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Excerpt for Dentata: A Novel by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Some victims aren’t victims for long.

Some victims lie in way.

Some victims bite back.




Dentata

a novel


Riya Anne Polcastro




©2019 by Riya Anne Polcastro. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author at riya@riyaannepolcastro.com. All artwork by Riya Anne Polcastro unless otherwise noted.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any semblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.




Also by Riya Anne Polcastro:


Jane.*


Suicide in Tiny Increments*


And by R. Anne Polcastro, the family friendly/middle grade/young adult alter ego:


The Last Magdalene, a novella


The Left Behind Trilogy:


Book One: The Forbidden Voyage

Book Two: Brave New Planet

Book Three is coming soon!



*Jane., Dentata, and Suicide in Tiny Increments are part of a web of interrelated novels and stories called The Circle, which is something like a series but not quite.

To my readers. Thank you.


And to Duffy. Enjoy.


Contents

Title Page

Other Works

Author’s Note

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

About the Author

Website Link

Author’s Note

There are no metaphors here.

This novel is what is on the surface. There is nothing to see between the lines.

This story has nothing to do with men in general, nothing to do with masculinity. For those who wish to find something that isn’t here, please look elsewhere.

This is NOT a manifesto.

This is NOT a tale of man-haters who want to castrate the world, if there is even such a thing outside of a few nut jobs’ wild imaginations. Please leave that absurdity behind.

This IS a response to lazy writing, torture porn as mainstream, and rape scenes as entertainment.

Rape is NOT entertainment.

This IS a story about victims.

This IS a story about perpetrators.

This IS a story about revenge.

This IS a story about the evil that men do. BUT women are capable of just as horrible of acts, AND this IS a story for their victims as well.


Chapter One



No one knows where your story begins. Not even you.


The universe twists and turns—churns out different versions like butter on the cosmic plane. Sometimes your story comes out smooth, other times it gets chunky.


Right now it is chunky and rotten and absolutely ruined.


Your eyes drain in torrents and sobs heave in your chest. You make a beeline through the cluttered living room and family kitchen, down the stairs to your basement apartment, and straight into your private shower. You don't bother to undress or even take off your shoes before you step in and turn the frigid water on. The showerhead pelts you with freezing cold water while the ancient gas tank belches out the hot stuff in slow motion.


But you don't care. You don't care about anything except the part of you that died last night.


The muscles in your legs are weak, quivering, ready to give out. Between sobs you struggle to pull the torn shirt, now soaking, over your head. The pink lace bra that betrayed you with clasps that snapped too easily falls to the bottom of the tub. You don't look down at the bruises on your breasts or the rug burn on your stomach. The button on your jeans is torn off, the zipper broken. You squeeze your eyes shut as tight as you can before you push the wet pants off and kick them to the other side of the tub. Your torn and bloody underwear goes with them.


Your weeping turns violent. Your body shakes. You plead with God. Staring at the ceiling, calling out for him, your tears are hollow prayers and your prayers fall on deaf ears. You demand an explanation, a reason why he would let this happen to you. You beg Him to take the pain away.


But there is no undoing the past. Everyone knows that. What is done is done. You double over and instead beg for a reason as the drain consumes your blood and tears.


The water is hot now. Steaming. Your pale freckled skin is red and on its way to raw and yet you rake the loofah across your arms and legs and torso: pressing, digging, removing another layer and then another. This isn't just exfoliation—this is a desperate attempt to remove every piece of you that he touched with his sin, down to your very cells.


The whites of your eyes are just as red—bloodshot but also burnt dry by so many tears. They sting and ache. But then again all of you hurts, from the pit of your soul to the membranes of your nuclei. You are already dead within, now you are decaying from the inside out.


Once before you thought you felt something like this. You thought you smashed into rock bottom—when Sami betrayed you—you thought that was as bad as life could get. And yet it was nothing like this. Not even a little. A piece of you withered away when she confessed to starting an affair only a month after she put a ring on your finger and pledged her love forever and ever in front of God and your closest friends. When she walked out the front door, two packed cases trailing behind her, you thought it was the worst you could ever feel, the lowest you could ever sink. But now? Now it pales in comparison. Meaningless—a minor bump in life. This, on the other hand, is devouring you, chewing you up, biting pieces off, spitting them out.


Another wave of sobs hits hard and you sink to the bottom of the shower, helpless, fetal even. If the drain clogs and the tub fills with water you will drown of sorrow right where you lie.


Your mother haunts you in the tub, demands to know what you were wearing.


When you were a teenager, she remained ever vigilant, on constant guard to ensure you never left the house looking like a slut. Whether she judged the hemline on your skirt too short or the neckline on your blouse too low, she would tell you—you were asking for it.


Your mother's hair is short and stringy—blonde at the ends, a dull gray-brown at the roots. Her lips are thin and judging, prone to a permanent purse—a perturbed pucker. She is taller than you are but thinner, more athletic despite her age. She didn't give birth to you until she was the age of forty-five. You were unplanned, a surprise, and a prime candidate for termination according to the abortion salesmen at Planned Parenthood.


In a panic, you glance down at your belly. What if . . .


No!


NO!


You squeeze your eyes shut once more and pull your knees to your chest. Your lungs heave. You aren't on birth control. You only make love to women, why would you be?


Lying at the bottom of the tub you are assaulted by a hundred horrible images. Before your eyes, your uterus grows and grows until a baby swaddled in hospital linens appears—just like you always wanted except you could never ever love this child. Never. Next, images of murdered fetuses parade through your imagination and fear chokes off your tears so that you are stuck to the bottom of the tub glassy-eyed and empty inside.


At some point, you sit back up. Doing so is a struggle, what with your muscles drained right along your soul, their fibers hollow, empty of will, it takes all your effort at the time, and yet you don't remember ever moving from one position to another. Every movement, every thought, is a blur. With your back against the tub, your knees bent in front, the water beating down on your head, running into your eyes and down your face in place of tears run dry, you stare at the shower curtain and wonder what your life would be like raising such a child. If that is what fate decided last night, will you hate her? Will you wish him death every day he is in utero? Will callous disregard be the best you can muster after she is born?


You always said if something like this happened to you, you would keep the baby and love it regardless.


You had no idea what you were talking about. Naïve would be an understatement.


You put your head between your knees and squeeze. A doctor could give you two pills and you would never know what fate held in store, but a life is a life, so you don't even consider the option. Words from so many heated debates echo in your head. You used to believe Jesus works in mysterious ways. If a woman couldn't love a child who bore no fault for the circumstances of his conception, then she should bless a barren couple with life. You believed it then and you still do now, so you squeeze your knees tighter and tighter until your head throbs. Until your brain pulses in your skull: No! No! No!


You tell yourself this isn't real. None of it. It's just a bad dream, a nightmare!


If only Sami were here. Sami would make everything better. She'd wrap her warm arms around you and brush the tears from your eyes. She would tell you everything will be alright even if it won't. She would remind you that even though the wound hurts now, healing will come and usher away the pain. She would make you feel like those words are true even though deep down you know they are not.


Here alone, there is no one to lie to you—no one to distract you with tales of better days—and you can't shake the feeling that this is not the type of thing people heal from. This is the sort of thing that scars them for life.


The tank runs out of hot water and the shower goes tepid and you think of your mother all over again. And when you think of your mother, you think of the first time you had sex. It wasn't remotely pleasurable, but at least it was consensual.


"That's for sure."


Those were her words when the subject came up, the conversation having escaped her three fingers of whiskey prior. She didn't understand what you meant then, she won't understand what you're going through now. She will find a way to blame you, or at the very least make you doubt your own version of the night's events.


Your mother was saved in the seventies—high as a motherfucking kite on blow and Christianity. Strange bedfellows in any other period, at the time the combination made sense to a surprising number of people.


She met your father at a Wednesday night worship service. For their first date, they sat on the edge of the church lot and took bumps from a baggie with their house keys. For their second date, they took his Cadillac de ‘Ville, with the plush couch like backseat, and parked at the lookout off Highway 214. For their third date, they got married. A rushed decision before the Justice of the Peace, more guilt than love, but their union lasted this long so who's to judge?


Married without children and your parents kept going to church long after they gave up the coke. Bible studies, revival picnics, fundraisers—they went all in. So when you came along almost a decade later there was no question about it—you would be raised with a Father in heaven.

If you had been born a boy your name would have been John after John the Baptist. Instead, you were named after his mother.


It is the little slights like that which make you want to question your faith, but fear of Hell keeps you from any kind of follow through. Besides, you can't disappoint your mother. Her favorite thing to brag about is how young you were when you asked Jesus into your heart.


Of course, three and a half is way too young to understand any kind of vow, let alone such a momentous one. And if you don't even remember doing it, how can it count? So you confessed your sins and invite him into your heart over and over and over again, like a nervous tick, especially as a teenager and especially after masturbating or having sex with your boyfriend. You still beg the Son of God to enter your heart, to forgive your sins, to save you from the flames of Hell, on a regular basis throughout the day.


Your parents might sound like holy rollers, but they weren't too bad. Your upper-middle-class family still qualified as normal enough. You still got to play volleyball in high school and go to school dances. They harped on chastity and saving yourself for marriage, but they never forced you to wear a ring promising your purity to your future husband. And when your mother found out you slept with your high school sweetheart, she didn't make you marry him, she put you on the pill. Like you, she never understood the difference between consent and actually wanting something.


Billy was cute enough. He asked you to the spring formal your sophomore year. Other than the fact that you found him completely and utterly unattractive, you couldn't think of a reason to turn him down. Furthermore, your parents loved him from the start. A good Christian boy from a good Christian family, he had all the qualities you were taught to want. On paper, he was the perfect boyfriend. He was exactly what your mom coached you to go after: captain of the football team, tall and broad-shouldered, on his way to private university at least if not the Ivy League, a regular at church, a leader in youth group, he was from the right neighborhood (theirs), and both of his parents earned six figures.


You wore a blue dress that night, strapless with sequins, a blue bow in your ash blonde hair. The night was awkward, but such nights were supposed to be, right? You tried to tell yourself the hollowness in the pit of your stomach was butterflies when in fact you were bored. Bored of listening to Billy wax on and on about himself. Bored of holding his clammy hand. Bored of staring at the angry zit on the side of his jaw—or ingrown hair—whatever, you didn't care, you wanted out.


Except nice girls don't walk out on their dates, they don't feign illness or make excuses to leave, they don't escape out the window in the girls' bathroom. So, you hung in there. Bored and miserable, you hung in there through the watered-down punch and the stale cookies and the slow dancing with his wet hands on your waist. You hung in there in spite of yourself, without regard to your own desires, your own happiness, and made polite conversation. You let him rest his hand on your thigh during the ride home, all the while wishing his older brother would drive faster. You let him walk you to the door and you let him kiss you on the lips. You smiled and told him you had a fantastic time even though you didn't. When he asked if you wanted to go out with him again you said—Yes, of course. Then you hurried inside. All you wanted to do was scrub him off your lips.


Parents blocked your path. Your mother beamed. She pinched your cheeks and asked you all about the dance. She told you to hold onto him, said he was husband material. They were proud. The proudest they had been since the whole saved at three and a half thing.


Climbing up the stairs to your room, your back to them, the despair on your face hidden, that was when you realized no matter what you did with your life, no matter what you accomplished, you would always be measured by whose arm you were on first.


That night you lied in bed, sleepless, eyes open, a slow trickle down your cheeks as you pondered what kind of future such expectations held.


Before long, Billy was a steady feature in your life. He asked and you said yes. Friday nights, winter balls, the prom. That was how the sex happened. You didn't want to do it, but you didn't feel like that was a legitimate reason to say no either. Sex was what you had to do to keep him. Sex was what you had to do to keep your mother proud. And so, like so many women, sex was an obligation from the beginning. A means to an end. A way to please other people, to keep them happy. It wasn't for you. It wasn't about you.


Sex was about tolerance, not pleasure.


When your friends talked about how amazing it felt when their boyfriends licked their pussies, how much they enjoyed being pounded from behind, you smiled and played shy. If they pressed you tried to fake some enthusiasm, tried to pretend like something about bumping and grinding with Billy wasn't awful. Sometimes you wished one of them would see through the façade and call you on your bullshit, but no one else seemed to notice your lack of satisfaction. Well, that or they didn't care.


The irony of all of this is that, in the end, Billy was the one who broke your heart. After going steady junior and senior year the two of you would stay together even when you went off to different colleges, that was a given. It was not, however, a given that he would remain faithful.


Your mother blamed you, said it was your own fault for showing up at his dorm room to surprise him, said you got what you deserved. A man needed his space, after all. She begged you to forgive him, to take him back. She insisted he was your future. Men cheat. Boys will be boys and all of that. Get over it. So, you did. Well, you tried, you pretended to be over it. But the truth is, getting over being humiliated by someone you don't actually like is not such an easy thing.

In the meantime, you made new friends and dated other boys who you never told anyone about. When their company was as boring, when their sex left you just as dissatisfied as Billy's, you wondered what was wrong with you. Then you gave up and accepted your fate as the future Mrs. Billy Jones. What else could you do?


A question haunts you, a question whose answer matters much less than the importance you give it—would this have happened to you if you were still with him? If Sami had never whisked you away, she would never have been able to leave you heartbroken and vulnerable and you never would have been a part of The Circle or gone to any of their parties in the first place.


The water goes from lukewarm to cold to downright freezing. Numb is not purely a physical state of being. It is a place where you feel nothing and yet everything tenfold.


You don't remember climbing out of the shower once more. You don't remember dressing in layers of leggings, long sleeves, and sweats. You don't remember crawling onto the couch and hiding under a mountain of blankets. You only remember crying yourself to sleep to wake up screaming.


Those screams, they force their way from the empty pit of your stomach up, up, up, shaking your very being on their way, until they burst past your throat and explode out of your mouth. You wake with a scream, your heart racing, your bedclothes and linens both drenched in sweat.


He was here. You felt him. You felt him on top of you. You felt his evil wrap around you.


You breathe hard, gripping the couch with both hands, and survey the basement apartment where every single light is left on. You are alone. He isn't here. No one else is here. No one can hurt you. You exhale with a violent shiver. The worst already happened. No one can ever hurt you again, not after what he did to you. Nothing will ever compare.


It happens again—a twinge below your solar plexus, an invisible hollow blow to your gut. It doesn't have a name, not in English, not one you know. But that feeling is all that's left for you right now—that pain so base and simple and yet so barren you don't want it to fade.


The tears return, and sobs wrack your chest in violent waves. Snot crowds your sinuses so the sound of your misery is trapped in mucus. Mourning for what you lost—trust, hope, faith—pours down your face and your vision is nothing but a cloudy blur. More and more your cries sound like dry heaves rocking you back to sleep.


The next time you wake your body is shivering and your teeth are chattering. Layer upon perspiration-soaked layer traps you in a cold wet nest you fight to untangle yourself from. Energy sapped and spirit drained, you manage to crawl back to the bathroom and climb back into the tub. This time you also manage to take your clothes off before turning the water on. The hoodie is the first to go. You tug and yank until the neck hole lets go and slides over your head. You toss the hoodie over the side of the tub and onto the floor. The baggy sweatpants hide wool leggings and knee-high socks which go next. Layer after layer, you peel down to your bare skin.


Naked now, you catch a glimpse of your bruised thighs. They aren't what you want to see. Of course, once something like that is in your mind, you are stuck with the image, haunted by it.


The more you try to fight them, the more you try to ignore the bruises, the louder they call. Your gaze is dragged down, down, down, in spite of your better judgment, in spite of your desire for out of sight out of mind. You don't want to, but you glance down. Down at patches of broken capillaries on your breasts. Down at your nipples, purple and swollen. Down at the bruises which pepper your thighs. At the space between your legs, black and blue except for a stray trickle of blood making its way down the inside of your thigh. The world starts to sway and shake. Everything goes black from the outside in until the last pinprick of bathroom light disappears.


By the time you come to the water heater has purged its contents, nothing but a frigid stream left to pelt your bare skin now that its warmth has been lost down the drain once more. You are frozen to the bone, but the numbness which takes over your body is nowhere near enough to quiet your drowning soul. Your cries start fresh and strong, as strong as before.


Sorrow like this, the kind that springs from the rage and humiliation of being violated, comes in waves; washing over you like the tides so at times your sorrow wanes, but whenever your thoughts return to the trigger it returns full force, shoves your head below the water, and holds you under while you choke and sputter and wish for actual physical death. You force yourself to climb out of the shower while you still can; before another tsunami of despair bares down.


Nothing dries on its own in a bathroom below ground. Not the mirror or the walls or the towel you used earlier, hung so carefully across three hooks so the cotton doesn't bunch and mildew—a feat you managed in spite of the trauma, in spite of the mental hopscotch you are forced to play, which speaks to habit more than to effort.


Against your better judgment, you wipe the steam from the mirror with your forearm. You stare into your own eyes, take stock of your own face. The freckles on your nose beg a stolen innocence you can't recall, as does your pink pucker with its perfect cupid's bow. Your irises burn evergreen—the color of tears and fears—your regular green amplified by bloodshot whites, by the corners of your eyes not just red with swollen veins but rubbed raw as well. If only they were any other color. They change after all: jade when all is well, aquamarine when you wear the right outfit on a sunny spring day. If you were angry, they would burn a yellow-green rage half dead and ready to devour anything standing in your path, but you don't know anything about that. You have never been allowed to be angry. Anger does not become you. Growing up you were taught that anger is not suited to little girls, let alone grown women. Sugar and spice and everything nice, that is what X-chromosomes are made of.


Your name is Elisabeth but most of your friends call you Beth. A few might still refer to you as El—if they met you during a brief goth stage you went through freshman year.


Your hair is blonde. Not platinum blonde like strippers or party girls or plastic SoCal bitches- -regular, pretty, girl-next-door blonde. You grew up in a quaint little town not far outside of Salem Oregon, where the housing prices are triple what you would expect for a place with less than six digits on their population sign. You had a white picket fence childhood-in both the literal and figurative senses. Nothing prepared you for life in the capital city. Nothing. Home to five penitentiaries, countless sex offenders, and a culture that breeds a dangerous mix of sadism and crass individualism. Nothing prepared you for this place where everyone thinks they are the star of their own personal reality TV show. Nothing prepared you for this place where people are bad for the sake of being bad. Where they hurt each other for the sake of hurting someone. Where they steal for the sake of stealing, only to abandon their score down the road.


That's not to say what happened to you here couldn't happen anywhere else. It very well could.

But it didn't. It happened here and that is the simple truth.


You still work in your hometown, down at the local high school manning phones and writing passes for students who show up late. You've made the faithful commute every morning and every afternoon for two years without fail. Until today. Until Monday, March 14th, when the sun sets before you realize you have missed work. By the 15th you figure it's too late, so you still don't call. Besides, as if dialing isn't hard enough, what are you supposed to say? What are you supposed to tell them? Not the truth! And yet anything less will require some sort of medical evidence like a doctor's note or a death certificate for someone near and dear. You have never flaked out on a job before. Just the thought of doing so would ordinarily result in a panic attack. But now? Now you can't bring yourself to care about anything anymore.


For the first time ever your place gets messy—trashed, disgusting, a regular old pig sty. Clothes litter the floor and the stairs leading up to the main part of the house. Drinking glasses with surface mold crowd the coffee table. The sink overflows with dishes caked in rotten and congealed food prepared by your roommate and left at your door with a knock and a plea to come upstairs and join the dinner table. She's afraid you're not eating and she's right. But it doesn't matter how many meals she delivers to the other side of the door, your heart is too broken, your soul too shattered, to eat.


The air is thick and putrid, but you don't care. You don't even care enough to crawl off the couch and put a candy wrapper in the trash or water bottles in the bag of recycling under the sink. Shit, you don't care enough to drink water anymore. This is a far cry from your obsessive-compulsive tendencies, labeled cupboards, and laundry schedule. This is what happens when your world comes crashing down.


On Wednesday morning your roommate gives up polite raps on your door and offerings from her family meal to pound and scream and demand you show your face instead. Huddled on the couch, knees to your chest, clutching an old pillow, trying not to implode, you ignore her. You can't let her see you like this. You can't let anyone see you like this.


Katrina yells your name over and over, begs you to let her in, threatens to call the police for a welfare check. She is sure you're still alive because, twice a day, you faithfully remove the plates she delivers to your door, the meals she continues to leave for you even though you're not eating them, even though your sink is stuffed with servings of eggs and spaghetti.


Frustrated with being ignored, she pounds on the door, shaking the wood in its frame.


You try to disappear. Every time she knocks, every time she begs you to open up, to tell her what's wrong, you climb further into your cocoon until she gives up and goes away.


You try to sleep the days away, but sleep is when he returns. Sleep is when trauma happens all over again.


Without fail you wake screaming, then, hours at a time, you lie down in the tub and let the boiling spray pelt your skin until the water turns cold and your bones along with it. Until your sobs go silent and you are lying with your face pressed to the bottom of the tub, watching your life slip and slide down the drain.


*


It was one of those brisk mornings, the kind where the fog hangs low, hugs the ground, and the moon shines as bright in the west as the sun does in the east. The navy-blue Buick crawled through the parking lot, dodging potholes, climbing speedbumps, quaking like a boat as the tires grappled with uneven grades and the unfortunate topography of the visitors' lot. Creeping along, Julia searched for the perfect spot—not too close to the guard's tower, but still nestled among other vehicles. She found it in the fourth row back, between an Astro Van and a lowrider. Swinging the car wide, she eased the oversized nose in between the two yellow lines and shifted the lever on the steering wheel to park. She faced you and smiled—with her lips alone—before thanking you once more.


It was a pained smile, flat and halfway to a frown, distorted by the eyebrows she has been shaving off since middle school and had yet to draw back on that morning. It was a short smile that didn't last, didn't linger. You returned something sweeter, more genuine, with your teeth showing and your eyes gleaming too, and thought, 'What are friends for?'


It was still ten minutes before you could line up for visiting hours. Julia had made damn sure you would be early.


She cracked the window and turned the heater on full blast. Your armpits began to dampen and your brow glistened, but she didn't seem to take note. Instead, she pulled a pack of Newports from her purse and offered you one, though you quit smoking months ago. You declined of course so she took one out for herself and tossed the pack back where it came from. The lighter on the dash popped—you never noticed when she pushed it in—and she brought the glowing orange coil to the cigarette balanced between her lips. The tobacco caught right away, sending a rush of smoke into her asthmatic lungs. She coughed and hacked and took another drag.


You asked if she was okay, like you always do. She nodded and blew a plume of smoke out through the two-inch gap in the window, then leaned back against the headrest and took yet another drag. On her next exhale her eyes were wet. You saw even though she tried to hide by facing the window. You tried to comfort her—told her everything would be alright. It was a lie both of you wanted to believe. Two years was a long time.


"Could be worse," she said. Some women wait a lifetime for their men.


You admire Julia for the strength of her conviction, her willingness to sacrifice, to suffer for love. You look up to her as if she is the strongest woman in your universe. Her determination to stand by her man no matter what, through thick and thin, through good and bad times, through side bitches, and domestic violence, never wavered. She inspired you. So, when she asked you to visit her boyfriend in jail for her you didn't stop to think how the whole thing could backfire.


Your friend needed your help and you would do anything and everything you could to be there for her. Julia was a victim of love not only because her man was locked up, but her own parole officer had blocked her from visiting him too. So, it was you who signed in at the county jail in her place. It was you who set off the metal detectors with the buttons in your jeans. And it was you who sat across the glass from Daemon, talking into an old-fashioned telephone receiver.


It was you who gazed into his big brown eyes and told him to be strong.


It was you who reminded him how much Julia loved him and it was you who passed the same message back to her an hour later.


She asked how he looked and you lied, told her he looked great, neglected to mention the twenty pounds or so he had lost in a month of being locked up. He was only allowed an hour of exercise a day. And when the food wasn't spoiled it was still pretty much inedible. You figured she already knew that part so you didn't bother to remind her.


She asked about his case and you sighed before you could stop yourself. She prodded and you admitted that yes, he would need to take the deal. That's when she took a deep breath and nodded, said okay a couple of times, and dug in. Resolved, if anyone could make it through this, Julia would. She made you promise to visit him for her, but there was never a question either way. You would do anything for her and Daemon. Anything. If there was one relationship you were ever truly invested in, it was Julia and Daemon's. They gave you hope. They gave you something to strive for. If they could stay together despite all they had been through . . .


The rumble from under the Buick's hood interrupted your train of thought, made you forget how much you wanted what they had. Well, sort of. Your palate is a bit more feminine. You didn't know until your early twenties—until Sami came along and saved you from the tedium of heterosexuality. But now that you do—everything is complicated.


Your parents never were and never will be okay with seeing you on another woman's arm. If you marry again, they won't pay for your wedding. The won't even attend.


Their pastor will never allow you to wed someone of the same sex in the family church, and he certainly won't bless your union.


Your parents will never love grandchildren from donors or turkey basters or invasive medical treatments. And yet, all you ever wanted was their acceptance. All you ever wanted was their unconditional love.


Julia and Daemon gave you something to look forward to, a love to admire, because they never gave a fuck what the world around them thought. Their love was accountable to each other and each other alone. If you couldn't conform to the white picket fence, if you couldn't force yourself to settle for a Y chromosome, then you at least wanted a love like theirs, a love that didn't give a fuck, a love that persevered. You wanted it so bad that you were willing to do anything to support that love, even if it didn't belong to you, even if it was only by proxy.


Julia could never fathom just how far you were willing to go. She thought, mistakenly, she needed to woo you, to sell you on the idea. A couple of months later, while her man's plea was being processed and he was preparing to spend the requisite time up north at Coffee Creek having his sentence computed and placement arranged at a medium-security pen elsewhere in the state, she invited you to dinner at the one local Thai restaurant whose staff figured had out that when she ordered the house special noodles hot what she meant was mild.


A quiet place in Keizer with a scant upscale Buddhist decor, the restaurant is owned by first-generation immigrants whose work ethic put early American Protestants to shame. The wife greeted you with a huge smile and led you to an all-white booth set with side plates, silverware, and linen napkins. She filled the glass stemware with ice water from a carafe which appeared as if from nowhere and offered you a moment to decide on drinks. Before she could retreat Julia asked for two straws in her usual flat, almost abrupt tone.


It never occurred to you just how rude Julia is. Her crass manner, her demanding attitude toward anyone with even the slightest responsibility for customer service, somehow you always managed to overlook the way she treated people. Instead, you agreed that the staff at just about every restaurant in town was incompetent, every restaurant except this one. The young newlyweds who owned and operated this place all by themselves had not only learned the secrets of staging the perfect Pad Thai, but they had mastered the art of pleasing the most entitled American female. Here, the owner was already pulling two wrapped straws out of her apron, in spite of the five percent tip she knew to expect.


It wasn't until after your yellow curry had been delivered, devoured, and paid for that you learned the true motivation behind Julia's dinner invitation.


Julia never paid for dinner or drinks or appetizers. She would pay her share, but she would never treat. You didn't mind. You understood her plight: saddled with restitution and parole fees and wage garnishments. You didn't mind buying her meal or taking her out for rum and cokes every once in a while. So when she reached for the bill and did not hand it back to be split you were shocked.


Perhaps shocked enough to agree to whatever she was about to ask. Perhaps. Except you would have agreed regardless. You would do anything for Julia and Daemon.


"I need you to visit him again," she said, her green eyes intense, grave even, and locked on your own.



She didn't even need to ask, let alone spoil you with a free meal. You would take a half day off work to visit Daemon without a second thought.


But there was more to her request. She needed you to deliver something to him. Something green to get him by. A small piece of skunk to see him through.


The rest of the tables had cleared out by then, leaving Julia and you alone in the dining room while the owners were busy doing dishes and cleaning up in the back. She took advantage of the privacy and explained that what she needed you to do was hide a balloon under your tongue, a balloon stuffed with weed. Then, at the visit, you would pass the contraband to him.


"But how?" you giggled, convinced you must be missing something. The only way would be to kiss him and there is no way she wanted you to do that.


"It's the only way."


You twisted up your face as you racked your brain for another option. Not finding one, you were still reluctant to agree. And after you did—you didn't feel right. The arrangement didn't sit well with you, but you ignored your instincts, you ignored your gut in favor of trust and loyalty.


Even more so than the two of them, you would do anything for Julia. Anything. Which is why pretending you don't know where it all began is a lie. This is it. This is where your story went wrong.


Chapter Two


You were ten, you had just started fifth grade, and weeks had passed since your mother last left her room, weeks since you saw her standing on her own two feet. It was the dead of August when she took ill that time; when she took to her bed with the four posts and the heavy curtains that closed around her, blacking out the rest of the world, her friends and family, you, when everything got to be too much. You were ten and you didn't understand a single thing about the disease stealing your mother from you in slow motion.


You had no idea that, between naps as deep as a coma and games of solitaire, she still noticed your existence. But she did. And she also noticed that the girls you ran with, the only girls in the neighborhood near enough in age to play with, had taken to wearing makeup and miniskirts over the summer.


What should have been a momentous occasion, coming home from school and finding your mom out of bed after so long, instead became an exercise in shame. No sooner did you walk in the door than she shook her head and clucked about how those kind of girls were asking for it.


You didn't know what "it" was, except that by her tone it was something which made her very, very angry.


She did, however, go on to explain "it" to you—a description so terrifying you took a vow of celibacy right where you sat. Your skinny pre-pubescent thighs stuck to the couch and your palms damp with fear, you swore you'd never wear your skirts short, your tops low, or let your hips sway from side to side as you walked. Girls like your friends, with their ruby red lips and thirteen-year-old breasts, their healthy interest in boys, she told you they would put themselves in trouble, and you right along with them. Girls like your friends, boys just couldn't help themselves around them. Hanging out with girls like them, she scolded, it was only a matter of time before some boy pulled down your pants and put his peepee inside of you. It would hurt when he did it. It would burn and tear and you would bleed. That's what she told you as you sat on the overstuffed leather couch in the front room of your childhood home, a framed portrait of Jesus staring down at you.


You felt exposed. Dirty. Guilty even though you had done nothing wrong. You felt guilty for your friends, who would have boys' peepees inside of them soon and then God wouldn't love them anymore. Under your breath you mumbled sorry to the Jesus looking down on you, your hands folded neat in your lap.


After that is when things got weird.


After that, your mother described in too much detail what your wedding night would be like, with a lace nightgown that exposed the top of breasts you had yet to develop to your new husband. His peepee would still hurt you but it would be okay, because of God and all.


The first sex talk your mother ever had with you left you confused, not knowing the difference between sex and rape, and under the mistaken impression that lack of modesty was the same thing as consent.


As you grew older, she got more realistic and no longer plied you with fantasies of losing your virginity on your wedding night. But she also never revisited consent, except to blame a victim in passing. Which is why, staring at your phone, it's clear you cannot call her. You can never tell her what happened to you, you can never admit what he did.


You choke back a sob.


What you need right now is a mother. A mother's comfort. A mother's embrace.


Against your better judgment, you reach for the phone resting on the coffee table in front of you. You type in an M, then an O, and Mom shows up in the search. You shouldn't press call. She'll only make you feel worse. You take a deep breath and close your eyes, then tap the green telephone icon.


It rings and your heart races. In your head, in your heart, you can hear the questions to come. What were you wearing? Were you drinking? Did you give anyone the wrong idea? Are you sure?


The phone rings again and you hang up. It was your fault. It was. You allowed yourself to be in that position, you made poor choices and you suffered for them, you don't need her to remind you.


A flood of tears pours out of your eyes, down your face; your body is racked by violent sobs. For the next three days if you're not in the shower trying to scrub him off of you, out of you, then you're curled up on the couch like this, burrowed into your sorrow, at times weeping, at others staring at nothing, empty and dead inside. And no matter how many times you scrub your skin off or lather your cunt raw, you can't make him go away.


Each time you shower, you put the same pajamas back on, over and over again. The pink ones with the long sleeves and the lace collar, the ones that make you feel like a little girl. Innocent. Protected. Naïve.


Except there is something else. Something you can't name. Something you can't quite remember. And you find yourself hating those pajamas as much as you love them.


They start to smell and then grow riper and riper with every passing day, with each passing hour. Every time you take them off and put them back on they are worse, but that doesn't stop you. When they are rank enough to bring fresh tears to your eyes all on their own—that is when Katrina's knocking and pleading cease and the door at the top of the stairs comes off its hinges.


You don't care if Lucifer's minions are here to take you to hell, you refuse to move. You lie still and stare at the ceiling and try to wish away the shadow that has replaced the door at the top of the stairs. When the shadow doesn't leave, when it starts down towards you, you squeeze your eyes shut. You squeeze them shut and pray.


"Dude, c'mon what's going on?" Angela asks as she trots the rest of the way down the stairs. She plops down next to you on the sofa, squishing your toes. "Sorry," she says, and shifts her weight so you can pull your feet out from under her and hug your knees to your chest. "My sister says you ain't been upstairs in a week."


You squeeze your eyes tighter. You refuse to let any more tears out. You refuse to tell anyone who doesn't know and the only person who knows is the one who did this to you.


"C'mon," Angela prods. "You need to get up, go outside. I'm taking Bee to the park. Come with us. A little fresh air will do you good."


Somehow you manage to chuckle—one sharp exhale of amusement. Angela doesn't own a car and the closest park is too far for her son's little legs to carry him. When she says she's taking you somewhere, it means you're driving. Usually, you don't mind. Usually. Right now you wish you had the energy to tell her to fuck off, to leave you be, to let you wallow in your grief. But you don't, so you let her drag you off the couch, you dress for her amusement, and you follow her back upstairs to your car. She slides in shotgun while Bee climbs in the back. The world is a blur as you pull out onto the road and navigate streets more threatening than familiar.


When you reach the park in one piece you are both surprised and disappointed.


You want to turn around and go right back home, back to your basement, back to your hole in the ground. Angela wants to talk. But instead of prying into the source of your torment she tells you a story—a story she makes you promise to take to your grave—a story that will burrow into your psyche and change your whole point of view.


Her story begins with Jane, who went missing for a while, taking off without telling anyone. On her adventure, she drove up to Canada then down to San Francisco and back to Oregon doing God knows what. On her return, she was filthy and maniacal. She appeared homeless and smelled worse.


Angela pauses and you think this is the end of the story but she is just gathering the gumption she needs to go on, to tell you what happened that night in an alleyway near Jane’s spot. Your stomach drops when she describes the man who appeared around a corner. You know what is coming. Or at least you think you do.


Your forehead, your armpits, the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, they sweat and stink with dread.


Before she tells you about how Crazy Jane came to check on her with a lead pipe in one hand a bright pink strap-on hidden in her backpack, she describes how she was on the verge of whooping that rapist's ass. She insists, "She didn't need to do that." Shaking her head, "We didn't need to do that."


For a second you are paralyzed by something between shock and glee. The sky above your head swirls with colors you never knew existed.


Angela insists your mutual friend lost her mind. How else could she do such a thing?


The scales tip in shock's favor. Would she rather he had fulfilled his intentions?


She scrunches up her face, "Hell no." She maintains that she could defend herself better without resorting to Jane's level of sadism. She talks about nightmares and yours come flooding back. Tears stream down your face. You try to stand, to go to your car, to get away, but your knees buckle beneath you. Everything goes black and when you come back to, you are sitting in the passenger seat of your own car and Angela is chewing up the clutch to get you home. You're in and out after that. The ride home, when she helps you down the stairs and tucks you into bed, you don't remember any of it. Before she leaves she kisses you on the forehead and reminds you she is here to listen whenever you are ready to talk.


You nod and the tears start fresh so you squeeze your eyes shut and beg for sleep but sleep isn't any better. Sleep is where your nightmare relives.


*


At the county jail visitation happens behind glass, a fact that prevented you from fulfilling your promise for quite a while. As long as Daemon was in County you had no way of touching him, no way to pass him the balloon. You told yourself there was still hope for new evidence that would clear him, or at least drop his sentence below the yearlong threshold and keep him from being moved to a penitentiary where visitation happens in a common room and one kiss is permitted at the beginning, a second at the end. Once he was transferred the time to follow through would come quick on its heels.


In the meantime, Julia got her daily calls from him on your phone and picked you up bright and early Wednesday mornings for visits. You didn't mind. Your boss let you flex your time a little and stay late to make up for time lost.


Julia always got you to the jail early, with plenty of time to sit in the parking lot chain-smoking and briefing you on what needed to be relayed during the visit, and what didn't. Then she'd wait and listen to poppy gangster rap, or perhaps an R&B siren, smoke and ruminate on her circumstances. while you pretended to be her boyfriend's girlfriend.


Everything in life was a struggle for Julia, always had been. She grew up dirt poor inside the boundary of a school where everyone else carried name brand binders and sported the latest Air Jordans. Her dad left a few short months after she was born, said he couldn't take the mood swings amplified as they were postpartum—the screaming, the crying, the manic laughter. All Mom had to raise Julia and two sisters was a monthly SSI check. Being that poor meant generic backpacks and plain folders from school supply drives, and pre-worn clothes from the bins at Goodwill. The year they could only afford three pounds each Julia had to skip jeans and heavy pants altogether. That was a cold year. She still remembers the wind biting through her cotton leggings while she waited for the bus in the snow.


Everyone knows, kids can be cruel, but with such an easy target, her "new" boots wearing through the toe by the second week of school, her label-less jacket losing stitches, they were downright sadistic. As early as second grade the other girls pointed and snickered behind their palms. They laughed at the cheap homemade bows in her hair and the way the hand-me-down shoes squeaked when she walked. Hard as it is to imagine, the boys were worse. They called her Piss Poor Piggy and pushed her in the mud. She asked her mom what piss poor meant and it sent the unstable woman into a tailspin which lasted three days.


Middle school was worse. Seventh-graders can be horrible human beings. Just before school let out for the year, the popular girls invited her over for a sleepover. As a joke.


Once she arrived, they pretended not to see her, they pretended they couldn't hear her, they pretended she didn't exist.


"Do you hear something, Sophia? I thought I heard something but . . ."


"Nah, must be your imagination. It's just you and me here."


Julia cried the whole way home. But that summer she was determined to change. She was determined to start school in the fall with a whole new identity.


That was the summer Julia turned gangster, and she has been gangster ever since.


At first, her new style worked in her favor. Baggy pants and kohl-rimmed lips told the other eighth graders she was tough—a thug, someone to be reckoned with—and kept the bullies off her back. No one was going to make fun of her bargain rack jeans if they thought she would kick their ass or call her homies to jump them.


But new clothes and a new attitude didn't solve everything. Even after her immersion into thug life, her problems continued. Her mother was on a steady mental decline, and by sophomore year she had become unbearable.


Julia stayed with her father that spring. She had to escape her mother, get out of her house, out of the toxic air. She couldn't take the chaos anymore. So much so that when her bachelor father decided he wasn't suited to sharing his space with a teenage girl, let alone parenting one, she took to the streets instead of going home.


It didn't take her long to find grown men to take care of her, men as old as the father who had just kicked her out, men who would buy her a meal or a night in a hotel. She was smart. She knew how to get what she needed without putting out. Maybe a kiss here and there, no tongue, but that was as far as she would go. None of her sugar daddies ever got any. Still, she hated depending on others and swore to be economically independent as soon as she found a job.


By sixteen she was working forty hours a week at Taco Burger and it was her turn to prop up a man—a lazy, lying, cheating, crank smoking man. She thought she found better when she replaced him with a hustler who taught her to make copies of the credit cards she took in the drive-thru by putting a piece of paper over the numbers and rubbing them with a pencil real quick.


Except he did not share any of the money he made off those card numbers. And when the FBI came around asking questions, when they set up a sting and she was caught red-handed on camera, Julia was the one to take the fall. Her man, the one who drained the accounts and spent the money, was long gone by the time she was arraigned. And yet she does not remember him with bitterness or regret. Her choices were her choices, a rite of passage of sorts.



What does bother her, what does dig under her skin and crawl around, is the restitution—$50 a week for the rest of her life. She will never be able to pay the debt off, of course. Fifty measly bucks, painful as it is for her to cough them up, will never scratch the surface off the principal.


But worse than that is her parole officer, who has the power to keep her and Daemon apart, who exercises that power every chance she can. Who had her blacklisted from visiting any prisoner anywhere in the state, in case she was to find someone to sit next to him for a proxy visit.


It wasn't fair. Life had been so hard. Now she couldn't even be there for the one she loved when he needed her the most. Her bitch ass parole officer was to blame. She was the reason Julia had to wait in the car while you sat across from her boyfriend. She's the reason Daemon had to call your phone instead of his real girlfriend's. Her obsession with keeping your friends apart is why Julia had to write her letters in your name. Everything was that conniving bitch's fault, but especially this: especially the fact that you had to pretend to be Daemon's girlfriend; everyone on the inside saw you as his girlfriend; and Julia was undeniably and unequivocally erased, replaced by you.


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