Rebecca finished straightening out the living room at her home in Oakhurst, anticipating the arrival of her friend Claire, with much hope for how the evening would play out. She and Claire had been growing closer, and Claire was opening up to Rebecca about aspects of her life before coming to Atlanta. While there was still a lot Rebecca didn’t know about her friend, she knew Claire had a very problematic life in Middle Georgia as a young girl and teenager, which prompted her to leave home. Rebecca had a copy of a flyer Claire gave her when they were watching movies at Claire’s a month earlier which depicted Claire around age thirteen, looking almost nothing like the woman Rebecca knew, with a header that read, “Missing” and a number to call if people had seen her. Most recently, Claire talked about Selma, her mother, and how the two hadn’t spoken since she came to Atlanta to let Claire know Selma’s husband had died. It was the same night Rebecca introduced herself to Claire and she met Selma then and spent several minutes talking to her at a club where Claire was working the sound board for a brother and sister singing duo Rebecca follows.
Claire opening up to Rebecca was a very promising development as it signaled to Rebecca that she and Claire were establishing a more intimate bond. Tonight Rebecca was intent on testing the boundaries, and she was certain Claire was ready to take the next step, something she’d always avoided in the relationship. Rebecca also wanted to capture the evening for all posterity, and set her laptop onto a table across from the couch, angled just enough to look as though it wasn’t pointing right at them, but still able to capture all the action, and Rebecca expected there to be a lot of action. She prepared the video recorder, certain she and Claire would have many evenings to relive the encounter. She stepped into the kitchen and retrieved the wine she bought for the occasion. Claire wasn’t much of a drinker, but did enjoy a glass or two of wine or beer once in a while when she wasn’t working.
Since becoming guardian of her brother earlier in the year, Rebecca felt her confidence returning. She recently requested her transcripts from Columbia University be sent to Georgia State, where she applied for matriculation in the summer or fall, and a friend of hers, who’s an editor at a publishing company, suggested Rebecca publish her blog, which, early in October, exceeded twenty thousand followers, and she frequently was mentioned on other online feminist resources. Comparing where she found herself to how she’d been when she hobbled back to Atlanta after failing her last semester at Columbia a little more than two years ago, she couldn’t believe the difference. There was just one item on her list that she needed to fix, her relationship with her aunt.
Rebecca had always regarded Rachel as a micro-manager who interfered in everything Rebecca wanted to do. Their most contentious period followed Rebecca’s return from school, when she was drinking and smoking pot excessively. Rebecca’s behavior became so erratic that Rachel ended up changing the locks on all the doors and denying Rebecca access to Steven, forcing Rebecca to seek assistance and an occasional couch to sleep on from her friends. One evening, while at a party, Rebecca, heavily intoxicated, found herself engrossed in watching a porno film from the early 80s when something about one of the performers caught her attention. She grabbed the VCR remote and rewound the tape several times before the answer appeared to her. A young actress, billed as Carmen Delectable, had a rather ornate tattoo on her left shoulder depicting the left side of an elaborate heart. Rebecca was very familiar with that tattoo having seen it on Rachel’s left shoulder many times. Rachel’s life in Los Angeles, particularly the late-70s and early-80s had always been a mystery to Rebecca and now she knew why. She took the tape to a friend and paid him to investigate the actress and find more of her work, and he brought her about twenty titles produced over four or five years featuring the actress. She amassed as much as she could on the person, and showed up at the first court ordered mediation session about Steven with a thick file. Rachel’s reaction was not what Rebecca expected.
“I could have saved you the time and expense, Becky,” Rachel said. “I’m not ashamed of what’s in that file. I was young and made a lot of mistakes which I’ve paid for dearly but I don’t hide from my past. I speak about it rather frequently, in fact.”
Rebecca’s friend had mentioned this fact, but Rebecca had been so determined to gather dirt she could use against Rachel, she hadn’t listened.
“How do you think Steven will react to your trashing my reputation in open court?” Rachel went on. “He’ll be there, you know, since it’s his future we’ll be discussing.”
This was another factor Rebecca had not considered, and most of her resolve began to wane. At last, Rachel made a proposal, she’d step aside as Steven’s guardian and not oppose Rebecca taking over, so long as Rebecca did not interfere with Rachel’s relationship with Steven. Rebecca pretended to consider this for several minutes, though she knew the moment Rachel said it that she’d agree to the terms. Finally, Rebecca said, “That’s acceptable to me”.
Since then, new information had come to light that entirely altered Rebecca’s perception of her aunt. In the Spring, Creative Loafing did a feature on an organization called Journey From Night, which helps women escape from the sex industry and one of the prominent volunteers interviewed was Rachel, who didn’t simply donate her time answering phones or making coffee, but actually did field work, confronting pimps and johns on the street in an effort to rescue exploited women. In her time with the organization, Rachel had been beaten up, choked, stabbed, threatened with guns, and placed on a hit list compiled by sex traffickers. She talked about the self-defense technique she uses and teaches other volunteers to defend themselves without harming the other person, and the discipline required to ward off attacks without attacking back. Reading the article and talking to the reporter, Rebecca realized she totally misjudged her aunt. Rachel epitomized the feminist ideals Rebecca has always touted. So far, her ego had kept Rebecca from fully making amends with Rachel, but recently, she’d started making overtures, such as leaving a voice message inviting Rachel to a family function. So far, Rachel hadn’t replied, but Rebecca hoped the proper message had been sent.
Around 7:30, Claire arrived and was admitted by Rebecca who ushered Claire to the couch. Just prior to opening the door, Rebecca started recording.
“Are we staying in?” Claire said, seeing the wine and two glasses on the table.
“For now,” Rebecca said. “I thought we’d unwind a bit before figuring out what we want to do tonight.”
“Fine by me,” Claire said, taking a seat. “Is Steven here?”
Rebecca sat next to her and poured them each a glass of wine. “No, he goes on break the week of Thanksgiving.”
“So, we have the place to ourselves,” Claire said. “What mischief can we get into, I wonder?”
“We shall see,” Rebecca said, raising her glass. “To the night.”
Claire picked up her glass, clinked Rebecca’s, and repeated, “The night”.
After about forty minutes and several drinks, both were very relaxed and having an animated conversation, with Claire relating several stories about musicians she’d worked with lately, a few Rebecca also knew. They were laughing and sitting close to one another. Claire glanced up at the clock. “If we’re planning to go out, we should probably put away the wine, unless you know someplace nearby.”
Rebecca moved so she was facing Claire, and propped her arm on the back of the couch. “I thought we could just hang out here tonight.”
“Are we going to watch some movies?” Claire said.
“That’s not what I had in mind,” Rebecca said. She leaned toward Claire and tried to kiss her.
Claire slid away from her. “What are you doing?”
“What do you think?” Rebecca said.
Claire looked at the glasses and bottle on the table. “Oh, god, not this again.”
“What?” Rebecca said.
“You’re trying to seduce me again, aren’t you?” Claire said, rising and walking away from Rebecca.
“Of course,” Rebecca said, sliding to the edge of the couch. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“I thought we settled this,” Claire said. “Remember what I told you before?” Claire said. “I’ve had enough of your trying to get me in bed. I told you what would happen if you didn’t can it.”
“But we’ve been getting along so well since then,” Rebecca said. “You’ve been opening up to me.”
“That’s what friends do,” Claire said. “Just because I trust you with certain information doesn’t mean I want to hop in bed with you.”
“How do you even know until you try?” Rebecca said.
“I know I’m not interested in you like that, and I know I’ve made that clear,” Claire said. “Right now, you’re making me feel very uncomfortable.”
Rebecca groaned, threw up her hands, and turned away from Claire. “What is the fucking hang-up Clarabella?“
“Dammit, Becky!” Claire yelled. “You treat sex so flippantly. Like it’s all just fun and games. Well, I’ve been raped and there’s nothing fun about that. Okay? It’s the worst—” She stopped and looked away from Rebecca.
Rebecca stared at Claire. “What?”
Claire lowered her head. “I shouldn’t be telling you any of this.”
“Just tell me, babe,” Rebeca said.
Claire took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “When I was sixteen, the man I thought was my father gave me to another man in our church and told me I was his wife.”
“Seriously?” Rebecca said.
Claire nodded. “He beat me. He raped me. Kept me chained up with only enough food and water to keep me alive. Told me it was all part of teaching me to be his obedient wife.”
“That’s messed up,” Rebecca said.
“Yeah, Becky, it was,” Claire said.
“How’d you get out of that?” Rebecca asked.
Claire shook her head. “I convinced him I was willing to do whatever he wanted. Once he let me out of the chains, I knocked him in the head with a frying pan and ran away.”
“Did you tell your parents?” Rebecca asked.
“Are you even listening, Becky?” Claire replied. “Whose idea do you think it was in the first place? If I’d gone back to my family, I’d be dead right now. As far as they’re concerned, I am.”
Rebecca looked down and moved toward Claire. “Look, Claire, I—”
Claire heard a noise and noticed a light blinking on Rebecca’s laptop, and moved angrily toward it. “Are you recording this?”
Rebecca followed her. “It was supposed to be a surprise. You know — documenting your first time.”
Claire stormed over and slammed the computer shut.
“What exactly are you planning to do with that, Becky?” Claire said. “Show it to your friends? Have a good laugh at my expense?”
“No. It was just a goof,” Rebecca said. “For our eyes only. I’ll erase it. I swear.”
“A goof,” Claire said. “Is that how you see our friendship? Just a joke? I thought we were past this.”
“No. Claire. I care for you a lot,” Rebecca said.
“Okay, then. Erase it,” Claire said. “Now.”
“I will. I swear,” Rebecca said.
“Just not right now,” Claire said.
“No. I mean,” Rebecca said. “I’m sorry. Just talk to me.”
“No. We’re not going to talk,” Claire said. “You’ve betrayed my trust, Becky — and if you know anything at all about me, as you claim, you know that is the one thing I do not forgive.”
She started toward the door with Rebecca following.
“Wait,” Rebecca said. “Clarabella!” Claire stopped but wouldn’t face her. “Remember? Whoever you need me to be; Whatever you need me to do, I’ll gladly oblige for just a moment of your love.”
“Erase the video,” Claire said, turning toward her.
Rebecca looked at the computer and seemed, for a minute, as though she’d comply. She knew she should, that it was the right thing to do, but she just couldn’t make herself do it. She lowered and shook her head.
Claire turned away. “Don’t call me. Don’t email me. Don’t try to see me.”
With that, Claire left.
That was over a month ago, and Claire still isn’t speaking to Rebecca. She waited at least a week before breaking her silence and sending Claire an email, which went unanswered, so Rebecca followed this with a phone call, then a video, all ignored. From there, she’s sent a steady stream of communications, none of which have broken through the wall Claire has erected. Rebecca knows she screwed up and tries to recall why it had seemed so important to keep the video, which she still has but has never watched, but she can’t remember any longer. She still can’t bring herself to erase it.