CONTENT WARNING: Baby Bird contains elements that readers might find disturbing or reminders of past trauma. Diligence and discretion is recommended.
It was around noon the next morning
when Melanie finally woke up. The first thing she noticed was that she was on her stomach now, her left cheek resting against her pillow, which had been moved into place. Her whole body felt sore, but in particular her lower torso and the area around her neck. Initially she felt paralyzed, able only to move her arms. She slowly moved her hands across the linen of her bedsheets, before she felt something familiar. It was her dress. At this point she realized that the slight breeze she felt from the fan was because she was fully nude.
Carefully, she began to pick herself off the bed. Her skin was cold, and her entire being felt out-of-balance. As she lifted herself up, she suddenly began to feel a terrifying sensation. Her body, as it began to wake up, began to prick her skin. It felt as though a thousand ants were crawling up her, all at once.
She began to panic. She stopped being careful and sat right up on the bed, touching up against the wall as she scratched at her arms and legs. She started hyperventilating, and tears began to fall from her eyes. She began to cry, continuously scratching at herself, until eventually her body woke up fully and the sensation subsided. She hugged her legs and sat like that, for about an hour.
At that point, she could finally find the ability to get up and walk. She decided to go over to her bathroom, and take a hot shower. She began to feel the soreness of her body again, but she could tell it was beginning to subside. She looked down at herself – she had a few scratches and bruises over her, but she couldn’t tell which ones were self-inflicted from the hour before. A few looked much deeper than what she could manage. A bit later into the shower, she noticed blood began to flow down from her vaginal area. She grabbed a washcloth and tried, gently, to scrub it. It felt like fire, and eventually she had to stop. She stayed under the water for a while, her eyes closed. She tried to think about what had happened the night before, but she couldn’t. She didn’t feel anything, either. There was no sadness, or pain, or anger. She just felt hollow.
She put on a plain white t-shirt and a pair of gray sweatpants. She found her phone in the kitchen, and unlocked it. There weren’t really any alerts of note, other than her reminder to leave for her parents. She was supposed to have done it 15 minutes ago. At that point she considered calling them to say what had happened, but she stopped. She thought about the words she’d have to speak, what she’d have to explain, and how they’d react. Especially her father. She ultimately decided against it, and instead decided to call someone else.
Fifi was at home, playing Just Dance with her two younger sisters. The youngest, at about seven, kept trying to push Fifi to throw her off her moves, giggling as she did so.
“Missy, you gonna regret it if you end up making me lose the game,” Fifi spoke out in a playful manner. The little girl laughed again, continuing to try and throw her older sister off balance.
The middle sister, who was around 15, was sitting out watching the two on an armchair. At some point she noticed a phone on the table next to her light up.
“Yo Fifi, you got a call,” the girl commented.
Fifi nodded. “Aight. Let’s pause the game, okay?” The little girl backed off as Fifi grabbed the controller and pressed pause. She walked over to the phone, seeing the caller ID, and walked it over to the kitchen.
“Hey Mel, what’s up?” The young woman asked when she was sufficiently out of range of her two sisters.
When Fifi finally picked up, Melanie wasn’t quite sure what to say. She opened her mouth.
“Um…” she began, meekly. “Is it okay if you… if you come back over to the dorm, sometime today?”
Fifi could hear the weakness in the girl’s voice. She quickly got serious.
“Mel, is there something wrong?” She asked empathetically.
“I just…” Melanie looked at the ground, staring off into space. “It might be easier to explain, if you’re here.”
“I’m coming right now.”
Melanie’s eyes came back up. “I-I mean, I don’t want to interrupt-”
“Mel. It’s okay. I’m coming. I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
Fifi hung up, quickly getting her stuff together. The two girls looked back at her, seeing that she was shuffling about. Fifi pointed to the older one.
“Arielle, can you watch after her for a bit, please? I gotta leave for a while, but I’ll be back for dinner.”
Arielle nodded. Without much room for any other discussion, the two just watched as Fifi opened the front door and walked out.
Fifi arrived twenty-five minutes later. Melanie was waiting for her in the living room, and stood up when she heard the door open.
“Hey, Mel,” Fifi greeted as she put her purse on the nearby counter. “Tell me, what happened? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah… I’m okay, I just…”
Melanie sat back down on the couch. Fifi took a seat next to her. For a while, Melanie was silent, fidgeting with her elbow. It took a bit more coaxing from Fifi.
“Did something happen at the party last night?”
Melanie shook her head. “No, it’s… well…”
“Is it something with Nathaniel?”
Fifi saw the spark in Melanie’s eyes. She was onto something.
“Well…” Melanie began. “When we got back, from the party… Nate was really drunk, and so I wanted to calm him down… so I, I gave him some water, and let him rest… but, he really wanted to kiss me… and, I don’t know, m-maybe I was just… I was just being insensitive, to what he wanted, and so he… we… but, I mean, he didn’t…”
Melanie stopped. She could feel Fifi taking a tight grasp of her hand. When she turned to face her friend, she saw that Fifi was looking right at her, beads of tears forming at the ends of her eye.
“No, Mel,” Fifi spoke authoritatively. “This isn’t your fault. None of it is.”
Melanie was still unsure, but she nodded her head in response. Fifi let go, but her fists kept clenching.
“Fucking bastard,” Fifi murmured under her breath, her voice breaking in both fury and sadness. “I hate him. I hate myself too, for not seeing it when I could’ve.”
“But, I mean… maybe he doesn’t deserve that. H-he’s a good person, Fifi, he just-”
“No,” Fifi spoke once again with conviction in her voice. “I’m sorry, Melanie. But he does not deserve my sympathy. And you sure as shit did not deserve what he did to you.”
Fifi began to cry, lightly. Just as quickly as it started, she turned away, wiping her eyes with her hands. It took her some time to compose herself, but once she did, she got up.
“You should go to the counselor,” Fifi said. “Let them know what happened. I’ll go with you.”
“Fifi, I don’t think I can… I don’t think I can tell anybody about this yet. I could barely tell you.”
Fifi kneeled in front of her roommate. “It will be okay, I promise. I’ll be right there. It’s just… with something like this, the faster people know the better. Okay?”
Fifi’s voice was different now. It was sympathetic, singsong – she looked up at Melanie with comforting eyes, and a small smile was on her face. It made Melanie feel a little better.
Melanie nodded. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
Fifi’s smile grew. “Thank you. I’ll take you there. Let’s go right now, alright?”
The two stood up. Melanie looked down at herself.
“Should I… change into something else?”
Fifi grabbed her own purse, as well as Melanie’s. “No, you’re ok with that. You ready to go otherwise?”
Melanie nodded. “Yeah, lemme just… get my phone.”
Melanie left into the bedroom. While Fifi waited, the fear began to creep into her head again. The fear that part of this whole thing might have been her fault. But Fifi shook it out, and focused more on the urgent task at hand. Melanie came out of the bedroom, and the two left.
The campus counselor was a clean-shaven young man of Turkish descent. He greeted Fifi with a firm handshake, and waved to Melanie, who stood a bit farther back.
“Nice to meet you too, I’m Doctor T,” the man mentioned as he shook Fifi’s hand.
“Mel,” Melanie answered in the back.
“Please, sit down.” The counselor beckoned to two chairs in front of his desk. Melanie and Fifi did as they were asked. The doctor sat in his own chair across from them. “So, could you tell me why you girls are here today?”
There was a brief silence. Fifi spoke up first.
“Well… it’s mostly about her,” she motioned lightly over to Melanie. “Last night, there was… a big party, over at Delta Phi. She had gone with a male friend of hers, and… when they got back…”
Fifi looked over at Melanie now. The doctor did too, expectantly. Melanie began to fiddle nervously with her elbow again. She looked down at her lap, finally beginning to come to terms with her situation.
“He… forced me to have sex with him,” Melanie spoke, finishing Fifi’s story.
The young counselor nodded. There was a look of pity in his face but for the most part he was able to keep a professional composure about it all.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he answered. “Everytime a student comes in to tell me their story it breaks my heart. But I want you to know you aren’t alone in this.”
The man rolled his chair over to a cabinet on his right. While he did so Fifi took hold of Melanie’s hand and squeezed it gently. Melanie was actually rather annoyed by this gesture, but she did not say anything.
Out from the cabinet the counselor had grabbed a packet of papers stapled together. “So, what we can do…” he began, placing the packet in front of the girls and grabbing a pen from a Hill Valley College themed cup, “…is first, we can submit a police report. This doesn’t automatically press charges against this boy, but it allows us to do a thorough investigation of the whole thing. It is also all anonymous – it’s done under my office, so they won’t know you submitted anything. The second is that we have a free program for remedial therapy done by one of our campus partners. It’s over, by the – you know the shopping complex, over at Cactus Plaza? – yes, it’s in that building over there. But I can give you more details about it later.”
The counselor pushed the packet over in Melanie’s direction. She scanned it briefly, and noticed the emboldened and intimidating font which titled the document: SEXUAL ASSAULT AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REPORT FORM.
“All I ask is that you fill out that form,” the counselor continued, referring to the packet. “And, also…”
The counselor paused here. It was obvious he was coming up on a stipulation that perhaps previous students had found worrying. Both Fifi and Melanie looked up.
“…as part of the process, we’ll have to inform your parents, or family guardian. Now, it’s not recommended they hear of something like this from us first, so we always insist… that you tell them first.”
Melanie shook her head, vigorously opposing the notion. “No, no no no, I can’t do that… M-my dad’s gonna freak out, my mom… I can’t have that stress on them right now.”
Fifi also looked confused. “Yeah, I don’t understand… why would she need to tell her parents?”
“It’s part of the Title IX procedure,” the counselor clarified, “if we don’t follow it, then unfortunately there’s not much we can do.”
Fifi’s confusion turned into anger. “Oh, come on. There’s gotta be something we could do without her having to tell her parents about the whole thing right now. I just find that ridiculous.”
The man sighed. He looked down at the packet he had turned toward the other side of the table, then he turned towards the girls. Fifi gave him a look of disdain and expectance. Melanie gave him a look of fear and worry. He focused on Melanie’s face.
“There is another potential route we can go down,” he finally capitulated. “What I can do is I can submit the police report as a private individual. It still won’t have your name on it, but it will probably have a slower turnaround than the Title IX method. And I can still get you into the therapy program no problem.”
Fifi’s face loosened up. She seemed satisfied with this answer. “Let’s do that, then.”
The counselor looked back at Melanie for confirmation. Melanie nodded.
“Alright.” The man got up. The girls followed, leaving the packet alone on the table. “In the meantime, since the… incident is so fresh, I would recommend going to the medical office and letting them know what happened. They can help with any physical injuries, as well as taking a semen sample if possible. That will help a lot with the report.”
The two girls thanked the counselor for his help, then moved on to their next location. As they had left the counselor’s building, Fifi sighed.
“Title IX my ass,” Fifi muttered under her breath.
Meanwhile, Melanie said nothing. She was focused on the next step. There was so much anxiousness in the way she walked. While there weren’t many people on campus anymore, those who were felt like they were looking directly Melanie’s way. She looked down, ashamed, frightened. She didn’t know who was on her side anymore. Even Fifi.
The campus hospital was across the road from the counselor building. When they came in through the front door, a large latina woman with glasses and frizzy hair greeted them.
“Hello,” she spoke softly. “What do you need today?”
A sudden fear gripped Melanie. She thought about the people who had looked at her on the way to the hospital. Before Fifi could speak, she blurted out a reply.
“I-I had a fall,” Melanie replied. “A, um… a pretty bad fall. And my legs… they’ve been hurting since. So I just wanted to make sure nothing was wrong.”
The front desk assistant nodded as if there was nothing unusual, and typed at a computer on her desk. Fifi looked at Melanie oddly, but did not speak up.
“Can I have your name?”
“Date of birth?”
“March 22nd, 1999.”
There was some more typing. “And do you have your insurance card on you?”
Melanie reached into her purse, and pulled out her wallet. It was at this point that she realized her hands were shaking. They must have been doing that from the moment she walked into the clinic. She scavenged through her wallet to find her insurance card, only for it to slip out of her hand and fall to the ground below her.
As it hit the ground, something happened. Melanie’s eyes widened. She realized how quiet everything was. She reached out to the card, but as if in hypnosis she stopped.
“O-oh…” she blurted out, unable to speak anything more.
Before the scene went on for too long, Fifi quickly reached down and grabbed the card, giving it to the front desk worker. The older woman seemed a little curious about the event, but didn’t mention it.
“Alright, we’ll have a doctor with you shortly,” the woman finally declared.
Fifi and Melanie sat at a couple of empty faux-leather chairs in the lobby. The African girl leaned over to her roommate.
“Hey, everything going alright?” she whispered.
Melanie nodded without looking directly at her. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Fifi considered pressing further, especially about the reason Melanie gave for the visit. But ultimately she decided against it, and the two sat together in silence until Melanie’s name was called.
Melanie was brought to a small examination room at the end of a hallway. She waited there for a few more minutes, before a man in a white coat – who had a bald head and a slightly-graying goatee – walked in.
“Hi there – Melanie, right?” the man asked, smiling.
Melanie nodded. The man continued.
“I’m Dr. Flores, and I’ll be helping you today. You said you had a fall, right?”
“Y-yeah,” Melanie lied.
The medical doctor fiddled with a computer inside the room. “Can I ask you – did you get this by playing volleyball?”
Melanie thought the question was odd. But she realized she hadn’t formed her own lie that much deeper. “Yeah, I did, actually.”
“Hah! I knew it. My daughter plays volleyball, and sometimes when she trips and falls on the court she can get some pretty bad bruises. Could you tell me where they’re located?”
Melanie motioned down at her sweatpants. “Right… around here.”
“The thigh area?”
The doctor typed in a few more notes into the computer. “Could you show me them?”
Melanie froze up. Since she was wearing the sweatpants, there was no easy way to show the bruises without taking them off partially. The doctor seemed to sense her hesitation, and added to his question.
“Just so that I can check them real quick, make sure there aren’t signs of anything too serious.”
Melanie’s mind went blank again. She felt like she could cry. But she held it in, and grabbed the waistband of her pants. Slowly she removed them until all the bruises were in view.
The doctor stood up from his chair, analyzing them from a distance. Every moment felt like pure agony to the girl. She felt vulnerable again. But after what was, in reality, a few seconds, the doctor motioned that she could put the pants back on again. She did it instantly.
“Well, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Which is good. I did see a few scratches – you must have landed on some grainy rock or debris that was on the court. Think we should wipe those to be careful, then I’ll give you a cold pack to go home with.”
The doctor walked over to the other side of the room, past Melanie sitting on the chair. As he passed, however, something caught his attention and he stopped.
“Oh, what’s this? Looks like there’s some on the back of your neck, too. How’d that happen?”
Melanie began to panic a little, but fortunately was quick enough to think of a suitable reply. “That’s, um… that’s where the ball hit me.”
The doctor gave an empathetic sigh. “Those things hit hard, huh? Well, I’ll give you some wipes for that, too.”
Melanie, relieved, began to ease herself. But that ease dropped off again when suddenly the doctor approached her closely, the alcohol wipes in his hand.
“Here,” he said, taking out one of the wipes. “I can get the neck for you.”
The second that Melanie felt the wipe – and the man’s hand – touch her neck, she had a visceral reaction. Suddenly she jutted away from him, towards the other side of the examination chair. Her heart began to beat fast.
“No!” she suddenly shrieked, then quickly composed herself. “N-no, that’s okay. I can do that. It’s fine.”
The doctor looked at her with some confusion. “Are you sure? It’s mostly on the back so you won’t be able to see it. It will be easier if I do it.”
“No, really. It’s okay. I can do it.”
The doctor skeptically handed her the wipes. Melanie took one and began to wipe all around her neck.
“Remember to do the legs also,” the doctor said as he got back closer to the door. “Just apply a good amount of pressure and wipe thoroughly. We want to make sure no bacteria gets in your scratches. In the meantime I’ll go get those cold packs, okay?”
Melanie nodded. After the man left, she began to think to herself while she wiped down her body. She didn’t have any reaction when Fifi squeezed her hand, but the second the man tried touching her something set off inside her. She was afraid of touch. Deeply afraid.
The doctor came back a few minutes later, handing her the ice packs and shortly after discharging her. As Melanie walked out of the examination room back into the hallway, something grabbed her attention which she did not see before. There was a sign on the wall with something to do about safe sex, and next to it was a dispenser. The dispenser had two holes – one was for condoms, the other was for pregnancy tests.
Melanie felt that nervous tickling hit her body again, her chest feeling smothered against her t-shirt. She looked both ways down the hallway – she could hear voices but no one was around – then quickly reached into the dispenser and took out a single pregnancy test, stuffing it into her pants. She walked out.
Fifi walked with Melanie back to the Nova Student Housing Complex. When they got there, Melanie sighed and sat down on the couch, looking down at her lap.
“It’s already late,” she spoke. “I should let my parents know I won’t be coming back for a few more days.”
“Yeah, that’s smart.” Fifi put her purse back on the kitchen counter. “You better stay here for a few more days, at least until the police report comes in. Dr. T said they’d call you, right?”
Melanie nodded. She was still staring at her lap. “Yeah. Not like I’ll be getting calls from anyone else in that time.”
The girl with the braid looked down at the one on the couch. She felt as though she should do more, say more, but wasn’t sure what was left.
“Well, I gotta head back home,” Fifi finally said. “I promised Arielle and Tyna I’d be back tonight. But I’ll check on you every once in a while, make sure you’re alright – alright?”
“Fifi, you don’t gotta-”
“Oh, come now, Mel.” Fifi walked over to the girl. Melanie finally looked up at her. Fifi smiled.
“I’m your friend, okay? Checking in is what friends do. You let me know if you need anything, anything at all. And I’ll be there for you.”
For the first time that day, Melanie smiled. It wasn’t a particularly big or defined smile, but it was a smile nonetheless. She got up from the couch, and the two hugged. Fifi left not that long after.
After Fifi left, Melanie hurriedly took out the pregnancy test from her pocket and used it. The result turned out negative. She breathed a sigh of relief, and went over to texting her father.
She had scarcely looked at her phone since she left with Fifi. When she opened it again, she saw that there was already a text from her father waiting there.
| Hey kiddo, your train coming in late?
She stared at the message for a few blank moments, before finally coming up with an answer.
| so sorry dad! a friend of mine had an emergency so ive been helping her. i might not
| come over for a few days just to make sure shes alright, if thats okay!
Afterwards she went to make herself dinner. When she sat down with her plate there was a new message.
| That’s a shame. Your mother and I were looking forward to seeing you tonight. But I
| hope your friend is okay. I’ll see you soon!
The reply upset Melanie. Part of her really wanted to see her parents too, and part of her also felt that maybe she’d feel better if they knew what was going on and could support her. But she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. It was too much, all at once.
She ate her meal, then went to sleep.
The next few days were spent by Melanie anticipating the call from the campus police station. In that time she had gotten a little bit better – the physical pain was gone, at least – and every so often Fifi would stop by and the two would go out to lunch together. But it was during this time waiting that Melanie noticed something peculiar.
The first two times she saw him, she thought it was just a coincidental lookalike. But the third time – when she spotted him up close, in the cafeteria – she confirmed her suspicions. Calvin, the boy whom Fifi and the others had grown to be friends with, was also on campus during the break. This struck Melanie as especially odd, given that she had heard from Fifi that the boy’s parents lived relatively close by.
But the girl did not try to interact with him. Instead, it would be he who would make the first move. One day, at the very same cafeteria, Calvin walked up with his plate and approached her.
“Hey… Melanie, right?” Calvin asked.
“Yeah. And you’re Calvin, Fifi’s friend?”
“That’s right. Is it cool that I sit here?”
Melanie didn’t have any strong objections. “Sure, go ahead.”
Calvin did what he had permission to do. “I noticed you were still on campus and got curious. You doing a research engagement or something?”
“Oh, no…” Melanie trailed off, playing with her food. “Just, sorting some stuff out I guess.”
Calvin nodded. There was a trail of silence that followed, until Melanie picked back up the conversation.
“I could ask the same for you, you know. Why you’re still on campus.”
“Ah, well,” Calvin began, clearly trying to think of the best response, “I’m just… not super great with my mom, I guess you could say. Better for me to be here than over there.”
Melanie accepted the answer, and went on with her meal. Calvin tried to eat, but stopped himself. He seemed to be in thought for a while, until finally Calvin spoke up again.
“I don’t know what exactly it is you’re sorting through… nor am I really that good at emotional support, so I don’t know why I’m offering this… but if you ever need anyone to talk to, outside of Fifi, I’ll be here.”
Melanie stopped eating, and turned toward him. There was a soft smile on her face.
“Thanks, Calvin. I appreciate that. I really do.”
Calvin smiled back, and the two continued to eat with one another. This soon became a regular habit of the two, with Fifi often joining in when she could. One of these days when the three were all together, about a week before Christmas, Melanie got a call on her phone.
“Shit,” she muttered, interrupting some banter between Fifi and her Poly-Sci friend, “This is them. I’ll go take it.”
Fifi patted Melanie on the back, as the young girl got up and walked away from the table. Calvin watched the girl leave to a secluded part of the cafeteria, then turned back towards Fifi.
“This part of the… thing?” Calvin asked.
Fifi nodded. “We’ve been waiting for this call for a while.”
“Is it something I can help with?”
The girl thought for a moment, then ultimately shook her head. “No. I think Mel and I got it covered.”
Calvin, initially, didn’t explore beyond that. A few moments passed and Melanie finally walked back from beyond the corner, towards Fifi specifically.
“That was the counselor,” Melanie explained, “he says the report got filed. Now they want us to go over to the police station to answer some questions.”
Calvin’s ears perked up. Fifi grabbed her bag and stood from the table.
“Alright. We leave now?” Fifi asked.
“Yeah. I think so.”
The two girls began to gather their stuff, when suddenly Calvin interjected. “Whoa, whoa whoa whoa.” He waved his arm to get their attention. “Police station? What exactly is going on here?”
Fifi sighed. “It’s… complicated. But like I said, we can handle it. You don’t have to come with us, you can just go back to-”
“I think we should tell him.”
Fifi stopped, and turned towards Melanie. “You sure?”
“I am.” The girl turned towards Calvin. “Can you come with us?”
Calvin nodded, getting up from his seat. “Absolutely.”
Fifi and the boy followed Melanie over to where she had taken the call – a staircase separated from the rest of the hallway. Melanie took a deep breath, and looked at Calvin again.
“You remember that guy I was dating, most of this semester?”
Calvin began to feel a pit growing in his stomach. He nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“Well… right before winter break…” Melanie took a deep breath. “He raped me. And now I’m just… trying to figure out what I can do, I guess.”
Calvin was silent. He looked down, embarrassed, for he did not know what to say in response. “I’m… I’m sorry,” he finally let out. “I’m so sorry. But this only makes me want to help more. Is there anything I can do for you – either of you?”
Melanie thought for a moment. “You can come with us to the station, if you want. I’ll just be answering some of their questions about it, but honestly… I can use all the backup I can get.”
Calvin nodded. “Okay then. Let’s go.”
The campus police station was relatively close to the cafeteria – just walk to the nearest street and cross – so it didn’t take them much time at all. When Melanie mentioned to the front desk why she was there, the front desk took note and asked the three to sit down in the lobby. While Calvin looked somewhat suspiciously at the others sitting around amongst them, Melanie was locked in her own mind, rehearsing what she might say.
Eventually, a tall Latino officer came out into the lobby and told Melanie to come inside. Melanie asked if she could bring her friends – the officer didn’t see any reason not to, and so the three all came together. The police station proper looked more like a generic office building than Melanie had expected – the officer led them into a conference room near one of the walls that could be indistinguishable from any other conference room on campus.
“First of all, thank you for filing that police report with your doctor,” the officer began, shuffling some papers that he had carried with him into the room. “Those reports allow us not only to help you, but provide us with the context of what’s going on in the wider college and where more of our resources should be focused on.” It was at that point that the officer took a deep breath, looking down at his papers, and exhaled.
“We looked into the perpetrator you had mentioned, Nathaniel Barbut. It looks like he went back home to Nebraska over winter break, and is no longer living with the roommates he had been with before.”
“Well, what’s the big deal there?” Calvin asked. “Couldn’t you guys just get him when he comes back in spring?”
The officer looked up. “That’s the problem. Nathaniel Barbut had already failed out of Hill Valley. He hasn’t been a student for the past three months.”
A dagger had hit Melanie’s heart. The boy she had so naively loved – not only did he run away before being confronted, but he had been lying to her long before the night of the party. When she was alone at night she had been considering what she might say if given the chance to talk to him again, perhaps even forgive him. But now she had no idea what to think. It was in that moment, not before, that Melanie felt hurt the most.
“Well what’s stopping anybody from getting the Nebraska police involved?” Fifi brought up, with a clear tone of agitation in her voice. “I mean, this is a serious crime, isn’t it?”
The officer sighed. “If we were talking about the county, or even the Washington State Police, this would be a different story. But to ask a state police to get involved, all the way down in the midwest, on one case… we could try, but it would take months. And by that point we don’t even know where he’d be next.”
It was at this point that the officer turned to look at Melanie. Their eyes had met. She was on the verge of tears, but did a good job of hiding it.
“I’m sorry, I really am. I don’t like admitting that these cases fall through the cracks… but sometimes they do.”
Suddenly, Fifi shot up from her seat. She was furious now. “Horseshit! Two minutes ago you were giving us a big speech about how happy you were that we were submitting a report, now you’re telling us you have nothing? What the hell is your job, anyway?”
“Fifi!” Calvin called out to her. “Just… calm down, okay? I’m sorry officer, this is just upsetting news and-”
“I think you all can do something, you just don’t want to because it means for once in your life you have to get off your goddamn ass and fix something about this stupid fucking campus! And you know what? I don’t think you care about women in general. I couldn’t count on my hands the number of times the women in my life have come to you people for help only to get nothing in return. And I’m not planning on sitting around and listening to whatever other bullshit you have to say!”
“No, Fifi! Wait!”
Fifi stormed out of the conference room, with Calvin following close behind her. Melanie didn’t go with them – she stayed seated, looking down at the table, lost in thought. The officer let out a deep sigh, then looked back at her.
“You better go catch up with your friends,” he said pityingly. “I’m sorry again we couldn’t help.”
“It’s no problem,” Melanie softly replied, her mind more preoccupied on other things.
When Melanie walked out of the station, she saw Calvin and Fifi walking together. Without saying a word, she joined them, walking shortly behind.
“Listen, I understand you’re frustrated about the whole thing…” Calvin began, “But that’s not the way we need to approach this, especially to a police officer!”
“You don’t get it, Calv! All these police in every state are all interconnected, for this reason. If they really wanted to, they could call up their buddies in bumfuck Omaha and nab him easily. And another thing, what- what the hell is it with them not knowing he was still on campus for three fucking months despite not being a student?”
“No, I do get it! You know I don’t like the police anymore than you do, okay? I’m just saying that maybe there was an avenue for working with them instead of just yelling-”
“They were gonna be no help, Calvin! We might as well go and drive all the way down to Nebraska ourselves!”
Calvin and Fifi stopped. This third voice was timid and pacifist, a voice they had nearly forgotten about in all their back and forth. The two turned around and faced Melanie.
“Um…” she began, looking towards the ground. “I think I’m just going to go back to my parent’s house now. For the rest of the break.”
Calvin nodded. “Oh, yeah… yeah, that’s a smart idea. You should get some rest.”
Fifi, embarrassed with herself, nodded too. “Yeah, Mel. You should take time with your family, especially this close to Christmas. You need someone to drive you?”
Melanie shook her head. “No, it’s alright. I’ll just take the train.”
Fifi gave her a smile for comfort, reaching over and hugging her. Calvin waved goodbye, and the three all split off for the time being.
Later that day, at around 6pm, Melanie found herself at the foot of her family’s home. It was a two-story suburban house near the Washington coast, and did not have anything too noteworthy beyond a fishing boat hitched to a trailer outside which belonged to Melanie’s father (he used it a lot more now that he was retired).
Melanie rang the doorbell, and only had to wait a minute or two before the door opened and she saw her father. He was a large man, who had an oval-shaped balding head and a pair of intense blue eyes. His clothes were rather plain and rustic, consisting of a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. When he saw his daughter standing there, his intensity made way to joy.
“So, finally you’re home, kiddo!” Melanie’s father smiled. He began to approach her for a hug, and in those moments Melanie felt her reflex begin to kick in. As the man came close to her she pushed his chest away with enough force to bring herself back down to the bottom of the stairs. Her father looked at her, confused.
“Is… is something wrong?”
Melanie snapped out of it. She was incredibly embarrassed by what she had done, but couldn’t rest on that emotion now. She had to think of an excuse.
“Oh no, I think I just… tripped on the stairs or something. Anyway, is mom around?”
As Melanie brushed by her father and into the house, a nagging sense of guilt hit her. The university physician had been one thing, but here was a person she knew she loved and whom she knew loved her. Yet at this moment, the sense of a man’s touch – any man’s touch – was enough to set her in. She had problems she needed to fix, that much was certain. But she couldn’t break her father’s heart just yet.
“Oh, yeah…” her father began again, slightly saddened. “She’s upstairs.”
Melanie put on a smile, and turned back to her father. “Did you start putting up the Christmas stuff yet?” she asked, mostly as a way to make sure her father knew she wasn’t upset at him.
It seemed to work, as her father lightened up a bit. “Not anything outside yet. But the tree and all is set up, if you want me to show you it.”
Melanie nodded, and as the two went over into the living room where the tree was held they were intercepted by a woman with dirt-blonde hair and a gently wrinkled face. She smiled when she saw them.
“Melanie, so good to see you!” she said.
Melanie smiled back. “Good to see you too, mom.”
“Your room is all ready for you. Haven’t touched it at all, other than to clean it.”
Melanie nodded. “Thanks, I’ll go put my stuff there.”
“Have you eaten yet?”
Melanie turned back towards her mother from the stairs. “Huh?”
“Have you eaten dinner yet?”
“Oh, no I haven’t.”
“Good,” her mother smiled. “We’re just about to eat. I’ll call you down when it’s ready.”
Melanie finished walking up the stairs, where she turned at the second door in the hallway and opened it. Sure enough, the room looked relatively unchanged. On the walls were collages which fit a soft pink Mean Girls theme she created back in junior year of high school. There were a few plushies stacked up on one side of the bed, obtained from claw games she had won or gifts from friends (and, yes, a few she had bought herself). On her dresser drawers were a mix of DECA trophies and medallions, alongside a framed photo of her high school friends from their last major get-together. She hadn’t talked to them in a while and wondered how they were doing now.
Melanie began to put away the contents of her luggage before she finally heard her mother call from downstairs. She walked down the stairs and found her place at the dinner table. The meal was roasted chicken and some mashed potatoes.
After a while of eating, Melanie’s father – who sat at the front of the table – spoke up.
“So, when am I going to meet Nathaniel?”
A shock went through Melanie’s system. ”W-what?”
“That’s the name of the boy you told me about over the phone, right? That you started seeing?”
Melanie remembered the conversation. She recomposed herself. “Oh, well, um… he’s back at home with his parents right now, but…”
The dad smiled. “That’s fine. Would just like to meet him at some point – size him up, you know?”
Her parents chuckled at the joke, and Melanie tried her best to smile. All she wanted at this point was to not reveal what she already knew.
The rest of winter break at the Shanahan household went by without too much out of the ordinary. Occasionally Fifi still texted to check and see if everything was okay, but beyond that this was the first time since the incident that things really felt back to normal for Melanie. There would be only one other event of note, near the end of the break, that reminded the girl that not everything was alright.
She wasn’t sure what she had dreamed of, but one night Melanie woke up in a bout of terror. She shot up from the bed, gasping and clutching her chest. In an effort to calm herself down, she got out of bed and began pacing around her small bedroom, trying to stifle her hyperventilating and go back to normal.
It was at this point she heard a knock on the door. Her pulse increased again, as she heard her mother’s voice on the other side.
“Everything alright, Melanie?”
Melanie leaned against the door, so that her mother couldn’t come in. “Yeah, yeah… it’s fine. I’m fine,” she blurted out.
“It’s pretty late, so… get to sleep, alright?”
Tears began to form in Melanie’s eyes. She kept hold of her chest. “I will.”
“You sure you’re okay?”
“Okay. Well… I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Melanie could hear her mother’s footsteps receding away from the door. Melanie slowly slid down from the door until she was sitting on the ground. She so desperately wanted to tell them – both of them – just so she didn’t have to hide anymore. Just so that she didn’t have to feel alone in all of it. But she couldn’t. There was some invisible wall that separated them now, and she couldn’t find a way around it. She needed to get help.
She began, quietly, to cry.
A few days later Melanie’s dad drove her back to campus for the spring semester. Mr. Shanahan, always somewhat ignorant of his daughter’s feelings, had a big smile on the highway going back to the school.
“Well, I’m very proud of you,” he said, continuing an ongoing conversation. “It sounds like you’ve found a place for yourself on campus. That can be difficult for a freshman to do.”
“Yeah…” Melanie began, looking out the window passively. “I have a lot of good friends.” She thought of Fifi, Rocko, and Mary-Ann – and at this point, even a little of Calvin.
When Melanie got back on campus, she prepared to have lunch with the others. There was still a day until classes started up like normal, and so the group had decided to get sandwiches together at a place off campus and debrief on how their breaks had gone. In the meanwhile, Fifi had – at Melanie’s own request – informed Rocko and Mary-Ann of what had happened over the break. Melanie still couldn’t understand why she couldn’t grasp the courage to tell them herself the same way she had told Calvin, and in the lead up to the lunch she also felt this impending dread as to how the conversation would go with her two friends.
When Melanie arrived at the sandwich shop, she found she was the last one there. Rocko and Mary-Ann both met her with welcoming yet somber expressions, making it clear that Fifi had told them what had happened.
“Hey, Mel,” Mary-Ann let out meekly. “How are you?”
“I’ve been doing better these past few days.”
Rocko reached out his arms towards the girl. “Wanna hug?”
Melanie smiled, but declined. “No thanks. But I appreciate you.”
Rocko nodded, and the group walked over to the counter to take their orders. When they got their food, they sat down at a bigger table in the far corner of the sandwich shop.
“So, when is your… therapy starting?” Fifi asked. She had paused in trying to find a softer word than ‘therapy’, but one did not come to mind.
The word didn’t seem to affect Melanie all that much. “Next Monday. It’s at one of the buildings in the Cactus Plaza.”
“That far away from campus, huh?” Rocko interjected.
“I can drive you there,” added Fifi. “What time is it?”
“It’s pretty late… I think, 7? Yeah. Every Monday from 7 to 8.”
An agitated look crossed Fifi’s face. “Shit. That’s right dead in the middle of my work hours. I don’t want to inconvenience you, but… is there another time slot you can join?”
Melanie took a sip of her soda, and shook her head. “That’s the only time they offer.”
Fifi leaned back in her chair, thinking to herself. “Damn, that’s gonna be hard then.”
“I mean, it’s cool. I can always like… you know, not go.”
Fifi seemed outrightly against this idea. “No, girl. You need to get your help. You need to heal. You deserve it.” Fifi thought some more. “I can try negotiating with my boss to change my hours. Maybe work a little bit earlier so that I can be off by 6:30 or so.”
“Fifi, really, you don’t have to upend your life for me.”
“I’m not upending my life. I know how important this is for you, and I want to help you, I just have to-”
“I can do it.”
Fifi and Melanie stopped talking to one another, and turned towards the speaker. It was Calvin.
“My apartment is right next to Cactus Plaza,” Calvin continued. “I don’t have anything going on at that time, either. Wouldn’t be super difficult to pick you up and drop you off. I can take you back to the campus, too.”
Melanie smiled. “Thanks, Calv.”
“Seriously, thanks,” Fifi also replied. “It would have been a bitch trying to negotiate with my manager.”
Calvin shrugged. “No problem. Guess it’s a deal, then.”
Later on Monday, Melanie – bundled up in a thrifted red coat, standing on the sidewalk near her apartment – saw Calvin approach in his black coupe. Melanie hopped into the passenger seat and greeted him.
“So, you ready?” Calvin asked as Melanie buckled her seatbelt.
Melanie sighed. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
The group therapy sessions – known formally in the brochures as ‘Healing Mission of Hill Valley’ – took place inside of the Cactus Plaza strip mall. More specifically, it used a space that was once a call center, gutted of most of its furniture and reinvented into a space which regularly provided group therapy for both trauma and addiction. For Melanie, the call center atmosphere seemed to stick – the first thing she noticed upon entering the building was its dim lights, paneled ceiling, and thin-carpeted floor. But she did not have much time to spend analyzing the interior as she was quickly scooped up and introduced by someone who came into the room to welcome her.
“Hi there. Here for the seven o’clock session?” It was a woman asking, one old enough to be Melanie’s mother but wore casual clothes befitting a college student, including a loose-fit gray sweatshirt and a Seattle Mariners baseball cap. Despite her look, she gave off the demeanor of a drill sergeant, an iron-locked stare that seemed friendly but could change in an instant. Melanie nodded.
“Cassidy,” the older woman replied, outstretching her hand. Melanie realized she must be Cassidy McMichaels, the woman labeled on the website as the coordinator. Melanie took her hand and shaked it.
“It’s still five minutes before we start,” the woman continued once again, beckoning Melanie down a small hallway, “but I can show you around. You go to Hill Valley College?”
“Uh… yeah, I do.”
“What’s your – oh, here’s the bathrooms by the way – what’s your major?”
“Oh, um… I don’t know yet.”
“Ah, yeah. Funny, it’s as if half of people have no idea what they want to do in college and the other half knew ever since they were toddlers. Ok, in here.”
Cassidy led Melanie into a room that appeared to be the largest in the building. It was an open room with a circle of metal chairs in the middle, much like you would expect of a traditional group therapy session. At the far end there was a table lined with a few snacks, like soda cans, cookies, chips, and fruit gummies.
A few others were already here. Most of them appeared Melanie’s age, though a few looked older. Of the group there was only one man, and maybe two or three who appeared nonbinary. Including Melanie and Cassidy, there were about 12 people in total. Two more people were apparently expected, but were running late.
While the group waited for the others, Melanie was let loose by Cassidy, who told her to check out the snack table. She did, mostly so that she could stand back and observe the others. There didn’t appear to be anyone who was particularly extroverted, though a few people came up to her to introduce themselves. A few minutes later the last two regulars came in, and the session started.
It began with an introduction of herself. Melanie told them her name, that she was a freshman at Hill Valley College, and that she was happy to be there. She left it at that. The rest of the meeting was Cassidy going around the circle, asking for updates. Some elected not to share anything. Others went on long-winded diatribes about their life this week. Melanie didn’t have to do this update since it was the first time she was there. Finally, there was a prayer, and Cassidy gave some insight for the week based on a Bible passage.
Melanie left the meeting feeling unsure what was the point of it all. Part of her expected some sort of immediate intervention, a way to immediately bring her back to normal. A way to take her back to the way things used to be.
She began to feel herself nervously rub her elbow as she remembered the reason she was there. It took her a moment to snap out of it.
When she got outside, Calvin’s car was already waiting for her. She got in next to him.
“So, how was it?”
Melanie buckled her seatbelt. “Fine… I guess. It was just sort of a meet-and-greet, we didn’t really talk about anything.”
Calvin shrugged, beginning to drive the car. “That’s about what I would expect from the first day.”
“I just… I don’t want to waste my time on this if that’s all it is. Maybe it’s just better for me to figure this out on my own.”
Calvin shook his head. “They’re probably just starting you out slow. Change isn’t going to happen overnight.”
Melanie looked into her lap. “I know that, I just… I was hoping for some sort of roadmap, is all.”
The two sat in silence for a bit after this. Suddenly, an idea came to Calvin’s mind.
“You wanna get some Whataburger? It’s right on the way back.”
Melanie let out a small smile. “No thanks, they had a lot of snacks at the session.”
“I might get something through the drive-thru. Is that okay?”
The girl shrugged. “It’s your car.”
Calvin drove into the restaurant’s drive-thru and ordered his meal. While the two waited, Calvin began to speak again.
“Listen, I understand how frustrating it all probably is,” he began. “But I think you should keep going. These people are professionals, right? They probably do have a plan, even if you don’t see it yet.”
Melanie considered his words, as Calvin received his meal. “Yeah, makes sense. It’s a communal thing, too – not all about me.”
“That’s a good way of looking at it.”
Melanie turned towards the hispanic boy. “Well, I’m willing to keep going. As long as you’re willing to keep driving.”
Calvin nodded his head, smiling, as he reached into the bag of food. “Sounds like a deal. You want a fry?”
Melanie smiled too. “Sure.”
Eventually the car drove off, and Calvin returned Melanie to her apartment.
The next week, Melanie joined Mary-Ann and Rocko for a study session in the library. The feeling in the air had changed in comparison to previous sessions. The group was quiet, still, even dour. Occasionally the silence was broken by Melanie leaning over and whispering a question to Mary-Ann, to which the girl would give her best response. At some point, Mary-Ann had gotten up from her seat to go to the bathroom. Rocko, still looking down at his notes, spoke up.
Rocko hesitated for a moment, unsure what the next best thing was to say. “I… I’m just, I don’t know… I’m sorry for not doing anything about Nathaniel.”
Melanie shook her head. “That isn’t your fault, Rocko.”
“I know it’s not my fault, I just feel, sometimes… like I could’ve done more, ya know?”
Melanie looked up and turned towards Rocko. “You were the only person who really warned me about him. You were right. That’s gotta count for something.”
“I don’t… I don’t feel right.”
Melanie turned back towards her notebook. “Well, the point is, I appreciate you being there for me. For having my back. You always have.”
Mary-Ann walked back in not long afterwards. The mood in the room became better after this, but it was still treated mostly in silence.
After Melanie got done studying with Rocko and Mary-Ann, she settled in her dorm with Fifi for a short while before Calvin picked her up to go to a new session. This time there was something about going to therapy which irritated her – it made her feel unnatural, as if she was now an alien compared to how she was before. This feeling ended up sticking with her the whole night.
When she got into the building, most of the others were already there. Still being unfamiliar with all of them, she took a seat alone in a chair on the far side of the circle. When the session began, Cassidy had them all recount a story from their childhood – a time where they were most happy. The circle of stories started at the far end of Melanie, such that hers would be one of the last told.
As the stories began, Melanie began to feel antsy. The pain from her wounds was still fresh, and this discussion – seemingly a diversion from the point of them all being there – was getting to her. It almost felt as if they were mocking her by telling these stories.
At some point, before Melanie could tell her own story, the group took a break. Hearing about six or so stories before her was enough to turn her uneasiness into genuine annoyance. She got up from the chair, and began texting Calvin asking if he could pick her up early. But Cassidy must have noticed this, because only a few moments later Melanie noticed the older woman approaching.
“Something wrong?” Cassidy asked, in a terse whisper.
Melanie looked away from her phone, and gave an exasperated answer. “I just… I don’t see how this is supposed to help, is all.”
The older woman nodded understandingly. “Everybody starts off like that. Group therapy isn’t an immediate fix – it’s a way to surround yourself with people who are in the same boat as you and know you’re not alone. Trauma is a delicate topic. A lot of people are more willing to start off by talking to others about things that can bring them closer together.”
Melanie considered the words. But she still felt hesitant to accept them. Her phone vibrated in her hand and she looked down to see the notification.
“My friend’s already coming to pick me up. Sorry.”
Cassidy looked disappointed. “I hope you reconsider.”
A few minutes later Calvin’s car pulled up to the building. Melanie, who was already waiting outside, opened the passenger door and got inside.
“What happened?” Calvin asked with some concern. Melanie looked ready to unleash on him.
“I just… I don’t know. I don’t know! It feels so dumb, so childish. A bunch of people sitting in a gross stale office room, sitting in a circle of metal chairs, spending an hour dodging the subject. Last session we got ‘til the last five minutes when the therapist or whoever the hell she is finally brought up a coping strategy that we can use. At home. I didn’t even need to go to learn any of this stuff! It’s just… God.” Melanie looked down. Tears began to bloom in her eyes. “I just want to feel normal again.”
Calvin sat there, nervous, unsure what to say next. “I… I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Melanie gave him a dirty look. “Yeah, I’m sorry I feel that way too.”
“Mel, that’s not what I-”
Melanie turned away from him, looking out the passenger window. “No offense Calvin, but you do a terrible job of helping people with their issues. Maybe just stay quiet next time.”
The car was dead silent after that. Melanie realized only moments after speaking the weight of her words. It made her snap out of it.
“Calv, I…” She looked away from the passenger window. “I’m sorry, that was really harsh. I’m just… stressed by everything going on, you know?”
Calvin hadn’t moved. His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly. He looked straight forward, avoiding eye contact with Melanie.
“No. You’re right. I should just shut up.”
“I never told you why I decided to help, did I?”
Melanie stayed silent, waiting for Calvin to continue. Calvin took a deep breath in.
“When I was a kid… it was just my mom and me, living in a tiny little apartment. We had a pretty good relationship at that point, with just the two of us. But… one day, while she was going down the stairs… I don’t know, there must have been something wet on the staircase, and she slipped and lost her footing. Fell all the way down to the base, and couldn’t get up. She yelled to me, ‘Go call the ambulance’… but I just stood there. I was frozen. Scared. She kept yelling, each time seeming more and more angry with me. And I just kept standing in place, looking at her. Eventually I saw her crawl all the way to the landline and make the call herself. The ambulance came not that long after.”
Calvin closed his eyes for a moment, in silence, as if trying to hold back and stop himself from saying more. But he opened his eyes again and continued like normal.
“For the next day – no, the next four days – my mother didn’t speak to me. At all. I had gone to the hospital with her, and anytime the nurses weren’t present I would just start saying sorry over and over again. She wouldn’t even look at me. Eventually my cousin came, and he brought me back to his place to stay over while my mom recovered. I remember asking him if my mom would ever speak to me again. He just told me she was going through recovery and it was hard on her. Sure enough she did start talking again, but… I got the feeling it was never the same since.”
Calvin turned towards Melanie. She could see his eyes glistening off the street lights in the plaza. It was his tears.
“Ever since then, I’ve felt like a coward. An absolute coward. And I’ve always wanted to prove I could do something – that I could help people.”
Melanie’s entire tone had changed. She became softer, more gentle. Perhaps for the first time since the incident.
“Calvin, I… I had no idea. I’m sorry.”
Calvin shook his head, and turned back forward. “Don’t be. This isn’t about me, it’s about you. But, please… try giving the therapy its time, alright?”
Melanie paused for a moment, taking all the information in. Then she looked back at Calvin, and nodded.
“Alright. I will.”
Calvin gave her a weak smile. Then they drove off.
Sure enough, Melanie slowly began to get used to the therapy. She began to notice the subtle ways in which the therapy worked: as the group began to open up on smaller, more innocent things, over time they – including Melanie – became more willing to discuss their personal trauma. In conjunction, Calvin and Melanie also got closer – the two grew a habit of getting burgers together on the drive back, talking with each other about their lives and how things were going in them.
During one Saturday, Fifi, Melanie, and Calvin had a small get-together at the girls’ apartment. While Fifi was cooking in their tiny kitchen, she mentioned something off-hand.
“Can’t believe it’s already almost spring break. Feels like we just started the semester not that long ago.”
The realization sent a tremor through Melanie. “Shit…” she muttered, looking down to the ground in thought. “I’m going to have to see my parents again.”
“You’re still not ready, huh?” Calvin responded, looking concerned.
“I don’t know. Maybe I can set up some sort of like, last minute trip. Tell them I can’t be home for the break. Would you guys be willing to do that with me?”
Fifi looked at the girl heavily, putting her hand on her hip. “Mel… you can’t keep running from this. You gotta face it at some point.”
The words hurt Melanie, but she knew her friend was right. “What should I do, then?”
Calvin was getting the table ready behind her. “You could always ask the therapist at Healing Mission.”
“Oh, Cassidy?” Melanie thought about it, helping Calvin with the table. “I dunno. She’s just so… intimidating.”
“But she’s probably the person who knows best what to do.”
Melanie, albeit with some nervousness, nodded her head. “Alright then. I’ll do it, this Monday.”
Fifi smiled, looking at her. “And if you need anything, you know you have us.”
Melanie smiled back, and nodded. The three ate their dinner together.
When Melanie got to the Monday session, a few people greeted her as she had now gone to enough to be recognized. She went through the first part of the session as normal, but when it came time for a break she walked over to where Cassidy was sitting.
“Hey… Ms. Cassidy?” Melanie approached awkwardly.
Cassidy, with her staunch soccer mom demeanor, looked over at her. “You aren’t thinking of leaving early on me again, are you?”
Melanie shook her head vigorously. “No, nothing like that. I just wanted to see if I could get your advice on something… personal, in my life.”
The older woman seemed to understand. She got up from the metal chair that she was sitting in, and beckoned Melanie to come with her out into the hallway.
“What’s up?” Cassidy asked forwardly.
“Well, spring break is coming around… and, um, I’m seeing my parents…” Melanie’s face began to flush with embarrassment. Her head turned down. “And I still haven’t told them anything about what’s happened. At all.”
Cassidy seemed unfazed by this. “It’s natural for girls to not tell their parents. Is there anyone else who does know?”
Melanie nodded. “My closest friends. Just them, though. I haven’t told anyone else.”
“Lean on them. Tell them what worries you. Think about it from the same perspective of what we do here: we get a bunch of people together with the same common trauma so that they might build each other up to be somebody better. In a way, that’s what friends are for too.”
While Melanie appreciated the pep talk, she had a hard time figuring out what to do with the information. After all, it was her friends who had told her to come here.
“What do you suggest I tell them?”
“Tell them the truth. That you have a hard time talking to your parents about what happened and you want to fix it, but you’re having trouble doing it on your own.”
The young girl began to realize a little more what Cassidy meant. All this time, she had only ever asked her friends for advice, not for help. And there was a difference between the two. She looked up at the older woman, and smiled.
“Thank you, Ms. Cassidy.”
Cassidy gave a smirk. “You know you don’t have to be so formal around me.”
“I know, I know. But still… thanks.”
Melanie went into the rest of the session with a renewed sense of confidence. She felt as though, for the first time, there was an answer to all this. That her life might still get better after all she went through over the course of the year.
After the session was over, Calvin picked her up as was now the standard. He noticed Melanie’s perkier behavior.
“So, how did it go?” he asked.
“It went well. I think it’s finally started to click for me.” Melanie considered saying more, but the comment ended up trailing off and she simply kept her eyes out the window.
“Oh, that reminds me. Can I see your notes for Econ? I lost my notebook on the bus and now I’m screwed for the test.”
“No prob,” Melanie smirked. “Not sure how much my notes will help, though.”
“At this point, I’ll take anything I can get.”
Calvin drove into the student apartment parking lot, and got out with Melanie. They walked up to the apartment, where Melanie unlocked the door and let both of them inside.
Melanie turned on the lights and began hunting for her notes, while Calvin stayed patiently in the kitchen. In the darkness of her room she walked over to her desk, where she saw a pile of notes next to her old laptop. But there also was a picture in a frame, and as she reached down to grab the notes she saw it more closely. It was an older picture, back when she was in sixth grade – one of her favorites, because it was when she was still singing and won her school’s talent show. She was in the middle, smiling. Her mother and father flanked her on both sides. Her eyes focused in on her father.
“I still can’t touch him.”
Calvin, who heard her speak from the kitchen, turned his head towards her room. “Hmm?”
Melanie emerged from the darkness, the papers in hand. She put down the papers on the counter and looked at Calvin with somber eyes. “My dad. I can’t touch him. I can’t touch any guy. I… I freak out.”
Calvin shook his head. “You don’t have to worry about that. It will get better, with time.”
“But what if it doesn’t?” Melanie replied, raising her voice slightly. “I can’t see him like this, Calvin. I-I can’t. He’ll want to hug me and I’ll freak out. But… he’s my dad, god damn it…”
Melanie looked down, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to beat any of this.”
At first, Calvin was silent. He was afraid he’d end up slipping some piece of bad advice of false comfort like he’d done so many times before. But, in that moment of hesitation, an idea flashed within his mind – an idea that he felt just might be the relief his friend was looking for.
“You’re afraid of other guys touching you, right?” Calvin repeated.
“Yeah. That’s basically what it is.”
“Well why not try the opposite?” Calvin suddenly reached his arms out wide in the direction of Melanie, standing perfectly still where he was. “Why not try touching me?”
Melanie hesitated. She took a few careful steps towards him. “Yeah, that… that might work.”
Calvin smiled. “Take all the time you need. I’ll just be standing right here.”
Every step which Melanie took towards the boy, she felt a rumbling in her soul. She felt the memories of that night creeping up on her. She began to relive sensations – sight, sound, smell, touch. It revolted her and she wanted to go away. But she also knew that Calvin wasn’t that memory. Neither was her father. She pressed on.
Eventually she got right in front of Calvin, only inches apart. She began to sniffle, tears uncontrollably rolling down her eyes. Calvin continued to stand, arms still outstretched, not daring to move.
“Will it…” Melanie began to mumble with a pang of vulnerability. “…will it ever get any better?”
“It will, if you take back control,” Calvin replied.
Melanie understood what he meant. As calmly as she could, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. In those brief moments, the visions of what happened that night went away. She took her chance to reach forward around Calvin’s waist, and hug him.
Things came flooding back before long. A person who she thought she could trust. A person who she thought she could spend the rest of her life with, who would protect her if things ever got bad. A person like Calvin. A person like her father. Melanie began to break down, but all the while she kept a tight hold on Calvin. Calvin, slowly and gently, wrapped his arms around Melanie in return. They both sat down on the kitchen floor, Melanie crying into Calvin’s shoulder while Calvin softly rubbed her back to comfort her.
“Shh, shh… it’s alright.” Calvin whispered to her. “I’m proud of you.”
From outside the window, a full moon shone brightly in the night.