E I G H T
I sit quietly in front of the warm fireplace staring into its burning embers.
The logs crack and bop, creating an illusion of a beautiful symphony.
Do logs enjoy their lives? Their only purpose is to be thrown into the sweltering heat of a furnace and then burned to a crisp. Eventually, they’re nothing but ash and are soon forgotten.
If only life were that simple.
I pull the furry blanket currently on my shoulders closer around my body, using it as armor from what the outside world holds.
Who would want to do this to me?
I only know a handful of people in this town and those I’ve met never seemed to have an ulterior motive for wanting to hurt me.
Maybe I should’ve stayed back home with my parents. Mom told me I wasn’t ready to be on my own. She always said there was more to the world than what we see from our windows. I thought she was just being clingy, trying to get me to stay home. I guess she was just warning me about the dangers in the world that I was too naive to see.
When dad told me they would cut off communication with me if I left; I thought he was bluffing.
I should have known better. He’s never been one for jokes.
I lay my head back on the ottoman behind me and watch the shadows of the fire flow among the ceiling. What am I doing with my life?
If this is what independence feels like then I don’t think I want it anymore.
No, stop it, Dani.
We’re twenty-six years old for Christ’s sake.
We can handle a bit of trouble here and there. That’s the main reason why we left mom and dads in the first place, so we could prove we could handle our own.
Obviously, we’re not handling it as well as we should right now, but in time everything will smooth right over.
I lift my right hand from under the blanket and gaze at the soft plush doll gripped between my fingers.
Or will it?
Its black buttons shine and reflect from the orange fire almost like they’re mocking me, telling me no matter how far I run I’ll always be trapped in the darkness.
There are no other features on her face which makes it harder to look at.
No lips, no nose, just mocking button eyes that seem to stare deep into my soul.
I run my other hand through her curls, surprised at its softness.
It’s shocking that they were able to find such material that resembled my hair so closely. I pull on one of my own curls and bring it to hers.
Same color same thickness.
Almost a match.
I skeptically bring the doll towards my nose and sniff her auburn locks. Its familiar scent causes alarms to ring loud in my head.
I try to swallow but the dryness of my throat won’t allow this.
I smell the doll’s head again and absolute terror washes over me. Without thinking I throw the doll into the mouth of the fire and clumsily crawl on the ottoman and back away.
I watch as the flames feast on the burning object, causing her to darken and curl into herself.
The sound of approaching footsteps is distant in the back of my mind until a cough makes me look away.
Claire stands in the archway with a tray topped with two tubs of Ben and Jerry vanilla cookie dough ice cream balanced in her arms. She looks from my panicked face to the growing fire as the doll’s deformed face becomes nothing more than burnt fabric.
Claire’s mouth opens but no words come out as she tries to find words to describe what’s going on.
“It had my hair,” I croak out, my wide eyes never leaving hers.
“The doll had your hair?” She asks quizzically as confusion masks her face.
I bob my head up and down dramatically and my vision becomes blurry with tears.
“The-the doll had my hair, Claire.” I sniff and my chin wobbles as I try and hold in a sob. “I smelled the doll’s hair and it smelled like my conditioner. That psycho cut my hair and put it on a fucking doll!” My words slowly get louder with each word. A small sob escapes my lips. “He cut my hair, Claire,” I whisper, looking down.
I probably jumped to the furthest possible conclusion of what happened but my mind is too jumbled to think coherent thoughts at the moment.
Claire sets the tray down on a nearby coffee table and rushes next to my side. She kneels onto her sweatpant covered knees and embraces my whole body, cradling my head to her chest and rocking me back and forth.
“It’s ok. You’re ok,” she says soothingly while rubbing my back, “you’ve been holding all this in, it’s not healthy. Oh, Dani, you should’ve told me.” She uses her long-sleeve shirt to wipe away my steadily streaming tears.
There’s a lot of things I should’ve done now that I think of it. Why am I such a disappointment?
I try to gain a little bit of control before I speak. “I didn’t think they were serious,” I hiccup and my voice wavers a bit.
Claire sighs. “Still you should’ve told me. This must’ve been really stressful to keep it to yourself.”
“And the whole doll thing, they probably guessed what conditioner you use. I don’t think they cut it off your head. That would be crazy.”
Yea, it would be crazy. If that was my hair, which it’s not, that means they somehow found their way inside my room while I was sleeping and could’ve had the opportunity to kill me at any time while I was absolutely oblivious to the world around me.
There’s no way that could’ve happened.
She’s right. She’s always right.
I wipe away my remaining tears and move my head off her chest. I sniffle and pick the lint off my pants from the blanket. “Thank you for letting me stay here with you Claire, you didn’t have to involve yourself with my crazy problems, but you did, and it means a lot.”
She ruffles my hair, “Don’t worry about it kid.” She gives me a side hug and stands. “Now let’s eat some ice cream. This is the one, and only time, you’ll catch me eating a flavor as bland and boring as vanilla, so savor the moment cuz we’re never bringing this up again.”
I laugh and nod my head. “You’re secret is safe with me, I’ll take it to my grave.”
It’s past three in the morning and somehow Claire persuaded me to drink with her.
You can assume how that’s going for us.
“Her and Barry don’t deserve each other, he’s wayyyy out of her league. Get out of here Vanessa Bloome,” she slurs and throws popcorn at the screen, “by the way, stupid name if you ask me.”
Whenever Claire gets drunk, her go-to movie is the Bee Movie. I don’t know why, and I don’t think I would ever want to know why. I just sit back and enjoy the ride, watching her make a fool of herself as she has something new to say about the movie she’s watched thousands of times.
“Hey, hey, hey,” I mumble while grabbing her arm, “give the girl a chance, alright? I mean, she looks pretty freakin’ successful if you ask me.” Why am I encouraging this?
Obviously, I said the wrong thing because Claire rips her arm away and looks at me like I just ran over her cat.
“How could you say such a thing, Dani!” She hiccups. She stumbles to her knees and grabs my shoulders. “He deserves to be with me, I can give him everything he needs, even if he is a BEEEEEE!” She sings and I can’t help but bark out a laugh.
I fall onto my back and hold my aching sides as tears roll down my face. How could she ever please a bee? He’s a bee!
A staggering Claire makes her way on top of me and stares at me while on all fours.
“Dani,” she whispers and pokes my cheek, trying to stop my laughter. “Dani, Dani, I have to ask you something, be serious. Hey, ” she points her index finger to my eye then hers, “serious,” she says.
“Serious serious,” I copy back, opening my eyes as wide as they can go so she can see I’m being super serious.
“Danielle,” Claire says in a sickly sweet voice, “have you talked to Alexander today?” She raises her eyebrows twice in a suggestive manner.
I gasp. I’m such a terrible person. How have I not texted the person I’ve been talking to for weeks. He even decided to stay in town for a bit just so we could get to know each other some more.
What a sweetheart.
I roll over onto my stomach without so much of a word to Claire and army crawl across the floor to my bag.
“Where are you going?” She slurs. I hear a thud from behind me and look back. Claire is on her side looking at me, her face flushed from all the alcohol she’s had.
I point towards my purse. “I have to text Alexander or he’s gonna leave me like Vanessa left Ken.” Then I point to myself, “I don’t want Alex leaving me for a bee. Not even for a talking bee who is handsomely attractive and is already changing the world for the better.” I don’t think I can survive without Alex. He’s so beautiful and sweet and smart.
“Don’t forget muscular,” Claire mumbles, her head now resting against the floor.
Did I say that out loud? Oops.
I continue my way towards my bag and pull out my phone. I clumsily type in the password until the screen unlocks revealing a smiling Alexander.
I took it during one of our dates at a local park. We had gotten hotdogs and I dared him I could eat it all of it in one bite. Obviously, he didn’t believe me and I had to prove him wrong.
I choked. Bad.
He laughed for a solid five minutes, which in that time I was able to snap a quick photo of him and add it as my background. He just looked so happy I couldn’t help myself.
Four notifications pop up, all left from him.
Lumberjack: Hey doll, just checking up on you. Haven’t heard from you since last night and wanted to make sure you got home safe. Text me when you can. (11:08 a.m.)
Lumberjack: Just got some Chinese food which I know you love. You want any? I can pick you up and we can have a romantic night out in my car. I know you’ve been stressing over something and I want to help in any way I can. (5:34 p.m.)
Lumberjack: Did I do something to upset you? If I did I’m so sorry Dani. (10:01 p.m.)
Missed call from Lumberjack (10:10 p.m.)
Oh noooo. He probably thinks I’m upset with him.
I turn around and crawl back to Claire with my phone in hand. Her face is still smushed against the floor with a little drool slipping from her lip.
“Claire,” I whisper. She doesn’t respond. “Claire, wake up I need your help.” I lightly smack her cheek. I swear she was awake not even a few minutes ago.
“What happened? Is the house on fire?” she croaks, her eyes wide.
“No, no, it’s fine. Well, at least I think it’s fine.” I scratch my head. “Claire is your house on fire?”
She shrugs and closes her eyes again. “I guess we’ll figure out in the morning.”
I clutch my phone tighter in my hand. She can’t go to sleep I need her to help me.
I shake her. “Claire, help me, please. It’s an emergency,” turning my phone back on I put the screen right in front of her face so she can read the messages, “I don’t know what to say to him.”
Her eyes widen and then squint. “Shit that screens bright. Just say you love him or something.”
Wait wait wait wait. Love?
“Claire I can’t say that!” I say in exasperation, “He’ll think I’m crazy.”
She groans.“Either he’s gonna think you’re crazy or he’s gonna think you’re mad at him. You only have two options so choose one.” With that, she rolls all the way over and ends the conversation.
Ole wise Claire has spoken.
I climb up onto the couch and sling a nearby blanket over my body. I can do this, just three easy words.
A giant yawn leaves me. I feel sleep on the edge of my consciousness. My thumbs rush to send off the text, not fully paying attention to what I’m writing.
I press send and toss the phone on the floor before rolling to my stomach and falling fast asleep.
Me: I lube poo. (3:36 a.m.)
Happy Valentines Day!!!
For this day I decided to write a quick chapter as a surprise. It’s a bit of a filler chapter but we get to see more of the relationship between Dani and Claire which I absolutely love.
Please make sure to comment and vote!
Hope you enjoyed your time in Joker’s Basement