“Tommy called me it. When he told me what he was going to do to me, he called me Rowena, said he’d give it to me rough like he did her... Hannah, who is she?”
A solitary drop falls from her eye, her stiff body becoming a quivering bag of loose bones as Tara held her head. Oh poor girl...
“It’s okay Hannah, you can tell them if you’re okay to.” Tara’s honey voice able to sooth even the most deadly of pain.
Hannah can’t let the words out for a minute, looking around at the people looking at her.
“It can’t leave this room, even now it could really damage me.”
Everybody nods, Josh moving closer and resting his hand on Hannah’s knee to reassure her she’s safe here. I’ve never seen her look so vulnerable, Hannah is always so strong, from the second I met her I couldn’t help but admire the way she holds herself with such strength and poise. She’s has the aura of someone you can’t help but to respect.
“My first year as a detective, eight years ago, I has brought in on a case of a girl who had been raped by her employers son. Her name was Rowena Adrienne and she was a maid at the Vanderbilt estate.”
This is all feeling eerily familiar.
“She was a mess when I met her but it became clear quickly that something else was going on, things weren’t happening the way they should. The other officers assigned to the case didn’t seem interested in her charges, in fact I heard a few of them actively try to talk her out of continuing to press them. All her physical test results showed she’d been raped, and it was violent too. She was barely coping and because if the way the other officers were treating her, I became the only one she trusted.”
There was a break in her voice and Tara took her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze that gave her enough strength to continue, despite the fact it was clearly killing her.
“Tommy was obsessed with her. Before the rape he had followed her for months, he would send her gifts and harass her at work or school. When she turned down all his advances it just got worse, her cat was killed and nailed to her front door, she would arrive at work and her tires would be slashed to keep her from leaving, even her mum suddenly got sick but they couldn’t find the cause. Then one day he had her take food out to one of the cottages on the estate and jumped her when she got inside... he kept her there for three days while he raped her over and over again, tied to a bed and repeatedly drugged. She screamed for help but nobody came. She was all alone.”
Oh god... he’s a true monster...
“Eventually she was stumbled upon by a gardener who let her go, she barely got to the police station before Clarisse came looking for her. That bitch knew what her son was doing, I know she did, but did nothing to stop it. Obviously she’s as much of a psychopath as her evil fucking offspring. I walked into the interview room that day to find her alone with Rowena trying to give her money to stay quiet, she’d clearly been let in by another officer, but Rowena didn’t want money – she wanted justice.”
This is what Christopher meant, he said Clarisse has done terrible things to protect her sons, she let Tommy do this then tried to pay off his fucking victims! Does he truly know what his brother is?
“I made Clarisse leave and after she told me she threatened her, I moved Rowena to a safe house then assigned myself as her guard. We were alone together for three months while I tried to build a case that they wouldn’t beat...” Her tears flow now but she pushes on through the obvious pain telling this story is causing her. “They sent Tommy away to Europe somewhere and hired the best lawyers, ones who did everything they could to try to prove it was consensual.”
The bile rises in my throat as Hannah let’s out a small sob, they’re fucking psychos, all of them.
“I knew it wasn’t. She wasn’t interested in him, she couldn’t be... I looked back through old reports and found she wasn’t even the first girl to accuse him, there were issues with him going back to the time he was fourteen. Each time a girl would come forward, they’d get to the point of pressing charges then suddenly drop them. I know it was Clarisse, a mixture of money and threats that made even the strongest girl back down, but not Rowena...”
Tara is crying now too, I look at Josh but he is giving Hannah the most questioning look, like he’s figured out something the rest of us haven’t got to yet.
“She called me one night, I’d told her to stay in the safe house but I was having a lot of trouble keeping the funding for it from the higher ups. When I went out to get us food, another officer had come and thrown her out of the place. She was on the street alone and she thought someone was following her. Her phone cut off and I raced back as fast as I could but when I got there she was already gone.”
Oh fuck, she’s still fucking heartbroken, even now. She won’t forgive herself.
“I drove around looking for her then eventually went to her mother’s house to see if she’d just gone home. Her mother said she hadn’t seen her but when I went up to her room all her things were packed and there was a note saying she’d made the whole thing up, that Tommy was innocent and she was going to run away and never come back... It was bollocks! It was too quick and too clean. She never would’ve done that, especially to me. She lo-”
Hannah stops but Josh finishes the thought for her.
“She loved you, and you loved her, right?”
Hannah nods, the tears running down her face like a river as she began to shake from her sobs.
“That’s how I know she’d never leave like that. It was so fucking wrong of us to be together, I know. She was nineteen and I was thirty, even in normal society that’s taboo, but the fact I was the protective officer on a case where she was the victim... They’d have my badge. We didn’t mean for it to happen, it just did. It’s how I know she didn’t consent to Tommy, she wasn’t even interested in his fucking gender never mind him! We were making plans for the future, literally ten minutes before I left that day she was picking out colours for our new bedroom. I was going to give up the force and we were going to leave Westbrooke, we had it all planned. I know people would think there was something wrong with our age difference but neither of us cared. We just wanted to be together.”
Tara wraps her arms around her friend and Josh moves to hold Hannah’s head as he talks to her.
“Age doesn’t mean shit Hannah, if you were in love with her then it was real. For fucks sake, Jayce and Al have been in love since they were six years old.” Al holds onto Jayce’s hand as it rests against her stomach and both nod. “I can’t imagine the pain you went through losing her like that... Do you think she’s still alive somewhere?”
Hannah cries out as she shakes her head. “I know she’s not, she would’ve come back for me if she was. I had to mourn her in silence because nobody knew about us, even her mum still thinks she just left her. Clarisse got to her, I know she did. I couldn’t even look into it because the higher ups closed the case immediately. Everything I’ve done to prove what I know I’ve had to do on the side, keeping it off their radar.” She turns to me. “He hasn’t stopped Brie, you’re not the first since her and you won’t be the last. As long as his mother keeps covering up his crimes, he’s going to keep committing them, unless somebody stops him. Someone has to make a stand and bring those charges to a courtroom for the world to see.”
She’s trying to sound strong but there’s a hesitancy I don’t miss either.
“You don’t think it should be me though, do you?” I ask sheepishly.
Hannah’s shoulders slump. “I’m not saying that Brie. I’m just saying... with you it’s going to be more of a battle. There’s a legal record of your... background, from your charges against Nigel. That could be used against you, they’ll say because of your history as a stripper and your.. um...”
“Other activities.” Aleah adds, knowing not everyone in this room is aware of my history as a whore and it should be my choice when I tell them.
Hannah nods. “Exactly. They’ll try to say it was a case of misunderstanding or that you’re just some slut looking for a pay day.”
For the first time since this conversation started, Steve finally speaks. His gruff deep voice filling my stomach with butterflies I thought were long dead.
“He can’t do that, I was a witness, I saw what he was trying to do.” He spits angrily.
Hannah nods. “You’re also Brie’s former partner Steve. They’ll say you’re just a jealous ex that saw a guy with Brie and lost it. You’re not a reliable witness.”
I can see how much this is getting to him, he’s so angry, although the subtle smile he gave at the idea of being referred to as a my partner, even a former partner.
Al leans forward. “What about the receptionist?”
“She’s my next stop but she works for a hotel owned by the Vanderbilt’s, so does her boyfriend, it wouldn’t be hard to intimidate or pay them off into submission. I don’t think we can depend on her testimonial in court. There’s a lot going against you Brie so this is largely going to be based on the physical evidence, your blood will show the drug in your system and I’ll collect all your clothes and underwear before I leave for forensics to have a look at.”
Fuck. “I wasn’t wearing underwear.”
Hannah slumps again. “For fucks sake... Okay, that isn’t going to look good either.”
“What the fuck has her not wearing underwear got to do with this? Brie never wears underwear.” Al adds, clearly having enough of this crap.
“Because jury’s judge that kind of thing harshly. They shouldn’t, but slut-shaming is still alive and well in this world no matter how much people try to deny it. A girl like Brie, pretty and slim, wearing clothes that are tight or short with no underwear. There will be people who’ll say she was asking for it.”
I didn’t even see him move, Jayce’s fist making contact with the wall next to me after he jumps up and stunning the whole room into a shaken silence.
“She wasn’t fucking asking for it! How is her wearing what the fuck she wants asking for it?! I run around every fucking summer in nothing but my fucking basketball shorts, am I fucking asking for it?!”
Does Jayce realise he’s becoming my little feminist hero right now?
Al tried to sooth him, running her hand up and down his arms but I don’t think that’s going to work. Even after everything I’ve done to him, that boy would defend me to the ends of the earth and back. He loves me almost as much as I love him.
Hannah sits up straight, staring directly at Jayce. “I’m not saying it’s right Jayce, I’m just saying it happens. Someone like Brie would be branded a gold digging slut in the media, they’d have every guy she’s ever slept with giving interviews and assassinating her character in the court of public opinion before we even made it to the courtroom. How many times do you see some male celebrity cheat on his wife or smack his girlfriend, only for that woman to be branded a liar by half the people around just because they like his movies? Women are always judged more harshly, even by other women. Until that changes this is the world we find ourselves in. I just need her to be aware of this before she makes the decision to press charges, because it could affect her whole life and I can’t even guarantee the outcome.”
Hannah’s words are harsh but true. I’ve had the world look down on me for being sexually positive my whole life, am I ready for it to define me?
“Can I have a bit of time to think about it Han? Before making my decision?”
Hannah nods. “Of course, but the physical evidence is dissolving as we speak. Are you happy to have the examinations? Just to make sure he definitely didn’t go through with it and see if there’s any evidence left on your body? I’m going to list it as an anonymous rapist attack for now, so I can have all the evidence processed without the Vanderbilt cunts getting wind of it. Is that okay?”
“Can I have it here or have I got to go to the hospital?” I really fucking hate that hospital.
Tara stands up. “You can have it here sweetheart, I’ll have the medical team we use for cases at the firm come and do everything, if that’ll make you more comfortable than going to a medical facility?”
I let my hand slip into hers and squeeze it tightly. “Thank you... for everything Tara.”
She smiles at me, stroking the hair that’s stuck to my head away from my skin. “We’d do anything for you Brianna, we all love you.”
I see that now. Fuck, I’ve been so fucking stupid.
Just because one person couldn’t love me the way I wanted, doesn’t mean they all stopped. I fucking love them all, so much. I’ve been fucking shit lately but I’m gonna do better now.
Hannah looks from me to Steve. “Um, just so I have a record for the results. When was the last time you had consensual sex Brianna? And was it protected physically?”
I freeze, so does Al. I don’t want to look at Steve when he hears this, no matter what’s happened between us, I know this is going to hurt him.
“It was um...” Steve looks at me, the minute the words leave my lips I see the pain flame up through his body. “It was this morning. It was protected.”
He’s gutted, he’s trying to hide it but even Josh walks over to him to provide some comfort. He must’ve known I wouldn’t wait for him, but I don’t think that stopped him hoping I would. Fucking hell Brie... you can’t keep doing this...
“It’s okay Brie, it’s none of my business. I’m not in a position to be mad at you for anything...”
Fuck. Why does he always have to be so understanding? I can see its killing him but he’s still putting me first. Just the thought of him with someone else, like Chrissy, made me want to rip my own eyes out for the last few weeks.
“Okay, we may have to talk with him.” Hannah adds as she scribbles down some notes.
Al sniggers. “He’s not exactly the ‘cooperating with law enforcement type.’ Hannah. It was one of the poison boys.”
I’d slap her but she kind of has every right to be pissed.
Hannah starts packing up some of her bits before stroking my arm gently. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do. Just rest now Brianna, those drugs are going to take their toll. We can wake you up when the team gets here.” She turns and follows Tara to the door of the room, pausing when she walks by Steve. “You sure about this?”
He nods but I have no idea what they’re talking about. My eyes are so fucking heavy now I can hardly see out of them at all as my lids fall shut once again.
Al strokes my sweat drenched hair as I start to slip away.
“Go to sleep sis, we’ll be here when you wake up.”
My soul sister, always.