Character Profile: Liana Daniels-Dean

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My 52 Week Writing Challenge will include character sketches and plot outlines from possible future WIPs. Liana is from ‘Brody Daniels’ Girls’. Warning: This profile includes a character who suffers from depression and cutting. Those sensitive to these disorders should consider this before reading.

With her ever-present smile and eternal optimism, Liana Daniels’ is the heart and soul of her family.

Brody Daniels’ third eldest daughter never has a bad day, and her family has a hard time remembering the last time she cried. Even on what should have been one of the saddest days of her young life — the day her mother walked away from the family — eight-year-old Liana served as comforter and peacemaker for her father and sisters.

But Liana had secrets. Things even her family weren’t aware of…including the youngest sister, Neema, who shared a bedroom with Liana for six years. There was an emptiness inside of Liana she didn’t understand, nor could she explain it. Sometimes she wanted to scream and rail against the void which tried to consume her. But that went against everything ‘happy’ Liana stood for. Instead, during the quiet of the wee hours of the night, Liana would creep downstairs to the tiny bathroom next to the laundry room. Barely getting the door locked before her tears began to fall, she would pull the washcloth from the pocket of her robe, quickly stuffing it in her mouth.

Then Liana would cry.

She cried for the mother who walked away; for the sadness her father could never completely hide in his eyes, for her older sisters having to find their own way as young women, and for having to serve as surrogate mothers to her and Neema. Most of all, Liana cried for the emptiness inside her. Sobs racked her body as she pleaded in the darkness to be whole again.

There was never a set amount of time Liana would stay in the downstairs bathroom. She did take a watch with her to attempt to keep track of time, especially once after nearly getting caught by her early-rising father. But sometimes her sadness was great, Liana would cry until she was exhausted of tears and strength.

Liana carried out this routine for four years. Right after Liana’s sixteenth birthday, Sophia left to begin her freshman year at Beckford College. Older sister, Reina took over Sophia’s room, and Liana got Reina’s room. No longer having to sneak away for privacy, Liana would often cry herself to sleep. But the exhaustion was no longer enough. The tears didn’t wash away her pain. Liana would awaken a couple of hours later near hysteria. She would hold both hands over her mouth to keep from screaming out.

Liana felt like she was losing her mind. The sleepless nights were beginning to wear her down and it was hard to keep up her cheery appearance during the day. She was edgy. Her thoughts were jumbled and she felt trapped inside her own mind. Waves of self-doubt and low self-esteem washed over her frequently. Liana felt as though she was letting everyone down…especially her father.

Unable to give voice to her pain, and not willing to add more emotional burden to her quietly suffering family, Liana became a cutter.

Knowing her father would be at a job site and her two sisters still in class, Liana Daniels skipped her sixth period and rushed home and straight to her bedroom. Taking the shoe box from the back of her closet, Liana sat on the floor and stared at the box. She knew even wanting to do this meant she had emotional problems. There wasn’t much on the subject at the library, but Liana vividly remembered two phrases — personality disorder…and schizophrenia.

Suddenly angry, Liana ripped the top off the shoe box. She wasn’t crazy…she wasn’t! She just didn’t understand why her family had to suffer so. Why did her mother go away? How could she leave her daughters? And her dad…even when they managed to all have fun and laugh together, she could still feel his sadness. Liana thought the family might get some relief from Sophia and her rigid rules and need to control when she went off to college. But Sophia came home most weekends…and sometimes popped in during the week. Reina was acting out and getting into trouble all over Granger, and Neema was painfully shy and withdrawn.

She couldn’t add to her father’s growing list of problems with his girls. He needed her to be strong.

Feeling tears burning in the corner of her eyes, Liana removed the single edge razor blade from the shoe box. Without hesitation, she slipped off the cardboard sleeve, held out her left arm and in a slow, deliberate motion, made a two-inch cut.

Liana didn’t cut too deeply, yet she was amazed at the amount of blood…and how she felt! Expecting the burn or sting of pain, she instead felt relief…and euphoria! Making another cut right next to the first, and leaned her head back closing her eyes. Gone were the jumbled thoughts and the near panic. Gone were the feelings of guilt and doubt.

Feeling almost refreshed, Liana used the gauze and antiseptic she’d also placed in the shoe box to clean her cuts. When she finished, the cuts appeared to be no more than two faint scratches on her arm. Satisfied, Liana wrapped the used razor blade and bloody gauze in a piece of clean gauze and put the tiny bundle in a small brown paper bag. She returned the shoe box and its contents to the back of her closet and slipped the small bag into her coat pocket. She would have to throw it away on the way to school tomorrow.

Relaxed for the first time in days, Liana stretched out across her bed. The books she’d read were wrong. What she had done wasn’t wrong. She hadn’t used drugs or hurt anyone. She had not caused five minutes’ worth of trouble. And she most certainly was not crazy. Liana felt she just needed a little relief…a temporary crutch to get by. She didn’t plan to make cutting a regular thing or do it forever. Just until her family was happy again. Just until she was happy. A few short minutes later, still thinking about her family, Liana fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

***

Right after holiday break during Liana’s junior year, a new family, the Deans, moved to Granger to be close to Mrs. Dean’s aging mother. Three of their five children still lived at home, and their only son, Neal, was Liana’s age. The two teens’ first meeting was memorable…to say the least.

The first day back to school after holiday break was noisy and chaotic. Students and their teachers clogged the hallways greeting each other and telling of vacation getaways, visiting relatives, and gifts received. The Daniels’ Christmas was nice. Brody always went above and beyond to make sure his girls got the things they wanted. But with their only remaining family being distant cousins on the east coast, the family holiday was usually a quiet affair.

Skirting the crowds, Liana made it into her first-period chemistry class with more than enough time to spare. Hurrying to the supply closet, Liana retrieved a textbook, safety goggles and work smock before heading to her assigned seat.

That was when she saw him…sitting in her seat…second row, second stool.

Even sitting, Liana could tell he was tall. Bulky in size, Liana knew the school’s football coach would leap for joy when he saw this guy. Liana envied the smoothness of his mocha skin. When her eyes finally reached his face, amber eyes were staring back at her. Liana’s own face burned…embarrassed at being caught staring. She was about to turn away when he spoke.

“Why do I get the feeling I’m sitting in your seat?”

Her trademark smile instantly returned. “It’s okay. It’s obvious you’re new here. Welcome to Benedict High!”

Before the new student could respond, the classroom door opened and several more students entered, followed by the teacher, Mr. Peck. Rushing to the front of the room, he stopped suddenly when he saw Liana talking with a boy he didn’t recognize.

“Welcome back, Ms. Daniels’. I trust your holiday was a nice one.”

“Yes, sir. It was, thank you. I hope yours was too.”

He huffed. “My mother-in-law stayed with us for two weeks…and she brought her cat…Rembrandt.” Before Liana could respond with more than a giggle, the harried teacher abruptly turned to the young man. “You must be my new student…from Germany.”

Liana’s eyes widened. Germany?

Again, before receiving a response, Mr. Peck rushed over to his desk, dumping his armload of books. Finding his class roster, he ran his finger down the page.

“Neal…Dean. You were almost in the right seat, young man. Move over one stool so Ms. Daniels’ can have her seat back.”

Standing, Neal looked to his right. Students were still arriving, and a dirty-blonde hair boy was perched on the next stool, lost in a car magazine. Neal glanced at Mr. Peck, who cleared his throat. The student did not look up.

“Mr. Ealey?” The boy looked up, focusing his large, blue eyes on his teacher. “We have a new student…seating change.” The teacher then raised his voice so everyone could hear. “You know the routine — please shift one seat to your right. If you’re on the end, go to the first seat in the next row.” He glanced down at his roster again. “And Ms. Talbot and Mr. Thorne, you don’t have to leave an empty seat between you. Ms. Tatum’s family moved to Cleveland.”

The students noisily made the seating changes, while some were still retrieving their class supplies from the cabinet, and still more students were arriving, confused by the scene.

Before taking his seat, Neal held out his arm, gesturing to Liana’s seat. “Ms. Daniels?”

Giggling, Liana did a slight curtsy and took her seat. “Thank you, Mr. Dean.” Her eyes widened again. “You’re from Germany? What’s it like? Why are you here?”

Neal chuckled lightly, ducking his head.

“I’m babbling, aren’t I? Sorry for going all teenage girl on you.”

“Nah. You’re fine. My dad was military and just retired a couple of months ago. We moved here to be close to my grandmother.”

Mr. Peck called the class to order and began taking attendance. Neal leaned in Liana’s direction, whispering, “It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Daniels.”

“You too. And it’s Liana.”

“Liana.” Neal grinned as he said her name.

Quickly looking away, Liana tried to hide her embarrassment and process what she was feeling. Focusing on her teacher, Liana saw Mr. Peck’s lips moving but had no idea what he was saying. The buzzing in her ears became so loud, Liana nervously looked around to see is anyone else could hear it. Suddenly light-headed, Liana leaned forward against the table to steady herself. Was she getting sick? She didn’t feel ill, but she certainly didn’t feel normal.

Liana self-consciously looked in Neal’s direction and became alarmed. He wasn’t there! Before Liana could even look around the room, however, Neal returned to his seat, with his own set of class supplies.

He smiled at Liana.

The buzzing in her ears returned with a vengeance. Trying to focus in on Mr. Peck, Liana was sure she’d pass out. Then she froze.

Him? Neal? She felt like this because of him? These kinds of things only happened in books and movies. This wasn’t possible. Was it?

Holding her head up, Liana turned and looked at Neal one more time. He was staring at her.

Liana’s heart raced. This was all so new to her. She had always drawn the attention of boys, and she had her own mental list of cutest boys, but none had ever affected her like this. Afraid to look in her new classmate’s direction again, Liana suddenly heard her name being called.

“Excuse me?”

Mr. Peck cleared his throat. “I said since your human body systems disorder project received the highest grade in the class, would you mind coming up here and explaining how mutated protein affects cells and organs in sickle cell anemia?”

“Of course, Mr. Peck! I’d be happy to.”

A collective groan rose from the class, but Liana Daniels didn’t hear it. Sliding off her stool, she felt light and carefree. Accepting her project folder from Mr. Peck, Liana faced the class. Although looks ranging from apathy to envy were cast on her, Liana only saw one set of amber eyes intently focused on her.

For the first time since her mother had abandoned the family, Liana felt joy…and real happiness.

***

Liana Daniels and Neal Dean were inseparable. The handsome young man caught the attention of the entire cheerleading squad and half the female population of the junior class, but he only had eyes for Liana. They introduced each other to their families, and the Daniels and Deans even shared Easter dinner together. No one was surprised when Neal announced he’d applied…and was accepted to Beckford College, and would be attending with Liana.

Despite a solid relationship with her high school sweetheart, Liana was still cutting. She didn’t doubt Neal’s feelings for her, but sometimes the depth of what she saw in his eyes overwhelmed her, and she didn’t feel worthy. Liana also still worried about her sisters. Sophia was in a new relationship, and in typical Sophia-fashion, battling for dominance, Reina was finishing her junior year at Beckford and seemed distant, and poor Neema was having panic attacks about entering high school even though her sophomore year was still months away.

And there was her father. Liana only saw two Brody Daniels. The owner/operator of Daniels’ Contracting, and the father. He didn’t socialize with friends anymore — stopping by the sports bar to watch a game, or inviting any of his old crew over to their home. She never even saw him reading anymore. Brody seemed to be on auto-pilot, just going through the motions.

Liana felt guilty for being happy. Her grades were amazing, her few friends loyal, and Neal was everything to her. She wanted her family to be as happy as she was. The burden of her guilt would become so oppressive, Liana only found relief in the sweet cuts of the razor blades. Hiding her obsession from Neal, Liana had long ago switched from cutting on her arms to her thighs.

She was very open and upfront with Neal about everything in her life…except the cutting. But a few short weeks after they began their freshman year at Beckford, she told him. A harsh phone call from Sophia demanding Liana put her family first and come home for the weekend had Liana teetering between mania and depression. Knowing she couldn’t take out her razors with Neal sitting right there in her dorm room, and seeing how upset he was at her harried state, Liana broke down and confessed everything to him.

Steeling herself for the moment Neal walked away, Liana was instead shocked…and relieved when he simply held her in his arms while she cried. The next day after Liana’s physics class, she exited the building to find Neal waiting for her. Taking her hand, they wordlessly walked together.

When he stopped abruptly, Liana looked up at their destination and froze. The campus mental health center. Liana’s skin felt prickly, the panic trying to take hold of her. A firm squeeze of her hand caused her to look up at Neal. The love and support she saw in his eyes calmed her instantly…and she knew it was time.

With a faint smile and nod of her head, Liana let go of Neal’s hand and took the first steps in her journey to wellness.

It wouldn’t be quick, and it wouldn’t be easy. Liana Daniels would spend most of her time at Beckford in counseling. Even after graduation, when she became Mrs. Neal Dean, bouts of depression and anxiety still plagued Liana. Life and its tragedies kept invading her tiny, happy world.

The multiple miscarriages while trying to start a family.

Losing her father.

Cancer taking Neal.

Isabella Marchand-Daniels barnstorming her way back into Liana’s life…forty years after walking away.

Liana Daniels-Dean just couldn’t catch a break.