Chapter 13 – Puppet Strings

 

“Hey Danni.” Cordelia stood as her oldest friend got out of the truck. She waved to Caleb and Rayne who were still sitting in the vehicle. “We need to talk.”

“I guess we do.” Danni’s mood perked up a little; finally, things were going back to normal. Cordelia was here to apologize and things were going to fall back into place. Danni just needed her old friends back. Caleb and Rayne didn’t even bother her that much, as long as everything else was right. And she would work on getting Anson into her life as soon as he realized his mistake.

Together, the two girls headed toward the park at the end of the block where they settled onto a set of swings, pushing gently at the ground with their toes. They’d done this so many times before. This was where they came to talk whenever one of them was having a hard time. The familiar setting blanketed both of them, made things easier.

“I’m glad you came over.” Danni looked towards her friend, whose face was hidden behind a curtain of curls.

“Well, it wasn’t like gave me any other choice. Seeing as you never came back.” Cordelia didn’t look at Danni.

“I was waiting for you to come to me. When you came to your senses and realized no guy was worth us.” She waved a hand between them.

“Pardon?” Cordelia looked up at her.

“Well that’s why you’re here, right? To go back to normal?”

“Of course I want us to go back to normal…”

“Good. So, we’ll just pretend last night didn’t happen.” Danni pushed herself into a stronger swing, confident the issue was resolved. “We’ll never speak of it again.”

“Except that I’m dating Anson.” Cordelia continued as if Danni hadn’t interrupted.

“What?” Danni’s toes dug into the sand, bringing her to a sudden stop.

“I’m dating Anson.” Her voice was steady and firm. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you how I felt about him before, but you were so excited. We’ve never been interested in the same guy before.” She held up a hand when Danni started to interrupt. “I never expected him to show any interest in me. And I would never let a guy to come between us.”

“But that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re letting this guy come between us. You’re choosing him over me.”

“No, I’m not, Danniella. If I thought that you were genuinely hurt by his interest in me, I would choose you. But you aren’t. You’re upset that I’m not doing what you want me to. That I’m not falling in line.” Cordelia stood and began pacing, hands jammed into the pockets of Anson’s sweater. “This is the first guy I’ve ever really liked. I wanted to talk to you about it. But any time I brought him up, you went off on a tangent. You’re making me choose between the two of you, not him. I want both of you. Both!

“No, I’m not!” Danni pushed on the swing.

“Yes, you are, Danni. One time. Just one time. Something is about me instead of you and you’re furious. How many times have you convinced me not to do something I wanted to do? Have you gotten the things I wanted? I wanted to go band camp. You convinced me I was too shy to do it. I wanted to try out for editor of the paper. You convinced me it would take too much time away from important things, like our friendship. Over and over again you’ve done it. But I never say anything because you’re friendship is too important. Why can’t I be as important to you as you are to me?”

“Of course you’re important to me!” Danni rolled her eyes. “Our friendship has always worked because we do things this way. You’ve always taken my advice. Why have you suddenly decided not to?”

“By advice, you mean, why don’t I just do what you’re telling me? Like always.” Danni didn’t respond. Cordelia stopped pacing to stare at her. “I’ve always done what you thought was best, Danni. I was never sure of myself and I always thought you had my best interest at heart. But now I don’t know. Maybe you always just liked being top friend, with me in tow to make you feel better.” Danni still didn’t answer. Didn’t say anything to counter the accusation. “You’ve been telling me for years to get out of my comfort zone. To stand up for myself. And now that I’m finally taking some control of my life, you’re acting like a spoiled kid. This is the person I always showed you. You told me this was the real me. That it was the person I should show other people. Did you ever actually believe that?”

Danni was quiet for a moment, absorbing the speech. “This is not the real you.” Her voice rose in anger. “This is you making a fool of yourself for a guy.”

“Pardon me?” Cordelia’s raised an eyebrow. “How exactly am I doing that?”

“You’re wearing his clothes. You’ve changed your appearance.” Danni nodded at the jean shorts poking out beneath the hem of the hoodie. “You’re letting him make your decisions instead of me. You’re nothing but a follower.” By now, Danni was screaming at her friend in the vacant park. “You always have been. You always will be.”

“If anyone made a fool of herself, it was you, Danni. You were so entrenched in your crush that you couldn’t see that everyone was trying to save your feelings. They were trying to save you the embarrassment of what eventually happened last night.”

“See, now you’re just parroting the same nonsense as everyone else. Caleb said the same thing. Can’t you form your own opinion on anything?” Danni couldn’t understand the sudden shift in Cordelia’s attitude. Why she wouldn’t just see that Danni was right. “Why are you being so stubborn!?”

“Danni.” Cordelia’s continued composure was only making Danni angrier. “Let me be very, very clear here. Any decisions I am making right now are mine. I’m done with letting other people make up my mind for me. And by people, I mean you. I came here to talk to you on my own. Bianca told me to leave it. To let you come around on your own, but I know you. I know you in my bones. Because you are my best friend. I made it my life to know you. You don’t change your mind for silence. We’ve talked out every problem we’ve ever had. Together.” She jammed her hands into her pockets. “Nothing hurts me more than saying this, but if you can’t be happy for me, then I guess this is it. When you’re ready, let me know. We will talk this out and make it better cause I would never turn my back on you the way you’ve turned yours on me.” She stepped over to where Danni was sitting on the swing and planted a kiss on her forehead. “I love you. You are my best friend, but right now, I really, really don’t like you.” Cordelia turned and walked out of the park.

“You’ll see!” Danni yelled after her “You’ll come running back to me as soon as he realizes who you really are.”

Cordelia didn’t break her stride, refusing to let Danni see the tears streaming down her face. She kept her shoulders square as she pulled her phone from her pocket.

“How did it go?” Bianca’s answered.

“Just come get me?”

“Where are you?”

“The street by that park near Danni’s house.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“Thanks.” Cordelia hung up the phone and slipped it back into her pocket. Now out of sight of the park, she stopped walking, put her hands on her knees and started hyperventilating. She couldn’t believe that she’d just walked away from the most important friendship in her life. She tried to catch her breath. She was still standing there, leaning against a tree when the car pulled up a few minutes later. Bianca’s sandals slapped against the concrete as she rushed to her sister.

“Cordi!” She knelt in front of her twin “Are you okay?”

“No. I’m really not.” She looked up to see Anson and Greg standing beside the car. “Can we just go home?”

“Are you sure you want to risk dad seeing you like this?”

“Christ. He was home when you dropped off our stuff?” She slid into the backseat pulling her sister with her. “I don’t want to see him, or anyone, right now.”

“Do you want me to go?” Anson climbed into the front seat beside Greg.

“No.” She forced a smile. “I’m going to explain what happened exactly once.”

“My parents are out. We can go to my place.” Anson suggested.

“Sure.” Cordelia nodded, leaning on her sister’s shoulder. Greg put the car into drive and they settled into silence as he drove. Once they were parked, Anson lead them into his house. Cordelia felt a ripple of displaced excitement. This was her first time at your boyfriend’s house.

“Cookie?” She asked, squeezing his hand.

“Sugarplum?” He looked at her in confusion.

“She’s a stress snacker.” Bianca laughed. “Go get her a cookie.”

“Oh! For sure. Go settle in there.” He directed them into the living room before disappearing around the corner. Cordelia flopped into a big armchair; her sister crawling in beside her, like they used to when they were kids. Anson came back in the room with several bags of cookies.

“I don’t know what kind you like.” He held up the bags.

“Those ones.” Cordelia smiled and pointed to the yellow bag in his left hand. “They’re crunchy.” He tossed the bag. Bianca snagged it out of the air and pulled it open. Greg grabbed another bag and settled onto the couch.

“So…” Anson asked, still standing.

“What happened, Cords?” Bianca ran her hand over Cordelia’s hair, waiting for the inevitable tears.

“I don’t even know where to start.” Cordelia took a deep breath before biting a cookie in half. “This is all so unbelievable. Danni has been my best friend since we were little kids. For more than half our lives. And now, it seems like she was only my friend because she could control me.”

“What?” Anson’s forehead wrinkled in confusion.

“She basically said it was my job was to fall in line and do what she said. That I have no opinions of my own and that I’m just trading her for you.” She glanced up at Anson “That I’m just letting you make my decisions for me now.”

“That bitch! I am going to kick her ass.” Bianca shook with anger. Her sister handed her a cookie.

Cordelia felt her protective shell returning. It was so much easier to just shadow everyone else. It was so much easier if she just stayed out of everyone’s way. “Maybe she’s right. Maybe that’s who I’m supposed to be.”

“Cordelia!” Bianca brandished her half eaten cookie.

“No really, B, think about it. The one time I stand up for myself and go after what I want, everything turns to shit.”

“The thing you chose,” Anson leaned against the wall “does not agree.”

“Oh, Anson, I didn’t mean you.” She mumbled around a mouthful of cookie. “It’s just, well, you’re new to the group and…”

“Exactly, I’m new, so I’ve got a different perspective. I’m not all covered in feelings.” He made his way over to the chair the girls were sitting in and propped himself on the arm. “You guys have built this whole thing and I’m sure it’s really comfortable for you all, but you’ve set up these really defined roles for everyone. You guys let Danni act out because you’re used to it. A good shake up was needed and I’m cool with being your maraca.”

“He’s right, Cordi.” Greg leaned forward, voicing his opinion for the first time. “You’ve been in Danni’s shadow for so long that you think her opinions are yours.”

“God, you’re all making me sound like a damn puppet. It’s not like I did it on purpose.”

“Not intentionally. But she’s been doing it for a really long time.” Bianca put her hands on her sister’s face. “I know you’re not that person. I know you have your own opinions and that you’re willing to act on them. And it’s about damn time you did it with Danni.”

“She’s not a villain, you guys.”

“Maybe not, but she is being a bitch.” Bianca pulled her twin to her feet, gripping her hands. “She’s going to come around eventually, and then you’re going to have to decide if you want to take her back. Danni is, was, I don’t know, my friend, too, but she made this happen. Friendships are fluid. Maybe this needed to happen. Or maybe not. Either way, it happened, so now we deal with it. And it’s not like you’re alone.” She pushed Cordelia gently back into the chair where Anson had taken a seat. “You’ve still got us.”

“And you’ve definitely got me. I don’t know anyone well enough to take anyone else’s side.” Anson lowered his voice. “I know it’s not the same. And I’m not trying to take your best friend’s place, but I’m here.”

“I know, strong and empowered and whatever, but I’d really just like to start with a little mindless making out,” Cordelia leaned into the arms wrapped around her waist “and then I’d like to spend some time with my sister.”

“I can help with the first part.” He pushed her into a standing position and took her hand. “We’ll be back. Don’t break anything.” He called over his shoulder to Greg and Bianca.

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