The rest of the summer between freshman and sophomore years passed slowly. As I expected, my parents had zero intention of letting me out of their sights that summer. I talked to Brian and Mary almost daily, but I only saw them a few times, and that was when Mary drove them to my house. Needless to say, there wasn't much privacy for the two of us. I was incredibly happy when the summer came to an end, and cross-country and soccer practices started up again.
Sophomore year started pretty smoothly. Brian, Mary and I were still involved in the same activities, so we were all insanely busy, but we were having fun. Who needs sleep when you're fifteen anyway? Work had begun early on the fall play. We were performing “A Midsummer Night's Dream”. Mary was playing Helena, Brian was playing Oberon, and I was playing Puck. We were working really hard on the material, and it was shaping up pretty well. Of course, the play took back seat to football the week of Homecoming. Brian had made the varsity team, so the game was going to be an even bigger deal this year.
Brian tackled me in the hallway Monday morning. “Homecoming week! You know what that means!”
I groaned under him. “Get off me you big oaf.”
“Oops. Sorry. Didn't mean to squash you.” Brian helped me up off the floor. His was bouncing up and down like a kid at Christmas.
“What has gotten in to you?”
“My brother is joining the alumni invasion this week! His college has this week off, so he drove down yesterday and he'll be here this afternoon. He wants to come to the play rehearsal tonight. I think he's meeting up with some of his buddies from high school, and they're going out afterwards.”
He was still bouncing up and down. “Brian, man, stop bouncing. You're making me dizzy.” He gave me a sheepish grin and stopped, but he was still fidgeting. “Ok,” I asked, “which brother is this? Aren't two of them in college?”
“Actually three, but Michael is in grad school so it isn't really the same. Anyway, David is the one who's coming.”
“Cool. Who is he meeting up with?”
“I'm not sure. Most of the guys are still in town.”
“He graduated two years ago, right?”
“Yep. He was really involved in the drama club while he was here, and he's been in a few plays in college. I really want his opinion of the play.” Brian was still vibrating like a string. I could just seen him on Christmas morning if he was this wired over his brother visiting.
“When is he getting here?”
“He's going to meet me at the locker room after football practice. I figured you could meet up with us there after your run and we could all walk over to practice together.”
“Sounds good. I'll see you then.”
After school I met with the cross-country coach, then went for my run. When I finished, I headed to the locker room to get a quick shower and to meet up with Brian. The first thing I saw when I entered the gym was Brian's grinning face standing next to a guy who had to be his brother. I waved and headed over to them. There were three other guys standing with them. As I walked towards them alarm bells started going off in my head. Then the three guys turned around and I felt the world come to a halt.
It couldn't be them, but it was.
They all recognized me immediately. Robert and Jared were sneering at
me, and Jason looked like he wanted to die right there. I went cold
It was like I was watching the whole scene from outside
myself. I felt the desperate urge to run-- anywhere-- but I couldn't
move a muscle. I was rooted in place and couldn't break Robert's
gaze. He was in control and he knew it. Terror made me break into a
cold sweat, but I still couldn't move. I could hear Brian's brother
David talking, but I couldn't understand what he was saying. Then
Robert was speaking, still looking right in my eyes.
“Oh we already know each other very well. Long time no see, Sammy boy. We thought we'd lost track of you for good,” Robert sneered as he started to walk towards me. I wanted to break his gaze, turn and run, deck him and wipe that sneer of his face....something, but I couldn't seem to move a muscle.
Suddenly, Brian was in front of me, blocking Robert from my view. He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it gently. I guess the look on my face must have had him worried. I've honestly never been so grateful to anyone in my life than I was at that moment.
“Hey, let's go drop our stuff in our lockers. We gotta get going.” He steered me towards the locker room with his hand on my shoulder, keeping himself between me and Robert. David was watching the whole scene unfold. As we walked past he looked initially bewildered, then really concerned.
I heard David moving the group out of the gym and making plans to meet up with them later as Brian and I entered the locker room. Once we were inside, Brian grabbed my clothes out of my locker for me and aimed me at a shower. I was shaking hard. I wanted to tell him I was fine, not to worry, but I couldn't seem to speak. When we reached the shower he turned me toward him. He stared at me hard for a few seconds. I knew he could see me shaking. All I wanted was to disappear. I didn't want anyone to see me like this, especially him.
“I'm gonna make sure they're gone. You get your shower. I'll be right back with your towel. I won't let them in here.” He gave my shoulder another squeeze and moved off. I'm not sure how I even got into the shower. I was completely on autopilot, and was fighting not to black out. It was like I was viewing everything from inside a dark tunnel. I could only see what was directly in front of me, and even that was fuzzy. I'd managed to get in the shower and turn it on as hot as it would go, but I couldn't stop shivering. I pressed myself up against the wall and slid to the floor. I couldn't catch my breath. It was like someone had tied a belt around my chest and was cinching it tighter and tighter.
I could feel the memories fighting their way to the surface. I tried to force them down but I wasn't strong enough to fight them. I was face down on the weight bench in Robert's house. I hurt all over. I could taste blood in my mouth. My wrists were tied to the bar in front of me. Jason was tied on the other side. I could see his brother Jared ripping off Jason's clothes through the weight bars in front of me. Mine were already gone. Jason was staring at me. His eyes were so helpless. I wanted to help him, but I couldn't move. Robert was pushing down hard on my back while he forced my legs apart. I tried to focus on the numbers on the weights- 5, 10, 15...then there was searing pain. I could hear myself screaming “No, please, no” over and over. I felt a punch to my kidneys. Robert's hand went around my neck. “Shut the fuck up, you little shit. You agreed to this, you always do.” I couldn't stop screaming though, so he kept choking me. I couldn't breath.
“No, no, no, no...”
“Sam! Sam!” Someone was shaking me.
“Please stop. No more, please.”
“Sam, it's just me. They're gone. No one's going to hurt you. It's just us.”
I felt someone touch my shoulders and I jumped away, forcing myself into a ball in the corner. The cold tile against my back jolted me back into the present. Brian was crouched down in front of me, directly in the spray of the shower. He was still in his clothes; fear and concern were warring across his face.
“Sam, it's just me. I'm going to turn the water off ok?”
I managed to nod as I felt tears stream down my face. I closed my eyes. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. This wasn't happening. I had to get myself under control. I leaned my head against my fists and tried to breath slowly.
I heard Brian moving around and the water being turned off, then jumped again as something was draped over me.
“It's just your towel, Sam. I don't want you to get cold.”
What little control I'd regained was gone. I tried to choke back the sobs as I huddled under the towel. I started shaking again when I felt Brian inch closer to me.
“Sam, I'm not going to let anyone hurt you. I promise.” I felt his arms go around me. I tried to pull away, but I had no strength left. He sat on the ground next to me and pulled me into his lap, wrapping the towel around me. He pulled my head against his shoulder and whispered, “Just let it go, man.”
I did. I sobbed for what felt like hours. When my sobs had quieted to the occasional hiccup Brian gave me a gentle squeeze.
“Did you know them from St. Anne's?” he asked me quietly.
“B-b-before, but th-there too. They're my th-th-third cousins or something, and our m-moms are all f-friends.”
“It was more than beating you up wasn't it?”
I felt myself begin to shake again as I tried to find the words and the shame hit me again.
“Shh. It's ok. You don't have to tell me.” He held me tighter. “I swear I'm going to kill those guys for what they did to you.”
I could hear the anger in his voice. I pulled away from him as I tried to get the words out. “N-n-not J-J-Jason. He w-w-was...”
“He was their target too.” Brian finished for me. “Based on what I saw, he still is. Sam, I know it would be hard, but have you thought of telling someone what happened for his sake?”
All I could do was nod yes as tears poured down my face again. Brian pulled me close to him again. He was rubbing my back slowly trying to soothe me. I felt him stiffen when he felt the scars on my back.
“Are they responsible for these?”
My heart was in my throat as I pulled away. I forced myself back under control and took a deep breath. “Not directly. That's what happened when I told. Robert was right. My teacher and parish priest didn't believe me, and my parents blamed me.” I looked into Brian's shocked face until the shame made me look away. “That was my father's way of setting me straight.”
I heard him gasp. He put his hand under my chin and forced me to look at him. “I'm not going to let anyone hurt you like that again, Sam. Never. If your father hits you again you are going to call me- got it?”
I nodded at him. I still half expected him to turn on me at any second. He must have seen the doubt in my eyes because he pulled me into a crushing hug and said, “I mean it, Sam. I've always got your back.”
He pulled away and looked at me. “Man, I'm freezing. Let's get a real shower and get off this damn floor.”
I managed a weak smile back and grabbed the soap and shampoo while he peeled off his wet clothes. I wasn't sure I was ready to have him see me naked. He knew about the scars on my back, but there were more that he hadn't seen. I also wasn't sure about seeing him naked. I wasn't sure what would set me off at this point. Brian seemed to pick up on my hesitation because he moved to the next stall and started the water. I turned on the water and closed my eyes as the water poured over me. I could feel the numbness returning and breathed a sigh of relief. We both showered quickly and started to dress. I turned my back to him while I put on my boxers.
“Well, now I know why you always have a shirt on. What's with the long sleeves though?”
I froze for a moment then figured, screw it. I couldn't very well hide from him anymore. I turned to face him with my forearms up, showing the jagged scar that ran from my wrist to the middle of my forearm on each.
“That's what I did when telling didn't make it stop," I said quietly.
Brian pulled me into a another crushing hug. I stiffened and tried to pull away, but he was much stronger and he wasn't letting go. Finally I let myself relax against him with my head on his shoulder. “I wish you had told me sooner,” he said, “I get why you didn't. You didn't exactly have great experiences in the past. I just wish I'd known. It kinda explains a lot.”
Brian finally let go of me and I took a step back from him and shrugged. “Doesn't really matter. Most of the time it's not an issue. I just didn't expect to see them and it kind of threw me for a loop. Okay, it really threw me for a loop. I've never reacted that way before. I'm sorry for flipping out on you.”
Brian put his hand under my chin and forced me to look at him. “You have nothing to be sorry for. We should decide on what to tell my brother though. He was really worried about you. Those two were never his favorite teammates, and they had a reputation for being bullies, even when they were here. They weren't very popular.”
“Can we just tell David that they were bullies? It's not exactly a secret that I had a rough time at St. Anne's. I'm just not sure I could face him if he knew.”
“Sam, you do know that they are the ones who should be ashamed, not you, right?”
I sighed and sat on the bench to put my socks on. “Rationally, usually. As you've seen though, I'm not always terribly rational about this issue.”
“Didn't anyone figure out that something wasn't quite right when you filleted your arms?”
“My dad called the family doctor who sewed me up while lecturing me on how suicide was a mortal sin and telling me how selfish I was for putting my wonderful parents through this. After that the priest who had called me a liar to begin with came in and laid on another guilt trip. So, yes, they figured that something wasn't right with me- I was clearly on the road to eternal damnation.”
“How can you be so calm about this stuff? I'm practically homicidal, and none of this happened to me.” Brian wasn't joking about the homicidal part. He was practically vibrating with anger. His fists were balled up at his sides and he had started to pace back and forth.
“I guess I just never saw much point in standing up for myself. It always led to more trouble than I had to start with. Honestly Brian, what on earth was I going to be able to do to them?”
“Sam, there has got to be something that you can do!”
“Why do you think I work so hard at school?” Brian just stared at me like I'd just made the most random comment in the world. “That is what I can do,” I said, staring at him hard. “That is my ticket out. I can do something with my life and I can prove them wrong.” My own fierceness surprised me, and it seemed to shock Brian too. I had never vocalized that thought to anyone. My way of getting back at all of them was to prove them wrong, to prove that I wasn't the failure they kept telling me I was. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and swallowed the anger back down.
I heard Brian sit down on the bench across from me. “Well, in the mean time, I'll stand up for you and you stand up for me. Deal?”
I looked up at him and met his gaze. “Deal.”