Leah Walker has been seeing Mitchell Kendrick on a casual basis since the middle of their sophomore year at Pace. She likes him, but mainly connects on an intellectual level, and not a physical one. This hasn’t been for want of trying on Mitchell’s part, and he’s always inviting Leah over when he’s certain his family isn’t home.
They have a shared assignment early in their junior year, and Mitchell finally convinces Leah to come over one afternoon to work on it. She’s wary of his offer to study in his room, so they head into the living room and sit on the couch.
“When’s your family getting back?” Leah asks.
“Not for a while,” Mitchell says. “Glenda’s working and Mom and Dad have stuff to do later and probably won’t be back before tonight.”
“We should get started on the assignment,” she says.
He slides over and puts his arm around her. “What’s the rush? Let’s just hang out a while.”
“Hang out? The assignment is due Monday.”
“You work too much. Try having some fun for a change.”
He leans in to kiss her, but she turns her head and leans away from him.
“We’re not going to have that kind of fun.”
Mitchell removes his arm and slumps down. “Stewart was right about you.”
“Stewart? What did he say?”
“He said you don’t like guys.”
“What does Stewart know about who I do or don’t like? Why the hell are you even discussing me with him?”
“He said you and me have been going out long enough that we should have done it by now.”
“That’s stupid,” she says. “But I expect stupid stuff from him. Since when are the two of you such good friends anyway?”
“We were just hanging out one day and he started saying you don’t like guys. I said we were going out and he asked if we’d done it.”
“That’s none of his damn business.”
“He said a real man would be able to straighten you out.”
“What does that even mean?”
Before she has time to consider any of this further, Mitchell pushes her down and holds her there with his right arm. He uses his left to undo her jeans.
“Stop that!” Leah says. She tries to get away, but Mitchell uses all his weight to pin her down. Leah finds it hard to breathe and struggles to say, “Mitchell!”
She bats at him with her fists. He responds by flipping her over onto her stomach. Her face is partially pressed into the sofa cushion making it more difficult to breathe.
She’s violently trembling and finds she can no longer form words, so she just screams as loud as she can.
“Knock it off, will you?” Mitchell says.
Leah can hear him undoing his belt.
“Be quiet!” he yells as he yanks down her jeans. “Shut the hell up.”
Suddenly, there’s another voice; a woman’s voice.
“What the hell is going on in here?” A pause. “Mitchell! Let her go.”
The weight on Leah suddenly eases and she falls sideways off the couch. She grabs for her jeans and pulls them up then rolls over and sees Mitchell’s sister, Glenda, standing there.”
“What are you doing here?” Mitchell says. “You’re supposed to be at work.”
Leah gets to her feet, still shaking violently. Glenda approaches.
“Are you okay?”
Leah stares at her, words fail. She starts to nod then grabs her book bag and jacket.
“I — I need to leave,” she manages.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Glenda presses. “You don’t look all right.”
“I have to go,” Leah says and hurries out of the living room. Behind her, she hears Glenda tear into Mitchell.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
Leah rushes out onto the porch. She finds it difficult to catch her breath and stops, taking in gulps of air as she tries to calm herself. She’s still trembling and realizes her face is wet with tears. She manages several deep breaths as she wipes her cheeks with her fingers, then tentatively takes a few steps off the porch to the walkway and away from the house.
At dinner that night, Alyssa is her usual animated self. “Leah, will you read to me tonight?”
“Not tonight, Princess. I’m not feeling well.”
“What’s bothering you?” Melinda says. “Is it your stomach? I noticed you didn’t eat very much.”
“I’m just not hungry,” Leah says, rising. “I’m going to my room.”
Throughout the weekend, she finds it hard to sleep and dreads going back to school.
On Monday, when she sees Mitchell at his locker, she starts trembling again. Catching sight of her, he heads over like nothing has changed.
“Thanks for getting me in trouble with my sister,” he begins.
Leah steps back. “Stay away from me.”
“What’s your problem? I’m the one getting grounded because of you.”
“Don’t you touch me and don’t you come near me,” she says as she moves around him and heads to her locker.
“Nothing happened,” he says after her. “What’s the big deal?”
She hurries away without answering him. The whole day at school she’s on edge and avoids every attempt by Mitchell to talk to her.
At home, Leah refuses to say anything to either of her parents. With each inquiry by her mother, however, Leah can sense the urgency increase in Melinda’s voice, but Leah deflects each question with a vague excuse and otherwise avoids the subject. At dinner, she continues to pick at her food, excusing herself to go to her room after hardly eating.
After several days of this, Melinda follows Leah to her room and closes the door.
“Mom?” Leah says as Melinda sits beside her and takes her hands.
“Leah, did something happen to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean. Did someone do something to you?”
Leah looks away and shakes her head. “No, Mom. Nothing happened.” She turns back. Her voice trembling, she goes on. “But something almost did and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”
She breaks down and Melinda hugs her tightly. Leah tells Melinda about the incident with Mitchell.
“I was so stupid to go over there. I shouldn’t have stayed when he told me no one else was home.”
“No. You do not blame yourself for this. It isn’t your fault; do you hear me? You did nothing wrong.”
“On some level, I know that. I certainly didn’t encourage him. We’ve never had that type of relationship. I was as much surprised as scared.”
“Do his parents know?” Melinda says.
“They know something. His sister caught him. I don’t think they know the full story.”
“I can call them,” Melinda offers.
“I’d rather you didn’t. I just want to forget this whole thing. I’m just happy it wasn’t worse. I’m thankful Glenda was there and heard what was happening.”
Melinda hugs her. “I wish I could tell you that you’ll put it all behind you and everything will be okay again, but it won’t. You never fully get over it.”
“Perfect,” Leah says. “How do I live with that?”
“Day by day. I’m here if you need to talk. And I’m here to listen and not judge, okay?”
“I appreciate that. But you know me, Mom. I feel like I need to do something. Because right now I don’t feel safe anymore. I don’t know what I should do, but I feel like I need to do something.”
Melinda puts her arm around Leah and gives her a kiss. “I know you’ll figure something out. I’m here for you.”
Several days later, Leah’s in the kitchen when Melinda comes in holding a section from the paper. Without saying anything, she goes to Leah and hands her the paper.
“What’s this?” Leah says.
“Something.” Melinda leaves.
Leah looks over the page and notices an ad for Joe Corley’s Karate School.
She smiles. “Thanks, Mom.”
That same day, she drives over to the Midtown location and signs up for classes.