Daria was thrilled that her friends were throwing her a birthday party. She was an introvert to the very core, but having everyone together for an afternoon sounded like a blast. She knew her best friend would make it fun. Her best friend Ginni was an extrovert to the T and always brought out the best in Daria.
She chose a swim suit, eager to enjoy the heat of the day in the cool of her friends’ pool. Or, at the very least get a good tan before fall rolled back around. She studied her choices, carefully considering which would best hide the scars, the flaws that were so old they were barely visible, but she felt them with a keen intensity nonetheless. She wanted to have fun today, so she chose her neon yellow bathing suit and a beautiful sarong to cover up with outside the pool. That should do it.
She found a pair of flip flops and her favorite beach towel and headed over to Ginni’s. She was right on time, something drilled into her brain since before she could remember. She paced herself so she arrived exactly at 2:00pm, the time prescribed in the invites dear Ginni sent out on her behalf.
She walked into the large house without knocking. They had been best friends for so long they were like family. She shut the door and started to scurry across the dark room to reach the patio on the other side. She was midway through the room when the lights turned on and people from every angle jumped up and shouted, “Happy Birthday!”
She screamed a blood curdling I’m about to die scream, instinctively crouching down into a submissive stance. Her blood was pounding, her heart was racing, and she tried to force her brainwaves to move accurately so she could assess the situation. She looked around and saw dozens of familiar faces, now laughing at her overreaction, and cringed inwardly.
It was a surprise party that she had known about. Fricken Ginni and her fun surprises. Daria calmed her breathing, plastered the fake smile on her face and tried to act as calm as possible, pretending to laugh with the others at her overreaction. They wished her well, slapped her on the back, and crowded her bubble in general.
Most people would love this, she told herself. Most people would be so thankful to be surrounded by so many people they loved, hugging and patting backs, but it brought back mental nightmares for her. As she kept her fake smile plastered, she pushed back memories of being so incredibly hurt by those simple acts, the incredible amount of manipulation and certain threats those simple gestures meant by others who were supposed to love her but didn’t, or possibly couldn’t.
She smiled for their sake, and to prevent the questions that would inevitably follow, or the looks of pity that would come from those who knew. Ginni knew, but she didn’t really know. Ginni knew life wasn’t so great for her as a child, but Ginni had no idea how something this fun and positive could directly affect Daria so deeply. How the unexpected eruption put her on edge, waiting for the drunken rage to follow from those that should instead be protecting her.
She could rationalize this now as an adult and calmed herself down, but back then she just felt unloved, unworthy of love, unprotected and uncared for. She moved out before she even turned 18, and had fibbed on her potential apartment applications. She lived above the restaurant where she worked, and she worked nonstop to save enough for college tuition. She had done it all on her own, but it had taken every ounce of her character to make it happen. She worked forty hours plus per week on top of a full credit load, and she rarely had time to mingle or date.
It showed in her professional life now. She had done well in her first job, earning a quick promotion, and she earned plenty to purchase a small home for herself. Most days it felt like a trophy and also a bit like a big ol’ f.u. to all those who doubted her or told her she wasn’t good enough.
Other days it felt too big, too empty, and short on love. She longed to meet someone she could share her soul with, someone who would love her despite her flaws so she wouldn’t feel the need to hide them, to prevent the inevitable heartbreak that would follow once potential suitors saw how ugly she was, how disgusting her story was and how she still carried that baggage all these years later, too weak to open the memories and face them head on with an adult maturity to guide the thoughts that went with them.
Friggs. She was standing at the kitchen sink looking out poolside. Instead of enjoying the day, she was mentally diminishing herself. She had let herself get drawn into the past with a simple “Happy Birthday,” and she had no one to blame for that but herself. She had to pull it together and get out there before people started to notice. The last thing she wanted was to be at the center of attention.
Eliason was glad he had come to Ginni’s party today. He wasn’t sure why she had asked, but a day at the pool with his buddies in this heat sounded like the perfect afternoon. He had gotten there early enough to take a dip in the pool before the guest of honor showed up, and a few minutes before two he toweled off and joined the crowd hiding behind furniture and around walls in the main room.
When she first opened the door and he laid eyes on Daria, his heart skipped a beat. She was the most peaceful looking, beautiful brunette he had ever seen. She had a genuine smile, a spark in her eye, and a piqued curiosity as she darted across the room. He wanted to capture that moment and remember it forever, her sweet yellow bathing suit filled out just right, the sexy sarong showing off her curves, the flip flops over her perfectly manicured toes.
But then he saw, he saw what so many people dismissed. He saw the fear, he saw the natural reaction, he saw the pain. Everyone heard her scream, but it pierced him in half. Everyone laughed at her reaction while he recoiled. Most people had no idea, most people only saw skin deep, but he had a trained eye, and he saw her story flash across her features before she withdrew into herself and put on a plastic smile, nothing like the joy that had first entered the room.
He had made it out to the pool with the rest but the gnawing feeling in his gut wouldn’t leave. He wanted to meet her, to speak to her, to learn her story, but she was nowhere in sight.
Ginni had brought out the cake in grand fashion, and soon everyone would be looking for the birthday girl. He went to find her, to give her the heads up before the laser focus resumed back on her.
He didn’t have to look far as she was still in the kitchen. She was slicing something on the counter, and he announced himself. “Hi! I’m Eliason, but everyone calls me Eli.”
She paused long enough to look over at him, and then she gave him a very thorough inspection, which he appreciated. A smile crept over her lips. Her voice, as sweet as he imagined it would be, sung out, “Nice to meet you, Eli, I’m Daria,” and she continued slicing the avocado. He staved his reaction to shake her hand. He respected her space.
“I think they’ll be looking for you soon. Ginni just brought out the cake” he said, wishing he had more time to start a more personal conversation.
“Yes, I’m just finishing up here and then I’ll make my way out,” she said. He could listen to her voice for hours. She could recite the alphabet and keep his attention the whole while. Her lips were a rare pink, and he drawn to her in every sense.
Feeling nervous, he brought his hand up to readjust his baseball cap. He barely caught it, but she flinched. The knife stopped working, and she took a determined breath. He felt bad and stepped over to her. “The birthday girl shouldn’t be working, here, let me help.” She looked up at him, but acquiesced and let him take over. However, she didn’t go too far.
“Why thank you, but it’s no big deal, I could have…” she started, but he interrupted. “I’m happy to help. You better get on out there before Ginni comes looking for you,” he said with a wink, and with that she made her way out of the kitchen to the pool.
He watched her through the window. She had a smile despite the tension in her muscles. She followed all the steps to blowing out the candles and slicing the cake, but the movements were robotic and forced. He wondered what made her this way. What made her go through the motions when she so clearly wasn’t feeling it, or what made her so strong that she agreed to this in the first place, knowing it was out of her comfort zone?
Daria nearly cut her damn finger off when he brought his hand up to his hat. He was just readjusting the hat, something every male she had ever known did, but she was already on edge and so many memories came flooding back. She was trying to fight the internal storm so much that she forgot to fake it. She forgot to not flinch to his raised hand. Although he didn’t say anything, she knew he had seen. His eyes grew softer and he offered to help. She was happy at that point to give up the sharp object, hating herself for her weakness.
She made her way out to the pool, and Ginni cheerfully greeted her with the cake, asking her if she had yet met another special guest, Eliason, that she invited purely for Daria’s pleasure. Daria blushed as everyone sang the traditional birthday song. As she looked around the crowd, she noticed Eli had made his way out.
She felt a need to talk to him again, to prove to him that she wasn’t a wimpy noodle. When the pleasantries of the cake had passed and people made their way back to the water, she found her feet making a trail straight to Eli. He seemed to welcome her, though she had a hard time focusing on his face when so much brawn was bare for her to enjoy.
“Thank you, by the way,” she said, trying to clear her mind of the naughty thoughts that would keep her awake tonight. “I made it just in time,” she said with a wink.
Oh, he loved this side of sweet Daria. She was relaxed and her amber eyes turned to liquid gold as she took him in, giving him a wink. He felt his body reacting to her sensual, graceful moves. She carried herself with such grace and beauty he was astounded.
He also remembered she hadn’t made it to the pool yet at her own pool party. He would have to rectify that. “I was just thinking about taking a swim, care to join me?” he found himself asking, more than a little hopeful that she would say yes. He watched anguish cross her features momentarily before she nodded, the same anguish many of the victims he dealt with at his police station expressed when facing a difficult decision. He didn’t think it was a difficult question, and it left him a bit baffled.
“I would love to,” she sang out.
“Or we could just dip our toes in,” he offered, trying to avoid her discomfort. The sparkle instantly returned to her eyes, and he knew she would accept.
“Even better” she said with a smile. Without preemption she took his hand and led him to her towel, and then to the pool where she laid it out wide enough for them both to sit on, avoiding the burn of the hot cement on the side of the pool.
He dipped his toes in, his swim shorts giving plenty of room. She pulled her sarong up far enough that it didn’t get wet when she put her delicate legs into the water. She had tan skin, the kind of tan that let him know she would have natural tan lines somewhere, and the thought of discovering them himself turned him on.
She easily slid into conversation about the weather and the local political race and what a good friend Ginni was to her. She had this electricity that every time she spoke, he wanted to hear more. He wanted to know more about her, and he found himself widening his arm behind him in an effort to move closer to her, as if he could absorb her into his soul if he just sat close enough.
She didn’t back away, that is until she asked about his profession. She blanched when he told her he was a deputy at the local sheriff’s department. Her body stiffened and her speech became a bit more rigid. He wondered why his profession made her so nervous. He couldn’t imagine her having a criminal bone in her body, and his skills were pretty honed in that area.
She finally looked him straight in the eye with a determination he hadn’t seen in her yet and boldly asked, “Tell me straight up, honestly, what is your first impression of me?”
Well, that was a loaded question. If he had any chance with her at all, she clearly needed honesty, so he went about it. “My first impression of you was that you were the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.”
She guffawed at that and playfully swatted his shoulder. “I said honestly, as in, tell the truth officer,” she said with a giggle.
He put his right hand in the air and solemnly swore he was “telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” She rolled her eyes and returned her gaze to the blue of the water.
“I noticed your smile, and your brown eyes straight off,” he said, making himself vulnerable but needing to build her up. “I then noticed your reaction to the surprise, telling me that you are not a big fan of surprises, or loud noises, or people shouting. I noticed how quickly you pulled yourself together, bluffing nearly everyone in the room into thinking you were OK when you clearly were not.” This got her attention, and she brought her gaze over to his legs, not quite able to reach his eyes, but trying.
“I noticed you weren’t outside with the rest of the guests,” he continued, “and I noticed you were deep in thought when I approached you in the kitchen. I noticed you had no family here, so they either live far away or you are not close. I noticed what a sexy color yellow is on your beautiful skin, and I noticed that your eyes turn golden from amber when your eyes see my skin.” She made it to his eyes, the intensity of her golden eyes glowing. He wondered if anyone was ever honest with her, or if everyone tip toed around her.
“I felt bad when I unintentionally scared you,” he went on, wanting to fill the lull, but also wanting to take advantage o it. “and I want to make up for it. I see this light in you that draws me like a moth to flame. When you speak, your voice lures me in a way I’ve never experienced before. I hope to never scare you again, but as you proved today that even if I blunder, you are quick to forgive and forget, a character trait I most admire.”
He saw her cheeks were flush, and her next sentence came out in barely a whisper. “I don’t know what to say. I appreciate your honesty. That’s a character trait I admire most.”
“Is it enough to get you to say yes to a date?” he asked, hoping for a yes, bracing for a no. He could handle a no, he would just take things more slowly, give her more room, but he knew in his heart he would always want to pursue her.
“Well,” she started, quickly darting her eyes to the gentleman coming towards her, “If you would kindly tell this doofus I am taken when he asks me out for the fifteenth time this month, I would be much more likely to play the part,” she said with a wink as the young man came over and plopped himself down next to her.
Daria watched the humor surface in Eli’s eyes. She liked to see the humor, it was easier to take than his intensity or honesty, but she loved all those things about him so far. She was definitely interested, but part of her screamed, you’re not good enough, he already sees right through you, just wait til he finds out for himself. She was able to face this negative self talk and tell it to shut the hell up but once she learned he was a deputy for the local sheriff’s office, she was no longer sure she would be able to play this game. He already saw things in her that most people missed, and he had access to her history, to her childhood, to the times she lied in order to save herself from a beating, lying to those she should have trusted the most.
She momentarily was back in the CPS office, her father hugging her tight, exclaiming that he “would never hurt his daughter, it was unthinkable!” when the unthinkable had happened more often than not. She knew she would be sent back home with him, and instead of telling the CPS and deputy the truth, she said what her father wanted her to say. She said the nicest things, the things that would hopefully stave off a beating that night when he drunk his sorrows away. She was wrong.
She brought herself back as quickly as she could, focusing on the here and now. A future with someone who would find out how worthless she was as a child was probably not in the cards, but rather than skipping out on joy all together, she was willing to risk the inevitable heartbreak for a bit of time feeling like a normal human being. She was more than willing to play the part.
When she heard him tactfully tell Joe that she was taken, in such a way he didn’t even know he was being told to fuck off, she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep the laugh from escaping. Eli might be a hell of a talker, but it was definitely working to her advantage at the moment, and she was thankful.
Of course that also meant she would go on a date with him. That would be no hardship, staring at his well sculpted face and built body. However, it would be hard to guard her heart, to keep herself at arms length when everything about him made her want to do the opposite. When Joe walked away, she wanted to kiss Eli on the spot and thank him for the feat.
He leaned in just a bit closer and whispered in her ear, “Thank you. That was more fun than it should have been.” He was playing with her, yet his voice trickled down her neck and webbed across her body. “Dinner tomorrow? That work for you?”
She smiled and nodded her acceptance. “That sounds great” she said, and meant it.
Little at a time. She would light this little spark and see what grew.