School drew to a close and another hot summer settled in.
Daddy’s visits had dwindled, becoming sporadic and brief, which was just as well since most of the time he arrived drunk, or well on his way there. Granny got mad and they always ended up arguing. I wondered why he even bothered coming here at all.
Ira and I met almost every night at the bridge over Eddy Creek. As he had promised, he didn’t try to take it farther when we kissed and cuddled, seeming content with that.
Neither one of us spoke of Bubba Higgins.
But Ira brought up another subject. “You remember the night we met, how I told you I’d be leaving here in about a year?”
I had forgotten. He had never mentioned it but that one time. “Now I do.” My heart lodged in my throat. “But you’re not going to now—are you?”
“Not right this minute, but yeah, before long I will be.” He rested his forearms on a cross-rail and gazed down at the water below. “I’ve been saving up some money, and before summer’s over, I should have enough to get the hell outta here, maybe go somewhere up north.”
I felt as if the air had been stolen from my lungs, the blood from my veins. He was going to leave after he had told me he loved me and wanted to be with me? After he had kissed me and touched me? After he had killed because of me?
An unfamiliar emotion crawled up out of my stomach, shot fiery tendrils throughout my body. I shook like a leaf in the wind. Anger consumed me. No, anger was too tame a word for how I felt—I was furious. “How could you?” I attacked, fists flying, wanting to hurt him like he had hurt me. “You said you loved me!” My knuckles collided with his jaw. “How could you leave me?”
Ira captured my flailing arms, pinned them to my sides in a fierce embrace. “Stop it, Chloe!”
I twisted, turned, but there was no escape. “You lied to me!” I screamed against his shirt-front.
He pulled my hands behind my back, pinned them with one of his. Then he grabbed my hair, and yanking down, tilted up my face. “Are you fucking crazy?”
“Yes—for trusting you.” I looked into his eyes, expecting to see a rage matching my own; instead, I saw surprise. “What? You didn’t think I’d be upset, that things would stay the same? That things would go on just—”
His lips swooped down on mine, cutting off anything else I might have said. I attempted to wrench my mouth away, but his hold on my hair tightened, allowing no escape. I bit his lip, tasted blood. And still, the kiss continued, deepened, turned into a wild thing out of control.
When I realized I was returning the kiss, it was too late. I wanted . . . I wanted . . .
Ira broke the kiss. His lips trailed across my cheek. “I wasn’t going to leave without you.” Traced the curve of my ear. “You’re mine, little girl. I take what’s mine.”
I shivered. “I thought . . .”
“Shh . . . don’t think anymore.”
His lips returned to mine and I didn’t think. Only felt.
He released my hands, and they immediately sought him out, grasping, clawing, pulling him to me. I was the aggressor now, my tongue plundering his mouth, tasting him.
With a groan, Ira pulled away. He swept me up in him arms, cradled me against his chest, and marched to the end of the bridge, stepping off onto the grass. Following a deer trail through the brush, he made his way down the hillside to the water’s edge, then set me on my feet.
“It’s time, Chloe,” he said.
I knew what he meant. “Okay.”
He slowly unbuttoned my blouse, slipped it off my shoulders, and dropped it to the ground. His fingers fumbled with the hooks on my bra, and I reached back and released them. The bra joined my shirt.
I gripped the bottom of Ira’s white tee, and he bent over, allowing me to pull it over his head. My eyes dropped from his face, each line and feature of which were stamped upon my memory, to his broad shoulders. A powerful, relatively hairless chest tapered down to a flat, muscle-rippled stomach.
“Your turn,” he said.
My gaze traveled back to his face, to eyes glittering in the moonlight. In a heady daze, I kicked off my shoes, unfastened my shorts, and stepped out of them, leaving me bare except for a pair of white cotton panties.
Ira yanked off his boots and socks, then his hands settled on the fly of his jeans. He hesitated. “You ever seen a guy naked, little girl? Even a picture?”
I shook my head. “N—no.”
“I didn’t think so.” He closed the short space between us and took my hands, looked down into my upturned face. “You’re so beautiful. I could spend the rest of my life just looking at you.”
And he was beautiful to me. “I . . . er . . . you . . .”
“Come on, Chloe. Come with me.” He sank down upon the lush grass, pulling me with him. Arms circling me, he rolled over onto his back with me on top. “Are you ready?”
My answer was a kiss.
After a breathless of time of exploring each other’s bodies, we were naked and Ira was above me. “I love you,” he murmured, his mouth resting softly upon mine. “I’ll never stop loving you.”
And then there was pain. I tried to push Ira away, but he held me tight. “I’m sorry, Chloe, I can’t stop.”
It was over in seconds.
Breathing labored, he rested his forehead against mine, the curtain of his hair shutting out the moonlight. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t want to hurt you. I’ve wanted you for so long, Chloe, for so long . . .”
“It’s okay,” I said, even though I wasn’t. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.” True, the pain was gone, but I still felt . . . I didn’t know what I felt, other than something was missing.
“No, it ain’t.” He brushed his lips over mine. “I want you to come with me.”
Still inside me, his hips moved gently against mine. “Let me show you.”
That night, he showed me, and I was forever lost in his love.
I once heard it said: “when you become lovers, you can never go back to being friends.” I now understood what the words meant. Not that I had any desire to go back. I loved Ira even more than before—if that were possible. I craved him, his body, what he made me feel, like an alcoholic craved his next drink. He had become the center of my existence.
We did have a sobering experience, however, when my next period was late. We were both relieved—Ira even more so than I—when it finally started, almost a week overdue. Following that scare, he bought condoms and faithfully used them. Neither one of us even considered calling a halt to the baby-making activity.
“Would it be so bad if I did get pregnant and we had a baby?” I asked one night, sitting with Ira on the creek bank after we had made love.
“Don’t talk stupid,” he snapped. Sensing my hurt, he pulled me into his arms. His voice turned gentle. “You’re only sixteen, little girl, and I’m eighteen. What in hell would we do with a kid? And besides that, I don’t think I want to share you with anybody, not for a long time anyway.” He eased me backward until I was lying down. Crouching over me, an odd look in his dark eyes, he continued. “You love me. No one else. You’ll always love just me.”
I nodded in agreement, not trusting myself to speak. His possessiveness was a little frightening at times. It wasn’t so much that I feared for my own safety, but sometimes I wondered if there was a limit to what he would do if he felt that love threatened.
His hand slid down to cup my crotch. “This belongs to me,” he whispered hoarsely, his eyes still locked on mine. “All of you belongs to me.”
As always, Ira’s touch set me on fire. I pushed my feelings of disquiet away, reached up and pulled him down to me. “Yes . . . just you,” I breathed as his lips covered mine.
Late the following afternoon, Granny and I were sitting down to supper when Daddy arrived. He slammed through the backdoor screen carrying a whole case of beer. “Damn, it’s hot today,” he said, heading straight for the refrigerator. He slid the beer inside, except for one can. “I don’t know how you’ve stood it all these years without so much as a window fan.”
“I reckon a body don’t miss what it ain’t ever had,” Granny replied. She seemed too tired to work up her usual anger over Daddy’s drinking. “Sit down and have some of this here soup. Chloe made it all by herself.”
“Maybe later, Ma. It’s too hot for me to eat right now. All I want is something cold to drink.” He sat at the table, pulled the beer tab, and took a big swig. “A little warm, but at least it’s wet.” He beamed at me. “How you been, angel?”
“Okay, Daddy.” I dropped my gaze, studied my bowl of soup.
“She’s been working up a storm,” Granny said. “I’ve been feelin’ poorly here lately, and she’s been takin’ up the slack.”
Daddy’s attention shifted to her. “What’s been ailing you?”
“Just old age catchin’ up with me.” She pushed her half-finished bowl of soup away. “When the weather starts coolin’ off, I’ll feel better.”
“I’ve tried to get her to go to the doctor, but she won’t,” I said to Daddy.
“Leave your grandma be,” he said. “She’s old enough to know when she needs to see a doctor. You just mind your own business.”
Granny sat up straight, eyed Daddy. “Don’t you go gettin’ on to her. She’s just concerned about me—not like some folks I know.”
They glared at each other across the table. Why couldn’t they be in the same room for five minutes before an argument started? I attempted to smooth things over before matters went from bad to worse. “It’s all right, Granny. Daddy didn’t mean anything by it.”
Their angry eyes lost contact, slid away.
“So, what’ve you been up to since school’s been out?” Daddy asked, turning his bloodshot eyes back to me. “You got a boyfriend? A sweet thing like you most likely has a passel of boys hanging around. Your mama sure had plenty of them, and you’re every bit as pretty as she was—maybe more so.” His eyes took on a faraway look. Did he see Mama when he looked at me?
“She’s too young for such foolishness,” Granny said. “There’s plenty of time on down the road for that.”
Ignoring her, Daddy again asked, “You got a boyfriend, Chloe?”
“No, I don’t,” I said without a second thought. It was a lot easier lying to him than Granny.
“Well, you can just keep on being Daddy’s girl then.”
“Yes, Daddy.” When he said stuff like that, he made me feel creepy. I think I liked him better the way he had been before Mama died—not paying me any more attention than if I had been a piece of furniture. Most of the time, anyway.
I tried to finish the soup in my bowl, but with my stomach tied in knots, couldn’t. I got up and started cleaning the kitchen. Daddy sat at the table, silently drinking his beer, watching me.
I woke with a start; something wasn’t right.
The moonlight pouring through the windows illuminated a figure standing at the foot of my bed. I scrambled backward, pressing against the iron headrail. “W—who’s th—there?” I asked, my voice little more than a squeak.
“Don’t be afraid, angel. It’s your daddy.” Steps wobbling, he came around the bed and sat down on the edge beside me. The yucky smell of beer rolled off him in waves.
Unease settled deeper into the pit of my stomach. “What do you want?”
“Just to look at you.” He laid his hand on my gown-covered thigh. “My beautiful, silver-haired angel. You look just like your mama.”
This close, I could see his face, the look in his eyes.
With dawning realization came horror. Daddy was looking at me the same way Ira did when he wanted to . . .
All this time and I hadn’t understood. Now I knew the reason for the nausea and throwing up that had stopped when I’d come to live with Granny. My body must have known even though my mind hadn’t. And I was feeling it now. I swallowed the bile rising in my throat. Please God, let me be wrong, I prayed. Please, not my daddy.
“I’ve missed you so much.” He squeezed my leg. “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t want you, that I don’t remember how good it was for us in the beginning.” His voice hardened. “Till you started drinking and thinking about him all the time. You let that sonofabitch come between us, Melanie.”
“Daddy, I’m not—”
“I’ve always done everything I could to make you happy, let you have anything you wanted, but I couldn’t do that—I couldn’t share you with him. Why couldn’t you be happy with me?” He grabbed my shoulders and yanked me to him. “I love you, baby, I miss you . . .” He tried to kiss me, his lips sliding wetly over my face when I jerked my head to one side.
“Stop it, Daddy! I’m not Mama! It’s me, Chloe!” Terrified, I struggled against the vice-like grip of his hands. “Daddy, please stop!”
I don’t know if he even heard me. Slamming me back on the bed, he grasped my wrists with one hand and pinned them above my head, then threw his leg over mine to still their frantic kicking. He caught my chin, his fingers digging in deep. “Kiss me, Melanie.” I gagged when he lowered his foul-smelling mouth to mine.
I wrenched my head to one side. “Stop it, Daddy, oh God, please stop!” I pleaded. “Leave me alone!” I thrashed and squirmed, trying to throw off his body.
A heavy blow landed on my cheek. Pain exploded inside my head. “Goddamn it, be still!” Daddy snarled.
Half unconscious and in shock, I stopped fighting. This isn’t happening . . . this isn’t happening . . .
“That’s better.” Breathing labored, he rained slimy kisses down the side of my neck. I felt his hand on my leg again, inching underneath my gown.
This isn’t happening . . . this isn’t happening . . . this isn’t happening . . . this—
Light flooded the room. Over Daddy’s shoulder, I saw Granny striding across the floor clutching a double-barreled shotgun, her blue eyes shooting fire. When she reached the bed, she reversed her hold on the gun, and gripping its barrels, walloped Daddy in the shoulder with the stock, knocking him to the floor. She turned the gun, pointing the business end at him.
Daddy pushed up on his hands and knees, wallowed into a sitting position. Cradling his face in his hands, he began to cry.
Granny shook from head to feet. “You low-life snake! I always knowed you was a bad one, but Lord help me, I never thought you’d stoop to this. For God’s sake, David, she’s your daughter!” She spat on the floor beside him. “I ought’a kill you right now, like the mangy dog you’ve showed yourself to be.”
Daddy looked up at her, his face wet with tears, and reached out his hand. “I’m so lonely, Ma.”
Granny stepped back, avoiding his touch. “You’re no son a’mine. This is the last straw, I can’t forgive you this. I want you outta my house—now! And don’t ever come back.”
“Chloe?” he whimpered.
“The gal stays with me. You try and take her and I’ll tell the law about what happened here tonight. Now get up and go before I shoot you.”
Daddy got to his feet, reeling, his face that of a man in the midst of a nightmare. His eyes turned to me. I shrank from his gaze, scrunching up at the head of the bed.
“I’m sorry, Chloe,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. Please forgive—”
“I hate you,” I hissed. “Go away. Leave me alone.”
Shoulders slumped, he turned and made his way from the bedroom.
Granny stood her ground until the sound of the departing car faded into the distance. Then she crossed the room and sat on the bed, propping the gun against the wall. She gently examined my face. “Looks like you’re gonna have a shiner.” Her sad old eyes met mine. “Did he hurt you anywhere else?” I shook my head. “Has he ever hurt you before—in any way?” I shook my head again. “Thank the good Lord.” She gathering me into her thin arms. “He’ll never touch you again, gal—I’ll see t’that.”
For a long time, she rocked me as if I were a baby.
I held on to her and cried.
To be continued . . .