“Hey!” I say, startled. “What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to see how skinny you really are. I can never tell because you always wear that oversized shirt of yours and it makes you look the perfect weight,” he says.
“That’s the point. It’s supposed to make me look like I’m a good weight. Why else did you think I would wear it?”
“Never mind that,” he says, staring at my stomach. He shakes his head slightly and touches my ribs.
“Hey! That tickles,” I shout, giggling, but he looks mad. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s just that. . . ″ Well, this isn’t healthy.” He touches my stomach and presses down with a little force. “Your ribs are sticking out and if I touch your stomach with just enough pressure, I can almost feel your backbone.” He lets my shirt go back down and then picks up my arm. “Your arms have muscle loss, too. And your legs. I can see you limping whenever you walk and whenever I ask you to take off your shoes in the grass, you always decline, so I’m guessing there’s something wrong with your feet. Your hair is getting thinner too. When I first met you, you had really thick hair and now you have less than half the hair you had.”
“Oh, don’t forget that my period stopped coming every month,” I say. I cover my mouth and feel my cheeks go red. I didn’t mean to say that, but it’s too late. I will try to take it back anyway. “I meant . . . Well I mean . . . I didn’t—”
“I know exactly what you meant. You need more food. You need to eat, right now. I’m going to find you a huge meal with everything you love. All your favorite foods and drinks. Everything.”
“I feel special and everything, but how exactly are you going to do that?” I ask, curious.
“I have a friend who owes me. I’ll get him to help with it. Don’t worry about anything. Just meet me here tomorrow at noon and I’ll do all the rest.” He gives me a wide smile and picks up another rock, which he throws into the river. This time it just sinks low and I watch the ripples travel to the outside of the pond.
“Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, I’m not really worth it.” I know it’s true. Ace doesn’t know about dad beating me, so it’s a good thing he didn’t look at my back. I know I’m not worth anything because my own dad beats me, my mom left me, and God is letting my family and I suffer. But it’s obvious that Ace doesn’t think so because he grips my face and looks straight into my eyes.
“Stella. . . You’re worth it to me. I’ve known you for six years and you mean so much to me. Don’t ever say you’re not worth it, okay?”
Right at this very moment, I want to tell him what dad does to me, but I don’t want him to be mad and go crazy because I’m worth it to him and he doesn’t want to see me hurt. I haven’t told anyone what my dad has been doing to me for six years. The only other person that knows other than dad is Jack and I made him swore not to tell anyone and he has kept my secret for as long as dad’s been doing it. I’m thankful to have a brother who’s so trustful and who will never do anything to hurt me.
My memory goes back to the day when dad first did it and Jack was crying, not understanding why dad would do something so mean to me. I ended up comforting Jack when I was the one with five whip marks on my back.
“Jack, it’s okay. It’s not as bad as it looks. It won’t kill me, okay? I’ll be okay. We’ll get through this.”
“But your back is bleeding, Stella. It hurts?”
“Just a little,” I said, hugging him. He didn’t want to hug me back and hurt me so he kept his arms to his sides.
“I’m sorry,” he said, quietly.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” I brought him closer to me and ran a hand through his hair. He looked up with sad tearstained eyes and snuggled deeper into my side as we fell asleep, using each other to stay warm in our new “home”.
I shake my head back into the presence and look up to see Ace staring at my face, looking worried. He sits back down and pats the floor next to him where I sit.
“Are you okay? Your eyes were pointed towards the floor, but you weren’t looking at it. You were mentally not here,” he says, frowning.
“I’m good.” I look into his eyes about to spill everything I’ve been hiding, but stop myself short and look at my hands folded down on my lap. They’re skinny and boney without much muscle left and I try to remember a time when they had a little more meat. I can’t. It’s been too long.
“It looks like you have something to say to me. What is it?” Ace pulls my face towards him so I can look into his eyes.
“Nothing. I was just thinking about something, but I’m okay. Should I go back home and tell my dad I couldn’t find food?” His face looks so serious that I almost feel like leaning back a bit to get away from it. He keeps gazing into my eyes and I try to hold his gaze but only end up looking away at the end.
“Not until you tell me what’s on your mind. I can tell you want to say something, but you’re afraid, aren’t you? I’ll try my best not to get angry, okay? Just tell me.” His eyes are pleading with me and I look down for a few minutes trying to maybe waste time or something. Maybe somehow I hope that the sun will start going down and I’ll have the excuse to get back home and not say a single thing. Maybe I should just stand up right here and now and forget that this conversation ever happened. I want to. I really do. I don’t want him to keep asking and asking over and over because I know he will.
I look up at him again and see in his eyes that he’s being honest. He really will try. “I don’t know. . .” I say, still not sure. I’m chewing my lip to shreds and trying not to do too much damage to it, but I can already taste blood in my mouth. I can see disappointment in his face, but I can also see determination. I stand up knowing that it’s the only position I can tell him, that way, I can run away or get into a defensive crouch if I need to.
“It’s okay,” he says, still not giving up. He also stands up and has a leave in his hand and he twirls it round and round, wanting to say more, but not wanting to put pressure and stress on me.
He walks up to me and gives me a bear hug, squeezing a little too hard on my back and making me give a little scream. He backs up, looking surprised. He tries to lift my shirt again to see my back, but I walk backward, still startled from the pain lingering on my back. My eyes are in full on tunnel vision mode. His eyes are wondering, but he stays rooted in his place on the grass, not making it look like he’s in any hurry to force me to show him.
“Please, show me,” he says quietly.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you. My back is . . . well the best way to describe it is… scarred. It has marks on it.” I try to say it nonchalantly and I feel saliva building in my mouth like it usually does when I’m nervous. I try to speak again, but nothing comes out. I swallow hard and Ace knows that something is wrong. I just told him one of my deepest secrets and it’s hard to look him in the eyes now that he knows.