We now hit Chapter 2, and meet Daniel’s girlfriend, Daelin. She knows something strange is going on, that something is about to change. And things certainly will – the moment Daniel returns home.
“Daniel!” Daelin protested. “Are you kissing my neck or trying to suck it dry?”
“Jeez, sorry. I thought you liked it.”
Daniel Dark had been enjoying the time-honored tradition of ‘parking’ with his girlfriend, Daelin. He had taken her out for an evening drive in his beloved 1969 Ford Mustang fastback – gun-metal gray, fitted with Cooper Cobra G/Ts and, as Daelin had so often pointed out, a contender for pole position as the true love of his life – and had found an out-of-the-way clearing by the local reddening woodlands. This was one of the most stunning of the year’s autumnal forests in this part of New England. There, away from the eyes of parents (or anyone else) they began their teenage rituals. Daniel, like the time before, found that licking and sucking at the skin of her neck proved to be of so much enjoyment to him that he almost forgot that his girlfriend had a face.
“God, Daniel,” she rebuffed, not enjoying herself as much as she’d been anticipating. “What’s with you lately? I mean, this month.” They had been going out for nearly two years. It was only recently that she had noted a change in her boyfriend’s behavior.
“Yeah. You’re just so…ravenous.”
He laughed. “And that’s a bad thing?”
“What happened to kissing, huh? We used to kiss. Now it’s all this lips-all-over-my-neck stuff.” Extracting her mobile phone from her jeans pocket, she checked for messages, a clear sign to Daniel that she wanted him to take her home. “I guess it’s just one of those weird boy things. You obviously enjoy it.”
Shoving his fingers back through his mass of dark brown hair, Daniel slumped in his bucket seat and folded his arms. “Yeah, and you didn’t.”
She sighed, trying to find the right words. “It’s like…you don’t see me anymore.”
He took a joint that he then remembered having put behind his ear and stuck it in the corner of his mouth. “Hey, I see you. I love seeing you.” Was this the right thing to say? What the hell is she expecting me to say? Whatever I say, it’ll be wrong.
As always, Daniel said the first thing that came in to his head.
“Want some ace?”
She slapped the proffered joint from his hand. “You know I don’t like that stuff, Daniel. And I don’t think you really like it, either.”
True enough. As usual she was able to read him like a book. He sucked on the occasional joint because it made him look cool, especially when he was in his Mustang. He also did it to piss off his father, Pastor Nathan Dark, who had never actually caught him, though had often smelt the lingering pot odors coming from his son’s room. The stuff made him lethargic and indifferent to just about everything. From the ages of thirteen to seventeen he had been generally so anyway, even without the substance usage. Nothing in his life excited or challenged him. When school had ended the previous year, both parents bombarded him with prospectuses for all the best State colleges. Emerson College, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, and – just kill me – Boston Baptist College. Daniel wasn’t interested. He wanted to take cars apart and get paid for it. Getting a minimum-waged job at a local garage, he became the first grease monkey in the Dark family, much to the mortification of his father. The immaculate Baptist minister and his oil-slick of a son. At least, he consoled himself, Mom seemed to be on his side. She was pleased that he’d found a job he enjoyed. Thank fuck for small mercies.
And then there was Daelin. He’d known her all his life. The one-time tomboy in braids had blossomed. Now, at seventeen, she was slim and ever so slightly taller than Daniel, with shoulder-length honey-blonde hair that shone like silk in the sun. Up until the age of fifteen, a platoon’s worth of teenage boys would ask her out each month. But it was Daniel she had chosen. He couldn’t even remember their first date. They just sort of fell into a relationship, as though it was meant to be. The bank she worked in was right down the street from the garage, and so every day they had lunch together. Often she would bring sandwiches or baguettes she’d made herself. On sunny days they sat on the grass in the town’s small central park. It didn’t matter one bit that this immaculately dressed career girl was shoulder-to-shoulder on a picnic blanket with a boy whose face, hands, and coveralls were smeared with car oil. She accepted him for who he was, and this was who he was. She liked to dampen a napkin with her tongue and dab at the black smudges of grease on Daniel’s forehead and chin. And he liked the little smile on her face as she did it.
Yes, he had Daelin. He had a job that paid an okay wage. He had a secure if often frustrating home life. But something was missing. He just didn’t know what.
One thing he knew was that he loved and cared for Daelin, even if she sometimes didn’t see it.
He drove her home as dusk began to fall over the quiet little suburb. Shifting light patterns from living room windows told the world that TVs were on and couches were full. Cats hurried across the streets in pursuit of their own nocturnal activities. His own house – a modest ranch-style house built in the 1970s – was not all that different from the other houses on Chacato Street, except for the front yard collection of six tiny garden gnome statues so beloved by his mother, and so utterly despised by his father.
Garaging his Mustang, Daniel made his way to the front door.
He wasn’t prepared for what he walked in on.