Authors: London Casey
HURT LIKE HELL
Tessa Belle barely escaped her father's abusive hands ten years ago, when she was just thirteen.
On her own now, in her own apartment, she tells herself it's time to start living. Her dating life has been lackluster as no boy or man could ever love her or protect her the way Jack Smithen had. After all these years, she can still picture his face that fateful night.
When her deadly past comes crashing into the present, she feels too alone to do anything. That's when her long lost love, Jack, appears - literally - and takes hold of her life, and her heart. It's been ten years since their first kiss, ten years since their lives were changed forever. But now they're together again, adults now, able to help each other, able to love each other openly. Jack's the only person who understands what Tessa endured, because Jack endured the same from his own abusive mother.
Just when it feels they can share the life they always dreamed, Tessa's father is released early from prison. His sole mission is to finish what he started that night in their basement ten years ago...
“Who do you want to be?”
The question caught me off guard as Jack sat on the couch at what seemed miles away from me as I sat on the other end. He would sometimes ask random questions after thinking for a while. I felt bad for Jack but I was happy he was my neighbor, and that he could understand the kind of pain I felt.
Jack was born Jackson Smithen. He had the same last name as his mother because his mother didn’t know who Jack’s father was. She had a drug problem, one she was open about and one she swore was completely under control. She worked long hours, almost every day, and if I had to be honest, I don’t think she ever loved Jack. When I looked into Jack’s eyes I could see he knew this but he didn’t talk about it.
He only talked about the future. I asked him once why he was so obsessed with the future and he looked at me with tears in his eyes – the only time I ever saw Jack cry – and he pointed to his heart and said, “So this will stop hurting.”
I never asked again about the future.
In fact, the more I thought about the future, the more I liked it. It was so open, so free, with so many choices. Worst case, I had five years until I turned eighteen and could get away from my father. That was, if he didn’t kill me by then… but he wouldn’t kill me. Never. He had too much to lose. Everyone knew he had a drinking problem, but as long his business smile was bright and he appeased the higher ups in the city and local towns, my father was golden. He used the death of my mother as a way to make him an even better citizen, raising a daughter on his own, sometimes parading me around as some kind of tool or bait to get what he wanted. But when the doors were shut and shades drawn, he became the devil. The back of his hand sometimes felt like a brick, but I just had to suffer, for a little while longer.
In my vision of my future, my father would die.
I’d be free, he’d be dead.
And I’d have Jack.
“Tessa? Did you hear me?”
I nodded. “I heard you. What do I want to be when I grow up?”
“No, not grow up. Not a career. Just who do you want to be?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you want to be Tessa when you get older? Do you want to be Theresa Belle… and all the stuff that goes with it?”
I paused and looked at the floor. The stone floor was cold. My mind felt the same way. Any thought of thinking outside my house and life at that moment scared me, but Jack had found ways to open me… and steal my heart.
“So, you mean change my name?” I asked.
Jack looked at me, smiling. “Yes. That’s what I want to do. I want to change my name. Then I can be anybody I want.”
“You could be anybody you want with your name,” I said. “I like Jack. A lot.”
Jack shook his head. “No. I don’t want to carry anything with me. We’d be able to create our own lives then. Start from the beginning.”
“Then what? Make up stories of being kids and stuff?”
“Yeah. That would be… awesome. Wouldn’t it?”
I loved the way Jack’s eyes beamed when he talked about the future. He really believed in the future, and it made me believe too. The both of us would finally have a chance to get out of all this. I licked the corner of my mouth and felt the small scab crack. The pain was hell and the blood tasted horrible, but I was used to both. I could only dream about a life where I didn’t have to cover up bruises and scars, and force a smile at the fear of receiving more bruises and scars.
Wow, what a great dream…
“Think about it,” Jack said, “when we’re finally free. Together. We can have our own names, tell stories, make everything up, and be happy.”
“Wouldn’t it be lying?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t it be better than the truth?”
The question shut me up.
Jack opened his mouth again and I heard a creak. The smallest of sounds in a big old house, but my ears picked up on it. I’d been trained to hear everything. Sounds were sometimes the only warnings I got before a decent night would turn into hell.
“Shh!” I cried to Jack and put my hands out. I focused all my attention on the sound. I couldn’t tell if the creak was the old house moaning or my father shuffling his way around the house. Sometimes he’d get up from a bad dream and need a drink. Sometimes he’d wake up in a deathly sweat, mad that he drank himself to that point, and then take it out on me with his hands.
Jack shook his head and put his hands up as if to say,
I don’t hear a thing, Tessa…
but I didn’t care. I still listened. And waited.
A minute could have passed, maybe an hour, or just a second even, and I finally let out my breath.
“Okay,” I whispered. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay. I understand. I’m not used to it… my mother’s never home…”
Jack looked away when he said that. He never made eye contact when he talked about his mother. The pain would be too obvious.
“Abby,” I said.
“What?” Jack asked.
“Abby. That would be my name.”
“Like Abigail or something?”
“No, no proper first names. Theresa is bad enough right now. I want to be Abby.”
“Abby,” Jack whispered. “I like that. It fits you. I can see you as an Abby. What about your last name?”
“My last name?”
“Well, yeah. You need a last name. To be a real person. So people will know who you are.”
I thought about it. A last name. I never really cared about last names before. I was Theresa Belle, that’s all I knew. Now my new first name was going to be Abby. Abby…
I didn’t know how to make up a last name. I thought about some of the weirdest last names I’d encountered in my life, but I didn’t want to steal someone’s last name.
I wanted my own.
“Wednesday,” I said.
“Wednesday?” Jack replied, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah. I’m going to be Abby Wednesday.”
“Wednesday? Why Wednesday?”
“Why not? It’s the middle of the week. It’s a good place to start.”
I left it at that and Jack bought it. The truth was that I chose Wednesday because that was the first night Jack came to my house. My father had been in a bad mood about something. After working through his anger on me, he sent me to the basement, telling me I was not worthy of a bedroom. He told me I belonged in the ground, like my mother. I’ll never forget the way his voice sounded when he said it. He sounded serious. I’ll never forget the way his eyes looked at me. Like he was capable of doing it.
That night I wished to die. I didn’t understand what dying really meant, but if I didn’t have to wake up and see my father again – Mr. Richard P. Belle – then I would take death.
Death didn’t come, but Jack did. That was the night he tapped three times with his fingernail, twice with his finger, and rolled his fingers on the door. That was the night he began to save me, in so many ways.
“What about you?”
The moments of silence between me and Jack that lasted a long time. However, I didn’t mind, because just having Jack there was enough to make me feel safe. Once in a while I would fall asleep and he’d wake me up, gently shaking me, whispering my name.
I was tired, but the idea of picking new names for our future kept my eyes open and mind alert.
“I don’t know,” Jack said. “I’ve picked out a few… but nothing seems good enough.”
“It doesn’t have to be good enough, just good. For you.”
Jack smiled. “I guess you’re right. Well, I like Danny.”
“Danny? Why Danny?”
“I just like that name.”
“So… Abby and Danny?” I asked. I liked that, a lot.
“Works for me,” Jack said. “But I need a last name.”
I didn’t picture our future with two different last names. Would it be so wrong to imagine ourselves as Danny and Abby Wednesday? Married. Holding hands.
I started to blush and had to look away.
I thought about kissing Jack, a lot.
“How about Danny Thursday?” he asked.
I laughed and covered my mouth. The last thing we needed was attention drawn to the basement. Some nights my father could sleep through a tornado and others all it took was a droplet from a faucet to wake him. Either way, if he woke up, there would be some major hell to pay.
“You want to be Danny Thursday?” I asked.
“Yeah, so? You want to be Abby Wednesday.”
Fair enough then…
“Danny Thursday,” I whispered. “I like it, Jack. I mean, Danny.”
We shared a smile, too afraid to laugh, and from that day forward, we switched back and forth between being Tessa and Jack, and Abby and Danny. It depended on the kind of day and night we were having. On the bad nights, we remained Jack and Tessa, sitting on the uncomfortable couch in my basement, stuck in limbo of an awkward teenage romance. On the good nights, we were Abby and Danny, sharing our passions, our dreams, planning out our future and (even better) rewriting the broken past.
Those were the best nights.
They were the nights that didn’t come often enough.
And each time Jack left, it became more evident that our feelings for each other were growing serious. We would stare, lips parted, waiting for someone to make the first move. Most of the time he would leave in silence, but a few times he said he didn’t want to hurt me and would storm out of the basement as though he were mad at me, himself, and the world.