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Walls Around the Heart - Part Seven
Nicole Starleigh Yeager
I woke up Sunday morning with one mother of a headache. Everyone else was still sleeping. Judging by how tired I still felt, I knew it wasn't time to get up yet. But, I needed something to kill the headache.
Getting out of bed, I tripped over my purse and collapsed on the floor... head throbbing. It had been quite some time since I had had a hangover like that one. I clumsily climbed back to my feet as I heard someone sit up in bed and headed straight for the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
I didn't remember drinking that much alcohol. The last time I felt like this in the morning I had been doing keg stands and mixing shots and playing drinking games at a party... there was no way I could have drank that much... could I?
I shook four ibuprofen into my palm, threw them into the back of my mouth and got a drink out of the faucet and swallowed them. I threw the little cup in the wastebasket, cringed at the chlorine aftertaste in the water and turned to go back out to bed, but Kyle was standing in the doorway.
"Hi," I said, groggily. "I'm going back to bed."
"How you feeling?" He sounded calm, but he looked angry.
"He drugged you."
"What? Kyle, shut up."
"Keri, you only had six drinks all night long, I watched you. He drugged you, that's how you ended up so... trashed."
"Why would he put something in my drink, huh? He's so sweet, he even..."
"Yeah, I know," he said, shrewdly. "I want to show you something."
He turned, headed for the dresser and picked up the tape recorder.
"Come outside with me."
"Can't we do this later?"
Reluctantly, I followed as he quietly slid the door open. He shut it again once we were both on the balcony. I leaned against the railing, hoping it wouldn't take too long. The sun wasn't even all the way up yet.
"You can sit down," he told me as he sat in one chair.
"Kyle, what are you doing?"
He didn't answer; he only concentrated on rewinding and setting the tape.
I flopped into the other chair knowing it wasn't going to be a short discussion. "Look, I'm sorry about the recorder. I just felt bad.
He's a good guy, Kyle, I know he is. He wouldn't hurt me."
"Do you remember what you guys talked about last night?"
"Uh... stuff? I don't know, Kyle, I was trashed."
"He's not as innocent as you think. What exactly do you remember from last night?"
"Enough," I told him. "Enough to know I like the guy, and there's nothing bad about him. There can't be."
"Keri, are you listening to me? He drugged you! He slipped something into your drink!"
"He did not, Kyle, they just make their drinks really strong at that club... and I drank them way too fast."
"I was up half the freaken night because I couldn't figure out how much of it he gave you or what the hell it was!"
"Don't yell at me! Kyle, please, I really don't feel like dealing with this, I have a headache..."
"Tell me everything you remember from last night."
"Oh, come on."
"Just tell me!"
I sighed heavily, frustrated. "We danced, there was a fight on the dance floor, the bouncers threw the guys out...then we went back to the table and took a rest. You happy?"
"What?" What was he getting at?
"What else do you remember?"
I sighed. "I remember you being a pain in the ass. I remember... talking to Eric for awhile and then you guys coming to the table all loud and stuff cause it was time to go home."
He looked down and said nothing.
I was a little bewildered, but didn't care to continue the conversation. "Can I go in now?"
"I'm sorry I wasn't watching like I was supposed to be."
"What are you talking about?"
"Keri, we didn't find you at the table when it was time to go home."
"Yeah, you did."
"We found you in the limo, with Eric."
"So, your clothes were ripped when we found you."
"Shut up," I threatened. "Don't you think I would remember if I had... had sex with somebody?"
"That's what I am trying to tell you! He drugged you last night, which is why you got so trashed when you only drank 6 cups and why you have a hangover this morning! It's also why you don't remember anything!"
"Will you quit trying to be a hero?" I stood up.
He grabbed my arm, his temper rising. "I'm not - listen to me, Keri! The guy drugged you last night! When he came back to the table with your drink last night after you guys were out dancing, he stared at me. His eyes were cold, Keri, I'm telling you. And I didn't have a single freaking drop last night!"
"So maybe we fooled around a little bit... that doesn't mean we had sex. You know, you've really stooped low this time, Kyle!"
I stood up to go back inside when I heard the click of the play button on the recorder. I stopped and froze at the sliding door when I heard my voice, then another... I couldn't tell what was going on. It almost sounded like I was struggling? I turned and stared at Kyle, holding the recorder up so I could hear myself crying and fighting someone off of me.
I started to tremble...
"Where... where did you get that?" I asked, ready to cry, ready to collapse.
He turned it off. "It was in your purse. It was recording the whole time."
"No, no it wasn't, I turned it off!" I yelled, trying to make him tell me it was a joke. It didn't happen, it couldn't have happened. That wasn't my voice, it was somebody else's. I turned the recorder off, I remembered doing it.
"I... I turned it back on, right before I left you guys alone at the table. The conversation that you had with him should be enough to give to the police."
I couldn't speak, but pressed my legs together as if to protect myself. It happened? It actually happened? This wasn't how I wanted my first time to be... rape? Oh, god... I don't even remember... I was trembling inside and out. I fixed my eyes on the floor of the balcony and collapsed on my weak knees. In a flash, Kyle was beside me, comforting me.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "If I was there.... I'm sorry, it's all my fault." He tried to hug me but I pushed him away. The thought of any man touching me at that moment was so repulsing I thought I'd die. "Keri, we should take you to the hospital, to get tested... there weren't any... condoms, anywhere."
I still couldn't speak or react. How could this have happened to me?
I was always so careful! No one ever... No, it couldn't, it had to be some cruel joke. It had to be. Kyle didn't like Eric, so, knowing I wouldn't remember anything, he could have put Brett and Lauren up to it?
"I don't believe you," I told him as the trembling ceased. "That's not me. I don't believe you."
"What do you want me to do? What do I have to do to prove it to you?"
"Give me that," I said, grabbing the recorder out of his hands. I rewound the tape until it stopped. Kyle sat with me while I let the whole tape play out.
I heard us getting into the limo at the beginning of the evening, and Eric asking us all what we wanted to drink. The tape stopped where I turned it off. It came back on again as all five of us were sitting at the table, drinking and talking. I heard Eric ask me to dance. I heard Kyle and Brett and Lauren talking about watching his every move, making sure I was in sight at all times. They talked for quite awhile, about Eric, and what they still didn't have on tape, and where the body might be.
After awhile, I heard Lauren tell Brett to go dance with her because she was getting bored. Kyle shut off the tape. It picked up again as somebody was shuffling around. Moments later, Eric and I sat down at the table. I heard our conversation about my purse being left alone at the table and heard him go to get our drinks. I heard Kyle sit down with me. The recorder clicked again where I shut it off. It picked up again as Kyle said, 'I'm gonna go chill at the bar, see you guys later.' I heard Eric and me talk about the kiss, about how Kyle, Lauren and Brett didn't trust him. One thing led to another, and our conversation covered the attacks.
My heart skipped a beat when I heard Eric say, 'Well, when you get home, you won't have to worry about it anymore. No more attacks, no more men following you down the boardwalk, it'll all be okay.' I heard us start laughing together, then my reaction, 'Yeah, right? How about it!'
I stopped the tape and started to rewind it.
"You didn't miss anything. You never told him about it."
I stared into Kyle's face. "I must have, how else would he know?"
"Keri, I listened to that tape beginning to... almost the end four times since last night. Not once did you tell him about the men who followed you on the boardwalk. Not once! How else would he know?"
"Maybe I told him when we were out on the dance floor, or when the recorder was off... Come on! Just because I like this guy, doesn't make him the killer! And why is there always something wrong with every guy I go out with? You never like any of them and you always have something asinine to say!"
"Will you just see this guy for what he really is?"
"I'm trying to!"
"If you were, you'd know I'm right! And Lauren and Brett, too! We're the only ones that see it because you're so head over heels for him you don't want to believe it! Keri, the man is after you! He killed Abby, he drugged you, he assaulted you?"
"You're accusing him and you don't even have any proof! You don't even know what happened!"
Lauren and Brett had woken up and come to the door. I heard it slide open behind me. Kyle and I glared at each other for what seemed like forever.
"Let's go to the cops, now," Lauren said, finally, as she started crying.
"Let's go," Kyle said.
"Where were you last night?" Lauren spazzed on him. "You were supposed to be keeping your eye on her so something like this wouldn't happen!"
"Lauren, it got crowded and I lost sight of them for one minute! When the people moved out of the way, they were gone and I spent the next hour searching the whole freaken club! Where the heck were you? You didn't even know she was gone until I told you!"
"Shut up!" I screamed. "Everybody, shut up! Just shut up!" My thoughts were racing through my head. What had really happened last night?
What was going on?
Kyle seemed to know what I was thinking. "I'll get one from the pharmacy. Lauren, Brett, stay here with her and make sure no one gets in here. I'll be back."
"What are you doing?" Brett asked.
Kyle leaned closer and mumbled, not knowing we could still hear, "She needs a pregnancy test. We aren't really sure what happened last night."
"Will it work this early?" Lauren asked.
"Yeah, they have those new ones, now, I don't know how they work, but they do... not that I would know... I'll be back." Kyle grabbed his keys and shut the door behind him.
"Brett, can you... go down to the lobby or something for a little while?" Lauren asked, knowing I needed her. I needed her without him.
Obediently, he left the room with a pocket full of change.
"You wanna talk?" she asked.
I didn't know what to say. No words would come to my mouth. It was like I had lost all control of my life, and couldn't remember a damn thing.
"Wanna tell me what's on your mind?"
"You hear the tape?" I asked, staring at the balcony railing.
She hesitated. "Yeah."
"Do you really think... I mean, because it just sounds like I was fighting with him... or someone... "
She looked down. "Hon..."
"I don't remember it at all... I normally remember everything! So, maybe we fought a little bit..."
All of this was a kick in the stomach to me.
But, I still couldn't believe that Eric had even done that... even with all the evidence laid out for me. Call me stubborn, but I couldn't believe he'd done it. I still had a feeling about him... almost as if I could sense his innocence... Why would he turn violent on me?
My phone rang as Lauren and I sat on the balcony, sipping coffee.
I looked at the caller ID; it was Eric. I looked over at Lauren as it continued to ring.
"If you don't think you can talk to him, then don't answer it. But if you have something to say to him, answer it and talk to him," she said. "That's what I would do."
I took a deep breath and swallowed back a tear. I answered the call.
"Keri, are you okay?" he asked.
I was confused by his question. "What?"
"Are you all right?"
I was speechless.
"I... I wanted to know if you were okay after what happened?"
Was it really true, then? Those very words came out of his very own mouth... "After? You didn't think about it before?"
"What? I didn't know!"
"Please! Don't give me that. You knew it, you know damn well you knew it was going to happen."
"No! I..." He sighed on the other end of the phone. "Can we talk... in person?"
"Keri, please, I need to explain..."
"You think I'm that stupid?"
"And I suppose I'm supposed to trust you now?"
"Yes, I know. Kyle told me. He told me everything. I can't deal with you right now, I don't want to talk to you, I don't even want to see you!"
"No, wait... Kyle told you what he saw, right? That's not what happened?"
"Save it, Eric."
"Keri, you can't be mad at me, I didn't... I stopped..."
"I said, save it! Don't come to my room, don't call me, and if you see me out on the beach or anything, do me a favor and walk the other way!"
I hung up the phone, fought the urge to throw it over the balcony and succumbed to my tears. Lauren reached over and removed my phone from my hand, then sat with her head down, unsure of what to say.
I have no idea how long they were gone before I finally stopped crying. Not because I had calmed down, but because my tears had run dry.
There was nothing left now but the pain in my chest.
We watched the people down on the beach, tanning, playing volleyball and Frisbee games, throwing footballs, flying kites. Kids were building sandcastles and burying their dads. The lifeguards walked the shoreline in red shorts and white polo shirts as hundreds of people dotted the glistening water. It was a beautiful day... out there.
"I'm sorry," she said to me, to break the silence. "Whatever you need... you can count on me."
I nodded. "I know." I stood up and said, "He didn't... I just have this feeling, Lauren. He didn't hurt me last night. I can't trust him right now, but -- I don't know." I walked into the hotel room to lie down on the bed.
Lauren knew I just wanted to go to sleep. It was something she knew me to do whenever the going got a little tougher than I wanted to handle.
Silently, she sat on the balcony and slid the door closed, shutting out the world outside so that I could have the peace that I needed to pick myself back up again. I lay in bed, thinking about everything and anything as it flew through my mind, and fell asleep with tears streaming down my face. I guess I still had some left, after all.
I woke up hours later, when the sun was beginning to set on the horizon. I got out of bed and took a shower... scrubbing my body down to the point where my skin became red and irritated, as if I could scour away the night before. I threw away the torn clothes I was wearing still from the night before and got into a fresh, clean pair of jeans and a plain white T-shirt.
I took a comb through my hair and spritzed a little body spray on myself. Anything to make me feel clean. I brushed my teeth and gargled with mouthwash four times before I was satisfied. I looked in the mirror. My eyes were a little baggy, but other than that, my skin looked fine, for a change. The soft, subtle glow of the tan I had acquired so far that summer made me decide not to wear any makeup. I didn't feel like it, anyway. I hung up my towel, walked out of the bathroom and went to the glass door.
Lauren, Brett and Kyle were now, all three, sitting there and watching the ocean. I never even heard Kyle and Brett come back. None of them spoke a word as I watched; nor did they know I was watching. I looked at the sides of their faces... what I could see from where I stood. My heart broke again as I studied their expressions. I could see the concern and care in their eyes and the pitiful angle of Brett and Lauren's eyebrows.
Kyle's eyebrows were bent as if in anger... and I could have sworn I saw a tiny tear sneak out of his eye. His lips were pressed and his jaw was clenched, as though he were putting together some master scheme for revenge on my behalf. His stare out over the water never once budged.
What had really happened last night? How bad was the attempted attack?
I had no new injuries nor any new physical pains. What was Kyle so furious about?
Brett and Lauren, sharing the chair closest to the door behind which I stood, held each other, offering each other comfort and support. I could tell Lauren had been crying for quite awhile by the redness around her eyes. Her head rested on Brett's chest. She did not see me standing there. Brett rested his chin on top of her head, stroking her hair with one hand and his other arm around her, embracing her. All this over what had happened to me... they shared my pain, I could see it clearly. But they didn't have to, it wasn't like he'd tried to rape me or kill me...
I didn't want to break the beauty of the silence they had out on the balcony. It comforted me, some, to see them this way... a state they wouldn't let me see them in. I'd rather they try to cheer up, though, so I slowly slid the door open. They all looked up at me, instantly. All the attention suddenly put me on the spot. I closed the door and stood there, looking back at them, not knowing what to do or say.
"Feel any better?" Lauren asked me.
I nodded, not quite ready to find my voice. I was too drained to try to talk right then.
Kyle patted the lounge chair on which he sat, motioning for me to sit with him. The look in his eyes told me I would be safe with him. He looked at me like an older brother would his sister when she needed him, at least that was how I'd interpreted it. I walked over as he moved his legs to either side of the chair so I'd have more room.
At first I just sat there, on the edge of the chair, a little timid. Then he said to me, "You can lean back, it's all right."
I swiveled myself around and sat back far enough to fit right up against him. I leaned back, lightly, and didn't fully relax until he put his arms around me to comfort me. I reached up and held onto his arms, and then let my head lean to the side at his left shoulder. I felt his forehead on the back of my head for a moment just before he gave me a slight squeeze. Lauren turned over so she could face me.
"Did you guys find anything?" I asked.
"Nothing. Not a single twisted tree in this whole damn city."
Kyle let out a heavy sigh. "We got nowhere."
"Did you sleep okay?" she asked me.
I nodded again.
"We wish we knew what to say to make it better," Brett said. "But the truth is, we really don't."
My eyes started getting misty, both at being reminded of my situation and by being touched by those words.
"Do you want to go to the hospital?" Kyle asked.
"No," I murmured. "I don't feel any different from yesterday... down there, I mean. I don't know, maybe later."
"Just say the word," he said, softly, "and we'll go."
I just sat there. How does one make a decision like that? My heart would hurt either way. I could suffer with the pain of having my pride stripped from me. Then again, I could suffer knowing the man I had begun to trust and care for could go to jail because of me. Why did I feel so strongly about him? I had only known him for... going on three days.
He let out a deep sigh. "I'm so sorry. By the time I realized you weren't any where in the club..."
"Don't," I stopped him. "It's not your fault."
"If it helps any, it looked like you got him good. His nose was bleeding," Brett said.
"Lauren said he called you today," Kyle said to me, his tone angry and unforgiving.
I nodded. "He did." My voice cracked. My voice always cracked like that after long periods of crying.
"What'd he say?"
"Asked if I was all right."
He reassuringly tightened his embrace around me. "It's going to be."
An hour later, we were back inside the quiet hotel room, trying to figure out what we were supposed to do. We had no body, we had no real evidence of Eric attacking me, and we had nothing to go on. And I hadn't heard from Abby in awhile.
Kyle just stared at me from in front of the glass sliding door. Brett walked over to Lauren and hugged her as she suddenly broke out into sobs.
I felt Kyle's hand on my shoulder. After a few seconds, he looked at the ground, as though he were about to cry, too. He looked up again, the edges of his eyes brimming with moisture and said, "I'm so sorry." He bit his lip; to keep it from quivering, I think.
"We went over this, it wasn't your fault," I told him. "Please, just stop. It's not going to change anything anyway."
He looked down again and scratched the back of his head. Still staring at the floor, he shrugged his shoulders and arms, as if in defeat, looked at me one more time, then turned and faced out the door. With one hand on the glass, supporting him, he stood there; staring out over the sunless, pink sky. I turned and looked at Brett.
He mouthed to me, "Go to him."
I looked at Lauren for her input, and she just nodded in agreement, sniffing and wiping tears from her eyes. I turned back and looked at Kyle, his back toward me, his head now hung a little low. The lump started to come back in my throat again. This time I realized it was because it hurt to see Kyle hurting like that. It was so beautiful of him, in a way, to be so torn... over me.
I walked up behind him and tried to think of something to say. I looked at the floor as though I would find something down there. I couldn't think of anything. The only thing I could come up with was to hug him, like Lauren told me. I slid my arms around him from behind and rested my cheek against his back. I held him and fought back my own tears. He stood there for a minute, holding my hands with one of his, then took his other hand off the glass and turned around inside my embrace. He wrapped his arms around me and tucked his head next to mine... and started to weep.
We had dinner delivered to the room that evening. Eric kept calling me, so I had to turn off the phone. I had no idea what to say to him or what I even thought of the situation. And at one point, Kyle grabbed the ringing phone before I could reach it and threw it across the room.
Normally, I might have scolded him for the damage that had done to the battery pack, but I knew he was angry. After dinner, we all just lay in our beds, watching TV. For the first time, I let Kyle keep his arms around me, even while we were lying in the bed. But that was only because he made me feel safe at a time when I could never have felt more vulnerable. I really liked knowing that Kyle would be there for me, and that I could count on him. It was too bad I couldn't let myself fall in love with him again. But I guess being like a brother is the next best thing.
I fell asleep, I guess, watching the TV, and ended up having a horrible dream.
I saw it; I saw the event that I couldn't remember. I was in a car, laughing, then I saw a man... a man on top of me... I saw his face... it wasn't Eric's face... this man was blonde with very angry, blue eyes... and a goatee... he was talking to me but I couldn't hear him... he was tearing at my clothes and I was beating on him to get him away...he had a gun!
I woke from the dream and sat up, nearly hyperventilating. Kyle was asleep next to me; Lauren and Brett were snoring from the other bed. The TV was still on. The sky was dark, now, so I knew it had to be much later.
I sat up and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I reached for my phone, heart pounding. Eric was supposed to go back to New York... he was going to talk to his friend, Jeremy, about staying a little later, but I had told him I didn't want to see him. "Eric, please, still be here!" I murmured as I found the phone and turned it on.
Without bothering to check my voicemail, I dialed Eric's cell number and slid my shoes on. I got up off the bed, picked up my purse and one of the room keys, and then quietly sneaked out the door as the phone rang. Eric! Please pick up your phone!
Finally, he did. "Keri?"
"Eric, I need to see you... they were wrong, weren't they? It wasn't you, was it?" I said, getting into the elevator.
He sighed, sounding relieved. "Oh, thank God... No, Keri, it wasn't me... how..."
"I need to see you... I have to talk to you."
"Uh... oh-okay, um... where are you now?"
"I'm in the elevator on the way down to the lobby. I need to take you somewhere, you know, so we can sort of be alone."
"Keri, I don't know..."
"Please, Eric? I have to see you."
"All right. I was just packing some things up... let me get my shoes and I'll meet you... Keri, you realize if we're seen together..."
"No, you don't understand..."
"All right, then meet me, okay? At the pier next to the run-down roller-coaster."
"Um... Okay, I'll be there." He seemed hesitant, even a little nervous.
"Okay." I hung up the phone. As the elevator touched the lobby, my heart started pounding. After everything that happened that afternoon, I had nearly forgotten about Abby! But, I had a plan... we would get this whole thing straightened out...
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