Authors: Laurie Gray
“And your boss is letting you off for the musical?” It seemed too good to be true. “Where do you work?”
“At my dad's taekwondo place.”
“Must be nice,” I replied. We started shuffling through our paperwork.
Shanika laughed. “I'm not complaining.” She pulled out a Peter Pan-Tiger Lily duet. “Do you want to study our lines together or would you rather start with a song?”
“Let's start with a song.”
The first two weeks of March passed quickly, but I could feel the lion still lurking. I spent less time with Troy and Cassie and lots of time rehearsing with Shanika. Finally, Cassie extended the olive branch and invited Troy and me to her house on Saturday afternoon. But we hadn't been there an hour before Aaron showed up. I thought Troy was just going to leave, but instead he decided to pull Monte into Cassie's garage and tinker under the hood.
“I just need to adjust the idle,” he said. “Is it okay if I leave the garage door up so I don't accidently die of carbon monoxide poisoning?”
Aaron thought that was funny, and Cassie smacked him for laughing. “Definitely leave the door up,” she said to Troy.
With Troy out in the garage, I was feeling pretty uncomfortable until Cassie asked me about the musical. It wasn't long, though, before I was talking more about Shanika than about Peter Pan. “Once the musical's over, I'm thinking about taking up taekwondo,” I confessed. “New York's a big city. If I'm going to live there someday, it wouldn't hurt to know a little self-defense.”
The words “self-defense” caught Aaron's attention. It was like he saw me for the first time. “Let me show you some wrestling moves for self-defense,” he said. He started talking about posture
and balance and take-downs and was totally showing off for Cassie. I wasn't impressed, but at least we were both making an effort to get along for Cassie's sake. Or so I thought.
I can't remember now if Aaron sent Cassie out into the kitchen to get us something to drink or if she went out on her own, but as soon as she walked out of the room, Aaron pinned me.
He looked me straight in the eyes. “Try to get up.”
I struggled, but I couldn't break free from his hold. Aaron-the-ape-man was on top of me and wasn't about to let me up. He reeked of Axe cologne. His hot breath wrapped itself around my neck and sent a chill down my spine. I couldn't breathe, and was just about to say so when he put his hand over my mouth. All of a sudden I realized I could feel his big “banana” on my thigh like the big, bad wolf beating on my door, shouting, “Let me in!”
My heart pumped furiously, and my eyes began filling with tears. I thrashed around trying to fight him off, but he was too strong. I couldn't get him off me. I could feel myself starting to panic. I stopped struggling and just tried to breathe. Cassie was right there. Nothing was going to happen.
But I was wrong again. Aaron shoved his hand down the back of my pants, and I felt his fat middle finger go into my butt. If Cassie hadn't been there he might have just torn my pants right off. At that moment I didn't know what he was capable of. I tried to scream, but it came out more like a muffled growl. I was trying to bite his hand and squirm away when we heard Cassie coming back. Aaron jumped off me. As soon as his hand came off my mouth, I heard myself yell.
“What's all the commotion about?” Cassie asked. She set down a tray of drinks and snacks on the coffee table. I lay on the floor trembling.
“Sandy put some pretty good moves on me,” Aaron lied. “I guess my training just kicked in, and I went straight for the pin.”
Cassie walked over and gave him a hug. “All that weight-liftingâyou don't know your own strength!”
Aaron held up his index finger all proud and erect. “I'm still number one.” Then he laughed and turned to me. “I guess you'll have to settle for number two.” He was holding up two fingers then, and I knew the second one was the middle finger he'd just stuck inside me.
Cassie started laughing, too. I tried to stand up, but my head was pounding and my ears were ringing. Aaron grabbed me and yanked me to my feet. “I must have knocked the wind out of you,” he said. “Sorry.”
I couldn't breathe, let alone speak.
“No hard feelings?” Aaron said.
I looked at Cassie. She was totally buying his act. “I need some fresh air,” I said shakily. I grabbed my coat and walked out to the garage.
Troy peeked out from under Monte's hood. He took one look at me and came around to where I was standing. He was still holding a screwdriver in his hand. It had such a startling effect on me. I stifled a scream and felt myself backing away. “Are you okay?” Troy asked.
I shook my head.
“Want me to take you home?”
I shook my head again. My heart was pounding in my throat, making it impossible to breathe. I swallowed hard. I tried to imagine telling him. What would he do? I envisioned Troy going in there and attacking Aaron with the screwdriver. Cassie crying. Blood everywhere. I imagined Aaron wrestling the screwdriver
away from Troy and stabbing him. I shuddered. “I just need some fresh air,” I said. And I started walking.
I don't know where I thought I was going. I was just trying to get away. Away from there. Away from Aaron. Away from what had just happened. Away from what might still happen. Away. When I realized I was walking directly into the wind, I zipped up my coat, pulled up the hood and thrust my hands in my pockets.
Just keep walking.
I must have walked for a long time, because next thing I knew I was several miles out of town, down by the river. There was an old covered bridge off to my right that crossed over the river into a state park. We used to love to play there when we were kids. The river wound around for several miles and then came back to only about a quarter mile south of here. In the summertime, people rented big inner tubes and floated off down the river. They'd float for two or three hours, depending on how high and fast the current was, until they came to the place to catch a shuttle back to the state park.
I wanted to jump in the river and float away. Nearly all of the winter's snow had melted so the waters were moving quite rapidly. The only bits of snow left along the banks were dirty, black and ugly. I stood at the edge of the covered bridge and wondered where I could possibly go from here. I felt like if I crossed that bridge, I would never come back.
Who am I kidding? There is no bridge that will take me away and none that leads back to where I was.
I sat down at the edge of the river and cried.
“Aaron, I see thou wilt not trust the air with secrets.”
âThe Tragedy of Titus Andronicus
, Act IV, Scene ii, Line 169
sitting at the bank of the river when I heard my phone go off. It was a text message from Cassie.
“Where r u?”
I replied, “@ river”
“Howd u get there?”
“R u ok?”
“Where @ river?”
“Stay where u r. We'll come get u”
And so I stayed. Of course, when Cassie said “we'll come get you” I thought she meant she and Troy were coming. I had it all worked out in my mind that I would just tell them. I wouldn't say a word until they asked me what was wrong, and then I would just blurt it out. Just say it.
Say what? Aaron raped me? Only that's not really it. Aaron stuck his finger in my butt?
It sounded almost absurd, even to
Aaron sexually assaulted me? That's it. That's what he did.
But still that seemed pretty unbelievable. Aaron was popular. Aaron had Cassie. Why would Aaron mess with me?
“I don't know!” I screamed for the whole world to hear. My voice echoed back at me, a mocking whisper in my mind.
I don't know. I really don't know. Aaron will deny it. He'll laugh in my face. But Cassie and Troy are my best friends. They'll believe me. They have to believe me. I'll just say it.
I heard a car pulling up to the bridge. I gathered all of my courage and determination and stood up. But when I turned to face my friends, I saw a black Ford Mustang. I held my breath hoping Troy and Monte would pull up behind them, but no luck. It was Cassie and Aaron.
I felt a jolt, and then my body started trembling all over.
Oh, my God! Cassie expects me to get in Aaron's car.
I honestly thought I was going to throw up. If I could have moved, I would have run all the way home and locked the door behind me. But I really couldn't move. Aaron stepped out of the Mustang and leaned back against the driver's-side door, arms crossed and lips curled up in a truly sinister grin. Cassie jumped out of the passenger-side door and ran down to meet me. She saw me trembling and pulled me up toward the car.
“You're freezing!” she exclaimed. “Get in the car where it's warm.”
And the next thing I knew I was trapped in the back seat of Aaron's beastly car. And I wasn't about to say a word. Aaron was pretending to be all concernedâpretending like he didn't do any-thingâand that's what I was supposed to do, too. I tucked my hands in under my armpits and closed my eyes. My mind was racing to keep up with my heart. Just when I thought my head would
explode, it came to me.
That's it. I'm supposed to act like nothing happened. No problem. If there's one thing I can do and do well, it's act. I'll just act like nothing happened. For now.
“Turn up the heat,” Cassie ordered.
Aaron complied. Then he started digging around underneath his seat. “Try this,” he said, handing a bottle to Cassie who was sitting in the front passenger seat.
Cassie shook her head. “I told you, Sandy and Troy don't drink.”
“No, you told me Sandy and Troy don't party.” Aaron threw the car into reverse. Gravel flew as we spun around and sped away. “Just pass the bottle back to Sandy.”
Cassie stared at me blankly until I nodded. She handed me a bottle of peppermint schnapps.
“Are you sure?” She watched me quizzically.
I unscrewed the cap and braced myself.
Do it just like a shot of Nyquil.
I took a deep breath and held the air in my lungs before taking two big gulps from the bottle. It burned all the way down my throat and into my stomach, but as I exhaled I felt a warming, tingling calm start to radiate out through my body.
I could feel Aaron watching me in his rearview mirror. I took two more quick gulps before handing the bottle back up to Cassie.
“All righty, then,” she said. She tossed her head back and took a swallow.
“Send it this way,” Aaron said, reaching his right arm out toward the bottle.
“Not while you're driving, Aaron,” answered Cassie.
He tickled her side. “Aw, come on. I'm cold, too.”
Cassie laughed and slapped his hand away playfully. “You get Sandy home safely, and then I'll be happy to warm you up.”
Aaron laughed and put both hands back on the steering wheel. He was still watching me in the rearview mirror. “Oooh, baby! I like the sound of that,” he said.
I could feel the tears starting up again behind my eyes. I sniffled and wiped my face on my coat sleeve. Then I motioned for Cassie to hand me the bottle again. Two more big gulps kept me acting like nothing had happened all the way home.
By the time the Mustang pulled into my driveway, it was dark out.
“Seriously, Sandy, are you going to be okay?” Cassie asked.
“I'll be fine,” I said. “Thanks for the ride home.”
“You're welcome,” Aaron cut in, like he actually believed I was talking to him.
My heart rapid-fired like a submachine gun spitting out beats like bullets as Cassie slowly opened the passenger-side door, climbed out and put the seat forward for me. I could barely breathe, but I leaped out of the car as soon as the path was clear.
“Hold on,” Cassie said to Aaron and then slammed the car door shut behind her. “Sandy, what's going on?”
A cold wind had us both bundling ourselves up and made it easy to avoid any real explanation.
“Nothing,” I said. “I'm fine.”
Cassie opened the car door. Before she ducked back inside she said, “Call me later.”
I nodded again. “Later,” I said.
My parents were at some business dinner with one of Mom's clients, so I had the house to myself. That was lucky for me. I'm not sure how I would have dealt with my parents. They would have
known something was up and probably would have figured out that I'd been drinking, too. My parents could be cool, but they definitely would not be cool with underage drinking.
I went into the kitchen and found a note from Mom. They would be back late, and there was a casserole in the refrigerator I could reheat if I hadn't eaten with Troy and Cassie. I opened the refrigerator. I saw the casserole, but I really wasn't hungry. There was an unopened jug of chardonnay on the top shelf by the milk and a half bottle of red wine with the cork stuck back in it. Mom always put the red wine on top of the refrigerator, but Dad always put it inside the fridge. It was an ongoing battle and the only thing they seemed to genuinely disagree on.
I pulled out the open bottle, removed the cork and poured a little in a juice glass. I'd tasted wine and beer in Mexico last year. My parents didn't mind because it was legal there, but I didn't really like the way it tasted, so I didn't actually drink muchâjust a taste of whatever Mom and Dad ordered.
I smelled the red wine in the juice glass and wrinkled my nose. Then I just downed it. It made the sides of my tongue tingle like a sweet tart, but there was no sweet, only tart. I put the cork back in the bottle just like it was before and stuck the bottle back in the refrigerator.
I rinsed out the juice glass and wandered into the formal dining room where my parents kept a cabinet full of liquor. Way in the back I found an old bottle of peppermint schnapps. No telling how long it had been there. I'd never seen my parents drink it. It was probably older than I was. I turned the bottle around and examined the label. There was no expiration date so I unscrewed the lid and poured about an ounce into the juice glass.