Please enjoy another short story on our heroine from The Body Hunters and The Body Hunters: Paradise Denied.
“Mama, I don’t want to go!” A pouting ten year old Danny informed her mother under no uncertain terms was she going to the sports exhibition expo in New Orleans. She threw herself on her bed tossing a throw pillow across the room.
Julianna Labouleaux rubbed her temples with her delicate fingers. “Danielle, may I remind you that you are the one who wanted to play soccer? “
“To play not be stared at like I’m some freakazoid!”
“Darling, you should be proud, you are the only girl on the team and the best goalie they have. Your coach just wants to show you off a bit. How about you do it for your team honey?”
Danny hated to be the center of attention and hated being told what to do even more. Rolling her eyes and folding her arms across her chest was her international sign for ‘I don’t care what you think, I’m not doing it.’
Julianna sighed in defeat. “Darling it’s up to you, but right now I have to pack.”
“Are you leaving again mama?” Danny looked up at her mother’s violet eyes feeling a bit hurt.
Pain overtook Julianna’s heart, squeezing every last ounce of guilt out of her. “It’s just for a few days.” She looked away from her daughter’s silently pleading eyes.
“Is Daddy going with you?”
Julianna took her child’s face in her hands. “Not this time honey, he’ll be home and your Grandmere says she’s taking you to the zoo. I’ll try my best to be home to see you compete at the exhibition, that is of course if you decide to participate.”
“That’s what you said the last time you signed me up for ballet lessons and then didn’t show up for my recital!” Danny barked pushing her mother’s hands away from her face.
“Danielle!” A loud booming voice reverberated in her room, the imposing figure of her father, Marcel stood in the doorway.
Julianna hurriedly walked over to Marcel placing a soft hand on his chest to calm him.
“Marc it’s alright, she’s just a little upset and you can’t blame her.” Her light touch always did the trick. “Please talk to her about the exhibition, her coach has already signed her up.” She gave him a quick kiss on his lips as she left Danny’s bedroom.
Marcel plopped himself down next to Danny on her bed. Her golden brown skin and eyes matched his and the emotions she held behind her eyes contained a lot of awe and a smidge of fear of him. He put his strong arm around her. “Danny, please be more respectful of your mother, she doesn’t want to leave you.”
“Then why is she going again?” Danny didn’t know whether to scream or cry.
Marcel hugged her close. “You know sometimes she has to go away and help her family.”
“She says you’re not going this time. Are you really staying home?”
“Yes but I have to work so your Grandmere will watch you and take you to soccer practice.”
“And the zoo?” She asked as she crawled into her dad’s lap.
“Yes baby girl and the zoo. But only if you do the exhibition.”
The only thing Danny loved more than being in Grandmere’s restaurant reveling in the delicious smells and excitement of the busy kitchen was the zoo. Taking pictures of the animals was her favorite hobby since she could look at them over and over without being dragged into the spirit realm dealing with the ‘ghosties’, as she and Grandmere put it.
She had in fact had several of her animal pictures blown up and plastered all over her walls since, as she discovered, any pictures of humans could transport her at anytime to relive past memories or visit with the deceased. Like her grandmere, Danny was blessed with psychic skills.
“Isn’t that bribing daddy? Didn’t you say to bribe someone was a crime? Like that case you were working on with Uncle Ryan?” Uncle Ryan to Danny was her father’s FBI partner for the last six years.
Marcel nodded his head. “Yes, you’re right baby girl, but I would really like it if you did the exhibition, it’ll be fun and I’ll get to take lots of pictures and brag on you.” He kissed the top of her head.
“Mama says she’ll be there, do you think she will? She tells me that all the time and then never shows up.”
“I’ll tell you what, what do we do when you make us a promise and don’t keep it?”
Danny pondered for a moment resting her head on his chest. “I get grounded and you take my TV away.”
“Ok, so if mama doesn’t show when she promised then you get to ground her and she has to watch cartoons with you all day.”
“And eat any kind of ice cream I want?” She asked her bright eyes wide with delight.
Marcel laughed. “Yes and any ice cream you’d like.”
“You really shouldn’t promise her things like that Marc.” Julianna advised as she brushed her long raven colored hair at her vanity mirror.
Marcel stared at his wife’s reflection in her mirror, His own eyes looking heavy and weary.
“Honey, what am I supposed to say to her? Just promise me you’ll do your best to be home for her competition you know she craves your attention.”
Julianna dropped her brush on the table and lowered her head covering her misty violet eyes with her hair. She knew he hated to see her cry, but she wasn’t fooling him. Lifting her up off her chair he held her close nuzzling her neck.
“I want to be there, you know that but you know that every time there is a chance that something can go wrong.” She cried.
He did his best to console her “Julie, you are the best at what you do so don’t talk like that; someday this will all be over.”
“Someday, someday feels like a long way off. When she’s an adult we will have to tell her the truth, I can’t imagine what that conversation is going to be like.”
Marcel took her head in his hands. “Like you said that’s a long way off; let’s not worry about it tonight.” He kissed her deeply as she melted into his arms.
“Lose these!” She whispered in his ear tugging at his shorts.
Marcel smiled. “Yes ma’am!”
Danny tiptoed back to her room confident mom and dad hadn’t seen her, crawling back into her bed she hugged her big teddy bear that Marcel had won for her at a local summer fair. She fell asleep wondering what her mother meant by ‘possibly go wrong’.
“Cher? Come now we have to get to the field, you’re up soon.” Grandmere Marie grabbed Danny’s hand leading her to her coach.
“I’m OK grandmere you go sit with daddy. Make sure he takes plenty of pictures for mama.”
“OK, you don’t be nervous. Just do your best sweetheart.” The older woman gave her a kiss and left for the sideline of the soccer field.
The New Orleans Sports Expo was a big event and school teams from all over the U.S were invited to compete for championship titles in various sports in all age groups. Danny was in the ten and under soccer division. She held the awe of her coach Duncan Stewart, a stout Scotsman with a heavy accent. He had tried in vain to tell her it was a brogue not an accent, but as he told her, as long as she could keep goal like that, then she could call it whatever she wanted.
Danny hated to admit it but the ballet lessons her mother forced her to take actually paid off making her light and fast on her feet. She had even won the respect and admiration of the boys on the team after being placed with them when there were no openings left in the girls division. Marcel had demanded that his little girl be given the right to play. The sports director just figured she’d give up and quit against the boys when it got too rough, but coach Duncan Stewart found out better the first time she dove for a block.
“Wait here lass.” Duncan ordered as he went to see when her turn was up.
Several young rowdy teenage boys caught Danny’s attention chanting in the corridor saying words that were foreign to her and stomping on the ground beating their chests. Danny walked over to the boys to watch the display closer.
“Aloha!” a few of the boys called out to her.
“What does that mean?” she asked in her shy southern tone.
One of the tall boys answered her. “It means hello.”
“What were you doing?” She asked of the group.
One of the teens, a tall muscular young man with a skin tone that almost matched hers came forward. “It’s a war chant, we do it before all our games, Shorty.“
“I’ve never heard anything like it before. Do you play soccer?” She asked mesmerized by his blue eyes that were partially being covered by his long dark hair.
“Shorty we play a real game, rugby.”
Danny was offended. “Soccer’s real!“
The big teenager laughed kneeling down to her. “Do you even know what rugby is shorty?”
“It’s like football but much tougher. Grrrrr.” He growled at her as he made a face squinting his eyes and sticking out his tongue, putting his hands up to look like bear claws. She took a cautious step back. A worried look crossed his face. “I’m sorry shorty did I scare you?
“No!” She said in a small voice, but in truth the big teenager did scare her.
“What are you here for Shorty?” he asked.
“My name is Danielle not Shorty and I’m in a goalie competition; it’s between me and another boy to see who can keep the most soccer balls out of the goal and i’m going to win.”
“You against a boy? No offense, but a little Nani like you doesn’t stand a chance. You’re a skinny little string bean. Did you lose your front teeth to a soccer ball?”
Danny instinctively covered her mouth feeling embarrassed.
“No, they just fell out! And I am just as good as any boy! You don’t have to be such a jerk! At least I don’t have a caterpillar growing on my face!” She pinched his arm hard.
“Ow, damn Shorty that hurt!” He bellowed.
Uproarious laughter and the sharp sound of thigh slapping from his teammates ensued as he stood up to yell at them. “Shut up okole pukas!”
“Hey I think she likes you! better watch out that Kailani doesn’t see you with her, she’ll be jealous brah!” His buddy chided.
Another teammate chimed in. “You should dump Kailani for this feisty little one, looks like she can keep you in line Brah!”
The big teenager with the blue eyes saluted his teammates with his middle finger.
“Danielle you’re up lass!” Duncan Stewart motioned for her to come towards the field. Danny started to run to her coach.
“Hey little Nani, hang loose and good luck!” The big teenager with the blue eyes held up his hand like a fist with only his thumb and pinky fingers up.
Danny mimicked the gesture as the big teen smiled back at her.
“It’s a nice trophy Danny.” Julianna said as her daughter slid into bed.
“Were you there for all of it?” Danny asked hugging her teddy bear.
Julianna smiled at her. “Most of it, I’m so proud of you sweetheart!”
“I’m glad you were able to make it mama, I was afraid you wouldn’t show at all. I guess this means you don’t have eat ice cream and watch cartoons with me.” Danny sighed disappointedly.
Julianna kissed her forehead. “I don’t know about that, I think that sounds like fun. Maybe we can do each other’s hair and paint our toes too?”
“Ugh!” Was all Danny could muster at the thought of her mother suggesting girly activities. “Mama, what does this mean?” She showed her the gesture the young teenager had made with his hands.
“It’s Hawaiian; it means take it easy I think, where did you learn that?”
“A boy. What does okole puka mean?”
Julianna gave her a disapproving frown. “Did you hear that from that boy too?” Danny nodded. “Never you mind what it means.”
“What about Nani? Is that bad too?”
Julianna brushed Danny’s hair back from her face. “I think it means pretty. Sounds like you got a boyfriend at that competition.” Julianna teased.
Julianna laughed. “Old! How old?”
“Not like you and daddy old, but like one of those teenagers grandmere complains about that work in the restaurant. He called me little Nani.”
“I don’t know, sounds you like him! We’re not going to have to plan a wedding are we?” She teased.
Danny giggled at mother’s comment. “No mama!”
“Good because I don’t think your daddy is ready for you to get married just yet.” Julianna brought her blanket up to her chest and tucked her in. She gave her a kiss and turned out her side table lamp. “Goodnight darling.”
Danny opened her eyes shaking off the chill in her body and cobweb’s in her brain. It was the same after every visit to the spirit realm. She dropped the high school team photo of a bunch of muscular teenage boys in their team jerseys holding a very large trophy. She had pulled the photo out of a box in the basement mislabeled ‘kitchen stuff’. Photographs were her psychic gateway into the spirit realm.
She had been sorting the final boxes in storage since moving into the Savannah home almost a year ago not realizing the box she opened was not her own. She fingered the photograph a moment longer resting her finger near a familiar face. Putting the picture aside she dug back into the box and pulled out a red jersey that had a silhouetted tropical floral pattern in the background and Polynesian tribal markings that ran down along the left side. On the back of the shirt was the name STONE with the number 25.
Oh my God! She thought to herself, no freaking way! She held the jersey close to her chest. Searching again inside the box she found his class ring and a picture of him, his father Joseph Stone and his mother Anna Stone smiling as they all three held a large trophy together. Aiden’s father was native Hawaiian and it was clear from the photo that he took after his father in his physique and his naturally exotic but rugged good looks. He also shared many of his mother’s African American and Irish features, none more than her ocean blue eyes that glowed almost luminescent from the picture in the filtered basement light. They seemed to be staring into Danny’s soul. A soft female voice entered her thoughts. Sometimes we have to look to the past to see our future. She was startled by the voice realizing it wasn’t her own. She looked down at the t-shirt she was wearing, a favorite one she had worn for years that was a gift from her now ex-husband. He had given it to her on their first date. She slipped it off and replaced it with the jersey. As she suspected it was too big for her but in her mind it fit like a glove.
“Nani? Nani?” Aiden bellowed for her from the side kitchen door that led to the outside garden path.
“I don’t think the neighbors heard you, can you yell louder, please?” she mocked. “What do you want?” She barked at him sticking her head out the door.
Aiden stood by the large outdoor garbage can and held up her favorite AC/DC t-shirt. “Why are you throwing this away?”
“I found something new I liked and figured it was about time I let go of the past.”
Confusion crossed his face. “Really? You’re really going to throw your favorite tee away? What could possibly replace this?”
Danny opened the kitchen door wide to fully reveal his old jersey. “It’s okay isn’t it Big Daddy?” She strode up to him wrapping her arms around his waist.
“Oh my God! My rugby jersey from high school! I thought I lost it, where did you find it?” He asked as he embraced her tightly.
“Some idiot put it in a box of old memento’s and labeled it ‘kitchen stuff’”
Aiden laughed. “Yeah I was pretty drunk when I packed up the apartment, but Nani are you sure you want to throw this away?” He held up the t-shirt again. “This shirt holds a lot of memories for you.”
“I think it’s time for me to make new ones.” She reached her arms up around his neck and pulled herself up to his 6′ 4″ frame wrapping her legs around his waist. He let the shirt fall back in the trash as he wrapped his strong arms around her. Holding her close to him as they shared a deep kiss.