[cw: sexual assault]
Just as she’s finished applying her magnetic eyelashes, Liza’s phone buzzes with a text. It’s Kelly.
“Yep, just getting ready.”
“Can I come over? Please.”
Kelly’s heart sinks lower. She’s hiding in a bank vestibule, pretending to wait for the ATM. She just wants to be in her friend’s apartment and feel safe. She’s not sure she can explain what’s going on over text. And then she sees him. He’s approaching the glass walls of the bank, peaking through, his hands around his face to block the refection of his own face. Kelly turns away, looking down on her phone.
“It’s David. He’s here.”
“WTF?!” Liza texts back immediately. Three dots are bubbling on the bottom of Kelly’s screen, indicating Liza is typing more. Kelly’s eye are glued to the phone, too terrified of what she might see around her.
“Hey Kelly,” he says from behind her. “What’s up, long time no see.” He sounds so casual. Kelly wants to scream. Her guts feel like they’ve twisted into each other and are being squeezed. She steels herself and turns around.
“Oh, hey,” she says as normally as possible, amazed that she still has any control of her body.
“What you up to?” he sounds genuinely casual.
“Just getting some cash and then I gotta run” she says, just as the person at the machine finishes their transaction and the line moves up. She’s next.
“Well you’re almost up, where you headed after? I can walk with you.” She’d hate to admit it, but she still sees the things that charmed her about him. The way his jaw moves when he talks, the way his lips come together at the end of a sentence, the way his eyes… Mercifully, the other customer is now done, too, and it’s Kelly’s turn. Of course this isn’t her bank, but she’ll eat the extra fee if it means getting him off her back.
“If you don’t mind…” she steps up to the ATM, gesturing him away for privacy.
“Oh, sure,” he says. “I can wait for you outside.”
He phone buzzes with a text. “WTF I thought that asshole was dead!? Are you ok?!” Liza wrote.
“Actually, my boyfriend’s picking me up. He just parked,” she says, nodding to the phone to indicate that it’s him who just texted.
“Excuse me, are you gonna use the ATM?” an older man in line behind her asks, impatient.
“Oh yes, I’m sorry,” Kelly puts her card in. “I gotta take care of this,” she says to David, no longer looking at him, instead focusing on her fake transaction.
“Alright, I’ll hit you up later,” he says and walks away.
“Women, right?!” the man in line shouts after him in a show of commiseration.
She cancels her transaction and retreats into the other corner of the vestibule. She puts the card back and rummages through her bag, looking for a non-existent item. She tries to peek out the window to see if he’s waiting outside. She can't see him but that doesn’t do much to calm her down.
“Actually, can you come get me, I’m in the credit union ATM on Walnut,” she texts Liza.
In her apartment, Liza asks: “What happened? I thought he was dead?”
“Well clearly he’s alive. I just saw him. Unless it’s his twin who also knows my name or something,” she throws her arms up, exasperated, tears streaming down her cheek.
“You don’t have to talk about it, we can just be,” Liza says.
“His building burnt down,... he was on the victim list....I read that list so many times...” She's pacing around, talking to herself as much as to Liza.
“....feeling like he couldn’t hurt me anymore and then feeling like shit for that because he was dead.”
“I remember. You sure as hell went through an awful lot of therapy trying to process that for the bastard to be alive after all.”
She throws Liza a “that’s really not funny” look but she snickers a little.
“So what happened this time? He cornered you at the ATM?”
“No, he was just walking down the street and when I saw him, I ducked in there to hide. He saw me though. He was all smiles and casual charm. I couldn’t get rid of him....I had to use the stupid boyfriend line to get out. It’s so humiliating.”
“It’s okay, dear, you’re safe now. And he's a rapist, they don't get to be charming.”
She's about to confess to Liza that she still finds him attractive and hates herself for it but her phone buzzes with a text. It's from David. Just seeing his name light up the screen feels like a wrench tightening and twisting around her stomach.
“Don’t look at it!” Liza exclaims, but it’s too late. Kelly has already seen the text as it flashed across the screen, saying “was cool running into you. what you doing later?” in all lowercase letters.
“What am I doing later?! What am I doing later?!” Kelly shrieks. “I don’t know. Maybe having a mental breakdown because you’re still too damn near my life. I’d rather get a pap smear every day of my life than be in the same zip code as you ever again”
“Kelly, Kelly, it’s gonna be okay.” Liza gets up, grabs her in a hug and holds her close.
“You don’t know that,” Kelly pleads for a proof or a reason, desperately wanting to believe her in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.
“You’re right I don’t. I’m so sorry you have to deal with it my love. But I’m here for you.”
A bit later, they’re sipping on hot chocolate that Liza made, having cancelled her plans for the evening without hesitation.
“Were you serious about moving?”
“What did I say about moving?”
“You said you didn’t wanna be in the same zip code as him. I’d miss you but you better believe I’d help you move. I can negotiate with landlords like nobody’s business.”
“Ha! No I don’t think so. I can’t control what he does and I don’t wanna run….you know, most of the time.”
Liza smiles and squeezes her hand across the table; this is her friend, the Kelly that she knows.
“But seriously, anything you wanna do, I’m here to support you.” She throws another handful of marshmallows into her cup. “You sure you don’t wanna report it?”
Kelly shakes her head slowly, deliberately.
“No, I don’t wanna be dragged. I have no proof; it’s too grey.”
“But it happened. Look at me: it happened," Liza puts extra emphasis into her words.
“I know that, believe me," Kelly says bitterly. "Sadly by our cultural standards that was a perfectly normal evening. Exhibit A–he’s not even aware he did anything wrong and wants to go again.”
Liza’s face sinks; Kelly’s right. “True. But if nobody pushes against that it’s gonna stay that way.”
Kelly nods slowly and looks away.
“You’re right. It’s fucked up. I don't know what to do. I don’t feel like I can do any good. And even if I get my way I’d have fed another man to the criminal justice system. I’m not interested in that. That will only alienate him. I want him to understand and be able to do better.”
“For that he has to want to do better.”
“I can’t force him to do that.” Kelly throws her hands up, exasperated. “Clearly I can’t even get him to understand the word ‘no’.” Her eyes are welled up with tears.
“I’m so sorry honey,” Liza says. “I didn’t mean to upset you, we don’t have to talk about it.”
“No, we do,” Kelly says, wiping her tears in her shirt, and Liza reaches for the napkins over on the counter. “It’s important. It’s necessary.”
Handing her the napkins, Liza says “you’re so strong, Kelly. I really admire you.”
“I really wish I didn’t need to be so strong.”