Just Listen

Author: P Hana

Page 60

   

The one thing I didn't do, though, all the way home, was look at myself. Not in the side mirror. Not in the rearview. At every stoplight, every time I downshifted, I picked a point up ahead—the bumper of the car in front of me, a distant building, even the broken yellow line of the road—to focus on. I did not want to see myself like this.

When I got home, my dad was waiting, like always, sitting up by himself. I could see the light from the TV, pale and flickering, the minute I stepped inside.

"Annabel?" he called out as the volume on the set began to decrease, bit by bit, before falling silent entirely. "Is that you?"

I stood there for a second in the foyer, knowing that if I didn't show my face he'd suspect something. I reached up, brushing back my hair with my fingers, then took a breath and stepped into the living room. "Yeah," I said. "It's me."

He turned in his chair to look at me. "Good night?" he asked.

"It was okay," I said.

"There's a great show on," he said, nodding at the TV. "It's all about the New Deal. You interested?"

Any other night, I would have joined him. It was our tradition, even if I only sat down for a few minutes. But this time, I just couldn't.

"No, thanks," I said. "I'm kind of tired. I think I'll just go to bed."

"All right," he said, turning back to the TV. "Good night, Annabel."

"Good night."

He picked up the remote and I turned away, walking back into the foyer, where the moonlight was slanting in the window over the door and falling on the picture of me and my mother and sisters on the opposite wall. In that bright light, you could see every detail: the distant caps of the waves, the slight tinge of gray to the sky. I stood there for a moment, studying each of us, taking in Kirsten's smile, Whitney's haunted gaze, the way my mother cocked her head slightly to the side. When I got to my own face, I found myself staring at it, so bright, with dark all around it, like it was someone I didn't recognize. Like a word on a page that you've printed and read a million times, that suddenly looks strange or wrong, foreign, and you feel scared for a second, like you've lost something, even if you're not sure what it is.

The next day, I tried to call Sophie, but she wouldn't answer. I knew I should go over to her house, explain myself in person, but each time I began to I had a flash of being in that room, that hand over my mouth, the bang of my foot kicking the door, and I just couldn't do it. In fact, whenever I thought about what had happened, my stomach twisted and I felt bile rising in my throat. Like some part of me was trying to push it up and out, purging it from my body entirely in a way I could not seem to do on my own.

The alternative wasn't good either, of course. I'd already been labeled a slut, and who knew how the story had grown in the hours since. But what had really happened was worse than anything Sophie could make up and pass on.

Even so, deep down, I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. That this wasn't my fault, and in a perfect world, I could tell people what happened and somehow not be ashamed. In real life, though, this was harder. I was used to being looked at—it was part of who I was, who I'd been as long as I could remember. But once people knew about this, I was sure they'd see me in a different way. That with every glance, they'd no longer see me, but what had happened to me, so raw and shameful and private, turned outward and suddenly scrutinized. I wouldn't be the girl who had everything, but the girl who'd been attacked, assaulted, so helpless. It seemed safer to hold it in, where the only one who could judge was me.

Still, I had times when I wondered if this was the right decision. But as the days passed, and then weeks, it seemed like even if I could have told my story, now it was too late. Like the longer the distance from it, the less people would be willing to believe it.

So I did nothing. But a couple of weeks later, I was with my mother at the drugstore, picking up a few things, when she said, "Isn't that Sophie?"

It was. She was at the other end of the aisle, looking at magazines. I watched her turn a page, wrinkling her nose at something she saw there. "Yeah," I replied. "I think so."

"Then go say hello. I'll get this," she said, taking the list from me. "Just catch up with me up front, okay?" And then she was gone, shifting her basket farther up her arm and leaving us alone.

I should have just followed her. But for whatever reason, I found myself walking toward Sophie, coming up behind her just as she stuffed the magazine—which had a cover entirely devoted to the latest high-profile celebrity breakup—back onto the rack. "Hi," I said.

She jumped, startled, then turned around. When she saw me, she narrowed her eyes. "What do you want?"

I hadn't planned what I was going to say, but even if I had, this would have made it harder. "Look," I said, glancing over to the next aisle, where my mother was examining an aspirin display, "I just wanted to—"

"Don't talk to me," she said. Her voice was loud, much louder than mine. "I have nothing to say to you."

"Sophie," I said. I was almost whispering now. "It wasn't what you think."

"Oh, so you're psychic now, and not just a slut?"

I felt my face flush at this word, and instinctively looked over again at my mom, wondering if she'd heard it. She'd glanced up, and now smiled at us and moved on farther down to the next aisle.

"What, is there a problem, Annabel?" Sophie said. "Let me guess. Just the regular family drama?"

I just looked at her, confused. Then I remembered: This was what I'd said to Will in the alcove that night, for what reason I still didn't know. Of course he'd tell her, use this, the stupidest of confessions, against me. I could just imagine how he'd spun it, me confiding in him, then following him upstairs. I don't know, he'd said that night as I waited for him to explain himself. She just…

"If you know a guy has a girlfriend—especially if that girlfriend is me—there's absolutely no reason you should be doing anything with him that could be taken the wrong way," Sophie had said to me, all those months ago. "It's a choice, Annabel. And if you make the wrong one, you have only yourself to blame when there are consequences."

In her mind, it was that simple. I knew this wasn't true, but I felt a flicker of doubt and fear as the pieces came together, building against me, my worst fears realized. What if even if I had told, or did tell, nobody believed me? Or even worse, blamed me for it?

My stomach twisted, that familiar taste filling my mouth.

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