Chapter Ten

Thomas

When Rhianne returned with Katie and Nicole, all I notice is how red Katie's eyes are and how awful the look is on her face. It makes me want to hold her and take whatever it is hurting her away. With every day that passes, I come to believe that whatever happened is worse and worse. Now, I don't even know what to expect, because it all just seems so awful that I pray to God that it's not as bad as it seems to be. I don't know what I'd do if the ideas in my head were factual.

But I decide to ask why she had cried so much when it happened. She turned to look at me and locked eyes with me. And then she pleaded with me not to make her. And I swear, the world stopped moving and everything happened so quickly. I wasn't sure what to make of it or why, but I knew then that Katie wasn't just Katie. She meant a whole lot more than just a friend. What exactly, I wasn't sure, but my heart ached and yearned to cry out when I looked into those eyes of hers and saw the heartache and brokenness there. I wanted to take it away. I wanted to see her smile. I wanted to see her healthy and happy.

"We're not making you do anything, I promise," I say gently. "We just want to help you. We can't stand to see you hurting so badly. It doesn't matter what it is. I swear it won't matter as long as it helps you feel better." I watch as she chews this up, but I can tell she is in denial, but I don't want her to be. "Katie," I say gently, to the point that she looks conflicted. "Trust us. Let us help you. Please."

At first, I believe she won't. I believe she won't say a word. But just like everything, she surprises me. In a shaky voice, she says, "It's just so hard. Everything. And I don't deserve to be happy. And I can't. Not after everything. They won't ever leave me alone. They will continue to hurt me, and they won't ever leave my mind."

It was so cryptic but it confirmed my suspicions about how someone, or in this case some people, had hurt her. And I figure whatever the hell it was, it was bad enough or recent enough to leave her completely shattered. But what alarms me most is when she says how she doesn't believe she should be happy. This bothers me most. "Why don't you deserve to be happy?"

She actually laughs, which makes it that much crazier and scary. "Because I am a monster. Because I was never created to be happy. And because I have done too much to ever deserve that luxury."

We all frown at her. "Katie, don't talk like that," Rhianne says. I can see that we're all surprised to see her say this, because if anyone deserves to be happy, it would be Katie. We can see that she has had quite the life, and yet she's still here fighting on. Happiness is the first thing she deserves.

But she shakes her head. "It's true. If you knew, you'd understand."

"Then why don't you tell us and let us judge for ourselves?" Nicole asks quietly.

I watch as Katie tries to process this and I can see it's hurting her. We all want to help her, but we can't if we don't even know anything. At last, she sighs. "It's because I'm selfish and don't want to lose the only people who care about me now."

None of us expected this. My initial thought was wondering about her family, but I realize that she hasn't ever talked about them except for a name drop or a comparison. Not once has she shown insight to who was in her family and what they meant to her and what her relationships were with them. But surely she has family, and surely they love her... Right?

Rhianne sighs, almost impatiently. "First of all, we're going to care about you no matter what. You could've gone out and murdered some people and we'd still care about you. It's obvious you haven't. I know you haven't, so we could never just turn our backs to you. But secondly, there is more than just us three that care about you. You have a mother and grandmother that I met who adore you. And I'm sure you have others who adore you too."

Katie shakes her head. "They love me but they don't care. They think I'm lying. They don't give a damn about what has happened and what still happens. And that's part of the problem."

Nicole looks curiously at Katie, and I swear I can almost see understanding in her expression too, but that would be completely mind boggling because none of us really has a clue what is going on with her. "Lying about what?"

I see Katie go rigid like she usually does when she's thinking about the bad and it's starting to take over. Then she shakes her head violently. "I can't," she says so softly I am almost unsure if she had spoken at all. Yet, the words ring so loudly in my head. I could hear the tears in her voice. "I can't say it."

We all frown. Curiosity was just the tip of the iceberg of feelings inside me. Concern was the biggest, though. What was so bad to make her like this? "Why don't you trust us?" I ask softly, worry etched on my face.

She looks at us painfully. "I do… but you'll hate me when you know."

We were all alarmed by this too, but we're left speechless for a moment. Then Nicole gives her head a little shake. "We would never hate you. Not for feeling pain. Why do you think we'd hate you?"

Katie looks at her hands, and I could tell she was feeling beyond uncomfortable. "Because I'm a coward. I'm a monster. I'm weak. And I'm stupid."

At this point, I tone out Rhianne and Nicole as they went on a huge tangent about how Katie wasn't a single one of those things. I couldn't stop wondering how in the world she could believe this, because whenever she wasn't sick or stressed, she was happy. Or so it seemed. She was funny and kind of goofy. She was smart and she had deep thoughts that were surprising but great. She had a kind soul and it was impossible not to love her once you started talking to her. The problem was that she avoided talking to people.

After a while, Katie claims to be exhausted, so Nicole and I leave. But instead of parting ways, we walk and talk together. Somehow, there was an unspoken need to do so. "What do you think is up?" I ask once we're out of earshot of Rhianne and Katie's room.

Nicole sighs. "I hate the fact that I'm usually good at guessing ballpark stories about people, because now I'm pretty sure that not only did several people do horrible things to her, but now she is doing horrible things to herself."

I feel my stomach lurch. I'm completely alarmed by this and unprepared to take on all that it means. But I ask anyway. "What do you mean?"

"I hope I'm wrong, but I think she's hurting herself. That could be why she claims that she's weak, a coward, a monster. Things like that, but I think that also comes from severe emotional abuse, which unfortunately isn't something people can really be held accountable for. I think a lot worse has happened, and the more I see things happen, the more I believe it."

I shudder, not sure if knowing would help me, but wanting to know too desperately not to ask. "What exactly do you think is the story here?"

Nicole gives me an odd look. "Don't go off of what I say because I could be wrong. But I think someone close to her has hurt her. Whether they touched her, I can't be sure, but I am almost certain that someone physically hurt her. And more than once. I mean, why else would she scream 'Don't hurt me'? Someone physically damaged her, and I think that something awful somewhere happened, and when she tried to get help, she was turned down."

My heart stops, and so did my walking. I felt like the world had fallen out from under me, and I was certain it wasn't coming back. It's easy to assume things but hope you're wrong. It's another to have parts confirmed, but hear how others believe there's bigger and more tragic things happening. I already assumed that someone, like an old boyfriend, had possibly beaten her and she had been denied help, but I never thought about her hurting herself. Or being touched. Or anything severe like that. And I never expected it to be someone close to her.

"Nicole, what do you mean by touched?"

I could see something horrible flicker in her eyes. Something that definitely reminded me of Katie. It looked an awful lot like the look she had back when we were talking to Katie, where it looked like she understood. "I can trust you, right? Whatever we talk about right now doesn't leave the two of us, or Rhianne? Because she's the only one who knows."

I nod. "Of course."

Nicole sighs, looking at her feet. "I need to tell you a story first, because it's the only way I can explain why I think things the way I do. Assess things. Why I think I know what's going on with Katie." She hesitated and looked around. We had walked to a little lobby that was deserted aside from us. After she had confirmed this, she sat on one of the couches. I followed suit. At first, she hesitated, but then she let out a sigh and looked up at me.

"I'm the second youngest of five girls. My mom and dad got married in their early twenties and had my oldest sister in their mid-twenties. My oldest sister, Kristin, was fifteen when I was born. And everything was great until I turned four, when my mom died. She died giving birth to my baby sister, Elsa. My dad was crushed and he turned to drinking. At first, it wasn't too bad, aside from him screaming at us all the time. The worst of it was him screaming at me and Elsa, telling us he hated us because we were the reason Mom was dead. But things got worse.

"When I was five, Dad hit me for the first time. Well, it really started with Elsa, but I saw it happen, so I ran to shield her. And so he beat me instead. The beatings became normal. My older sisters, Violet and Liana, were ages nine and fourteen. Neither of them knew what to do. We tried calling out to Kristin, but she was so busy all the time that we felt guilty. So she never knew. But after a year of just me and Elsa, though I tried to stop it, Dad's fists turned on Violet first. Then Liana. And it kept getting worse and worse. But then things escalated quickly.

"It was the fourth year anniversary of Mom's death, aka Elsa's birthday, but he was so drunk that he not only beat us, but he wanted to do worse. At some point, I remember Liana and Violet leaving because Violet's arm was broken. Me and Elsa wanted to come with, but Liana said she couldn't take us both. So we had to be left alone.

"While they were gone, my father did the unthinkable." For the first time, Nicole stopped and took a deep breath. "My father raped me. He went after Elsa, but I knew that he was going to hurt her, so I had to protect her. And so I sacrificed myself. I begged him not to hurt the others like this too. I couldn't handle it if he did. But even still, I was never the same.

"This went on a couple times a year for two years until one day, I came to school late after being beaten and raped before school. My dad had beaten me so badly that I had a broken rib and two others with hairline fractures. It was enough that I was in pain and could hardly move. Then the teacher noticed the bruises. She called the police.

"By the end of the month, Violet, Elsa, and I were placed in Kristin's custody. She hadn't had any idea, and Liana had no idea how escalated it was, since she had been moved out for two years. My dad was arrested and will be in jail for another thirty years. But for a few years, I was severely traumatized. I had to go through five years of trauma therapy. I got overwhelmed and started to take pain pills when I was eleven, but with a lot of help, I managed to stop when I was fourteen.

"I'm better now, and I have a lot of love and support from my sisters, but there are certain things that leave marks on you that never go away. They all look different, but I can usually get pretty close to seeing what's going on with other people, because I experienced the same type of things myself."

Nicole took a deep breath as she focused in on me. "I can relate to the things she is saying. Like feeling like a monster. My father made me think that whenever he hurt me. And that's how I felt when I took the pills. I can see that somehow, she is taking it out on herself. I don't know how, but I can see it in her eyes. And I can see that someone has hurt her in a way that can never be washed away. Bruises fade, but there are things much worse than that. I think whoever beat her was the same person to hurt her in one of those horrible ways."

I tried to take it in, how Nicole had been an abused child. But she seemed so normal, I couldn't see how she once was covered in bruises or taking pain pills to take away the pain. But it startled me that if Nicole was so normal now, there must be something just as bad haunting Katie. But my heart hoped that it wasn't the same. I wanted to beg God for it to be different.

"Do you think someone raped her?"

Nicole sighed, clearly trouble with the question already. "I don't know. I haven't been watching long enough, but it's possible. What she needs more than anything, though, is to have people consistently supportive of her. Things are going to trigger episodes of pure hysteria and she needs someone to just hold her and protect her. Eventually, she will become strong and maybe even trust us, but I'm thinking we should not pester her too much. She's at a fragile part of the healing process. And that's the thing. This part of the process is the most likely to stop healing. Because you don't exactly heal. It just challenges you. If you push through it, eventually someone can learn to live again. But whatever it is, it's so bad in her mind or heart that she cannot get past it. And so she could be struggling for a long time if she doesn't get help. And that's what we need to do for her."

I nodded, feeling numb. "I don't want her to hurt."

Nicole gave me a sad look. "Neither do I."