I took a step, turning forty-five degrees to give the investigators a different perspective for their photos. I tried to cover my bare chest with my arms, but the investigator explained she had to have pictures of the bites and bruises for further evidence regarding the case. Naked in my hospital room, the light of the camera’s flash exaggerated my shadows, causing me to feel self-conscious of my curves and imperfections. However, subconsciously, I was more terrified of having to see the true severity of the injuries without the haze of a mirrored reflection.
“Turn,” the small, Asian woman murmured as she glanced at the photos she had taken of me previously. “You’re doing great, sweetheart. Just a couple more photos and you can go back to sleep.”
Sleep sounded so luxurious. The woman made it sound like it was supposed to be enjoyable, but I was too terrified to fall asleep as images of Jude’s strong hands wrapped around my neck became a constant worry. I couldn’t blink without seeing his fierce grimace as he strained to cut off my circulation.
I took another step.
My wire had finally been taken out of my jaw the day before, and the odd feeling of not clenching my jaw religiously was still foreign to me. The doctors and lawyers and investigators suggested leaving me within the hospital for the week to evaluate my mental stability as well as my physical health. I hadn’t spoken a word since the wire came out, and that worried the nursing staff considerably.
I just didn’t feel like talking.
My eyes fell to the floor as the woman handed me my hospital gown. I slipped it on quickly, still naked and vulnerable in nearly every sense. The woman took a step closer to me, the camera’s lens merely a few inches from my neck. She pushed back my hair over my shoulder and took pictures of the purple bruising wrapping around my neck. With a final click she concluded, “Don’t worry, Devin. We’ll make sure this never happens again.”
My eyes locked onto hers, and she saw the doubt in my soul. I thought I had done the same when I had him imprisoned originally, but everyone could plainly evaluate the flaws in my plan now. She just gingerly left as she had come in. It seemed everyone was just coming in for a few moments and then gone forever.
I leaned back, sitting on the warped hospital bed. My hands clenched the loose sheets, staring at the plain wall that held all of my monitors for my vital signs evaluations every three hours.
“Devin, I’m Dr. Williams.”
I mumbled and hummed thankfully, the wire tight and overbearing in my mouth.
The man sat down at the foot of my bed. He must have been in his thirties, a scarce wrinkle at the corner of his eyes, and his black hair was combed neatly to the side, no cowlicks or stray hairs. His glasses rested on the tip of nose precariously as he glanced at the chart in his hands and back to me. He gave me a sympathetic smile.
“How are you doing?”
I gave him a thumbs down.
“I’m sure you’re in a lot of pain. I’ve done some x-rays, ultrasounds, and some other tests for your injuries. You have several broken ribs, which really can’t be dealt with medically but with rest. A fractured nose and jaw—your jaw is wired shut.”
I whimpered frantically, but he patted my shin reassuringly as I tried to sit up.
“Devin, calm down. Everything will be okay. Your arm is fractured, so we put a long cast on it. We’ll upgrade you to a soft cast in a couple of weeks, okay? You don’t have to deal with that bulky thing for too long. You also showed symptoms of a concussion, so you probably don’t remember a lot of what happened.”
I shook my head. I knew what happened.
“You’ve got several hemorrhoids and some anal trauma that is going to be painful for a little while. A bunch of bruises are probably going to bother you, but I mean, it’s not too bad. You had a grand mal seizure, too.”
His hand fell on top of mine. “I know this is going to be very painful for you to hear, but you have to remain calm when I tell you this. You had a lot of vaginal trauma to a severity that you are possibly… more than likely… incapable of becoming pregnant.”
I combed through my hair slowly with my fingers sadly. Clumps of brunette hair fell out, and I threw it in the trash. The nurses thought my body was so stressed out that I was beginning to lose hair, but I had an abundance of hair. I wasn’t worried.
“Knock, knock,” a voice muttered at the doorway.
I turned my gaze to Ned staring at me with saddened eyes. My heart ached as I knew yet another interrogation would begin—he didn’t mean for his conversations to be that way. He just had so many questions that I felt as though I was talking to an investigator instead of a friend, but I still craved his company.
My mom rejected me immediately after she saw Jude’s face, and she was worried he would never wake up from surgery. A steel plate in his face made him brand new according to what I heard throughout the nursing station. Esther had neglected to visit me after I told her why I couldn’t confide in her about Jude. Part of me wondered if maybe she thought she was the reason all of this had to happen. Maybe she couldn’t believe my accusations against her precious daddy. Maybe she thought Jude was the more truthful of the two of us.
“Hey, Ned,” I said hoarsely, startled from hearing my voice instead of a muffled hum coming from my throat.
“Wow, look at you. No more wire!”
I cracked a smile. He was saying this so aloofly, as if he didn’t know how to handle me anymore. I thought I was the same person; I thought my mind was identical to before the accident. Either way, I couldn’t have been the girl he met after he found out all of my dirty little secrets that crept from the darkest depths of my past.
He nestled down on the bed beside me, an unfamiliar, frightened smile carved into his mouth. I locked eyes with him accidently, and he quietly broke away from me. “Can I ask you a question?”
I didn’t answer as I turned back to the wall. My hands folded into each other—the cast obstructing my clasped hands.
“Your dad didn’t just abuse you, did he? I know you told me that one night when you were drunk he just beat you and stuff, but when you were talking… when you were confronting him…”
I turned to him and declared, “He used to sexually abuse me.”
His eyes widened, and his hands fell into a steeple. “How long?”
“Since I can remember.”
“What about those men you were talking about? Did they do the same thing to you?”
He turned back to me, sympathy and pity overflowing from his eyes. He begged, “Why didn’t you ever tell anyone?”
“Why didn’t Heath ever tell anyone?”
“He wanted to.”
“Why didn’t he tell?”
Our eyes locked before I confessed, “I threatened to kill myself if he ever told anyone.”
Silence fell between us for a few minutes.
“And you said something about your kid…”
I peeled away from him, feeling the tears swell in my eyes. “Yeah…”
I heaved a resigned sigh before unfolding before him. Ned deserved to know because he obviously told me all of his flaws and failures in his life. I couldn’t just hide away and continue to deny him any reasons I was the way I am. “I got pregnant, and I told Jude, thinking he would let me go and stop pimping me out.”
“He got angry. He grabbed his cane he used when his knee collapsed when I was in middle school that sat in his office in case it happened again, and he slammed it into my stomach like a baseball bat. He kept swinging and swinging until I collapsed and then he continued beating the shit out of me until I passed out. And then Heath found me.”
His hand wrapped around mine, interlacing between my fingers. “Who was the father?”
I remembered telling Heath and the way he embraced me immediately. He was terrified that he could never live up to the expectations of fatherhood as a teenager but promised to try. Naively, I thought of the great things that came with having a child. I had someone who would unconditionally love me for the first time in my life. I had a piece of Heath that could never leave me for anyone else. “I don’t know,” I lied, afraid to make Ned feel inferior to Heath anymore.
He didn’t deserve to have to live up to my illusion of Heath—or who I hoped was Heath.
We just sat still for what seemed like an eternity, expecting Ned to criticize my promiscuity even though it was forced. I waited impatiently for him to apologize for my loss or say something about having a kid one day, but he never said anything. I wondered if he knew, and if one of the doctors told him.
“Are you okay after your seizure?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“It wasn’t your first one, was it?”
I turned to him and shook my head. “Why do you say that?”
His discolored eyes met mine. “People don’t act fine after a seizure out of the blue.”
“Anyone who has never had a seizure immediately thinks the worst of the situation. A brain tumor is swelling within your skull, putting pressure on a specific part of the brain. Something is wrong with you. You google the hell out of the symptoms and after-effects until you turn blue in the face.”
“What do you have?”
I turned back to the wall resignedly. A tear trickled down my cheek helplessly despite my attempts to blink the tears away. “Epilepsy.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell anyone? Is that what those pills are for? Is that why you don’t have a license? Is that why Holden followed you to school? Why didn’t you tell the school?”
“Do you realize how hard it is to admit you have absolutely no control over your life? I have nothing solid to hold, Ned. My body could flip out at the drop of a hat, and I don’t get to say what happens. I don’t have control over anything.”
“You could have told me.”
“God, Ned, you look at me totally differently after you learned about my child abuse shit; how am I supposed to feel okay that you know about my epilepsy? You already look at me like I’m broken.”
“You’re supposed to trust me.”
“God, Ned, I don’t even trust myself!”
He leaned in, deleting the space existing between us. His lips folded over mine gently, and his hand cradled my jaw delicately with his fingertips. And then the tears started to pour for some unknown reason.
“Oh my god, I didn’t mean to hurt you, Devin.”
“No, no, it’s just me.”
“I’ve just wanted to do that for a long time.”
I leaned into him and fell into his taut embrace, allowing him to hold me tightly despite the pain radiating from my sides and ribs. I just needed someone to love me even though I was flawed. I needed to know that even though I couldn’t control myself, someone could still trust and confide in me. His lips folded over mine again as he pulled me onto the hospital bed and then tore away from me. “You need to go back to sleep, Dev.”
“No, please don’t let me.”
“I’ll be here when you wake up.”
He leaned back into the bed with me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder as I nestled into his chest, resting my head on his breast. He flipped the sheets over the two of us and reclined into the bed, resting his eyes. His fingers combed through my tangled hair gently.
“You don’t need to like me anymore.”
“I can’t have kids.”
His eyes snapped open, staring at the ceiling above us. I silently waited for an answer, but he declined anything. “You can’t have kids,” he repeated.
“Yeah, I got really screwed up.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“I’m so sorry, Devin.”
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
My eyes fell, and my conscious fell into sleep.
My eyelids snapped open suddenly, realizing my mistake of falling asleep as a nightmare of returning to the closet threatened my sanity. I sat on the left side of the bed, and the right side held a morphed divot of the image of someone who shared the bed with me prior to his upheaval. My eyes drooped as I realized he left me because I was broken. He didn’t keep his promise.
I probably deserved it. No one needed to be the scarred girl’s friend or her paramour—how awful would it be to want to love someone who didn’t know if they had the capacity to love another human being? Who would want to be associated with a girl who he forcibly had to have sex with despite her resisting initially?
I buried my face in the warm divot, his scent still embedded in the threads of the sheets. My fingers clawed at the sheets, peeling them away from the mattress, and I buried my face into the fabric, wishing I never confessed those awful things to Ned, because I was afraid I was losing him.