“What? . . .” He walks to me again and I gasp from the exposure when he lifts my shirt up to see my back then he gasps. “That’s . . . that’s horrible! What happened?”
I start to cry and he only hugs me gently and places me on the ground next to him. I feel the tension leave my face as the tears I’ve been holding back for so long leave me eyes in big streaks, dripping off my chin. He lets me cry until I can’t cry anymore and then he asks the same question as nice as he can. He waits patiently for me to answer; he doesn’t force anything out of me, he only listens with this intensity, letting me know that he’s here for me and he won’t judge.
“Um, my dad’s been abusive ever since. . .” Ace doesn’t know much about my family because I don’t like talking about that. He only knows I have a brother named Jack, but he’s never met Jack. I’m sure he thinks that Jack doesn’t even exist. He doesn’t even know that Jack is a nickname for Jackson or that my mom named him that because she loved the way it sounded. She named me Stella because studying French things was one of her hobbies, just like learning about star constellations were. She did so many things before she died. She had a life with dad and had two children who loved her. Ace thinks I still have a mom and a dad who loves me and I want to keep it that way.
Ace looks shocked because I never mention my dad, ever. “Uh, well . . . ever since what?” he says. I feel like crying again, but I don’t. I’ve cried out all of my tears, although I’m sure I would be able to squeeze a few more out because tears are endless and you could cry for weeks or years and somehow your body would still make them. Also, I won’t tell him that I haven’t had a mom since eleven years old.
“Forget that. I’ll still tell you, but I’m going to have to leave parts out because I don’t want to talk about certain things.”
“Things like your family. You never talk about your family. Like, what’s your parents like? What does your brother look like? Now I know that you have a brother named Jack and an abusive father. What about your mother?” That hit my last nerve. I could think about her in my head and cry silently, but when she was brought up by words, I just couldn’t handle it.
“Stop!” I scream. “Just stop. I’m not talking about any of that. It’s none of your business. Don’t ever ask me any of that ever again.” After yelling at him, I stand up and start to walk away, but he grabs my arm.
“Wait, I’m sorry. Just tell me about your back, okay? Then you can go. I promise.” I know that he’s going to stay true to his word and I really just wanted to go home, so I let the words make their way out of my mouth.
“My dad has a whip and he whips me five times sometimes. If I do something he doesn’t like, he whips me ten to fifteen times depending on what I did. Sometimes it’s even twenty or twenty five times. I came home after dark yesterday and he got mad and gave me more than five,” It all comes out fast and in one breath, making me take a big gasp of air afterwards.
Ace looks mad, but he doesn’t sound like it when he talks. “Oh, Stella, I’m so sorry. I wish I could take this pain away from you. That’s so hard for someone your age to deal with. You’ve been keeping this to yourself for six years and never told me?”
“I just couldn’t,” I said sadly. “I can barely think about it without wanting to put a knife through my heart or a bullet through my brain.”
“I understand the first part, but don’t talk about hurting your help, please. I hope you can trust me more though. I’ve known you for six years and this is the second time you’ve mentioned your father. The first time was because I asked how old he is. I can help you get through all of this if you tell me more.”
“I can’t. I don’t know how to make those words come out of my mouth. It’s really hard for me to talk about. Can we talk about something else please?”
“Ok sure. Maybe like your feet. Why haven’t you ever shown your feet to me? Even when we went swimming that one time, you didn’t take off your shoes and socks. You literally went into the water with a bathing suit and shoes. I’ve never known anyone who has ever done that.” He looks down at my feet and just stares at them.
“You know me. I guess I just don’t like showing my feet to people. I’ve never really shown my feet to someone before, except for my brother. No hard feelings.” I smile at him and he smiles back, but I know that he won’t let this go just yet.
“Show me your feet,” he says.
“Uh,” I say, awkwardly.
“Come on. Shoes and socks off. I want to see your feet. I’ve known you too long to have not ever seen your feet. I deserve it.”
“You’re weird. People usually don’t like to see someone’s feet.”
“I’m not a normal person. Unless that’s how you see me?”
“No, you’re my friend,” I say. “My best friend.”
He smiles again and then grabs one of my feet and yanks the shoe off. I scream and try to grab it back, but he somehow gets the other shoe off. He throws them so far that there’s no way I could get them unless I go through Ace, and he most likely won’t let me. I sigh and take off both socks, but I can’t look at him.
“Hey, you okay?” he says.
“My shoes and sock are off, how am I supposed to be okay?”
“Your feet look fine. You have pretty feet, with perfect toes. It’s only a little bit of dirt and some blood. I somehow thought it would be worse.”
“That’s because Jack and I bathed in this pond yesterday,” I say, watching the words sink into his head. I knew the exact words that were going to come out of his mouth next.
“So, you did it naked?” he says, with glitter in his eyes.
“Yes Ace. I bathed naked, with my little brother, but we were on opposite sides of the pond and we didn’t look at eachother.”
“Really now? How do you know he didn’t look at you?”
“Because I know him, okay?”
“Alright, alright, sorry. Why are you always limping?”
I show him the bottom of my torn up bleeding feet and he gasps for the second time. I’m so not explaining that I like to let my feet breathe and I run around our house without my shoes off, tearing up my feet. I don’t want to ruin this thing that we have here because it’s the first time, someone that’s not family, has unfortunately, seen my feet. I shove my shoes back on my feet and grab my socks off the ground, hoping to show him I need to go and I don’t really want to talk to him. I still haven’t looked him in the eyes and I don’t think I will for a while.