My 52 Week Writing Challenge will include character sketches and plot outlines from possible future WIPs. Neema is from ‘Brody Daniels’ Girls’.
The youngest of the Daniels’ girls, Neema was often overshadowed by the dominance of Sophia, the vivaciousness of Reina, and the congeniality of Liana.
And that’s exactly the way she liked it.
The painfully shy, introverted child was barely school age with their mother left.
Neema couldn’t remember anyone mentioning Isabella after she walked away. It was as though family members leaving was normal. This made Neema fearful. She wondered who would disappear next. A daddy’s girl from a young age, Neema pulled away from Brody, bracing for his inevitable departure.
Brody never left his girls. He came home from work every evening and usually had a treat for Neema and her sisters. But Brody didn’t seem to notice his baby girl never crawled into his lap for her bedtime story anymore. He didn’t seem to see how she always stood just outside of any room he was in, or if they were in the same room, out of his line of sight. This made Neema Daniels feel invisible, sad, and unloved.
Several times during Neema’s childhood, she wanted to run to her father, throw her hands around his neck and tell him of her fears and pain, hoping he would make it all better.
But life came with its barriers, and Neema’s barrier was named Sophia.
The absence of Isabella changed Sophia. She went from Neema’s fun-loving, older sister who loved to jumped rope with Neema, to a bossy, unsmiling sentry. The scant seven-year difference of the oldest and the youngest Daniels girls not only gave Sophia authority over Neema — it gave her total control.
Brody Daniels made every effort to get home each evening before his girls went to bed, but Sophia was still in charge. During family meals, just as the girls were taking their last bite of food, Sophia would immediately shoo them off to chores or homework. On the rare occasion Neema would insist on time to talk to their father, Sophia would reprimand her for attempting to bother him with her childish whining. Brody and her other two older sisters never seemed to notice or hear Sophia’s cruel words…or they just didn’t care.
As she got older, the yearnings of Neema’s juvenile heart grew faint. Her chest no longer tightened when Brody came home from work and passed out his “special gifts” to his girls without really seeing them. His eyes sad and empty. Neema learned to block out Sophia’s endless commands, completing her chores before Sophia even realized it. She stopped trying to figure out how Liana could always be so damn cheerful when none of them had reason to be.
Neema’s only bright spot was Reina. If not for her, Neema was sure she would never have spoken in her home again, and no one would have noticed.
The year Neema entered junior high school, Sophia left for her first year of college. Home didn’t feel so oppressive with her big sister gone. Brody was still distant, but she, Reina and Liana fell into an easy routine of taking care of the household tasks. Sophia managed to come home most weekends to “make sure they weren’t destroying her house”, but by then, the younger Daniels sisters were quite astute at ignoring her.
Never having many friends, Neema moved through school on automatic, doing what it took to get good grades, stay on her teachers’ good sides, and avoid the mean girl crowd. During Neema’s last year of junior high, Reina left for college, and it was a major stumble for Neema. Her crutch was gone. Trying to fight the loneliness that threatened to overwhelm her, Neema was convinced the world was against her when Mother Nature played a cruel joke on her.
Neema Daniels grew five inches in less than a year.
The fall she entered high school, Neema was five feet, ten inches tall — two inches taller than Sophia and just four inches shorter than her father.
Neema cursed her body daily. No longer able to ‘disappear’ into the student body, her height drew attention to Neema…unwanted attention. The teasing and taunts only drove Neema further inside herself. Each morning as Neema slowly made her way across the wide concourse to the school entrance, it felt like she was walking the gangplank, about to be shoved into the depths of despair and drown. She’d never felt so completely alone. Sophia was teaching at Granger High across town and about to marry Mark, Reina was away at Beckford and hardly ever came home, and Liana was inseparable from her new boyfriend. Neema hoped she could get through high school with her sanity intact.
Well into the second week of school, Neema rushed into the locker room, nearly late for her sixth-period Phys-ed class. She purposely arrived later than the other girls to avoid their nasty comments and harassment, but today she hadn’t counted on the band filling the hallway as they readied for an after-school pep rally.
In her gym clothes in record time, Neema slammed her locker and ran toward the stairs leading up to the gym.
Just as she reached the doorway, Neema froze. What was that noise? She looked over her shoulder, but only silence enveloped the locker room.
Shrugging it off, Neema was about to head upstairs when she heard the noise again. Slowly walking back toward her locker, the soft mewling became louder.
But no one was in the locker area.
Retracing her steps, Neema paused at the last row of lockers.
The noise was coming from the individual showers. But, it wasn’t mewling, it was crying.
Neema ran down the row of shower stalls, slowing as she reached one near the end. Peering into the stall, Neema saw a girl, knees pulled to chest, with her head down. She didn’t immediately recognize the girl.
“Are you okay?”
Startled, the girl raised her head and drew back from Neema. “Go away! Haven’t you all called me enough names today?”
“Excuse me? I haven’t called you any names. I wouldn’t do that because I know how awful it feels.” Neema took a step forward. “What happened?”
The girl relaxed just a bit sensing Neema’s honesty. “The same thing that always happens. I’ve been in this school three days and it feels like an eternity. Gwen Moore and her little band of fembots have been on me nonstop — I’m too tall, too dark, and my hair is too nappy.” She ran her hand through her messy ponytail. “Why are people so mean?”
“What’s your name?”
Neema reached her hand out to Margaret to help her up. “I’m Neema, and if you haven’t noticed yet, I’m tall too…probably taller than you.”
Margaret’s eyes widened when she was on her feet. Neema was taller.
“But why don’t they tease you?”
Neema smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “They do. That’s why I’m late to class…to avoid them.” She stood aside to allow Margaret room to exit the stall. “You’ve been here three days? Why haven’t I see you before?”
“Class schedule changes. They kept shuffling me around until they got me in the right music class…school choir. I like to sing. This is the first day I’ve been in this class. I was feeling pretty good about the day until I got to sixth-period. The first two days Gwen or some of her friends were in all my classes. But I got through the day with just glares from them in the hallways. I even skipped lunch and sat outside reading so I wouldn’t have to listen to them. Then last class of the day…they’re all here.”
Neema knew how cruel Gwen could be. She’d known her since second grade when Gwen’s family moved to Granger. Gwen used to be nice, but somewhere between sixth and seventh grade, she became a bully.
Walking up the stairs together, Neema suddenly stopped and pulled Margaret back. “Mrs. Honaker is brutal when you’re late to class. Let me do all the talking when we get in the gym. I’ll explain I was helping a new student…which is true…kinda. Otherwise, we’ll both be doing five laps around the track.”
Margaret smiled. “It feels good to have a friend. Maybe I’ll make it to graduation, after all.”
The friendship between Neema and Margaret grew. They each were grateful to have someone to talk to about the emptiness inside of them…and the loneliness in their homes.
But they would not graduate together and Neema’s depression would sink to even greater depths. She would move through the years as if on autopilot, searching and waiting for something or someone to grasp onto.
Just when Neema believes she can have the life she longed for, Isabella Marchand-Daniels returns to Granger…and her daughters.
And Neema Daniels falls…again.