This story is by Elizabeth Jones and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Last one out of the room, Ms. Kaplan absently murmured “Good night.” The teacher juggled the stack of papers her class had turned in. Teresa smiled. She knew what Ms. Kaplan had on her to-do list: reading papers on Reconstruction after the American Civil War.
The second floor hallway was like an echo chamber. Very few students hung out at the far end of the community college building this late in the evening. Teresa texted her dad that she was on her way home.
She struggled with her smooth down coat slung over her arm, then dropped her cell phone. “Fooey!” she sighed. It slid across the slick floor into the little lounge near the stairwell. As Teresa ducked into the lounge, a long arm reached across the rust-colored couch to grab her phone.
A rangy looking guy unfolded himself from the couch. Teresa recognized him. Sort of.
“You dropped this,” the guy said, in a low voice. (Intimate was what flashed through Teresa’s mind.) His eyes brightened with interest.
“Yes.” She hesitated, stepped closer, then held out her hand. “Thanks for picking it up.” She felt a prickle of uncertainty, somehow.
“I’ve seen you before. You’re in that history class.” The guy with the dark hair and light gray eyes gestured over his shoulder. He took a step closer, still holding the cell phone. “I saw you with a friend of yours, before. Two cute girls.” He began to smile; a lopsided smile. “But, you’re way cuter.” He stepped next to her—inches away.
Teresa could smell the alcohol. That odor filled her nostrils as she sharply drew in her breath. She felt fear dash into her front and shoulders like a splash of freezing water. She was about to protest when the guy lowered his head and abruptly kissed her.
Damn! Her mouth was slightly open. He jammed his tongue between her teeth. His palm grabbed her right breast, kneading and gripping. His other hand snaked up her bare back, under the baggy sweater. He pulled her closer still as Teresa felt his whole body make contact with hers, including a long lump at the junction of his thighs.
Teresa tried to gasp, but couldn’t, not with that bastard’s tongue in her mouth. Her shoulders bunched up, tensed, and she desperately stiffened her whole body. The smell of scotch was almost overpowering.
“Bobby? Sorry, man. Had to take a shit.”
Teresa took advantage of the interruption to tear herself away from the guy. Bobby. She couldn’t even frame a cogent thought as she grabbed her coat, scarf, notebook and phone, and clutched them to her chest.
“Wh-what the hell?” The guy from Teresa’s history class stood in the doorway. He looked a whole lot like the guy who smelled like scotch, except with lighter brown hair. Same gray eyes, which went from Bobby to Teresa, and panned her up and down. He frowned in distaste. “What the hell, Bobby?” He walked over and smacked the scotch-soaked guy in the chest with an open palm, hard, pushing him back toward the vending machines.
“Hey!” A disgruntled Bobby tried to smack the other’s hand away.
While the two relatives tussled, Teresa saw her opportunity and dashed out of the lounge. Somehow, she found herself out in the parking lot, bareheaded. Her coat hung unzipped. The next thing she knew she was home, texting her father at his work about her safe arrival. He always worried about her.
* * *
The next morning, Teresa woke bleary-eyed. She did not have a restful night.
Damn that Bobby to hell!
Teresa had heard things from other girls—occasional whispered stories of abuse and even rape. But, this was the first time anything like that had ever happened to her. And, if Billy had not interrupted…she shuddered uncontrollably.
She stumbled down the steps of the townhouse to the kitchen. Tea. That’s what she needed. Earl Grey, hot. Even the memory of her nerdy older brother Ted razzing her for preferring Captain Picard’s favorite tea could not make her smile.
Her cell phone buzzed. Her best friend Abby texted to let her know that she was still sick with the stomach flu. Teresa texted back, how she hoped Abby and the younger Vasquez siblings would get well soon.
Three weeks passed. March blew in like a lion. The wind whipped across the parking lot as Teresa ran into the building. She found herself almost late for class. (Advanced Accounting Principles.) As she settled into her seat, breathless, her teacher gave her a sideways glance. Teresa was always among the first to arrive—except for recently—for three weeks.
Since this was Thursday, US History was tonight. Teresa was not looking forward to it.
She met Abby in the cafeteria for lunch. Her friend bubbled over with some social service procedure. “I’m telling you, Terese, I never knew there was so much to learn about small groups.”
Teresa felt the after lunch drowsies, but couldn’t curl up in a comfy chair at the end of a lounge any more. She negotiated with her interior self, and finally settled on one of the carrels in the upstairs of the library. At least she wouldn’t be preyed upon among people.
Two more weeks passed. Spring break came, and Teresa had two extended assignments to work on. The accounting spreadsheets and account summaries were straightforward. The multi-media presentation for US History? That paralyzed her. She could not come up with the words.
She felt like curling up in a ball even more. She gave in, and isolated again. Curtains drawn, drinking so much tea during the whole week. The nightmares continued, unabated.
She couldn’t—wouldn’t tell her dad about any of her difficulties. She still vividly remembered her mother’s final sickness and death, two years before.
Abby was insistent, and finally came over to the townhouse. Her friend focused on Teresa, zeroing in on her insides. (At least, that was what Teresa felt.)
“Cut to the chase. I’ve been noticing you hiding, the past few weeks. Something’s the matter.” Abby sat, quiet and patient.
After trying to hide her feelings for weeks and even evade her best friend, Teresa crumbled. The story tumbled out. The horror, the shame. Teresa couldn’t even look up.
“You mean, Billy’s cousin? That intense guy who was hanging around for so long?” At Teresa’s hesitant nod, she burst out, “He did that? To you?”
Abby’s sudden outburst scared Teresa. Abby noticed her friend shudder and withdraw even further. “Oh, Terese!” Abby said, more softly. She hesitated. “Is it okay if I hug you?”
Teresa’s head jerked as she nodded.
“It’s okay, Terese. That Bobby is a jerk-face bastard. You did not deserve that. Never, ever.”
Teresa’s tears streamed down her face. Abby gently asked Teresa whether she wanted to report the incident.
The very idea of telling public safety about such a violation was—a violation, for Teresa.
Abby then asked if she would like to see her social service advisor. “Ms. Wojkowski is a kind, caring lady. She used to be a social worker at a women’s shelter.”
Teresa said she would think about it—seeing Abby’s advisor, that is. After telling Abby, she felt a little more whole, as if she wasn’t a jumbled jigsaw puzzle. Finishing the history project was a bit easier.
* * *
Teresa found herself less tense during the following week. Her stomach clenched less as they went to History class on Thursday, too. Billy mumbled a hello as she and Abby held their heads high and took their seats.
After another month of isolating and tea-drinking, Teresa finally agreed to see Abby’s advisor. They had a surprisingly frank talk. “I finally feel like I’m climbing out of a slimy hole,” Teresa confided. The advisor did not push, but made Teresa feel supported and valued.
Several more weeks, and Teresa and Abby finished their semester, and their associate’s degrees.
The day before graduation, the women sat outside at the mall. Who should come by but Billy and his cousin.
Abby spoke up. “Hi! Lovely afternoon.” She gave both guys her best bedroom eyes.
Billy halted, confused. “Hi.” After another mumbled exchange, the two guys started to walk away.
Abby slid her phone across the table and whispered, “Take my photo, will you?” She grabbed a sheet of paper from her purse and called to the guys. “Hey, could I take a photo with you?”
The two guys nodded, slowly.
Abby suddenly put up a sign in front of Bobby, saying, “Douchbag Molester.” Teresa shot the photo, Abby thanked the guys with another sicky-sweet smile, and they walked away.
Abby looked at the phone, and nodded with satisfaction. “That photo is going up on all my social media sites.”
It just dawned on Teresa what had happened. She stared at the incriminating homemade sign.
Abby grinned. “I know it can’t totally make up for things. But, does it help?”
Teresa slowly nodded. It did. Indeed, it did.