“Okay,” I said to him, and when he kissed me again I closed my eyes, feeling the slight sting there, like a pinprick, nothing more. He stayed in front of my house, engine running, as I walked up the steps. I could feel him watching me and wondered if he was worried whether I'd keep up my end of our bargain. Still, I couldn't shake the image of his face, so dark and angry, his hand coming at me, with no time to stop it or get out of the way. It was like he'd become a different person, a monster from a nightmare. He didn't drive away until I'd closed the front door behind me. I took a deep breath and started up the stairs, not even sure yet what story I would tell when my mother saw my face and flew into a panic. When I got to the top of the stairs, I could see her standing in the kitchen, clutching the phone to her ear, the cord wrapped around her wrist. My father was standing in front of the refrigerator, arms crossed against his chest, his eyes on my mother as she spoke, haltingly, her voice seeming to echo lightly off the cabinets and bright, shiny floor. Neither of them saw me. “Oh, baby,” my mother was saying, one hand rising, shaking, to touch her own cheek. “I'm so glad you called.” My father shifted his weight, the worried crease easing into and out of his forehead, but he never took his eyes off my mother's face. Behind him, on the counter, were four coffee cups, abandoned, as well as a plate of untouched brownies.
“Oh, honey, no. No. We're not mad,” my mother said softly, wiping her eyes and looking back at my father, a mild smile on her face. “We were just worried about you, that's all. We just wanted to be sure ... that you were okay.” Her voice cracked, slightly. “I know, sweetie. I know.” I walked into the living room and sat down in my father's chair, looking at the row of dolls lined up around the TV. They stared back at me, open-?mouthed, their gazes dull and gray, as I reached up and touched my eye, feeling the slight puffiness there. “We love you too, Cass,” my mother said, her voice choked. “We just didn't want to lose you, honey. I couldn't stand to lose you.” I heard the patio door slide open, then footsteps as my father walked out onto the deck. A breeze blew inhot and sticky-?wetbefore the door slid shut again. When I looked outside, through the glass, he was standing with his back to me, looking up at the few stars visible through the fast-?moving clouds. My mother sniffled, listening as Cass spoke. Then she laughed, once, and said, “We've got time, honey. Plenty of time to tell us everything, when you're ready.”
I closed my eyes, seeing Rogerson again in my mind, his eyes black as his hand lashed out, the pain spreading so suddenly from my cheek to my temple. I hadn't even seen it coming, hadn't even had a chance to move aside. My mother was talking, laughing, as I crept back down the stain and slipped out the front door, easing it shut behind me. I didn't even know where I was goingRina's route, maybeas I started my car and pulled out onto the street, my headlights cutting a swath across the house. I just drove, one hand cradling my face, until I finally turned into the parking lot at Applebee's. I could see Corinna inside, sitting at the bar, legs crossed, smoking a cigarette and counting a stack of money, her hair twisted up in a bun. The bartender slid a drink over to her, and she looked up at him, smiling, then tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, her bracelets sliding down her arm. When I walked inside I had no idea of what my face looked like: I still hadn't seen a mirror. But when the bartender nodded at me and Corinna turned around, her mouth dropped open, her eyes widening. “Oh, my God,” she said, standing up and coming over to me. She reached out and touched my eye and I flinched, my own hand rising to push her away. “What happened to you, Caitlin?” But I couldn't tell her. Instead, I just let her walk me to the bar and sit me down before she wrapped her arms around me, drawing my face to her shoulder. She smelled like fried food and grilled peppers as she drew her fingers through my hair, telling me it was all right, all right now.
Dec. 13 What's been happening is so strange, like it isn't even Dec. 14 Last night something happened with Rogerson. He got so angry at me, and he Dec. 14 I don't even know where to start but This wasn't working. I closed my dream journal, sitting back across my pillows in the slant of streetlight coming through the window. Since the night of the winter banquet I'd tried again and again to put down in words or even say aloud just to myself what had happened with Rogerson. The excuses had come easily: to my parents, Corinna, and Rina, I'd gotten bumped by a stray elbow as I made my way through the banquet crowd. The truth was harder. I was afraid of forgetting. It seemed too easy. Already life was back to normalI was lost in midterms and cheering practice and long, gray winter afternoons at Corinna's. But when Rogerson and I were at the pool house, inching ever closer to the inevitable, I'd feel his fingers slide up my arm, or curve around my neck and be lost in it, only to feel a sudden jolt as I remembered.
His face, so angry, glaring at me. That split second as his hand moved toward me, too quickly for me to even comprehend what was about to happen. But then he'd kiss me harder, and I'd go under again. My mother, meanwhile, was almost giddy after her one conversation with Cass, who had still made it clear that she wanted to take things slowly: In two weeks she hadn't yet called back. My mother was hoping she would for Christmas Eve. This, alone, just the possibility, was making the holidays more bearable for all of us. Before Cass broke down under endless pleading letters and phone messages, my mother hadn't even begun to prepare for her favorite of holidays: no eggnog, no tinsel, not even a tree. The day after Cass called, I came home to find her baking snowman cookies and wrapping gifts, with Barbra Streisand singing “Silent Night” in the background. From what I could make of it, Cass hadn't explained much when she called. She said she missed us, and that she was happy. That she liked her job. That she hoped we could understand that this was what she wanted. Yale was not mentioned, and she didn't give my mother her phone number. “She needs time,” my father kept saying, each time the phone rang and my mother ran to it, her face falling the instant she didn't hear Cass's voice on the other end of the line. “She'll come around.”
“I just don't understand why she doesn't want to be in contact with us,” my mother kept saying. “She didn't even talk to Caitlin.” But the truth was, I wasn't ready to talk to Cass yet. I had a secret now, one I could keep from everyone else. But I worried that Cass, even over the phone, would recognize something different in my voice. She knew me too well. Life was going on. I didn't even have a scar, this time, to remind me of what happened. But sometimes, when I glanced sideways at Rogerson in the car, or right before I fell asleep at night, I would have a sudden flash of his face again, how it had literally changed right before my eyes. And even as life settled back to normal, and we never discussed it, there was a part of me waiting, always braced and ready for him to do it again.