This story is by Shannon Quigley and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
His heart skipped a beat. She looked just like him, only she was three years old and had red hair like her mother. Her eyes were green, and she had freckles, but her smile was crooked like his own. How could he not know? How could he not have realized this might happen? His mind flashed back to that night.
“Neo this is Valerie” They shook hands.
“Hello, would you like to dance?” It was much easier than any other party he had been to. She was drunk, and he was hammered. It was the end of an era, the time to become an adult. Tomorrow, they would become who they were meant to be in life, but tonight was for celebration. He wasn’t sure how alcohol had become involved, maybe one of the older siblings of the other high school graduates had provided it for the final hurrah of the summer vacation. All he knew was he intended to have a good time.
“Don’t you want to find somewhere more private?” He looked at her hungrily. Her eyes sparkled as they gazed into his own. Valerie nodded, a small smile catching on her lips before following his lead to the treehouse outside. The rain pounded overhead as they continued to dance, and then he was kissing her. She looked uneasy, but gave in willingly enough, and Neo did not hesitate to cinch up her dress and explore the soft skin underneath. Her eyes widened, but he never heard her say anything. The word “no” seemed caught on her lips as her panties were yanked off and the night turned hazy. They wrestled on the rough wood floor, and then it was over.
Neo woke to the honk of a horn and the slam of the door. “You’re going to miss your plane!” Today was college move in day, and as he rushed toward his future the night before took on the quality of a drunken dream.
The years passed by quickly, class after class, hangover after hangover. Shortly after, Neo found himself at another summer party, celebrating the next stage of his life.
“Where are you going, pretty girl?” Came a low rumble near him as a girl not much older than eighteen shrank from the football player towering over her. “Don’t you want to find somewhere more private?” With those growled words, Neo’s memory flashed back to that other summer night. He recalled saying those words before bringing Her to the treehouse. He winced when he remembered what had followed, recognizing the horror on the freshman girl’s face. She wants to say no, but she is too afraid. He swallowed as his heart began to beat faster.
“Leave her alone.” Neo puffed out his chest, standing before the football player, his half full bottle still clutched in his hand.
“Who asked you, pipsqueak?” The giant sneered.
“It doesn’t matter. She is with me, and I don’t appreciate you talking to my girlfriend like that.” He felt a shaking hand enter his empty one.
“Just leave it man, she’s not worth it.” A second football player had appeared with two cheerleaders by his side. The growler shrugged and winked, smirking at the girl, who cringed and clutched Neo’s hand more tightly.
“See you around, Sweetheart,” and he turned away.
“Thank you!” She gasped before collapsing into Neo’s chest. “I was so scared about coming to this school because of the rumors, but they have a world-renowned pre-law program, and I need the credentials.”
“Pre-law?” She didn’t look like a law student. She couldn’t even defend herself.
“You’re thinking I can’t defend myself. I have good reasons.” He raised his eyebrows and she continued. “My mom killed a man who raped her at the bar where she worked. Every night she closed, he was there. She tried to say no, but he knew about me and threatened to hurt me if she ever did. So, she gave-in, thinking she didn’t have any other choice. One night, it became too much. I was in the hospital and she wanted to visit me. He was mad that she had blown him off once already, the week before, and told her that next time he wouldn’t just run me off the road. There was a gun underneath the bar and she shot him before thinking. Before thinking about me.” She looked away. “Even though he was threatening us, she still has to be behind bars for the rest of her life because she killed a horny pervert.”
There were tears in her eyes when they gazed up at him. “I came to this party with a friend, because she was afraid of some guy who’s been bothering her. Someone needs to stand up to these men who think they can take anything they want without suffering any consequences.” She caressed his cheek and smiled up at him. “Someone like you.”
His chest constricted. Is that what I did? “I have to go.” He left without a second glance.
The plane ride was too short. What would he say when he saw her? She can’t have told anybody what he had done, or he wouldn’t have had the last few years of college. His parents rarely called, and they were not ones to gossip, but if someone was after him, he would have heard.
He knew where she used to live, because she had mentioned it the night they met. After three knocks, a woman opened the door. Recognition, anger, resentment, and sadness crossed her face before it became emotionless once more. “She’s at the park” and the door closed.
How did she know what he wanted? Why was there so much resentment on her face? Walking to the park was like walking down memory lane. He remembered her underwear hitting the floor of the treehouse and his hand sliding up her thigh. He remembered the push on his chest, forceful but weak compared to his own muscular torso. She had started telling him to stop when he covered her mouth with his own. Her eyes had begun to fill with tears and clenched shut when….
Neo closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. How could he have ignored all the signs then and not even remember what had happened until now? Almost four years had passed since that night, when he had taken what he wanted without thinking about the consequences. What would he say now? His feet moved him ever nearer to the figure on the bench before him, her red hair gleaming in the setting sun.
“Mommy, look what I found!” A little girl’s voice broke the silence as a child no older than three ran up to the woman sitting on the bench by the park, two yards in front of him.
His heart skipped a beat. The child’s hair and eyes mirrored the woman before her, but her face matched his own.
Their eyes locked. The woman stood and protectively pushed the little girl behind her. “Go away.” Valerie’s voice was stern now, the force not found in the push on his chest four years prior was dripping daggers in her words today.
“I was a fool. A drunken idiot. I didn’t mean – I had no idea…” His head dropped. “Why didn’t you have me arrested? Why didn’t you report me?”
“I didn’t tell anyone.” He glanced up and saw her tears spill onto her cheeks, the streams sparkling in the lamplight. “And then,” She looked down at her daughter, love radiating on her face. “You may have been the worst thing that ever happened to me, but you gave me the greatest gift.” When she met his eyes again, she was smiling. “I didn’t want to tarnish her existence by pursuing a legal battle I would not be able to win. So, I let you go.”
“But what if I had done that to someone else? What if you were only the first in a line of conquests leading to more notches on my bed post?” He choked on his words.
The question hung between them, and she looked at him with love only a mother could have.
“No.” The word was a whisper, but it’s strength lingered in the air.
“Would you like to meet her?”
“You would trust me? After what I did to you? After everything? I missed so much! I destroyed so much…” Neo’s tears were falling freely now, as he collapsed to his knees, burying his face in his hands.
A moment passed before a small hand tapped on his shoulder and held out a tissue . “You OK, mister?” He looked up to see his own face smiling back at him, her green eyes bright and innocent. When Neo’s eyes met Valerie’s again, she smiled.
“He will be now.”