“Edwards!” someone thunders.
A car rolls up, and from the driver’s side window Chad Jensen pokes his head out. “What the hell are you doing running around with no pants on? Put your damn cock away!”
Conor glances over at the car, completely unfazed. “Hey Coach,” he drawls. “What’s up?” When he realizes my mother is in the passenger side, he offers a sheepish smile. “Doctor Mom, good to see you again.”
Unbelievable. I shove Conor’s clothes at him. As he covers his junk, I glance over at my mother and see that her lips are shaking with the effort not to laugh and her eyes are watering. Brenna, on the other hand, is hysterical in the back seat, so loud her laughter is echoing off the buildings.
“Are you quite finished?” I ask this big dumb idiot with a heart of gold.
“Only if you’re ready to go to the police.”
“The police?” My mother leans toward the window, visibly alarmed. “What’s wrong?”
I shoot Conor a glare.
I could lie. Make up some innocuous story my mom wouldn’t buy but might accept as an alternative to the clear indication that I don’t want to discuss it. I could say Conor was just chasing away a creeper who had been hanging around. Fight dick with dick, or whatever. Mom understands boundaries—she trusts my judgment and doesn’t push me to make uncomfortable decisions.
And maybe that’s why I don’t, and never have. Nobody has ever encouraged me to make the hard choices, and I never pushed myself to do it. My whole life I simply retreated into myself, allowed an ever-growing chasm to build between me and anything that could cause me pain. Anything that could reject me.
I created my own safe space and avoided drawing attention to myself. No one can point fingers if they can’t see me. There’s nothing for them to laugh at if I’m not there. I stayed inside my bubble, safe and alone.
No, I don’t especially like my friends and enemies and lovers joining forces to press my hand. It’s not how I operate. And yet…maybe it was exactly what I needed. A good kick in the ass. Not because they’re right or I’m wrong, but because I wasn’t serving myself. I was serving my fears. I’ve been feeding them and allowing them to take up more space inside me until I’m no longer myself and can’t remember a time I was anything else.
This is how people grow up to be old and bitter. Jaded and spiteful. When they let the world and the bad actors in it strip them of joy and replace it with doubt and insecurities.
I’m too young to be this unhappy, and too loved to be this alone. I owe myself better.
My gaze drifts to Conor, whose earnest gray eyes tell me he won’t leave my side if I allow him to stand beside me. Then I turn toward my mom, whose concern is visible and whose support is mine for the taking. There are people who want to fight for me. I should want to fight for myself.
I meet Mom’s gaze and give her a reassuring smile. “I’ll tell you on the way to the police station.”
It’s late when Conor and I get back to my apartment. I leave him on the couch watching TV while I take a long, hot bath. I put on my relaxation playlist and turn off the lights except for a couple of candles on the bathroom counter, and for the first time in a week, I feel some of the tension leaving my body.
It was mortifying explaining the situation to my mom while Conor drove the three of us in his Jeep tonight. I was sorry I was the reason she called off dinner with Chad and Brenna, but when I tried to apologize for spoiling her plans she wouldn’t have it.
“My daughter comes first,” she’d said firmly, and it was as if all the times she’d neglected me in the past had just disappeared. Today I was her first priority, her only concern. Everything had ceased to exist for her but me, and for that I was grateful.
After a chain of text messages, Abigail, Sasha, and Rebecca met us at the police station. I had a good conversation with Rebecca before we made the decision to go through with filing a report. Both of us were hesitant. Her because of what her parents might think; me because of the added exposure. Eventually, we came around to the idea that we could turn this into an opportunity for something positive. We didn’t ask for this, but rather than hiding, ashamed, we could take our power back. So with the beginnings of a plan in mind, we walked in there together. Stronger.
As Abigail’s mother explained to us over the phone, Massachusetts doesn’t have a specific revenge porn law. If Abigail herself, for instance, had uploaded the video, it might not have been a crime. However, Jules and Abigail’s ex Kevin can be charged under other state laws for the unauthorized access to Abigail’s phone, the Kappa cloud server, copying the video, and uploading it without consent. Mrs. Hobbes believes, and the officer we spoke to agreed, that there’s a strong case.
I didn’t ask what would happen to Jules and Kevin, or when. I don’t particularly care, as long as they’re punished. My mother, however, called Briar’s dean of students at home and scheduled a meeting with him first thing tomorrow morning. By the end of the day, I suspect Briar will begin the process of expelling those two.
My brain is still spinning. Dominoes in my mind have yet to fall. Just the click, click, click of a thousand consequences rapidly colliding toward an eventual conclusion at some distant time, in some future place.
The panic has subsided, though. The overwhelming cord of dread around my neck has loosened. Instead, I’m bursting with ideas, surging with adrenaline. I’m sure the chemical stimulation will fade soon and I’ll crash a few days from now to sleep for a week. Until then, dot, dot, dot.
After I get out of the bath and put on my pajamas, I stand in the hall for a moment watching Conor on the couch. His eyes are closed, head lolled to one shoulder. His chest rises and falls on deep, restful breaths.
He’s remarkable. Not many guys would have reacted to the situation the way he did, appreciated the gravity of the violation rather than making light of my humiliation.
But that’s Conor. He has an instinct toward empathy that most guys don’t. He’d rather make people around him feel good about themselves, even when it provides no personal gain for himself. More than anything, that’s what I fell in love with.
I was foolish to think I needed to protect him. He’s the strongest, most resilient person I know.
I’m tempted to let him sleep a while longer, but as if he senses me watching him, his eyes blink open and find me in the shadows.
“Sorry,” he says huskily. “Didn’t mean to crash on you.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s been a long day.”
A nervous silence ensues. Conor shifts around collecting his phone and keys from between the couch cushions.
“Anyway, I’ll get out of your way. Just wanted to make sure you were okay after everything.” He gets up to leave, coming around the couch.
“No,” I say, stopping him. “Stay. You want anything? Are you hungry?” I catch his arm and then release it like it bit me.
I don’t know how to be around him now. The ease between us isn’t here right now. It feels stilted and forced. But there’s also this indefinable urge to be near him that grows stronger the longer he’s here.