This story is by Alisa Russell and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Kathleen woke up with a start not remembering where she was at first. She realized her head was lying on someone’s chest, but before she could panic, she got a view of his sleeping face and relaxed. It was Max, the person who had been her rock since she was sixteen. He had shown her love after everything that had happened when she was at her least lovable. He had come to every trial date of the ones who had assaulted her, and his parents had even taken her in after…everything. She didn’t understand why, but she knew she was one of the luckiest people in the world as she stared at the man who was soon to be her husband. Before her thoughts could go any further down that path, his eyes opened and lit up when they saw her. “Come back here, my love. It’s not morning yet.”
The night lights of the city twinkled and formed what looked like a rainbow in the window as she considered what to do. “You should go home, Max. You have your last exam tomorrow.”
Max stood up and straightened out the t-shirt and shorts he had been wearing. He held out his arms and said, “Not til I get a hug from my girl or should I say fiancée. His face glowed with happiness. “I still can’t believe you agreed to marry me.”
She walked into his outstretched arms and hugged him with all her might. He was a head taller than her now so she had to stand on her tip toes to plant a kiss on his lips. “You’ve shown me, Max. You’ve shown me every day for the last six years how much you love me even when I couldn’t…” Her voice trailed off, and tears started to drip down her face.
Max saw the tears and reached out to wipe them off. “Hey, none of that. We’re getting married, and you’re getting baptized.” His smile reached from ear to ear. “Nothing to be sad about.”
Kathleen shook her head smiling softly at her fiancé. “No, Max, these are happy tears.” She caressed his cheek as she remembered his words from earlier that night. They had all been words of how much he loved her and how much Jesus loved her too. He had ended with a proposal of marriage. Something had snapped in her heart as she looked into those gorgeous brown eyes, and she knew all of it was true. “Yes, Max, I know. Jesus loves me, and you do too.” Joy had spread across her face. “The answer is yes.”
She had almost laughed at the expression on his face because she knew he hadn’t expected her words. But then, joy had spread across his face, and they had embraced and kissed—his kiss feeling like the wash of a gentle rain.
Her mind returned to the present, and she gazed at the small diamond ring on her finger. “We moved pretty quickly, didn’t we?”
Max grinned. “Isn’t marriage the next step for two people in love?” He took her in his arms and kissed her again.
As he deepened the kiss, Kathleen’s first thought was, ‘Wow, for someone who wants to be a preacher, he sure knows how to kiss.’ Her next thought was the physical desire that was awakening in her. And then, the monster came. The monster of the five men who had raped her six years ago. The monster she had barely survived. She pushed Max away. “No! Don’t do that!” Her breath was heavy, and her face was flushed. “I can’t do this.” She turned as if she was going to run to her room.
He caught her shoulder and turned her back to face him. It almost killed him to see her shamed glance turned towards the floor. “Kathleen, look at me.” When he saw her reluctance, he carefully put his finger under her chin and raised her face to meet his. “I am so sorry. Please forgive me.”
Kathleen took a deep breath. Finally, words came out. “Max, I love you with all my heart. I know you wouldn’t hurt me, but I don’t know if I can do this.” She motioned to the ring and to the two of them.
“Why, Kat? Isn’t marriage supposed to be the next step? Max nervously rubbed his hands together thinking he was about to lose everything. Lose the only woman he had ever loved.
She walked towards the window before turning back to face him. “Because of sex, Max. Because of the thing that people in love are supposed to be able to do. I can’t. It’s my monster. Even kissing makes me go nuts…after six years of therapy. Maybe I’m meant to be alone.”
A look of determination crossed his face, and he took her hands in his. “You are not meant to be alone. I’m not letting go of you, and neither is Jesus.”
Her determination to protect him and maintain her walls matched his. She pried her hands out of his and folded them together. “Can you tell me that having sex wouldn’t be important to you?” Her voice caught, and she could barely get the next words out. “What about children, Max? I know you want them.” His work with children the previous summer had brought out a side of him she had never seen. The side that showed he would be a good father.
Max struggled with how to respond. Yes, it was true he wanted those things. But, he wanted them with her. He knew Jesus could heal her trauma; she just needed to believe it herself. He took a deep breath preparing to respond, but it was too late.
The hesitation had been plain on Max’s face which made Kathleen’s decision easier. She pulled the ring off her finger and handed it to him. “I can’t do this, Max. I can’t let you be trapped by my monster. Please leave.” She noticed he was trying to speak while trying to avoid bursting into tears herself and shook her head. “No Max, I can’t.”
After Max left, she ran to her bedroom and flung herself on the bed crying with an intensity that surprised her. She had loved and lost in just the span of a few hours. Amidst the tears, a thought formed. ‘It’s better this way. Now, the monster can only hurt me and not him.’ Kathleen cried herself to sleep with thoughts of Max and the rape invading her dreams.
She woke up the following morning remembering what had happened the night before. “I shouldn’t have ever said a word to him. It’s safer to be alone.” Kathleen ate breakfast slowly and took her time with a cup of coffee thankful her final exam wasn’t until 11:00. She drove to campus and went to her journalism class thankful she would graduate after taking this exam. She had already been offered a full-time job with the newspaper she had been working with part-time, and she was looking forward to the opportunity to take her writing to the next level.
After walking out of the journalism building for the final time, she saw a crowd had formed, and she walked up to it to see what was going on. There were two people in costume standing there, one dressed as Prince Charming and the other dressed in one of those monster costumes people used on Halloween. Kathleen saw Max’s friend Billy on the other side of the crowd. ‘Oh no.’ Before she could say anything, the one dressed as Prince Charming saw her. “Ladies and gentlemen, there she is. The one who I will slay the dragon for.” The costumed figures began to battle. Prince Charming tripped the monster and finished the battle after they had worked their way to where Kathleen was standing. Billy ran over to give the prince a bag. Prince Charming then pulled off his mask, and she could see it was Max. “This was the only thing I could think of, Kat. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. If that means we have to wait for sex or children, it doesn’t matter to me. Having you by my side does.” He pulled a ring box out of the bag and got down on one knee. “I want to slay monsters with you for the rest of my life, Kat. Will you marry me?
Kathleen was at a loss for words. No one had ever done this for her. Every wall in her heart came down, and she didn’t want to put them back up. She finally believed Max loved her. She held out her shaking hand, and he slid the ring onto her finger. “Yes, Max. I will marry you, and we can slay the monsters together.”
“Yes!” He pulled her into an embrace. The crowd cheered. “I love you, Kat.”
“I love you too.”