ex-wife for a minute, wondering why she even gave a shit.

“Yes, my landlord is female,” he said flatly. He was wondering what would happen next, but it didn’t take long for his ex-wife to burst into tears.

“What? Just like that?! You’re moving on?” she screamed and threw the remote at him, hitting Max with her terrible aim. The puppy yelped and hid behind Benjamin, their boy child.

“What the hell, woman?” he roared at her, scaring everyone. “Do not ever throw anything at me or the dog or the children ever again, or I’m taking them all away from you and throwing you on the fucking street.”

She shook her head, looking furious as can be. Like a woman scorned. “You divorced me, might I remind you!” he called after her as she stomped out of the room. It was just like her, too, to leave the cleanup of her assault to him.

Daniel knelt beside Benjamin and Maximilian. “Hi Benji. How are you doing, kiddo?” he asked his son gently. Max came out from hiding and nudged the boy’s hands. Benji smiled at Max and started petting him, happy to have a furry distraction.

“Hi dad. I’m okay, the remote hit Max. I think Max is okay, too. Are you okay, Max?” Benji asked the dog. He was answered with a few licks to the face, which made him giggle a bit. “Mom sounds really mad. I don’t like it when she’s mad.”

Daniel nodded to respond to Benji’s statement. “She does seem really mad. I think she’s what we’d call jealous, which means she’s mad at the idea that I might get a girlfriend that’s not her some day. And that means somewhere in her, she doesn’t want me to leave, but she kicked me out anyway so I’m going to move out.”

Benji pouted some. “I don’t want you to leave, daddy.” His straightforward innocence was disarming, to say the least. “How often will we see you? When do you leave? Did you mean it? You’re moving out tomorrow?”

“Got a few minutes to sit on the couch with me to talk?” Daniel asked his son. Benjamin nodded and followed him to the couch. “Would you like to sit on my knee, son?” he asked. Benjamin beamed at him and crawled on his knee. “Okay, so it goes like this…”

Because he figured his ex-wife was eavesdropping by now, he decided if she had an ounce of a heart, she’d be hit in the feels by what he said next. If not, well, it was a five year old’s truth.

“I found someone who is looking for a bodyguard and roommate. She said I can move in tomorrow. She lives twenty minutes away on foot, so it’s not very far at all, and I’m going to save up to buy an SUV so I can get here even faster, okay? Your cell phone has my phone number in it already and when I get her number, too, since she didn’t give it to me yet, I’ll ask her if you can have it. That way if you need to talk to someone and I don’t answer right away, she might be free to talk. She works from home, I think, so she should be able to answer questions you have about her, at least. And then you can know all about her, too. She’s a real nice lady and I found out today she owned Max before your aunt Christina owned Max. In fact… he has a trick we didn’t even know about. Do you want to see it?”

Benji nodded emphatically. “Yeah, show me, dad!” He looked at Max expectantly. Daniel noted how messy this place looked in comparison to Sansara’s OCD house as he kicked a toy out of the way so he could make Max play dead.

“Okay, make a finger gun just like this,” he folded the pinky finger, ring finger, and middle finger for Benjamin, leaving his forefinger pointing out and then he lifted his thumb gently. “And then you shake your hand twice like this and say bang bang!” Benjamin beamed as Max fell over and rolled onto his back to play dead for them.

Daniel could almost feel the waves of disapproval coming from Stephanie as she stood in the hallway, watching him be a real parent and picking up the pieces she’d left behind in her anger. He wasn’t exactly sure she was there, but he was sure there would be some mind games on the other side of tonight. He didn’t care much. She threw him away and now she was jealous?

“Can I trust you to teach Stacy how to get Max to play dead later on?” he asked his son. Benjamin was nodding before he even finished asking the question. He was a great kid, he thought again. He wondered if he had to take the kids away from Cheryl if Sansara would be amenable to children in her OCD paradise. He chuckled at himself a bit just then. He could probably just get the house back, he supposed. Still, he didn’t want to leave the woman behind. He really was rather attached to her already. She’d made him feel more like a man in one evening than his ex-wife had during their entire marriage, which had lasted over a decade.

“Is it bed time for you now?” he asked as he saw it was already 9:45 pm. Benjamin nodded and Daniel gingerly stood him up on his feet. “I’ll tuck you in, buddy. Do you want a book tonight or just to talk a little bit?”

“Oh, a book for sure, dad! I love it when you read to me,” he said, nearly bouncing to his bed with his father’s hand in his. Daniel snagged The Book of Unusual Knowledge from his son’s bookshelf and sat next to his bed. He tucked his boy in and opened the book up to a random page to read to his son for the next fifteen minutes.

Beautiful by MercyMe on Spotify

Ultimately, Daniel forgot what the word was that he wanted to look up. Max curled up with his son for the night. He was sure his kids were going to miss the pupper, but there wasn’t much he could do about that now. His wife had decided to exile him to the best of her ability. He sensed a storm on the horizon when it came to that. She was going to stalk him back to his apartment, confront his landlord about sex with him, or impersonate her son and text the woman herself. He had a bad feeling about it, but what could he do to stop her from being this way? Shoot her, maybe, but he still had some love left in his heart.

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