“She won’t talk, she won’t eat, God knows if she’s sleeping…Seth, what’s happening?” Chris nearly cried, running into Seth’s office that Friday night. It had been exactly a week since they found her bruised and crying in her room and exactly six days since Seth forbade her from ever seeing him again. Five days since Chris got the names of fantastic women’s groups for domestic violence. Four days since she stopped coming out of her room.
How long has it been since Chris saw her smile? How long has it been that she had her friends over? She wasn’t herself, that much was clear. The only thing that loomed over Seth and Chris’s head was: is it too late to get her back?
“I understand that. But what can we do about it?”
“The only thing I can do is call a psychiatrist. But I don’t know how much she’s going to talk or even if she’d go at all.” Seth said, going through some of his papers before putting a stack in his briefcase for work.
“Good to see you’re really on the ball with helping.”
“For God sakes, Chris. I’m working.”
“Right. It’s completely normal to put work before your kids,” Chris sighed, tossing his hands in the air in defeat striding out of the office. There was only one thing he could think of. For a long time, he started at his cell phone screen.
“Hey, Jace. Thanks for coming by.” Chris stepped aside to let him in.
“Hey, Mr. G. It’s been a while since I used the front door.” Jace joked, grinning. Chris tried his best to return it, although he figured it looked more like a grimace. “So, what’s up?”
“It’s…Sophia.” Chris murmured. “She’s not been herself lately.”
Jace suddenly looked nervous and uncomfortable. “I don’t know if I can help you out on this one, Mr. G…” he said, hand on the back of his neck. “We haven’t talked in a long time, really.”
Desperate, Chris said quickly, “Please, Jace.” He swallowed tightly. “I just…I don’t know what else to do. You two had always been close and…maybe she’d talk to you.”
For a long moment, Jace hemmed and hawed. Really, he didn’t even know who Sophia was anymore. But at the very same time, Mr. Grafton looked absolutely beside himself. Then, he nodded and headed upstairs. Not before he felt Chris’s hand on his arm.
“Jace,” he breathed. “Thank you.”
Sophia hadn’t stopped looking at the window. She couldn’t help but wonder if she’d die had she decided to leap from it. Probably not, she mused. Unless she landed the exact right way. In the reflection of the window, she watched her door open and Jace step inside, classic smile on his face.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi.” Sophia muttered. She wasn’t up for company and found it strange that Jace had all of a sudden decided to show up. Now, of all times. “Did my dads send you up here?” she asked icily as Jace sat on her bed. She turned to look at him. He wasn’t smiling anymore, but he wasn’t looking at her like she had a disease, either. For that, she was grateful. Sophia had become tired of her parents treating her like something made out of fine crystal instead of realizing that she had broken into a thousand pieces a long, long time ago.
And they just never bothered to notice.
“They’re really worried about you, Soph.” Jace admitted slowly after a pause, sending his eyes to look at his hands.
“And, let me guess. They thought I’d talk to you?”
“You’re talking now,” he pointed out softly.
She turned away from him again, staring out her window. Sophia wondered idly what Ethan was up to. He was apologetic after the ordeal she went through, when she finally snuck away to call him and tell him what happened. Even though she loved him, she was still scared to admit that he might go crazy enough to hurt her family after what her dads did.
“They don’t understand.”
“That he never meant to do any of it. And that I can take care of myself.” She stood up so she wasn’t tempted to jump out her window. “He apologized. Every time. They don’t give him credit for that.” There were tears in her eyes and her voice shook inside her chest.
“Sophia…” Jace whispered. “I can’t even believe what you’re saying right now. This isn’t like you. At all. He’s got this…hold over you and it’s like you don’t even know. Or don’t even care. Which is scarier, in my opinion.”
She shook her head and folded her arms over her chest.
“When was the last time you did something you really liked to do? You spend all your time with him instead of with your friends. It’s like he was just controlling your life. And you let him.”
“I love him,” she nearly screamed. “He’s the only person who ever really cared about me.”
“I care about you!” Jace yelled, standing as well. “Your dads care about you! Your sisters, your brother, your friends! Sophia, I can’t think of someone who doesn’t care about you!”
“My dads don’t even know I exist!” Sophia recounted. “All they do is fight all the time and who the hell knows if they’re going to get divorced! Jesus Christ, how long did it take them to notice anything, anyway!?”
Jace stared at her intently, not believing that once upon a time, this was his best friend. That this girl had been the one he lost his virginity to. That, a long, long time ago, they played in their backyards, shared secrets in a tree house their dads built, tried to count the stars. Most of his childhood memories were made with this girl. And here she was, looking at him through a black eye with her bottom lip split. The result of a guy’s angry hand and her graceful, forgiving heart. And she wouldn’t even understand to the extent that he loved her.
“Even if they do get divorced, that doesn’t mean that they don’t love you.” He sighed. “That doesn’t mean that no one loves you.”
And with that, he turned and strode out of her room, certain that if he looked at her for any longer that he would break into tears. As if he wasn’t going to already.
“Jace,” Chris called as Jace appeared in the foyer, hand on the doorknob. He rushed forward to see how things went. “I-”
“I’m sorry, Mr. G. I can’t help.” He whispered, trying to even out his voice and his heart. He knew, without letting himself know, that this would probably be the last time he ever saw his best friend. And his closing memories of her would be her too-thin frame covered with bruises and lying for a guy who treated her like she was nothing more than a toy.
At Chris’s distraught face, Jace had to look away. “Nothing?” he murmured.
“I’m sorry.” He said again before he walked out of his house, and that family, for the last time.
Chris felt his heart deflate suddenly. It wasn’t long until he found himself staring at the baggie of pills he had recently gotten. Already, almost empty.
Sighing, he popped two and hoped that would just make him relax long enough to figure out what he was going to do about his oldest daughter.
Sophia knew there were some things her fathers would just never understand. They tried, honestly, they did. But there would always be that gender gap. Like, for instance, when she started her period in the seventh grade.
Her stomach had been hurting but she thought she had simply eaten something weird. Then, when she got home from school and used the bathroom, there it was: red and angry and ruining her light blue underwear. Horrified, she closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. From school and what little her fathers told her about it, she knew what a period was and she knew this was it.
That still didn’t mean she knew what to do after it reared its ugly head.
When she reluctantly told them fifteen minutes later when she figured they had to do something about it, Seth went through the medical stuff. What having a period meant. When she would get it. The symptoms. Stuff like that. Chris, on the other hand, blushed and immediately dialed up his sister for assistance.
Sophia sat there the entire lecture with her face down and cheeks burning bright.
Then, five minutes after that, her Aunt Heather whisked her away to the grocery store where she bought maxi pads and tampons specifically for teenagers. She smiled at her comfortingly as she grabbed a bottle of Midol and tipped a few Hershey’s bars into the bag. “For relief.” She explained with a wink.
When they got back, Aunt Heather explained how to use tampons and told her about TSS, which thoroughly freaked out Sophia enough to turn her off to them for a good three months. Alone in the bathroom again, she skimmed off her underwear and put them in a brown paper bag before slapping a pad on a new pair and replacing them. Her fathers never spoke of it again unless she asked them to pick up a box of tampons from the store for her.
She told herself that gender difference was why she didn’t rush to them when this all first started happening.
No matter how much they attempted to get things pertaining strictly to girls, bra shopping, periods, shoe shopping, they never seemed to full understand. Her relationship was complicated and often looked flawed. But she had never met anyone to love her like Ethan did. She didn’t want to do anything that would hurt them.
Which was exactly what she did.
There was a soft tapping on her window. Immediately, her mind skipped to Jace. So, he was too good to talk to her at a reasonable hour. He had to wait until one in the morning to talk to her? Angry, she padded over to her window and threw it open, about to bitch him out.
Then, the sight of him made her heart leap in her chest. “Ethan!” she cried happily.
“You gonna leave me sitting out here all night?” he asked with his cocky smile. She beamed before placing her finger over her lips and shutting the window. Steadily, Sophia crept down the hallway outside her room and down the stairs, conscious of the ones that creaked under pressure. Then, so slowly she felt like it took years in whole, she opened the back door and slid outside. Ethan had waited next the door for her.
Delighted, Sophia ran to the space between his arms and inhaled the scent of his cologne, thinking about how wrong her dads had been about him. He was a good guy. He cared. He just didn’t show that in very conventional ways.
“I missed you so much it hurt.” He murmured against her cheek after kissing her sweetly.
“I did too. It was insane.”
“They’ve got you under lockdown, don’t they?”
Sophia nodded, tucking a lock of hair behind her ears. “Definitely. Super strict about it, too.” She turned to look back up at the house. The light in their bedroom was on, but since she couldn’t see shadows walking around, she figured they were reading. She was still in the clear. “They don’t understand us.” Sophia whispered.
“They have no idea how much I love you.” He agreed, kissing her again. “You know, this might actually be kind of cool. We’ll be like Romeo and Juliet.” Ethan smirked.
Sophia drew back. “But they both died at the end.” She said, blinking.
Ethan rolled his eyes with a grin and said nothing more on the matter.
“Do you think she hates us?” Chris asked softly, bookmarking what he was reading and placing it on the end table.
“Probably,” Seth said easily.
“Don’t act so upset or anything.”
Seth sighed. “Oh, don’t be so melodramatic. She’s a teenager. It happens.”
“Don’t be so nonchalant, her boyfriend was beating the hell out of her.” Chris rebutted, sinking back into the pillows and folding his arms over his chest. Seth, sensing something was wrong, closed his book and turned to look at the stranger next to him.
When the hell did he remember ever knowing this guy? Once upon a time, this man had been everything. He had seen the best, the worst and loved him regardless. Anymore, their marriage felt loveless. Maybe they still cared, but their focus changed. Now, they acted simply as roommates who shared the responsibility of a house and four children.
“I understand what’s happened to her. But Chris, the only thing we can do as parents is offer her support when she needs it.”
“I’d like to rip that guy open.” Chris mumbled, rolling over and snapping off the lights.
“I feel the same way.” Seth commiserated, following suit. A silence so vast it threatened to engulf the whole house stretched between them. They sat for an immeasurable amount of time in the silent dark, not knowing what else to say.
Then, so quietly, Seth had to have been listening for it, Chris asked, “Do you hate me?”
After a heartbeat pause, Seth replied, “No.” and that was all.