I wrapped my towel around my shoulders, shivering as I followed him into the pool house. The small cottage was old, like everything on the Hollingbrook Estate. It was being used for storage, rather than a guest house, boxes of pool supplies and paraphernalia stacked against the wall. The smell of chlorine and mildew was pungent that night.
“Are the keys to my new car hidden in here?” I laughed. Harland got a new car for his sixteenth birthday. But I was just the stepkid. I wasn’t expecting anything that extravagant.
“I’ll buy you a car, beautiful girl,” he said, running his thumb along my jaw. “Any car you want.”
I stepped back, a feeling of unease settling into my gut. He had a strange look in his eyes. My brain was screaming at me to run, but my feet wouldn’t cooperate.
“You’re making me uncomfortable,” I said, backing slowly toward the door.
“I don’t want to do that, baby. I wanna make you feel good. Don’t you want to feel like a woman?”
“No!” I screamed, bolting upright in bed, my brain scrambling to remember where I was. The moonlight spilled in through the thin curtains, casting a long shadow across the old wooden floor.
Why did I come back? My nightmares stopped years ago, thanks to hours of therapy that almost bankrupted my grandparents. They had to remortgage their house. And both were still working full-time, even though they were approaching seventy. But now they would be able to retire and move to Florida. As soon as I received my inheritance, my first order of business was to take care of the people who took care of me.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. If it wasn’t for my mother’s marriage to a billionaire, I wouldn’t be able to help them. But it was my mother’s choice of husband that resulted in my need for expensive therapy. And my grandparents also paid for my education. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be. Probably living on the street, or locked away in a mental hospital. Or dead.
“Kinley?” Harland called out, knocking lightly on my bedroom door. “Are you okay?”
Should I pretend I’m sleeping? He must’ve heard me scream. Of all the bedrooms in this damn house, why did Joanne decide to put me right next door to him?
“I thought I heard you crying.”
Was I crying in my sleep?
“Can I come in?”
I pulled the covers up to my chin. “What do you want, Harland?”
“I want to talk to you.”
“Are you decent?”
“Yes,” I sighed reluctantly.
He opened the door slowly, his eyes scanning the room before settling on me. “Why are you cowering like a terrified animal?”
“I’m not,” I snapped. “Why are you in my room in the middle of the night?”
He closed the door and leaned against it with his arms folded across his chest. “I want to know why you ran away.”
“It’s none of your business, Harland.”
“I disagree, Kinley. We’re raising a child together, and we’re going to be living together for a few months. Your mental health is my business. Especially when you’re confiding in my twelve-year-old sister. She doesn’t need that right now.”
“First of all, Ellie is my sister, too.” I tightened my hold on the sheet, taking a deep breath as I resisted the urge to fly across the room and kick him in the balls for the second time that day. “And I didn’t confide in her. We’ve never actually discussed why I left. She knows why because she read it in a letter. But I would never tell a child something like that. Especially when it pertains to a man she idolized.”
“Dad is the reason you left?”
Fuck. Why did I say that? Now, he’ll never let it go.
“Can you just drop it, Harland?”
“No. Not a chance in hell now.”
“You’re the last person in the world I wanna talk to about this.”
“Well, sweetheart, I’m your only choice right now.”
“I don’t need to talk to anyone. I had lots of expensive therapy time to do that.”
“Fuck, Kinley.” He scrubbed his hands over his face, releasing a frustrated sigh. “Please tell me this isn’t what I think it is.”
“What do you think happened?”
“The night of my sixteenth birthday.”
He leaned his head against the door, his eyes closed as he processed my revelation.
“You can leave now,” I said quietly. “You got what you came for.”
“I always knew my old man liked younger women. But I never imagined he would rape his sixteen-year-old girl stepdaughter.”
“Please don’t use that word,” I whispered, my voice trembling as I held back tears. I couldn’t have a breakdown in front of Harland. “Just go, please.”
“I’d like to stay,” he said softly. “I’ll stay over here. I promise.”
“I think you need to get this out.”
“No, I don’t. I told you, I had years of therapy. It’s just going to take me some time to adjust to being back here.”
“I want to help you, Kinley.”
“Because you’re my stepsister. I care about you. And I feel awful. I can’t believe my father did that to you.”
“It’s not your fault, Harland,” I said. “And you hate me, remember? You were angry that you have to share your inheritance with me. And you shouldn’t. I’m not entitled to anything. But I’m gonna take it. Because your dad ruined my life. He ruined my grandparent’s lives. They’re still working, long past when they should’ve been retired. My therapy almost bankrupted them. I’m going to pay them back every cent, and set them up in a luxury retirement community in Florida.”
“I’ll do whatever I can to help you with that,” he said.
“Thank you,” I whispered, choking back a sob.
“Fuck, Kinley. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Would you have believed me?”
“Well, my own mother didn’t, so you can see why I wouldn’t expect you to listen. You were a jerk. You probably would’ve announced it over the PA system at school.”
“Cmon, Kinley,” he said. “Do you really believe I was that much of an asshole back then?”
“Well, I wasn’t.”
“I was sixteen, Harland. I was scared.”
“What did your mother say when you told her?”
“She told me to grow up and keep my mouth shut, or we’d end up living on the street.”
“They had a prenup. If my dad kicked her out, she’d get nothing.”
“Exactly,” I said. “She chose money over her own daughter.”
“It sounds like she believed you, she just didn’t want to confront my dad.” He studied me thoughtfully, his bright blue eyes shimmering in the moonlight. The same eyes that haunted me for years. Lust filled eyes of a sick old man forcing himself on me on top of a dirty crate in the cold dark pool house.
“What did your grandparents say?”
“They were upset, of course. My grandpa had a heart attack.”
“Fuck,” he muttered, staring up at the ceiling. “I hope you rot in hell, you sick bastard.”
“If it wasn’t for Ellie, I wouldn’t even attend the funeral. The only reason my grandparents are coming is to meet Ellie.”
“It’s going to take some time to get you your money. I’ll take care of your grandparents. Call them in the morning. Tell them to pack their bags. After they leave here, they’re heading to Florida.”
“Really?” I sobbed, losing the battle with my tears.
“Thank you, Harland. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“I’m really sorry for grabbing your ass earlier. I would’ve never done that if I knew.”
“No. It’s not.” He ran his hands through his hair, sucking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly. “Do you think he molested Ellie?”
“No. I was worried about that, too. But she reassured me that she was not abused.”
My shoulders shook, an unstoppable tsunami of tears soaking my t-shirt and the sheet I still clutched tightly against my chest. The weight of the past forty-eight hours came crashing down, my mind grappling to manage a barrage of conflicting emotions.
My mother was dead. We would never have the opportunity to reunite. I hoped that someday I could find it in my heart to forgive her. That maybe we would find our way back to each other. But that hope died when a drunk teenager decided to get behind the wheel of a car, ending his own life, and taking my mother and her husband with him. I didn’t know much about him, but when the dust settled, I planned to reach out to his parents. They must’ve been devastated to lose their child.
I had a little sister I didn’t know existed until two days ago. A gifted twelve-year-old who was now an orphan. A child entrusted to my care by my mother and stepfather in their will.
“Kinley, are you okay?” Harland asked, hovering awkwardly by the door in his plaid pajama pants and faded KISS t-shirt.
“No,” I said, half-laughing, half-sobbing. “I’m a train wreck.”
“Somehow, I doubt that.”
“Oh yes, I am,” I said. “I’m a frigid, fucked up loser.”
“Um, okay,” he mumbled, staring at the floor.
I was on a roll, my mouth unstoppable at that point. “I’m incapable of having a normal sexual relationship, so I’m destined to spend my life alone.”
“I thought you said you went to therapy?”
“I did. But my sex problems came much later, after I stopped seeing my therapist. I avoided relationships for years. Then I met this wonderful man. He was actually one of my first clients. I redecorated his office. I thought I would be fine, that I’d moved past it. But the first time we were together, it was an absolute disaster. I freaked out and ran away. He never called me again.”
“He doesn’t sound that wonderful.”
“Oh, I don’t blame him,” I said, sniffling as I searched for a tissue.
Harland disappeared into my bathroom, returning with a roll of toilet paper. He tossed it across the room, beaming me in the forehead. “Shit. Sorry, Kinley.”
“You can sit down,” I offered.
“There’s nowhere to sit, other than the floor.”
I patted the bed. “You can sit here. I trust you, Harland.”
He rubbed the back of his head, blinking when our eyes met. “Are you sure?”
He walked over, perching on the edge of the mattress. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Will you hold me?” I whispered.
“I can do that.” He slid over, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.
“We’ve come a long way in one day,” I giggled, resting my head on his chest.
“Today has been quite an adventure indeed.”
“Sorry for pushing you in the rosebushes.”
“Sorry for pulling you in with me.”
“Sorry for kneeing you in the balls.”
“Sorry for grabbing your ass.”
“Sorry for telling Kimmy Ketchinson you had gonorrhea.”
“Oh yeah,” he chuckled. “I’d forgotten all about that.”
“You would’ve caught gonorrhea from her.”
“Probably,” he sighed, rubbing my arm. “I guess sorry probably isn’t gonna cut it for the whole fire crotch thing.”
“Nope. That’s unforgivable.”
“I was fifteen.”
“That is not an acceptable excuse.”
“What happened with the wonderful guy who never called you again after you slept with him?”
“I never actually had sex with him. We didn’t get that far. I freaked before he even got his pants off.”
“Have there been other guys since?”
“Oh yeah. I eventually managed to do the deed without losing my shit. But it’s always bad. And they never call me again. I had one boyfriend who stuck it out for a couple months. He was really patient, but I was getting so frustrated, I guess he just decided I was too much trouble.”
“What is the problem?”
“I can’t have an orgasm. I have trouble staying aroused once the pants come off.” I covered my face with my hands. “I can’t believe I’m telling you this.”
“I’m so fucking angry with my father,” he said quietly. “How could he do that to an innocent young girl? What did he think was gonna happen? Why didn’t you go to the police?”
“Your dad was rich and powerful. I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”
“They would’ve been able to tell at the hospital.”
“I was scared and alone.”
“I hope your mother rots in hell, right alongside my father.”
We sat in silence for several long minutes, each lost in our own thoughts. It felt good to be in a man’s arms without the expectation of sex. I hadn’t felt safe being alone with a man in sixteen years.
“Where did this happen?” Harland asked.
“In the pool house.”
“That’s why you wanted a room that faced the front of the estate.”
“I had a bunch of friends over for a pool party and sleepover for my birthday. My guests had gone inside. I forgot my Sixteen Magazine my best friend bought me. When I came back to get it, he was there. He said he wanted to show me something in the pool house.”
“He did this while you had friends over?”
“Are you sure you wanna hear this?”
“I want to help you.”
“I tried to get away, but he was stronger than me.”
“He would’ve been seventy-seven,” he said.
“He was in good shape for his age,” I whispered. “He pushed me down on a storage crate. I begged him to stop. But he told me to shut up and spread my legs. I was afraid if I screamed, my friends would come out. That’s dumb, I know. I should’ve screamed my head off. It happened so fast. He ripped my bikini bottoms off and forced my legs open. I screamed when he pushed inside me. It hurt so bad. That’s when he slapped me across the face and threatened to have anal sex with me if I didn’t cooperate and be quiet.”
“What happened afterwards?”
“He said if I told anyone, he would kick Mom and I out without a cent. Then he told me he was going to fuck me everyday. That he could stay hard all day with Viagra. I just wanted him to leave. But he wasn’t finished with me.”
“He forced me down on my knees and made me suck his dick until he was hard again. I didn’t think a man that age could get another erection that easily, but he did. I was so sore. I begged him not to rape me again, but he didn’t listen. He bent me over the crate and took me from behind. I thought I was gonna die. He was so rough.”
“Oh God, Kinley.”
“When he finally let me go, I limped back to my room and texted my friends to say I wasn’t feeling well. Then I took a shower. I was bleeding, and I was covered in bruises. I decided to wait until the next day to tell my mom. When she refused to help me, I left. I went to a clinic and got the morning after pill. Then I got on a bus and headed to Rochester.”
“I’m so sorry, Kinley,” he murmured, pressing his lips to the top of my head. It felt nice. I liked it. Probably more than I should.
“Thank you for listening, Harland.”
“I have a proposition for you.”
“I want to help you with your problem.”
“The sex problem.”
“People with phobias sometimes undergo exposure therapy. Like someone terrified of snakes has to go into a room full of them.”
“I don’t have a phobia of sex, Harland.”
“I know. But it might work. You have to undo all the damage my dad did by relearning how to become sexually aroused.”
“And how are you going to help me do that?”
“By having sex with you.”