Chapter 3

After school I found Sarah standing in front of the library, leaning against a wall, staring at the ground, scratching her arm.

"You alright?" I asked. She shrugged. "C'mon, then, it's not a far walk."

We trudged in silence up and around the school, although. She led us down the main street, and took us through an alley and down a path that wound through a pasture. We reached the edge of a forest and ducked past the trees and curved around where a creek broke the woods in two.

Sarah dropped her bag by the creek, peeled her shoes off, and stepped into the water.

"It's cold." she commented. "Tell me what happened to your eye." she said out of nowhere.

"I don't recall volunteering to go first." I said, but the hurt look she gave me made me start talking again. "Okay, Sarah, the thing...the thing is..."

I searched for the right words, but they wouldn't come. How do you just admit something like that out loud? For sixteen years this had haunted me, and now going to tell everything to this girl I'd known for a few weeks?

But no, she was different at the same time. She was the one who bothered to ask.

It's true, no teachers asked anymore. The bad boy got in fights, right? The juvenile delinquent probably got drunk or something, started a brawl. And the fact of the matter was, that was the case sometimes.

When I was younger dad was more careful. Hitting me in the stomach or thighs, where my clothes would hide it. Bruises elsewhere were so infrequent teachers believed the tripping and falling story.

So the girl who asked, who cared, who worried, she was going to get an answer.

She wasn't staring at me expectantly. She wasn't impatient. She wasn't even glancing at me. She was staring at her feet in the cold water, slowly turning blue. I watched her for a minute. She slid off her hat and her gloves, and hoodie, revealing a plain white t-shirt, and tied her deliciously thick hair up into a bun on top of her head. Then she sat down, making circles in the water with her fingertips.

"My dad." I finally said. She nodded slowly, not looking at me, waiting for me to continue. "My dad does this sort of thing a lot, I guess. Just comes home, usually giving me some bull shit reason, like I deserve it, like dinner wasn't ready, or the top of the TV wasn't dusted. I don't know. I don't think I'll ever get used to it, but it's normal."

"I'm sorry." she whispered, looking at me for a moment, then back down, and we sat quietly for a minute, like she was absorbing everything. She started again, still staring at her knees, tracing circles. When she talked she started to scratch her arm again, slowly, hypnotically.

"My dad's in prison." she said. I kept watching her as she spoke, even though she wasn't looking at me. "My dad's in prison 'cause of me. 'Cause of what he did to me."

She waited a while to continue. Her eyes weren't seeing anymore, they were blank. She was somewhere else.

"Two years ago I finally said something to someone. There was an old lady down my street named Helen and she always used to give me those little caramel candies. I wasn't a happy child, most of my life, still, actually, I've been withdrawn and hesitant. I couldn't trust anyone hardly, but there was something about Helen, oh, I don't know. I'd just turned fourteen. I'd known Helen practically my entire life, and I walked past her house and she asked me if I was okay, and I just broke down. I don't know what it was, but that day I couldn't take it anymore.

"Oddly enough, Helen wasn't surprised. She just went over to her phone and called her lawyer and then the police. I testified, which was practically impossible, with my dad just sitting there, staring at me. They had evidence though, they did one of those little kits, and Dad had a crappy lawyer, and now he's gone. I live with my Aunt and Uncle now, and I go to a therapist for PTSD and panic attacks. It's not helping much, though.

"And I spent...I spent my entire life just wishing I was anything but me. I mean, instead of wishing for, like, bikes and boobs...and boyfriends, I just wished I wasn't me. I would read magazines, you know, the girly ones with all the pictures of teenage models, and I would imagine my life as them. Just a normal, regular life. I never even had real friends. Nobody talked to me, hardly. Still, nobody does. Barely. But, you know, that's okay. I've almost come to terms with everything.

"The weirdest thing is, though, Darren, is that I've never told anyone any of this stuff. I don't know what it is about you...and what it is about me that makes me want to tell some random guy all of this total and utter bullshit that is my life. I could have found another girl, or someone as utterly fucked over as me, but no. You just appeared in the library with nothing better to do than talk to me, and now look. Here I am, telling you anything. Everything and anything that's happened." She gave a little manic laugh and shook her head. Some of her hair came loose from her bun and she tucked it behind her ear. She still hadn't even looked over at me.

I couldn't think of what to say to this entire speech. She had completely opened up, making herself entirely vulnerable, and I went blank.

"I'm...I'm sorry." I finally managed to stutter.

Finally she turned on me, her blue eyes locking on mine with such intensity that it made my stomach churn.

"Isn't everyone?" she said, and edge to her voice "Once they've heard the poor girl's story, they instantly feel bad. They never thought to question her introversion before. Why she cried in the bathroom in the morning after the bad nights, why she had panic attacks. She's crazy, she's a retard, right? But once they hear her dramatic, emotional story, God forbid anyone makes fun her now. She's a victim, give her sympathy now, not anymore. I don't want sympathy. I want understanding."

And I realize then, why she and I had such a connection. I understood her. And I felt like she understood me too.

"I get it."

She put her tongue in her cheek and shook her head.

"Yeah. Yeah, I figured you might."

I thought about her stories for a minute, replaying them in my head.

"This is sort of like coming out of the crisis closet. It's terrifying, but liberating at the same time."

I still sat quietly.

"Darren?" she asked timidly.

"Yeah?"

"Do you think I'm disgusting?"

"Disgusting? No...why would I think that?"

Her chin trembled slightly.

"I'm not a virgin." she admitted.

"So? Neither am...I didn't think that that constituted being disgusting."

She thought about this for a while, then stood, walked over, and sat down in front of me.

"I guess I never really did come out and say it, then. But now I don't want to, because you will think I'm disgusting."

"I couldn't ever think that."

She leaned forward suddenly, pressing her lips against mine for a moment. I tried to memorize how they felt, so soft and warm, and the little humming noise she made in the back of her throat. She pulled away.

"I just wanted to do that before you run off."

"Sarah, I'm not going to run off."

"Everyone does eventually."

"Sarah..."

"Look." she pointed to the palm of her right hand, which she was holding in front of my face. It was covered in tiny pink scars, none of them wider than half an inch, but dozens of them. They were all over her left hand too. "This is from when he tried to took the weedwacker to my face. They're why I wear the gloves. And this," she turned her head and ran her pinky down a long scar starting from behind her ear and to her shoulder. "This one is why I wear the hat. From the kitchen knife incident when I was 9. The jacket, though, that one is my own fault. Well, half my own fault. I'm sure you saw me scratching my arm. I'm not supposed to." she bent her elbow in front of my face and her entire right forearm was covered in long, white scars, and had fresh red scratches from earlier that day. "I used to do it so much I'd bleed. I do it less now. And the grand finale..." She lifted her shirt up, not in any way sexy or provocative, just matter of factually. Running from just below her collarbone to her belly button was another thick scar, this one pretty wide. "Box cutter when I was almost 6." She pulled her shirt down.

"Box cutter..." I breathed in disbelief.

"Yeah, the only one to need stitches. Dad told the ER I fell into a pile of scrap metal, and a really jagged piece caught me. I had to get tetanus shots too. I actually have loads more, but they're more personal places."

"Why would he do all this? I mean, I've heard of bad cases, but this..." I reach up and trace the scar behind her ear with my thumb.

"I tried to fight him off. I was never much of a fighter, but I didn't when I didn't want him too, like, really, really didn't, I tried to fight. I never won though. He always got what he wanted in the end." "Wait, I don't get it. Why does a few scars make you disgusting?"

"I'm not a virgin, Darren." she said. I nodded, still not understanding. "That was stolen from me when I was 5. By the man I called my father. And again, twice a week at least, until I was fourteen." she said. She said it so amazingly calmly, that if I hadn't been staring at her eyes, I would have thought she was at peace with it. But they were sizzling with tears, churning with angst. "And the times I tried to fight were always the worst afterwords."

And everything clicked together.

"Sarah-" I exhaled. I looked down at her arms, because she was scratching again, slowly. I grabbed her wrists and pulled her arms apart quickly. She jumped slightly. "Stop." I whispered.

I had always thought the term 'burst into tears', was a bit of a hyperbole, more of a saying than an actual phenomena. But I witnessed it just then. Her face broke and she split into sudden sobs staring at me. I did what I thought was best, and pulled her into my chest, and wrapped my arms around her shoulders. She was shaking violently, it scared me at first, like maybe she was having a fit, but no, she was perfectly lucid. Just sad.

And I cried too. I hadn't cried for almost five years, but I cried for Sarah. I cried for myself as well, but mostly I cried for her. I didn't cry for as long, though, only a few minutes, she cried straight for two hours, until it started to get dark.

"I'm sorry." she whimpered out after a while, as she started to calm down.

"Don't be. I will not let you be sorry."

She laughed for a second.

"I'm so tired, Darren. I'm so tired of being wanted. I want to be needed for a change."

"I need you to not be sorry."

"Okay." she hiccuped, then stood shakily.

"Where do you live? I'll walk you home."

"No, no, it's okay." she said quickly. "I'll go by myself."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah."

"Sarah?"

"Yeah?"

"You going to be okay?"

"Yeah. I always end up okay, in the end." She walked back over to her stuff, pulled on the hoodie, hat, and gloves, and scooped up her backpack. The way she grabbed the bag though, it spun upside down, and everything came tumbling out, binder, notebooks, pencils and paper.

"Shit." she said, kneeling to get it. I went over and helped gather everything.

We reached for the same pencil, and our hands brushed. There was a sudden burst of energy between us, and Sarah placed her hand over mine, then grabbed it, and pulled it to her cheek. We sat frozen like that, staring into each others eyes.

"Can I kiss you?" I asked. She nodded. I bent down and kissed her, carefully. After a moment I had to pull away. I shouldn't have asked. I shouldn't be falling in love with her. By doing that I was risking her heart being broken. I was too unpredictable, even I know that, and I didn't want to fuck her life up along with mine.

"We should go home." I said weakly. I didn't want to go home. I didn't want to stop kissing her. But I had too.

"I know."

We finished picking up the fallen stuff and then walked, hand in hand, back towards town.

When we got to the main street, we had to go separate directions. She squeezed my hand, hiked her backpack up on her shoulder, and turned away. I watched her go.