First 21 pp. of my newest novel. Three teen girls go to a party where a rape occurs.
“OMG, that’s them--”
“Were you there? I can’t--”
“I can’t believe it’s--”
“She’s not so hot--”
Lockers open and slam shut. I smell dirty gym clothes, sprays of perfume, heavily deoderized arm pits. Fear, anger, pity too -- it’s all in the air as we pass by, going from locker to locker.
Kayla’s first. Her tiny white hand struggles with the combination, spinning the dial in frustration.
“That’s the girl who--”
“Took her top off! Do you think Brian--”
“No, he did not. Just look at--”
Slam! Footsteps -- heels tapping, sneakers squeaking. The voices and their message land on Kayla’s slim shoulders and she sinks to the ground, crushed. “Go on,” she says. I’ll be fine.”
Rain and I try to pick her up, but she won’t move. I can take it, and would stay with her, but Rain says, “Crying won’t help. Cry and they win.”
Rain grabs my arm with pincer fingers, digging nails into my skin. “Let’s just do this, fuck ‘em,” she says, pulling me away from Kayla, to her own locker.
“Damien said she totally wanted--”
“He’s hot. Why would he ever--”
“Dude, it’s her! She is cute, hey! Hey Rain!”
Rain’s face is red with anger, making her freckles stand out like a dot-to-dot. As she slams her locker shut, I think she’s going to punch someone, but to my surprise, her face turns white, and she runs. She’s getting away. Good for her.
Now it’s just me. I go to my locker and stand against it. I listen, and I stand there and take it, take it for Rain and Kayla because they can’t, and this is the least I can do for them.
“Fucking wild shit, man--”
“I heard they filed--”
“They don’t have a chance--”
“Bitches like that should be--”
“Who do they think they are?”
“How could they do this to Kris?”
I stand there, and I hear it all, and I take it. My hands are clenched in the pockets of my black jeans, but I take it.
Slam! “Hey, what’re you looking at?”
The kids at school are assholes. They don’t know anything. They’re such stupid freaks --
“I hope your friends get what they deserve.”
I don’t say anything, but my fingers find what I’m looking for -- help! Pulling out the pill, I take it with the pain -- no, anger. Whatever. When the pill starts working, I won’t care.
I take everything the assholes say, and I take the pill not because of what happened to me, but because of what didn’t happen. I abandoned Rain and Kayla at the party, when it counted. That’s why now I stand up. That’s why I take it.
“Testing, one-two-three,” my mother says.
“Testing, one-two-three,” the recorder plays back. I come into the kitchen in time to see my mother smile.
Oh. My. God. Really?
It feels like her smile is a slap in my face. My legs suddenly feel weak, drained of the strength that brought me downstairs to talk to my mother. I feel like I should’ve stayed in my room crying.
I’m so sick of crying. I might scream though.
Only I won’t really, because I’m weak, and I’m sad, and since the party I’ve been completely useless... but seeing my mother smile -- I am so so freakin mad at her for deciding to go through with writing her stupid book!
Shit. There are tears in my eyes! But I’m freakin mad as hell!
Still, my heart aches at the same time. I can’t, I don’t... I don’t understand what I feel, what I want to feel. It sucks! Everything. Sucks. And now here’s my mother with her little recorder, the packaging still ripped open on the breakfast bar, and she’s smiling because now she gets to rip the feelings out of me, Kayla and Rain, record us and write it all down and screw the consequences. She’s a writer, she’ll say. This book is important, she’ll say.
“Mom, you can’t do this. Why are you doing this? To make money? To get famous? To prove something to the world?” I say, wanting to grab her and shake her, and at the same time, hold her hand and weep for her -- but I keep my hands glued to my thighs instead.
She jumps, surprised to see me. As if she forgot I’m her daughter, and I live here. Maybe she’s decided I’m not her daughter, not any more.
I don’t know, maybe it’s me, feeling that way.
“Honey, I’m doing this for you, and your friends,” my mother says, sounding surprised and resigned at the same time. “I’ve tried to explain... think of it this way -- I’m just a, like a channel so you all can tell your stories about what happened--”
“And screw the consequences?”
“God, no! What is wrong with you Casey?”
If she has to ask, I’m not going to tell her. That’s it, I’m out, I think, only I don’t leave, I back up into the wall and slide down to the floor. I shudder and hold my knees in tight.
“You don’t know, Mom, you just don’t know what it’s like. You can’t. Me and especially Kayla and Rain, we can’t be fixed. And our fucked-up lives are not a story!”
My Mom crouches down in front of me. She wipes a tear off my cheek and says, “You still have forever tears. When you were a baby, whenever you’d cry, your tears would never dry up or drip away, they’d stay on your face until I wiped them off, or kissed them away.”
“Don’t kiss me Mom,” I say, trying to suck the stupid tears back in.
“Let it out, baby,” she says.
“Mom! I. Don’t. Want. To.”
She wipes away another tear.
My mother reaches up and grabs something off the counter. At first I’m afraid it’s going to be the recorder, and she’s going to start recording me right now, and I am not ready am not ready am not--
It’s her cigarettes. Closing my eyes for a moment, I let out a breath. When I open my eyes, my mother has moved to sit next to me. She’s holding a cigarette in her hand, rolling it between her fingers, softly crying herself now.
What I really want to do is lean into her and let it be her and me against the world like it’s supposed to be, but instead I make fists and start punching my legs. When my mother tries to stop me, I try to punch her. She holds my fist in her hand, and then shakes her head in disbelief.
“Casey,” she says.
I get up. “You’re only a ‘channel’? Like that woman on Medium, you’re going to catch the bad guys? Puh-lease! Your agent told you you should write this book. You’re getting paid. This book is a paycheck, plus it’s ‘Nancy Keenan-Shaw is back on the literary scene for the first time since Crosses, and this time she’s exploiting her own daughter--”
“If not writing this book meant everything that happened at that party would magically disappear, if I could save your friends that way--”
“You’re not their mother, and you’re not going to save them and you are getting paid and it did happen and your agent thought of you writing this, and I bet you’re so glad now you can write something someone might actually read--”
My mother lights her cigarette and sucks hard.
I snatch her pack out of her hand, take out a cigarette, grab her lighter too, and then start sucking up nicotine and smoke just as hard as she is. Staring at her, trying to glare but I can’t get my shit together enough to -- Oh God, crying I’m crying, stupid “forever tears” stop it Casey stop crying stop crying! Stop breathe think--
My mother lowers her glare and her cigarette, and breathes first. She stands, across the breakfast bar from me, and picks up the recorder.
“Casey, interview one, recorded Saturday, September eleventh, at four-thirty pm,” my mother records. Trying to pass the recorder to me, she says, “Go on, get angry.”
I almost laugh, because this is so my mother. Talk, talk talk, and don’t be afraid or even appropriate... I mean, I was the only girl in my first grade class to know what a dildo was.
She’s out of her league, but I still want to hug her. She’s a freak, but she’s never lied to me...
I also want to stuff the little recorder down her throat, or better yet--
The doorbell rings with an uneven, drunken sparrow warble that reminds me how much we do need my mother’s advance from her publisher, and that makes me angrier, sadder and more afraid than ever. Pressing “stop” on the recorder, I say to no one, “My best friend was raped and my mother is going to get rich off her pain.”
“Honestly, Casey.” My mother starts to slam, then changes her mind and gently places the recorder onto the breakfast bar.
“You survive it, she’ll write it,” I say, snotty and who cares?
The doorbell spits out half a note, dies, and is followed by three quick taps.
“Kayla’s here, so cut it out,” my mother and I actually say at the same time. I could kill myself for being so much like her. We walk-race each other to the door. I get there first, and open the door, ready to protect Kayla because I didn’t do that at the party, and I’m so so sorry.
Kayla’s head is bowed as she comes in, her head hanging heavy on a willowy neck. After a few steps, she raises her head and looks at me. “Thank you for doing this, Mrs. Shaw,” she says with a faint smile. “No one knows the whole story. No one listens, they don’t want to -- even my Mom -- I’ve been afraid to say--”
I exhale a burst of relief that I might be actually doing the right thing, say in my most motherly-yet-professional voice, “Of course Kayla. That’s why we’re here,” nod and place my hand gently on Kayla’s back, leading her to the kitchen.
“Mom, you don’t have to do this.” says Casey, before pulling the door closed. She hugs Kayla before we get to the kitchen, and whispers something in Kayla’s ear. Kayla shakes her head, and Casey softly pads away, then throws herself onto the couch -- somehow conveying both consideration for Kayla’s pain, and anger at my decision to write this book about what happened.
The scarred formica breakfast bar is ready to receive the scarred girls’ testimonies -- a Brita water pitcher, half-full, a glass, and a small digital recorder. Flowers, a bright bouquet overflowing the Tiffany vase I’ve had since my wedding day. I was so excited about this project earlier, but now I blush with embarrassment, afraid that in my preparation my eagerness shows. Now that Kayla is actually here, it’s different. It’s not just a book, and not some altruistic campaign to right the wrongs inflicted on these girls. It’s not, as Casey accused, a way to make a buck or get famous off Casey’s friends’ pain.
It’s so much more real, more present, more heart-wrenching to see the lines in Kayla’s face, lines that shouldn’t crease a sixteen year old’s forehead, or gather around her lips.
My stomach tumbles with fear and my throat clenches as Kayla picks up the recorder.
“Can I say anything?” Kayla wants to know, “I mean, because I want to say, I mean no one’s asked -- I mean, how would they ask? But even my Mom, no one’s asked--”
“Say anything you want,” I say leaning across the breakfast bar to take the recorder. I press “record” and hand it back.
Kayla takes a deep breath and then says in a rush, into the recorder, so close her lips are almost touching it -- “I want to say, I mean I want everyone to know, I mean, that I loved Brian. I still do love him, even after what he did. I’m sorry everyone, but I love him.” Kayla puts the recorder down. She exhales with relief, and I can see Kayla’s ribs rise and fall beneath her tee shirt as she breathes.
Kayla tries to giggle, but the sound that comes out is dry and strained. Still, I am warmed by the hint of a smile in Kayla’s eyes as she says, “You know, I guess I was kind of a stalker!”
Kayla: Interview 1; recorded Saturday 9/11/10 at 4:40 pm:
Every day, I used to ride past Brian’s house, over and over, just wanting to catch a glimpse of him. Once, I saw his mother, and I imagined that after Brian and I got married, his mother would love me so much, she’d invite me over on Thanksgiving morning to help her cook. My mother never cooked anymore.
Anyway. The morning of the party, I stopped across the street from Brian’s. I guess I just couldn’t wait for the party, I wanted him to notice me so bad.
I remember practically melting in the heat as I waited for someone to come home, and thinking, waiting, waiting, waiting! I was always waiting for something, like for instance, I remember waiting for my breasts to grow big like my mothers -- which aren’t huge, they’re only size C’s, but I only had size A pimples on my chest for it seemed like forever. I wouldn’t have even thought of falling in love with or even liking a guy like Brian Kepler until my breasts grew... only I did like him so thank God my breasts blossomed over the summer.
So, I thought, now is the time for us to fall in love, and yet it hadn’t happened. Which is why there I was, waiting again, waiting across the street from Brian’s house for him to come home.
I spun a pedal. Yes, that’s right, I was so lame I still had to ride my bike all over. I had my learner’s permit, and I knew how to drive, really! But no, I didn’t have a car, and no, my mother wouldn’t let me drive hers if I were twenty-one or forty-five or a hundred, so she certainly wasn’t going to let me drive her car when I was just sixteen. Just wait though, I thought, Next year my Dad said he’d talk to her, and he’d let me drive his car anytime, just wait until I was seventeen.
OMG, waiting again! Why oh why do I always have to wait for everything? If Brian ever asked me to kiss him, I wouldn’t wait, that’s for sure -- I promised myself that! But he hadn’t asked, so I waited.
Sweat slid down my neck and between my breasts. I spun the pedal on my bike again, peering through the spokes of the back wheel at Brian’s house. When he got home, I was hoping he’d see my bike upside down and come over to see what’s wrong. Maybe he’d invite me inside for a Coke. Then he’d admit he had loved me since last year when we had gym class together, and he didn’t care that he was a senior and I was only a sophomore because age is just a number.
Suddenly, I was like, Oh shit, that’s his car! I was so startled to finally see him pull around the corner I fell back onto my butt. Scrambling up to my feet, I found my legs had stiffened up from squatting next to my bike watching his house for the past whatever, half-hour? I was all knees and elbows and I felt like a scarecrow and wearing the quote unquote sexy tank top I had on was so stupid, but it showed off my breasts and made me look older I thought maybe, except I suddenly was sure I wasn’t really pulling it off what with my stick legs and all. I was not looking like a woman. I was not looking like the girl Brian would fall in love with. Shit crap damn, I thought. There were Amber and Caitlin. They wore short tank tops, flaunting the bellybutton rings I knew they had. And they did look old enough for Brian. I felt so stupid, and I hoped then that he wouldn’t see me.
Amber and Caitlin giggled at something he said, and followed Brian inside. I missed my chance with him then. After flipping my bike back over, I rode home, thinking, I have to get Mom to let me get pierced. She has to let me go to Brian’s party.
Because, he’d notice me then.
I hoped he’d notice me then.
I don’t know which it is that bothers Kayla most, the phone ringing again (I pick up, say, “Not now!” and hang up quickly), or Rain’s entrance. But Kayla stops recording, and we all turn to Rain.
I’ve always been a little afraid of Rain Rikowsky. Even now, knowing what I know, I’m a little afraid of her. Possibly because she is so much like my high school friend Katie, it makes my eyes water.
Rain even looks like Katie as I remember her -- Thick, straight dirty-blonde hair, only Rain’s is highlighted with chunky lights of bright yellows and reds. Freckles. Tall, slightly chunky -- or, she was, though now she’s skinny, approaching anorexic. I haven’t seen her since the party, and I’m struck by how thin she is, and the purplish-gray smudges under her eyes, accentuated, rather than concealed by heavy makeup. Injured. But not ready to show it.
I wonder how she’ll come off on tape.
Before I can direct Rain to the couch, she’s at Kayla’s side. “You want me to give you a ride home,” she says.
Even though I’m the adult here, I cringe inside. Rain wants to back out. A hot knife stabs me between the eyes, while a cold rock slides down my throat to the pit of my stomach. I have to sit down. Like a road on a hot day, the room shimmers with pain, disappointment, anger, fear... these poor girls, I think, saddest still because one is my own daughter.
I try to catch Casey’s eye. She only looks at me for a second, but it’s enough to see her silently screaming, and then closing down. She looks away.
“Not now,” Kayla answers Rain.
Instead of sitting on the couch next to Casey, captured in this scene, this story, Rain announces, “I’m going outside for a cigarette. Casey, come with?”
“In a sec,” Casey says, getting off the couch and coming next to me, leaning across the breakfast bar.
“You don’t have to do this Kayla,” Casey says in a conspiratorial whisper.
Call me a big baby, but I feel like Casey’s purposely trying to hurt me, trying to delineate herself and her friends from me. Trying to show me that she and I are no longer friends, and maybe never were.
Enough. I’m her mother. This is my job, telling the girls’ stories. Writing it all down for them has to be done, for them, and it is my job. I’m a writer, and it’s my job, Casey.
Instead of saying that, I say, “Casey, if you’re going to be here, sit down. Now.”
She huffs, and hurries out front, after Rain. Just like I would’ve with Katie, like I did with Katie, way back when... Casey is me at fifteen. God help us!
I light a cigarette and smoke anxiously with quick, shallow puffs, holding the cigarette in place near my lips. Sweet, little, frail Kayla coughs. Stamping out the cigarette, I say, “Sorry, honey. Whenever you’re ready.” I press record.
The phone rings again. I answer, and before I can say anything, Brian Kepler says on the line, “Please, let me tell my side, Please--”
“I’ll think about it,” I say, hanging up, knowing I won’t. It strikes me that I’m supposed to be the objective narrator and writer of all this, but I still want to crucify Brian for what he did, or as he claims, didn’t do. I want to protect my daughter and her friends. Maybe I shouldn’t be the one to write this book, if I can’t separate Nancy-mother from Nancy-author.
“Who was that on the phone?” Kayla asks, sitting up taller, as if she knows somehow.
“No one. Are you okay, honey?” I run my fingers through my gelled-up hair, and it crinkles. I take a deep breath.
Now I’m the author of this story again. “Why don’t you continue?”
Kayla: Interview 2; recorded Saturday, 9/11/10 at 4:55 pm:
I told my mother -- I was crying and everything -- I told her that everyone has their belly button pierced, and if she didn’t let me then it was her fault if Brian Kepler didn’t like me, and it was absolutely necessary that I get my belly button pierced before his party tonight, and you know what she did? She laid there on the couch with her eyes closed, doing her deep breathing thing which nobody else’s mother does, I mean really, and then she said “Party?”
Oh shoot, I kinda forgot to tell her about that. I was kinda stuck then, because my mother never let me go to a party where she didn’t know the parents before. I knew I had to make up a story in a hurry so she’d let me go. I didn’t want to lie, because she always said that lying would be the worst thing I could ever do, but on the other hand, I couldn’t tell her deets about the party because Brian’s parents were going out of town and that’s why it was such a big deal – there were going to be no adults and a keg and the pool and everyone who mattered was going to be there, and Rain said she was going to lose her virginity Saturday night -- oh, I shouldn’t say that! -- and if Brian were to ask me, I would too, only -- I thought -- he won’t ask if my mother won’t let me get my belly button pierced –-
“Just a little birthday party. You know Brian. You know how much I love him. Please, Mom!” I said, adjusting her pillow.
She winced when I moved her, but then she sighed, so I knew her neck was hurting more than usual. Her pain was bad, I knew it, because otherwise she’d totally be sitting up, leaning forward on her hands, looking into my eyes –-
And then, I never could’ve gotten away with even a small lie, but all of a sudden it was so easy, because she was lost in her world of hurt, and so I said, “It’s his birthday! He invited me specially! It’s almost like a, a date!”
“Are you asking if you can go?” She was happier than she was letting on. I knew she really wanted to believe someone like Brian would ask me out. She was crazy that way, thinking I was totally special and everyone liked me, and that all the boys must love me.
I started rubbing my mother’s foot, and she sighed with relief, and I said, “So I can go, right?”
“I don’t know, Kayla, it’s not a good time-—“
“It’s never a good time with you!”
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry-—“
Okay, so sue me – she was weak and I needed to go to the party Saturday night, and not only that, but also get my belly button pierced. I knew if I kept at it, kept pushing her, she’d give in, if for no other reason than guilt over being sick and being afraid that that made her a bad mother. I knew how she thought, and I also knew my father would only say “ask your mother”, so it was all or nothing if I really wanted Brian to love me back -- and I did, believe me I did, I wanted that more than anything. It was only the most important thing in the world.
So, I didn’t want to take advantage of my mother and her weaknesses what with her pain and her guilt and her wanting me to have everything -- but my love for Brian was so real, so powerful. I knew I could get him to like me if I just had this one chance and did it right, and so I said to my mother -- before she could recover herself and get her head straight about what was “best” for me -- “So can I get my belly button pierced before the party Saturday? I have the form you just have to sign and Rain’s mother will take us.”
When my mother opened her eyes, they were full of tears, and of course I felt like shit, but I didn’t give up, I just gave her my saddest daughter in the world look.
She signed the form.
I won. And I felt like throwing up.