The little white car pulled into the rocky pathway before the small house, coming to a slow stop. The house was weathered and in need of repair, its paint job faded noticeably, the small front porch crowded with random clutter. The first step up to it was loose, and the screen door was torn in the middle. Around the small yard, several Fisher Price toys and plastic balls were scattered, ever-present indications of the five children who lived inside. 2

Usually Miguela felt some shame when Alejandro brought her home, some embarrassment from knowing that he was seeing its shabby, untidy state. But today the state of her home did not register in her mind; she felt only a faint gladness to at last have reached it. 3

Her hand moved to the door handle on the passenger's side, going to open it… but Alejandro's strong hand gripped her wrist suddenly, causing her to freeze in fear and alarm.4

"No, let me get it for you, Miguela," he said, his dark eyes going to meet hers intently.5

Miguela felt her muscles tense, and for a few moments she was unable to look away, remembering the last time she had seen that look in his eyes…a look that had preceded the sudden flash of fierce domination that next showed itself in his gaze.6

She tore her eyes away, staring into her lap as she barely inclined her head in reply. Watching her closely, his expression undeterminable, he pulled his hand away. Even as he reached for his own door handle, stepping out of the car, Miguela could still feel his fingers pressing against her skin…7

She watched dully as Alejandro went around to her side of the car, pulling the door open for her and offering her his hand to help her out. Miguela stared at his hand for a few seconds, her brown eyes widening; when she finally took his hand, her fingers were trembling, her grip loose.8

She attempted to move past Alejandro without speaking, to make her way inside the house, but he tightened his grip on her hand, his eyes boring into hers with a seriousness that increased the nearly nauseous panic gnawing at her stomach. Her heart fluttered, its beats rapid, erratic, and she tried to look away. Alejandro took her chin in his other hand, forcing her to tip her face up to his.9

"Miguela, look at me."10

She did, swallowing compulsively as her stomach knotted painfully. She could really do nothing else.11

"I love you, carina," he said to her intently, eyes bearing hard into hers, so hard she almost physically felt the pressure against her. "You know that, don't you?"12

"Y-yes," Miguela managed, her voice a dry whisper… and she did know that. She could see his sincerity, could hear it in his voice.13

That was why she hurt so much now, even more so than if she knew he did not…14

"I would never do anything to hurt you that you didn't want me to do, Miguela," Alejandro continued in a voice that shook with feeling. "You know that. I would never do anything to hurt you."15

Miguela did not reply; she swallowed, attempting to lower her eyes. She felt his hands on her tighten as he repeated himself more forcefully.16

"You know that, don't you? You know I would never do that, Miguela!"17

"Okay," she choked, her voice hoarse, barely intelligible. "Okay…"18

That seemed to satisfy him; his touch gentled, and he embraced her lovingly, running a hand through her long black hair. Miguela went limp against him, neither protesting nor returning his gesture.19

"Oh, querida," he whispered, holding her gently against him, his voice breaking slightly. "Mi amor…"20

He moved back slightly, kissing her softly on the lips. Miguela fought down the urge to scream, to fight against him as she forced herself into passive limpness, making herself return his kiss. If it was passionless, Alejandro did not seem to notice; satisfied, he held her tighter. Miguela tried to gain control over the waves of fear at his nearness to her, even as she marveled detachedly how easy it was to fall into returning his kiss. She moved so automatically, as though from muscle memory more than effort.21

"Sweet dreams, mi amor," he whispered as he pulled away, once more running a hand over her hair. "Te amo."22

"Te amo," Miguela breathed, her voice cracking.23

She could feel his eyes on her as he finally let her go, as she began to make her way to her front door. She was seventeen years old, but she held herself so hunched, walking so slowly and painstakingly that she appeared to be elderly, an old and crippled woman. It took her several moments of fumbling to at last open her door and step inside. When the door had shut behind her, she stood there numbly for a few more minutes, listening for the sound of Alejandro's car starting up again. She waited until she was sure he had left before she began to make her way toward the small bathroom she shared with her parents and all five of her siblings.24

The house seemed too silent as she walked, the sound of her footsteps, the beating of her heart, deafening to Miguela's ears. Her entire family was asleep; her parents would have to get up early for work tomorrow, her siblings for school. Even knowing they were nearby, sleeping in their beds, Miguela felt frighteningly alone.25

She flicked on the light in her small bathroom, barely flinching as the bright light entered her vision. She deliberately averted her eyes from the mirror, going so far as to turn her back. No way could she stand to look at herself now, to see what might be staring back at her from eyes she would not longer recognize.26

Miguela removed her clothes with unsteady hands, carefully avoiding touching her skin more than necessary. As she stepped under the water's warm spray, she stood perfectly still, her eyes closed, feeling how her every muscle ached, how her body shook with slight spasms that she could not control. She did not touch herself as silent tears seeped from beneath her closed lids, mingling with the shower water; she was afraid to look at her body, to see the bruises, the dried blood and semen on her thighs.27

("You know you want this… stop fighting me, you little bitch!" he snarled, his mouth twisting, eyes sparking, blackened with aggression. "Why do you have to be such a fucking tease?!")28

No, no, she was not going to think, she was not going to remember…29

(hand gripping her hair, forcing her mouth against his, forcing her lips apart… larger body, hot, angry, forcing her down, forcing her legs apart, the pain…)30

Abruptly she turned the water off, and just as suddenly shut off the last of her tears. No more would come out of her, though the pressure in her chest, behind her eyes, was building up so much she feared she would burst…31

She did not bother to dry herself off; she only wrapped a towel around herself, touching as little of her body as possible. Miguela walked into the bedroom she shared with her two younger sisters, staring with a deliberate blankness at their sleeping forms on their queen-sized bed. Watching them, a lump rose in her throat that forced her to turn away.32

She busied herself dressing as quietly as she could, slipping into baggy pajama bottoms and a t-shirt. She did not always wear underwear to bed, but tonight she did, along with a bra; somehow she felt the need to cover those parts of her, as if she could belatedly protect them. 33

As Miguela crawled into bed, lying as far from her sisters as she could, she felt the strictly prohibited tears ripping at her throat, the back of her eyes…34

She hated herself so much… for she could not hate Alejandro. Even now, even after what he had done, she loved him.35