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Chapter 22

I choked back an urge to gag or push Heath away from me as his lips folded over mine. Part of me was so disgusted that I had to do this in front of my father for his work, but then I felt like I was supposed to like being kissed. I was supposed to like having a boy wrap his fingers in my hair and breathe my breaths for me. Heath’s arm embraced my lower back and pulled me closer to him, his bare chest pressed against my breasts, his heart beat trying to match mine. However, I wasn’t in the moment.

Heath froze; his emerald eyes full of worry and inquiries about my sudden departure from the intimacy. I placed my hands on his shoulders and pressed him back away from me. Firmly separated, Heath meekly turned his gaze to Jude’s disapproving observance.

I tore away from Heath’s grasp and felt something unsettle within my gut.

Heath jumped from the mattress and unwillingly strolled to behind my father, and I couldn’t decide if he was waiting for me or himself to be punished.

The motel’s cheap coffee pot gurgled and bubbled over in the corner on top of the half-ajar, broken refrigerator that radiated more heat than cold. The pungent stench of stale coffee saturated the room ominously, teasing my body into thinking perhaps this was a safe little coffee shop instead of a motel from the depths of nightmares.

I stared at my father with a ferocity upon my face and a bravery I had never felt in my life. I clenched my fists at my sides as I glared intently at him. “No.”

Heath stood behind my father, staring incredulously at me; his eyes begged for me to succumb to Jude’s demands and instructions. In any other moment, I would have felt self-conscious to be standing in just my sports-bra and underwear, but just this nerve had finally boiled inside of me like the poison of alcohol had given a buzzed me the initial urge to stand up to my father, to stand up against what I knew wasn’t right.

Jude stared down his long, straight nose with a frown carved deeply into his aged face. His hazel eyes flickered with an intensity that threatened to match my abrupt gall. His silence startled me as he usually had a quick retort or threat to persuade me into resignation, but he did not scoff or spit. He just absorbed me in his hazel eyes with a swelling rage beginning to boil behind his pupils. The veins in his neck protruded from behind his thin skin and pounded to what I assumed was his pulse, beating like a deafening drum.

“I’m not doing what you want anymore. I’m fucking tired of this bullshit. I’m done.” Confidence built inside my chest with each passing word, and Heath just kept shaking his head as if I was going to regret it. And part of me was excited that I would come to regret it because I could have evidence against this bastard. And even if he killed me, at least I wouldn’t have to endure this torture anymore.

Jude closed his eyes calmly and smirked smugly. He shrugged his shoulders. “Devin, God asks you to be obedient of your mother and father. What would He say if He saw how disobedient you are?”

Heath glanced back at the tall man, absorbing his broad shoulders and sunken-in cheeks; Heath’s jaw unhinged in the dim, fluorescent light. In the light, Jude seemed so charming and benevolent to everyone around him, but Heath and I knew a darkness that lived inside him he tried to shove under a shroud of dishonesty. Heath finally said, “Devin, just do it.”

I glared at Heath incredulously, but he denied any eye contact as a fury bubbled inside my chest. “Are you kidding me? You seriously are willing to have sex for your ‘pray the gay away’ treatment? It’s not want anyone wants—and if God did, I would sure as hell not want to praise Him. You are going to let this pervert corrupt you and your faith—he’s a hypocrite too scared to actually confront—”

Jude’s palm slammed into my cheek, and I side-stepped from the forceful impact. My teeth bit the inside of my cheek, and a taste of copper filled my mouth. I spat on the comforter, and a maroon hue seeped across the cotton threads. My hand shot to my cheek as I glared vindictively at my father from the corners of my cold, bitter eyes.

“What the hell, Mr. Sebold?!” Heath roared.

Jude did not answer Heath as I rubbed my cheek, consciously searching to see if any of my teeth had knocked loose. He tore away from my rebellious, discerning stare as he sauntered nonchalantly across the room to the coffee machine, pulling a Styrofoam cup from the plastic wrap and placing it to the side of the pot.

Heath froze as Jude glided past him, not daring to make eye contact. His emerald eyes just stared at the movement of the man’s shadow.

Jude began to pour the fiery coffee into the cup slowly, and a deafening silence filled the room, leaving a ringing in my ears. The hairs on my skin rose as my stomach flipped into knots, anticipating something unforeseen. My bravery seemed to suddenly seep from my pores as a light perspiration fell across my bare skin, but the flowing A/C maintained a chill that made my body prickle.

“Have I not given you everything, Devin? Your poor, poor sister is so envious that you are my favorite.”

Just the mention of my sister sent me over the edge. He and I abided by one compromise when it came to our compacts: if I obeyed, he wouldn’t do the same thing to others. My mom and sister wouldn’t ever find out. “You wouldn’t,” I whispered.

Heath took a step towards me and pleaded, “Devin, you’re right, okay? I don’t want to do this, and we don’t have to if you don’t want to. I just don’t want you to get hurt again, and if that’s your deal, then we just gotta get this over with.”

I shuffled around Heath, ignoring his pleas and his advice, and I threw out my arms, my palms facing out. My breathing suddenly became labored. “You can do whatever you want to me, but you keep your disgusting hands off of—“

Jude grasped the coffee pot by its plastic handle and splashed the pot down my left side. The murky coffee boiled and intertwined with my chemicals upon contact. My ribs popped, and my hips bubbled. The scorching water tore through my skin and felt as though it fled to my insides, like my abdominal cavity filled with the liquid fire like a submarine sinking to the depths of the ocean. I fell to my knees and wailed a hearty cry, crumpling to all fours as the pain radiated throughout my entire body. My muscles shook uncontrollably as my liquid skin peeled away from my muscle and the water dribbled down my legs and back. I clenched my hands into taut fists and shoved my forehead into the stained rug covering the floor. I tried to scream again, but not a sound came out. My saliva dripped down my chin as I silently sobbed into the carpet, begging God or anyone to make the pain stop. My leg and hip began to feel stiff as the heat languidly faded away—a million years too late.

And I never understood people who said they were in so much pain they puked. Without warning, I began to spit up the shots I took before riding in my dad’s minivan stereotypically denoted as the Family Man/ Woman Car but actually the Minivan to Hell. The green bile pooled in front of my face, and I couldn’t do anything to stop. I began to dry-heave, and I immediately regretted drinking the liquid courage.

A hand fell in between my shoulders blades, and a pair of knees knelt down beside me. Heath rubbed my back, far away from my burns and whispered, “Shh, shh, it’s okay. Lemme get some cool water on it, okay? We’ll go to the hospital if we have to…”

Jude’s voice drowned out Heath’s with a vicious undertone hidden behind his calm direction. “You will do what you came here to do.”

I felt Heath’s arms lace around my back and under my knees, and then I was in the air. My right side rested against Heath’s bare chest, a mist of his own anxious perspiration meshing with mine. I nestled my head in the crook of his neck and clenched my eyes shut as he shifted my weight painfully, causing me to involuntarily whimper.

“Are you serious?! She needs a doctor, and you need a doctor. Can’t you see she’s in pain? She’s hurt. If we don’t clean her up, she’ll get an infection. You do know what that is, right? You aren’t nuts enough to not know what that is, right?”

“Don’t question my intelligence. I’m not stupid, but you’ll need a doctor, too, if you don’t do what you are supposed to and if you take her anywhere. You know the plan, and you will follow through with it or your parents are going to know you’re incurable.”

Heath’s heart stopped underneath my arm. Part of me died as I then realized he was willing to do anything to make his parents happy. He was such a people-pleaser in the utilitarian sense that I would become second-best to two people who barely knew their son as much as I did. I meekly begged, “Heath, please, please, it hurts. It hurts.”

And then I was flat on my back on top of the bed in my bra and underwear. I stared at the ceiling vacantly, silently pondering if my act of valor, or act of blatant stupidity, cost me this immense abundance of pain.

And part of me wondered if I deserved this, if it was truly what was meant to happen. I was born for this? I was born for this misery?

Soft, meticulous fingers curled around my waistband and began to pull my underwear around my knees, but a searing pain radiated from my waist. I finally let out a screech.

“Oh my god,” Heath whispered.

I glanced down to my waist to see my skin had literally melted onto my underwear, and Heath’s fingers hesitated at pulling away my undergarments down a millimeter more. I’m sure he was terrified of causing me either more pain or scolding my body even more. Perhaps he didn’t want my liquid skin to taint his complexion, too.

Jude’s monotonous voice rang without hesitation or a hint of horror, “Rip it off if you have to.”

Heath whipped around to stare at Jude from on top of the bed, I presumed, still staring at the spackled ceiling of the motel room. I turned my face to the open door of the bathroom, and drops trickled from the moldy spigot, taunting me as my mouth turned raw and dry suddenly. Heath said something before he turned back to me and slowly peeled my underwear from my skin as gingerly as he possibly could.

I bit my lip as hard as I could, my blood mixing with my saliva dribbling down my chin. I felt a cool breeze on my nether-regions before I felt an intense pressure resonating up into my abdomen. I tried to twist away but was pinned down at the waist by Heath’s weight. My skin began to tear off onto the sheets as I felt him thrust into me. I sobbed into his chest as he leaned against my bare skin, his chest deafening my cries.

“Ignore her,” Jude ordered calmly.

Heath immediately stopped and met my eyes for the first time.

Heath’s moist breath echoed in my ear, “Listen to me.”

I immediately stifled my sobs as his concern seemed genuine and true behind his hearty whisper.

“You’re going to have to go on top to keep from damaging your skin further, okay? I know it’s going to hurt to keep your core strength, but you gotta do this or we’re going to lose your skin, okay?” He peeled away from my ear and posted himself up with his arms, staring down at me with his amiable eyes, trying to give me a reassuring smile. He nodded his head, attempting to assuage my fears of more pain.

I shook my head in response.

He murmured, “Devin, you’ve got to do this. I know you can.” And then he pulled out of me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders and pulled me on top of his abdomen. He wiggled underneath me, wrapping his forearm around my lower back to assist me in sitting up. His other hand cupped my neck to steady my heavy head as thirst and sleep weighed deeper upon my conscience.

Pain shocked up and down my back as I sat up for the first time, and the intensity was immeasurable. If nurses asked on a scale of one to ten how much pain I was in, one being a little toddler pinching your tit and ten being Jesus throwing open the Golden Gates and asking why you didn’t bring the good beer, I was in the territory of a bear was cooking my skin in a pressure cooker to have some Devin jerky for later. Needless to say, I couldn’t sit up.

I doubled over and buried my face in the curve of Heath’s neck, and my breathing hastened as the pain began to flood over my whole body again. The silent sobs began again, and then hyperventilation began as an unnecessary side effect. My body was failing me. My body vibrated against his firm chest, and his hand traveled from my neck and laced into my hair, pulling me close to his chest.

It was the most comfort I could ever receive in that moment.

Heath pulled the covers over my shoulders and cooed reassuring nothings in my ear as I failed to maintain my breath or my dignity. He rotated his hips, mimicking the thrusting involved in intercourse, but he gave me a reprieve from the motions let me lie flat against his chest, thrusting into the comforter.

I had never been so thankful in my life.

And then I heard the door open and close with the lock clicking.

I finally just let the tears pour, and my fingers curled into his flesh, physically pleading for another rest or another break from this horrific reality. His arms slithered across my back and around my knees after gently pulling my underwear back to my waist, leaving the waist band below my burn to prevent further damage to my skin. He meticulously sat up, rotating my knees to sit on his lap on top of his boxers. He slid to the edge of the worn mattress and easily stood up with me in his arms like a tiny child. I clenched my eyes shut as each time he shifted his weight to walk the pain radiated from my hip like the scalding liquid impacted me again and again with the same ferocity and hatred.

The water cut on, and my eyes flicked open and stared up meekly at Heath. He stepped inside the bath with me still cradled in his arms. He leaned over and pulled the handle to the center of the warm and cool water, his arm precariously wrapped around my middle back and knees, folding me like a chair. I turned from the water into his chest.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured into his chest.

And he froze under me, no longer moving to readjust the water temperature or to grab the shower head and direct it downward.

“This was my fault.”

I listened to his heart slow. “Just shut up, Dev.” He gently knelt down to the bath and laid me down upon the cold linoleum. He then sat down on the edge of the bath and cupped his hands under the spigot’s rush of water.

I stared blankly at the wall of the bath, turned away from Heath. I pulled my hands to my face as I braced myself for another torrent of unsurmountable pain. The light trickle of water fell up my calves and knees before Heath poured the lukewarm water down my burn, trying to clean it with the least irritation. I bit my lip and curled my toes as the water just kept coming and torturing me; as I begged for it to stop, questioning my tolerance for when the pain would fail, the water would stop. A few moments would allow for me to recollect myself and then fall victim to the wrath again.

“I know this hurts, Devin. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” He just kept repeating he was sorry even though he would never let me say the freaking phase. He eventually told me he couldn’t stand it when I took responsibility for Jude’s actions, trying to defend his actions by saying I initiated his motives. He placed his hand on my upper arm, trying to calm me as the hyperventilation set in, and I lost control of my body.

“Hey, Dev?”

I nodded my head as my muscles shook uncontrollably. I clenched my eyes shut behind my fingers, and my knees tucked into my chest.

“How many siblings do you have?”

I held up a finger.

“You’ve got any pets?”

I shook my head.

“Dev, you gotta talk to me. You’re having a panic attack.”

“None,” I gasped. I found my muscles readying for a major contraction to my horror. I kicked the end of the bath, stretching my skin, ripping away the keloid forming across my abdomen. My knees then shot back up to my chest, my slippery skin peeling away from me. The muscles in my forearms slithered and reverberated against their respective bones. “Dammit,” I squealed, tears forming in the corners of my eyes.

“Dev, you’re freaking out on me.”

Ignoring him, I felt my back arch, and my hips rotated forward. The skin stretched and ached under my contortions. My toes curled and creaked as my fingers mirrored the actions. It felt as though my muscles solidified around my body. My chest tautened as if a corset laced around my diaphragm. “Shit!” I grimaced and felt a twitch tickle my lips on the left side of my face.

“Count to hundred for me while I do this. Count how many times you would like to kick Jude in the ’nads. Just give yourself a rhythm to breathe. Slowly count out loud for me.”

I think I got to five before I suddenly had an episode, before my body really betrayed me. I couldn’t tell you what happened; I just knew I lost myself in a matter of seconds and didn’t come back to my senses until hours later.

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