Asking for it, p.9
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       Asking for It, p.9

         Part #1 of Asking for It series by Lilah Pace
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  My fridge is covered with Libby’s drawings. I’ve kept every single one. Her photo smiles out from the picture frame beside my bed. On my last birthday, Libby called and sang to me on my voice mail, and I’ve never deleted that message. I play it when I’m feeling blue.

  But I didn’t go see her when I was in New Orleans in August. Seeing Libby means seeing the rest of my family.

  “I’m giving you an ultimatum,” Chloe says. “We expect to see you at Thanksgiving. My house, I’m cooking. All you have to do is show up. Do you think you could manage that much?” After a moment of silence, she adds, “No need to return this call. Come home for Thanksgiving, and we’ll pretend this never happened. Don’t, and as far as I’m concerned, my daughter doesn’t have an aunt any longer. Because I’m not making excuses for you to Libby, not even one more time. If she asks where you are, I’ll have to come up with something else to tell her. Not the truth, of course. That would be too hurtful. Just something that makes it clear Aunt Vivienne’s not going to be around any longer. I’ll see you in November. ”

  She would have been so happy when the call went directly to voice mail. Instead of having an honest discussion, she got to issue a command: Thanksgiving or else. Chloe prefers to be confrontational in monologue. Face to face, or even voice to voice? Forget it. Everyone in my family is a master of the veiled threat, the cruel hint, the passive-aggressive twist of the knife that’s deadlier than any stab.

  I’ve spent the last five years or so learning how to deal with people in a more direct way. A healthier way. I’m getting better at it. But when it comes to my parents or my sister, it’s like all that progress instantly collapses. Whenever I’m with them, within minutes, I sink into the sullen dysfunction that defines the Charles family.

  Libby deserves better than that. Better than our dishonesty, better than my neglect.

  Worst of all—beneath Chloe’s anger, beyond the chill in her voice, I hear genuine hurt. Chloe and I got along well, growing up. She was five years older than me, and I thought she was the most sophisticated, glamorous person in the world. We sat on the bathroom vanity while she taught me how to apply mascara. She would hold my hand while we stood in line for sno-balls on hot summer days. Chloe didn’t tease or bully me. I knew I had a good big sister.

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  We were never really confidantes; our ages were too far apart for that. And I doubt Chloe ever adored me the way I worshipped her. Still, we were sisters. Playmates. Friends. She doesn’t understand what changed.

  But I do.

  Anthony changed everything.

  •   •   •

  That March I was fourteen. Just got my braces off. My breasts were finally making their belated appearance. Right before Christmas, I had finally been kissed for the first time (by Javier, an exchange student from Barcelona, which as first kisses go was pretty awesome). When I looked in the mirror, I no longer saw a gawky kid. I could glimpse the woman I would become.

  Not that I was anything compared to Chloe. To this day she outshines me as brightly as the sun outshines the moon. She’s a couple of inches taller, so she looks more svelte. Her hair is one shade lighter, but it’s the shade that takes it from brown to blond. While my eyes are an uncertain hazel, hers are pure, piercing green. No doubt about it: Chloe’s the beauty of the family.

  But I’d finally realized that didn’t make me ugly. Not by a long shot. I began playing with my hair more in the mirror and reviewing Chloe’s makeup lessons more carefully. I thought of my prettiness as a tool I could use to get what I wanted.

  (That’s screwed up, right? Welcome to the world as seen by my mother. )

  Then, that March, for spring break, Chloe brought home her first serious boyfriend. She was so proud of him, and I didn’t blame her. Anthony Whedon wasn’t especially tall—average height, no more and no less—but he was built. Turned out he was on the Sewanee lacrosse team. He wore the uniform of the Southern male—khakis and polo shirts—but they hung on his frame as though they’d been tailored for him. Sandy hair, a dimple in his chin, lips almost indecently full on a man: Anthony could get any girl he wanted. Clearly he wanted Chloe.

  His arm was always around her waist. Her eyes were always on his face. To me, no celebrity couple had ever looked half as glamorous.

  Anthony didn’t treat me like the annoying brat kid sister, either. “Come on, Mrs. C. ,” he said to my mother. “It’s just Frankie and Johnny’s for some bell pepper rings. Not like we’re dragging Vivienne out to Tipitina’s with a fake ID. ”

  “Well, I don’t know,” Mom said, but she was smiling. If Anthony had won me over, he’d conquered my mother. Though honestly, I think she was sold the minute she found out the Whedons were one of the wealthiest families in Tennessee. “You two don’t want some time alone?”

  “Aw, we don’t mind taking her along,” Anthony said. “It’ll be fun. And Vivienne can tell me all her big sister’s secrets. ”

  “Stop. ” Chloe shoved at him, but she was laughing.

  That week I hung around them every chance I got. Occasionally I got on Chloe’s nerves—but Anthony never seemed to mind. Chloe never stayed grumpy for long, either. I knew that was mostly because Anthony sneaked into her room every night.

  On the last evening of their stay, though, Chloe didn’t feel good. She’d had a headache all day, and around eight P. M. she announced she was going to bed. “To sleep,” she said, with an emphasis that was only for Anthony. The message: No action tonight. I hid my smile behind my hand.

  “No problem,” Anthony said easily. “Vivienne and I can have a movie marathon ’til dawn. ”

  Some cable channel was showing Titanic. Although I felt very grown-up, hanging out with a college boy until after midnight, mostly I was focused on the movie. In those days I had a serious crush on Leonardo DiCaprio.

  Anthony kept talking to me, though. “Can’t believe you don’t have a boyfriend yet. ”

  “I kind of had one. ” I figured Javier’s kiss at the party counted. “But not anymore. ”

  “How come a pretty girl like you isn’t out there breaking all the hearts?”

  I was so flattered. Blushing, I said, “I don’t know. Talking to guys—it’s hard. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what guys like. ”

  He laughed. “We’re not that complicated, trust me. ”

  It wasn’t that I had a crush on him; Anthony seemed to belong to Chloe as firmly as Ken belonged to Barbie. But nobody had ever told me I was pretty before, much less a college guy. It wasn’t even like I had on any makeup, and I wore just some old leggings and a giant T-shirt of my dad’s.

  For a couple hours more, I felt beautiful. Grown-up. Ready for the world.

  Then—just after midnight, in my own home, with my parents and sister asleep upstairs—Anthony raped me on the living room couch.

  Page 34

  It happened just after Rose jumped out of the lifeboat back onto the ship. While I was still focused on the TV screen, Anthony shifted closer to me, his hands going to my waist. I was innocent enough to think he was trying to tickle me. As I laughed and tried to scoot away, Anthony pushed me down, until he was on top of me.

  When he pushed up my shirt, I honestly believed it was an accident. I yelped and tried to tug it down—but Anthony put one hand over my mouth as he tugged the T-shirt up even higher, exposing my breasts completely. “Shhhh,” he said against my cheek. “You don’t want them to catch us, do you?”

  Catch us. Like any of this was my idea. But he’d made me afraid. If Mom or Chloe walked in, they would think I wanted to be with Anthony. They’d see me partly naked with a boy, and that meant I’d done something wrong. No, I didn’t want them to catch us. So I didn’t say anything, even when Anthony took his hand away from my mouth and slid it into my leggings.

  “You want to know how to get all the boys to like you?” he murmured as he tugged my leggings down. I’d never been naked in front
of a boy before, not even close. “I’m gonna show you. ”

  He peeled my leggings off one leg; they dangled around my other ankle as Anthony pried my thighs apart. Only then did my stunned mind realize what was happening, and it seemed like it was too late to say anything. Why did I think that? How could I believe that it was ever too late to scream, or hit him, or just say no?

  I don’t know. But I believed it.

  So I lay there, paralyzed with fear and confusion, as he got between my knees. He gave me his best good-ol’-Southern-boy smile. “Good girl,” he said, and then he thrust into me.

  It hurt. Not as badly as some of the girls at school had said it would, but still. My hands balled into fists at my side, hard enough that the next morning the indentations of my fingernails lingered as red marks on my palms. I started to cry. I thought when Anthony heard me he would stop. He didn’t.

  At the time it seemed to last forever—Anthony on top of me, panting, heavy. He was a twenty-year-old guy; probably it didn’t take three minutes. But I felt like it was never, ever going to end. As I stared up at the living room ceiling, the fan dissolved behind a blur of tears. When the tears trickled down from the corners of my eyes, my vision would sharpen for a moment, then go liquid again.

  Then Anthony started going slower, making these sounds that almost scared me—and he pulled out. I’d never seen an erect penis before, not even when he put it in me. When he came on my belly—the weird jerk and pulse of his cock, the thick white stuff spattering all over my skin—I jumped. It seemed like the grossest, most horrible thing anybody could ever do.

  “There. ” Anthony smiled. “See, when the guy comes on you, you can’t get pregnant. Bet you’re glad I did that, huh?”

  I nodded. Like I was glad about any of this. But all I could think about was the horror of getting pregnant. Then everybody would know, and I didn’t want anybody to know.

  Anthony grabbed a paper towel left over from our earlier snacking and wiped off my belly, like it was soda he’d spilled on the coffee table. Then he sat up and tucked himself in, straightened his shirt. I pulled my tee back down; it was long enough to cover my hips. As much as I wanted my underwear and leggings back on, I couldn’t see how to put them on without flashing him, and I thought if that happened he might start again.

  “You’re a pretty, pretty girl, Vivienne. And now you know it. ” Anthony grinned, like we’d had a wonderful time. I guess he did. “This is our little secret, right?”

  Numbly, I nodded.

  He winked. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell Chloe. Wouldn’t want to start a catfight. ”

  Then he went back to watching the last bit of Titanic. I sat there, huddled on the far end of the sofa, leggings around my ankle, all the way through the end credits. When Anthony got up to go to bed, he ruffled my hair, like I was an adorable little scamp. He leaned close, and I winced at the heat of his breath against my face as he whispered, again, “Good girl. ”

  It was maybe another hour before I dared to go up to my bedroom. The whole time I tiptoed past the guest room where Anthony was sleeping, I dreaded him walking out, or pulling me inside. I locked my bedroom door and sat on top of my covers, shaking. My mind kept replaying the last thing Anthony had said to me, over and over, until they seemed like the only words I knew.

  Good girl.

  I wish I could say that by then, at least, the worst was over. But it wasn’t.

  The worst came in the morning.

  Page 35

  My mom kept calling me to come down and have breakfast. “Don’t you want to tell Chloe and Anthony good-bye before they go back to school?” Even when my dad told me to get my butt down there, even after I heard Anthony’s car revving up and backing out of our driveway, I stayed in bed, covers pulled up to my neck.

  Mom finally came in a little before lunchtime. “Honestly, Vivienne, what has gotten into you?”

  I didn’t confide in my mother much. She always gave the impression that her problems were bigger than yours—more important—and that you were being selfish by even suggesting she needed to worry about you, too. I still hated the idea of anyone knowing about what Anthony had done. But that day, I felt so bad. I was sore between my legs, which I hadn’t known could happen. I needed someone’s arms around me so badly. So I reached for the lifeline. “Mom?”

  Her hands were on her hips. “What is it?”

  “Last night—something happened with Anthony. ”

  She frowned. “What do you mean?”

  That day, the word rape never came into my mind. Rape happened in dark alleyways, to women who wore short skirts and weren’t careful. Rapists wore black and carried knives. I’d been on the couch with a guy who went right back to watching Titanic afterward. So to me it seemed like that couldn’t be rape. But still, it wasn’t right, and I knew it.

  My voice shaking, I said, “Anthony made me—he did something wrong. ” That wasn’t enough. “He made me have sex with him. ”

  Mom stared at me for a few seconds, and then . . . she laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. ”

  “What?”

  “No such thing ever happened. ”

  “But it did. ”

  “Anthony Whedon is a nice boy,” she said, starting to snatch up clothes I’d left lying on the floor. “He wouldn’t do that to anyone, much less his girlfriend’s little sister. ”

  I’d known she might not hold me and comfort me. That’s not her style. But I was totally unprepared for her not to believe me at all. “He pulled my leggings down. Mom, he did, for real. ”

  She gave me a look like, How stupid do you think I am? “Don’t you think we would have heard you screaming? You were just downstairs. That music woke me up three times. ”

  “But I didn’t scream. ”

  “Well, there you go. You would’ve screamed, if you’d really been in trouble. ”

  She was right. I hadn’t screamed. Was it all my fault, then? Maybe Anthony was confused, and he thought I liked it. I’d been crying, but maybe lots of girls cried their first time. If I had screamed, he would’ve stopped. I felt so stupid for not screaming.

  Finally I said, “I was scared. ”

  “Of Anthony. The boy who took you out to Rock N Bowl with your big sister. ” Mom’s whole body was tense now. This was how she got before she lost her temper and started shouting. I’d spent my whole childhood trying not to make my mother shout at me. “You have a crush on him, don’t you? And you’re mad that it’s Chloe he likes and not you. So you’re making up stories to try and get him in trouble. That’s not very nice, Vivienne. You ought to know better. ”

  I wanted to argue with her more, but if I did that, the shouting would begin. Sometimes she could back me into a corner and yell for fifteen, twenty minutes. When it was over I would feel like I’d been beaten up. That morning I knew I couldn’t take it. So I said nothing.

  “Now get your butt moving and clean up your room. ” She dumped all my dirty clothes on the bed—on me, really. “Do some laundry while you’re at it. You’re old enough to help out around here, you know. ”

  I got up. I cleaned my room. And I did two loads of wash. The whole time, I felt like Anthony had left with everything I’d ever been. Like I was the hollowed-out, used-up thing left behind.

  A week later, Chloe sent me an e-mail.

  By the way, Anthony told me all about your little stunt the last night we were at home. Flirting with my boyfriend is NOT OKAY. You’re just a kid, so of course he didn’t take it seriously. But as your sister? I take it very seriously when you try to get together with my boyfriend.

  Anthony says young girls have crushes and we should put it behind us. I’m willing to do that. We can forget the whole thing, from this day forward. But don’t ever do anything like this again.

  Chloe believed Anthony. My big sister, who had known me my entire life and should’ve known what kind of person I was—she believed Anthony completely, even when he
told her such a vicious lie.

  Page 36

  Until I got that e-mail, I’d been considering telling my father. Afterward, I was too afraid. I thought if I told him too, then all three of them would hate me—my whole family—and that was more than I could bear.

  Through the terrible depression of that spring and summer, I realized one important thing. Anthony had lied about me; that meant Anthony was scared of what I would say. So he had known I didn’t want to have sex with him the whole time. All the flimsy excuses I’d made for him in my mind collapsed, and I knew how worthless and small he really was.

  Once I could concentrate on hating him, I stopped hating myself as much. But that was before I’d realized how deeply he scarred me.

  These days I don’t hate myself for having been raped. I hate myself for wanting to act it out all over again.

  “Ma’am?” The bar waiter leans closer to me, and I realize I’ve been sitting there motionless, wineglass in hand, for several minutes. “Are you all right?”

  “Fine. I’m fine. ”

  He doesn’t buy it. “Would you like us to call you a cab?”

  “I haven’t had much to drink. ” My glass is still half full. “It’s okay. I’m headed home. ”

  I drive home, still in a daze. Doreen and I have worked hard on these memories, as I try to learn ways to deal with them without—going numb. Freezing up. By now, mostly, I can handle it.

  But tonight takes me back all the way to square one.

  Twelve

  When I arrive home from the wine bar, I dump my purse on the table and step out of my shoes on my way toward my bed. I collapse on top of my quilt, burying my face in the pillows. Merely remembering that night with Anthony has left me exhausted. My stomach clenches as if I were seasick, and I don’t even have the will to get out of my clothes.

  Okay. Doreen said that the next time I became overwhelmed about this, I should note down my reactions. Everything I felt, everything I thought. Then we could unpack it all later, in a session, while she’s with me.

  I push myself up on one elbow to search for my iPad. Like I thought, it’s beside the bed. When I slide the bar across to wake the tablet up, I see that I have a new e-mail—and it’s from Jonah.

 
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