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She Didn't Have a Choice
TW: sexual assault, pregnancy, abortion
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was three months ago. I think.” Lucy tugged at the frilly collar of her white button-up. It was too small, had been since she was in middle school, and grew boobs. The strain of the buttons and itchy seams of the shirt added to the suffocating claustrophobia of the confessional. She hated the stupid box. Hated the stupid church. Hated that her mom made her dedicate every Sunday to something that just made her feel worse about her life. Hated the feeling of the cool metal cross that sat against her heart.
She always wondered why she had to confess her sins inside a tiny, claustrophobic box. She already wore her tiny, claustrophobic clothes and lived in this tiny, claustrophobic town. Weren’t those things punishment enough for any sin?
The priest coughed, signaling her to speak.
Lucy clamped her mouth shut to stifle a sigh, then rattled off her canned responses. She’d confessed the same sins since her third confessional once she realized that Father Chuck’s spotty memory wouldn’t account for any of them.
“That’s all I got. I’m sorry for these, and all my sins.”
Lucy tapped her foot against the wood of the box, silently willing the priest to speak faster so she could go home.
“I absolute you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Thank you, Miss Battle. Hope to see you again soon.”
Against her better judgment, Lucy muttered under her breath, “you will.”
“Thanks, Father Chuck.” She added loudly before hopping from the box.
Lucy’s mom grabbed her arm as she took the church steps two at a time on her way out. She groaned.
“You best not have been givin Father Chuck cheek today, young lady.”
Lucy twisted away from her mother’s grip.
“Did he say I was?”
“No, but he had a look about him comin out of confessional.”
“Well, I wasn’t givin him cheek. I was being the perfectly good Catholic girl you taught me to be.”
“You taught me to be….”
“You taught me to be, ma’am.”
“There it is. Now come on, I’ve gotta get home and change before my shift.”
Lucy turned and started down the sidewalk, leaving her mom at least three steps behind. She didn’t want to walk home in the sweltering August heat, but it wasn’t like she had a choice. They didn’t have a car, and Gurletsville was plenty walkable. Only about five miles long and four miles wide, with Gurletsville Catholic Church at the dead center.
Lucy watched wistfully as cars sped past them out of the church parking lot, longing for air conditioning and a seat.
In Gurletsville, Texas, a town with miles of flat nothing on all sides, people either had a Range Rover or no car at all. They either lived in nuclear suburbia on the east side of the highway, with green lawns year-round and cookie-cutter houses, or they lived anywhere else, in old two-story apartment complexes with melted parking lots and rotting staircases. Lucy lived in the latter; it was all she’d ever known.
There were few rules in Lucy’s life because it wasn’t like her mom was around enough to care about her well-being.
Rule one was church on Sundays. Always. No matter what. Rain or shine, puking or perfect health. Although, that last condition may have budged since Lucy vomited during mass when she was eleven.
Rule two was never to touch the kitchen drawer furthest to the right. It contained Lucy’s mom’s cigarettes, booze, and an envelope that Lucy had been slapped for asking about.
Rule three was to never ask her mom for something. She waited for things to happen, or she did them herself.
This applied to showers, meals, getting herself to and from school, going to the store, or anything that enabled human functionality.
In middle school and throughout freshman year, the girls in her grade marveled over Lucy’s slight figure. They all said they wished they could be as naturally thin as her, all bony limbs and ribs poking through her skin. Lucy had always forced a laugh and accepted the compliment, never brave enough to tell them that she wasn’t naturally thin; she usually only ate one full meal a day.
That was something else that the cheerleading coaches liked when she tried out over the summer. She was small and light, light enough to be a flier. They needed more of those, apparently. Never mind that Lucy couldn’t really dance or do flips. They would train her to do that.
Her mom wasn’t excited when Lucy told her that she’d made the varsity cheerleading team. She’d only asked one question.
“How much is this going to cost me?”
“Nothing, it’s a school sport.” Lucy had lied. “It’s free.”
She told the coaches that she couldn’t afford a new uniform, and she was stuck wearing a loaner for the season. It had to be held in place with three safety pins, one on the top and two on the skirt. Her shoes were hand-me-downs from the coaches, with holes in the toes. The only new things she got were the undergarments: two pairs of spandex and a long sleeve shirt that the coaches pooled their money for. She was pretty sure they bought it for her out of pity.
Lucy wasn’t an excellent cheerleader, but she improved with time and practice. At first, when they hoisted her into the air, even when she wasn’t doing a trick, she didn’t feel like she was flying. She felt like she was going to be sick. After a month of practice, she held a smile and her toe in the air while her teammates held her up.
Her coaches told her that she was doing a good job, and she felt proud of herself. Even when her teammates didn’t invite her to their houses with BMWs and neatly trimmed lawns after practice. Even when school started, and the vice principal called her up to his office to check in and congratulate her on her academic and athletic accomplishments, but then he put his hand on her knee and slid it up her leg.
She smiled through it all. That was one thing that set her apart from her mother. She could smile.
She stopped smiling after the second football game of the season, the first home game. It was the first week of September, so the August heat hadn’t quite dissipated, but they hadn’t reached autumn. It was a strange in-between period for everyone. For the weather, for the students, for the cheering section.
Lucy decided she liked cheerleading at the beginning of the night when her teammates tossed her into the air and everyone cheered for her. People were looking at her for the first time, in a good way. She didn’t have to fake the smile for the rest of the game.
But he was waiting for her after the game. Lucy didn’t tell the other girls she had to walk home, so she always offered to help her coaches clean up after the game and pretended that her mom was just coming late.
Then the vice principal appeared out of nowhere and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Hi, Lucy.” His smile was a shark’s, all teeth.
“I just wanted to congratulate you. You’re a wonderful cheerleader.” His hand didn’t leave her shoulder, and he started walking toward the locker room as if he was steering her.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now, I noticed that you didn’t get picked up or go home with any of the other girls. Do you need a ride?”
“No thank you, sir. My mom will be here shortly. She knows I stay late to help coach clean up.”
“Ah, well, in that case, I’ll keep you company until she gets here, how about that?”
Lie, but Lucy didn’t know how to say no.
“That’s very kind of you.”
“I did have a few things I wanted to discuss with you, anyway.”
“Really? With me?”
They neared the locker room. Lucy stopped walking.
“Yes, with you.” The vice principal chuckled and adjusted his tie, loosening it.
“Why don’t we talk after I get my things?”
“Or we could talk while you get your things.”
“I-I don’t think you’re supposed to go in there.”
He laughed again, but this time it was noticeably forced. “I’m the vice principal. I can go wherever I want.”
He steered Lucy into the locker room, and everything in her body screamed at her.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
He closed the locker room door behind him when they went in, and she heard the click of the lock.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It was dark inside the locker room. And cold. And empty.
Lucy didn’t like the combination of the three. She honestly preferred being stuffed in the stupid confessional box to this. At least with the confessional, she knew that it would be over. She knew what to expect. She didn’t know what to expect from this empty locker room and the shark-toothed vice principal with the white shirt and dark hair.
“So, Lucy,” The vice principal took a step forward. Lucy took a step back. “I want to talk about your future.”
Lucy took another step back. The vice principal licked his thin lips.
“What about m-my future?”
The vice principal took two more steps forward. Lucy took another step back and hit a row of lockers. She felt like a cornered animal.
“You’ve got a bright one.” The vice principal traced a large, rough hand over her face.
The cool metal of his wedding ring brushed her cheek.
“You’ve got quite a bright one, Miss Battle. You’re a beautiful young lady. You’re smart. You’re talented. And you behave.”
“You’re going to be quiet.” The vice principal’s eyes flashed, and everything went terribly, terribly wrong.
The hand that had been stroking her cheek quickly clamped around her mouth. Lucy opened her mouth to scream, and the other hand wrapped around her throat.
“Don’t you dare.” His kindly drawl turned into a growl.
From that point on, Lucy was paralyzed by fear. She didn’t move, barely even breathed, as the vice principal slowly took her apart.
He ripped her skirt off, leaving it strewn somewhere in the locker room. The spandex went next, and the top of her cheerleading uniform followed. He pulled at her from every angle, and she let him.
At this point, they were nearing the end of the locker row. The vice principal pulled back from her, and Lucy took a breath.
“You’re shaking. Stop.”
The vice principal licked his lips again. “You’re goin to be real quiet for this part, alright honey.”
The way he spoke to her made her skin crawl.
Then he grabbed Lucy by the shoulders, shoved her into the dark of a supply closet, and split her in half. This was the first time a man had ever been inside her, and it hurt.
He wasn’t gentle, he wasn’t nice, and Lucy had to fight every urge to scream and cry. She thought that if she made a noise, he would hurt her even more than he already was.
Lucy stayed painfully still all the way to the end. She kept her back straight, her legs open, and her head pressed to the wall of the supply closet. She stayed like that for minutes, maybe hours. Until after he finished. Until after he threatened her if she told anyone. Until after he zipped up his pants, rebuttoned his shirt, and left the supply closet without another word. Lucy didn’t dare to move, didn’t dare to audibly exhale until the locker room had fallen completely silent.
She stumbled out of the supply closet and over to the bathroom stalls on the far side of the locker room. She fell against one of the toilets, still half-naked, and vomited everything that had been in her stomach in the past two days.
She rolled back onto the cold tile floor of the bathroom and hugged her knees to her chest. She felt disgusting. She was disgusting.
Her hair was sweaty and limp, and her face was streaked with silent tears, puke residue, and lost makeup. She’d picked up some dirt from the bathroom tile, and the area between her legs felt sticky and hot.
Lucy pulled herself to her feet again and stumbled to the showers. She was just in an old sports bra twisted to the side and panties still caught around her thighs, but nothing budged until she stepped under the ice-cold stream of the locker room shower and let the freezing water wash everything away. She looked directly up into the stream so that she didn’t have to see the blood that trickled down her leg and washed down the drain. She looked directly into the stream out of hope that maybe it would watch what she had seen out of her eyes. Out of her head.
Once she had thoroughly rinsed her body one, two, three times, she stepped out of the water. Going back to the aisle she had been dragged down would’ve just made her sick again, so she didn’t bother. Instead, she went straight to her own locker, pulled her spare t-shirt and shorts on over her waterlogged body, and dropped her pom-poms in the garbage can on her way out.
Lucy walked home barefoot and dripping wet. The sun had gone down, and the temperature dropped a solid ten degrees. The wind glued her damp hair to her neck, causing her skin to go white and erupt in goosebumps.
When she finally burst through the apartment door, a single lamp illuminated the old couch over by the old television.
Her mother’s voice cut through the air, through the smoke that circled her head. She didn’t even turn back to look at Lucy.
“Sorry, ma’am.” Lucy’s voice cracked. A tear slipped down her cheek.
“If you want something to eat, do it yourself. I already ate.”
The tears began to fall. Lucy ran to the bathroom and slammed the door, clicking the old lock.
Her mom still didn’t turn around.
Lucy crawled into the empty bathtub and curled into a ball, letting the sobs wrack her body. She buried her face between her knees to not make any more noise than possible. She didn’t need her mother walking in and yelling at her.
Eventually, the residual fear trickled out in a stream of tears and snot and left her with shaky anger.
Lucy stood up and clambered from the bathtub, her hands and knees shaking violently. She pulled open the top drawer and withdrew a pair of scissors rusted at the center.
With one trembling hand, she lifted the scissors in the air. With the other, she gathered her hair into a ponytail, the way that the vice principal had when he dragged her into the closet.
She gagged at the thought. She didn’t want to look like the girl in the supply closet. She wanted to scrub and cut and strip away everything that made her the girl in the supply closet.
In one partially smooth movement, Lucy brought the scissors to her head and hacked off the ponytail. Her hair was still damp and fell around her face in ragged chunks. The bottom of her hair now just brushed her shoulders in uneven strips. Just that morning, Lucy would’ve cried if she could see herself and what she had done. A lot could change between a morning and a night, she supposed.
Lucy stopped sleeping. She also stopped eating. And going to school. She pretended that she was going to school because her mom would yell at her for being at the house. So she put on her backpack and left in the morning, but instead of walking to school, she walked in the opposite direction. She stashed her backpack in some half-dead bushes outside of the apartment complex and wandered the town until her feet hurt. Sometimes she walked out into the middle of the road and laid down, willing a car to hit her. That would be nice. An easy way out. Unfortunately, no car ever came.
Then her mom found out that she wasn’t going to school. She had been getting calls from teachers and administrators, wondering if Lucy was sick.
Lucy got in a lot of trouble for that one. She backed against a wall, and her mom yelled at her for thirty minutes. It felt longer.
If she had to go to school, she wouldn’t look like Lucy, and she wasn’t going to see the vice principal. Lucy didn’t brush her hair the morning she went to school, opting to just pull it into a spiky ponytail at the nape of her neck. She didn’t wash her face. She wore a pair of large sweatpants rolled over three times at the waist, a gray t-shirt, and an oversized zip-up hoodie that nearly hung to her knees. The goal was to look as shapeless as possible, and Lucy thought she was doing a pretty good job. If she buried the girl from the supply closet under layers of shapeless clothes and an ugly haircut, maybe people wouldn’t look at her anymore.
She sat at the back of the classroom when she went back. She kept her head down and didn’t answer questions. She spent lunch behind the library, where no one went because there were snakes in the summer and mice in the winter. She darted from class to class with her eyes fixed on the ground because if she never looked up, she never saw the vice principal. She stayed away from the locker room because she would throw up if she had to see that place or the cheer uniform again.
After weeks of the same routine, Lucy effectively faded into the shadows. She started to think that she would be some sort of okay. As long as no one noticed her again, she never had to see the vice principal, and she could leave Gurletsville as soon as possible.
Lucy never had a particularly regular cycle, probably due to her lack of proper nutrition, but her period always came at least once a month, no matter what, even if just in spots and cramps. Usually, the spots appeared early on in the month. So, when the first three weeks of September came and went in a dragged-out span of nothing, Lucy started to worry.
She went to the Gurletsville drugstore on a Friday evening when her mom worked a double.
“What’r you doin here?” Her mom’s words blended together around the cigarette that dangled from her lips.
“Brought you dinner, ma’am.” Lucy dropped a paper bag with a sandwich inside on the front counter.
“Thanks, Lucy. Grab yourself something to eat on the way out.”
“May I use the bathroom first?”
Her mom wrinkled her nose but waved her hand permissively anyway. “Be my guest.”
Lucy wound through the aisles to the bathroom at the back of the store. She knocked a pregnancy test off one of the endcaps with the billowy sleeve of her hoodie and caught it with her other arm.
“God, please, if you’re up there, show me a no right now,” Lucy begged quietly.
She was sitting cross-legged on one of the drugstore toilets. She’d peed on the stupid stick over ten minutes ago, and it still wasn’t showing anything. She even shook it, held it up to the light, and blew on it. Anything for nothing.
Defeated, impatient, and afraid of her mother, Lucy shoved the stick in her pocket and started home. She grabbed two more and a loaf of bread on the way out. Maybe she should’ve grabbed some wine. Or a pack of cigarettes. Seemed like a good time to start either of those things, when there was potentially something inside her that she both wanted gone and forgotten about.
Lucy ripped the cross off her neck with an anguished scream. She wrestled open the bathroom window, balled the chain up in her fist, and chucked it as hard as she could away from her.
Three positive pregnancy tests sat behind her on the bathroom counter.
She stopped going to school again. She went to church once to talk to Father Chuck.
“I participated in lust. Unwillingly. And I want t-to end a p-pregnancy. And I…” She trailed off and rubbed her eyes. They’d never fully dried. “And I denounced God. I threw my closest sign of him out the window. Those are my sins, Father. I don’t care if you forgive me.”
Father Chuck sucked in a deep breath, and Lucy stumbled from the confessional box and back home.
She spent a lot of time in the bathroom. Taking strange concoctions of medicine or clinging to the toilet bowl with the violent waves of nausea that crashed over her in the mornings and evenings.
After a particularly rough round of sickness that her mom somehow chalked up to food poisoning- Lucy’s fault, of course- Lucy leaned heavily against the sink and forced herself to look up at her reflection. She was starting to see why people said she was the spitting image of her mother. She had never seen it before, never wanted to see it. But now she did. Her eyes were sunken and hollow, rimmed with purple and red. Those weren’t her eyes anymore. Those eyes belonged to her mother. Her face was gaunt, all lines and a yellowish tint. Since she had cut her hair, it was shorter and more jagged, with a layer of grease over it. Now she looked like her mother.
Just like her mother, Lucy’s days were no longer days. They had been overtaken by something both greater than her and less than her, something that she had little choice and control over. Lucy felt a great sense of pity for her mother and an even greater sense of pity for herself. Her mother really did have a choice in some regards about her way of life. Lucy didn’t. Not anymore.
Lucy stood on the porch, arms wrapped firmly around her middle, for five minutes before ringing the bell. The house was intimidating, an east side typical, with white trim, crisp paint, and tall windows. She’d gotten the address from an older girl at school, who had reportedly gotten pregnant by her boyfriend the previous school year and then was gone for three weeks and came back slightly thinner.
Everyone just pretended that she had a miscarriage.
Lucy tracked the girl down at school and cornered her to beg for an address and a price during a free period. She stole as much cash as she could find around the house, most of it from the yellow envelope in the drawer, but still only managed to scrounge up half the price. She folded the money up in an IOU note and taped it shut, hoping for the best.
The address was on the other side of town and didn’t come with a phone number. Lucy had to hope that the man was home and had the time to speak with her.
She finally pressed the doorbell, listening to the low ring reverberate through the house. She took a step back and rocked back and forth from her heels to her toes. With every second that the ring of the doorbell faded into Lucy’s echoic memory, her heart dropped further into her stomach.
He probably wasn’t home, just Lucy’s luck. Or, even if he was home, he wasn’t going to help her. Why would he do that? She was just a poor teenager who’d f*cked up, was unlucky, and couldn’t fix her own mess.
Tears started to well in Lucy’s eyes, and she hugged herself tighter. The sun was slipping behind the horizon, tugging the biting November chill with it.
She was just about to turn around and start the walk back home when the porch light flickered to life. Lucy froze.
“Who r’you?” A man stood in the doorway. He was an intimidating figure. Tall and wide, with a checkered shirt, jeans, and a comically large belt buckle. He wore glasses, the kind that the eighties serial killers always wore in horror movies.
“I’m Lucy, sir. Lucy Battle.”
“No need to call me sir, it’s just Pete.”
He leaned against the doorframe.
“How’d’ja get this address?”
Pete leaned forward into the light and narrowed his eyes at Lucy. “Do I know this friend?”
Lucy squirmed under his gaze.
“You… helped her.”
“I see. Why don’t you come inside?”
The house was as shockingly normal on the inside as it was on the outside. Lucy didn’t know what she was expecting. Some sort of mad scientist’s lab, or a museum of human body parts, maybe.
Pete sat down at the kitchen table and motioned for Lucy to do the same. She gingerly lowered herself into the chair opposite him.
“Want anything to drink?” He offered. “I’ve got water, milk, whiskey, and white wine.”
He didn’t laugh, and neither did Lucy. She had no way to know if he was joking.
Pete cracked a smile. “Oh, come on. You’re about to ask me to do something illegal, a little liquor won’t hurt.”
Lucy flushed pink and shook her head.
Pete shrugged and poured himself a glass of water, taking a long sip.
“I know why you’re here.”
“Same reason any sad-faced teenage girl with a cross ‘round her neck comes to my door. Got knocked up before ya wanted to, huh?”
Lucy’s hand flew to her neck subconsciously. Pete smirked.
“Can you help me? That’s all I need to know.”
His smile faded, and he surveyed Lucy carefully.
“Depends. I need a little more info than that. How long has it been, if you know?”
Lucy balled her hands into fists, digging her nails into her palms.
“Two months, one day.” She managed through gritted teeth.
“Ah, so you do know. Good. How old are you?”
“Fifteen.” The tears threatened to break loose.
“You’re sure that you’re pregnant?”
A tear broke free. “I took three tests, if that’s what you mean.”
“Are you serious about this? You want me to terminate the pregnancy?”
Lucy’s jaw quivered, causing her teeth to chatter.
“If I don’t, I’m dead, one way or another.”
“Have you been informed of my rates? This is a costly medical procedure to do under-the-table.”
“I… have.” She slid the envelope across the table. Pete didn’t open it.
“Are you aware that you’re going to need to take care of yourself afterward? Do you have access to medical supplies at your home?”
“I’ll be fine.”
Pete stood up. “You’re going to need to sign something, saying that you’re aware of the risks and won’t talk to the cops or a doctor about me. It’s an NDA- nondisclosure agreement- of sorts, you got it? Once you sign, we can get started.”
Lucy drew in a sharp breath. “We’re doing it now?”
“No better time than the present. It’s an easier procedure the earlier in the pregnancy, there’s no time to waste.”
He disappeared from the room for a second, and Lucy’s stomach tied itself in knots. When Pete came back, he placed a contract-looking paper on the table in front of her with a pen. Lucy’s hand was shaking so badly that she was barely able to sign her name, and her head was spinning too much to read the whole thing.
When she pushed the paper away, Pete took it and started from the room.
He led her down a set of stairs, and Lucy’s stomach turned. The basement was much more like what she had imagined the inside of his house to look like. Various medical supplies, bottles, and vials lined the walls on open shelves. There was a large table in the center of the room, surrounded by lights and the rolling carts that she’d seen the one time she went to the dentist for a cavity.
Pete rounded a corner, and Lucy remained in the middle of the room. It was significantly colder in the basement than in the rest of the house, but she couldn’t tell if the goosebumps on her arms were from the chill of the room or the turning in her stomach.
He came back with a pile of garments and pressed them into her arms.
“You can change around the corner. Be quick.”
Lucy unfolded everything in the pile, revealing a hospital-style gown, a starchy cotton shirt, scrub-like pants, and a pair of thick socks, thicker than any pairs of socks that she had ever owned. She stripped off her clothes to her undergarments, then put on the gown and the socks. There had been a note pinned to the shirt, telling her to leave that set for later.
When she rounded the corner, Pete was hovering over the table in the middle of the room. He had turned on the lights around the table, casting a grim spotlight. He was wearing a white coat and latex gloves and was organizing painful-looking medical supplies on one of the rolling carts.
Pete gestured to the table. “Why doncha lie down?”
Lucy wrung her fingers together but did what she was told. Pete handed her two Dixie cups, one with three pills inside and one filled with water.
“Take those.” He instructed.
She tossed the pills in her mouth and chased them with the water. At least one remained lodged in her throat, but the discomfort wasn’t enough to be distracting her from the icy dread that gathered in her chest.
Lucy lowered her back to the table, the cool vinyl pressed against her half-bare skin. Pete produced a plastic mask and metal tank of something out of seemingly nowhere. He affixed the mask to her face, and Lucy took a deep breath, inhaling the stale air of whatever chemical he was pumping her with.
She started to doze off almost instantly. The last thing that Lucy saw before her eyes landed shut was Pete, illuminated by the lights around them, flicking the needle of a syringe.
Lucy woke up during the stitches in a strange half-state of numbness and pain.
She couldn’t really feel the lower half of her body, but she was aware of the pinching and tugging at her lower abdomen. She blinked a few times, then winced when a sharp poke penetrated the foggy sense of unfeeling.
“Sh*t.” Pete cursed, looking up at Lucy.
“Wha?” Her words were slurred and detached, like someone outside of her body was speaking for her. She faintly registered Pete turning around and looming over her before she succumbed to the darkness again.
The next time Lucy woke up, she was no longer numb. The mask was gone, her limbs were heavy, she had been dressed in the shirt and pants, and her stomach burned. Oh, how it burned.
She was still lying on the table, but the lights were gone. She moved to prop herself up, and Pete appeared at her side out of nowhere.
“Woah, there. Easy does it.”
“Is it… done?” Everything felt heavy, even her words.
“Yeah. Tricky son of a b*tch, that procedure.”
Pete patted her shoulder. The look in his eyes was close enough to pity.
“Don’t apologize, kid. You didn’t know.”
“I-I’ll get you the rest of the money, I swear.”
“You better, but don’t sweat it too much. Don’t go doin’ anything crazy on my behalf while you’re still all chopped up. That won’t be good for you or me.”
Pete waited until Lucy could stand without throwing up to send her home. He was courteous like that. While she waited to regain full control of her nerves, he gave her frequent cups of water and sent her home with a small cloth bag. Inside were her clothes, a bottle of painkillers, a baggie with some medicine to help her sleep, and a roll of fresh bandages.
When she finally stepped out the door, whatever dose of pain medicine he had given her had worn off, and the sun was coming back up.
The bite of the morning chill against her skin was nothing compared to the band of pain that encircled her body as she walked. It felt like someone had tied a band of spikes around her hips and was tightening it with every step.
She was so out of it that when she made it home, the sun was fully in the sky, and she didn’t remember most of the walk.
Lucy dragged herself up the stairs to the apartment, then dropped onto her mattress as soon as she stumbled through the room. She could’ve taken another painkiller or one of the pills to help her sleep, but she was so tired that she simply dropped into sleep, one hand still in the bag from Pete.
She woke up sometime later in the day, with no indication of the time other than the bright sunlight that streamed through her window. She forced herself to sit up, wincing as she did so. Her stomach burned, and so did the rest of her body. Her clothes were soaked through with sweat, and she pushed sticky hair away from her face.
An incomprehensible amount of time passed before Lucy was able to push herself off of her mattress and drag herself across the hall to the bathroom. The suffocating silence of the house indicated that her mother wasn’t home. That was probably for the best.
Lucy peeled back the bandages and lifted the gauze off her stomach. The gauze was soaked with blood and sweat and smelled vile. She gagged when the stench hit her nostrils and clamped a hand over her mouth.
She barely made it to the toilet before emptying the contents of her stomach. The retching movement ripped through her stomach, and she kept one hand coiled tight around her abdomen and the other clutching the bowl of the toilet.
After she was sure that she was done, she flushed the toilet and splashed water on her face, then lowered herself back to the floor to inspect her wounds.
Two long lines of bloody stitches ran from the crease of either thigh in a diagonal line until they were about even with her belly button. The area between the stitches was pink and swollen, with several perfectly round marks where a needle had entered.
Lucy soaked two pads of gauze with alcohol under the sink and pressed them to each line of stitching. She re-wrapped herself in the bandages, swallowed a painkiller, and went back to sleep.
This became her routine for the following days, drifting out of her fog for long enough to change the bandages and force down a painkiller and some crackers, then returning to her sweaty state of blissful haze.
On the fifth day, her mother slammed into her room, startling her awake.
“Lucy!” Her mom barked. “I don’t give two sh*ts what kind of sick you are, I can’t keep dealing with these phone calls from the school ‘bout you not goin. You’re goin to school tomorrow.”
Lucy’s mom didn’t wait for an answer before leaving the room. It wasn’t a question. It was an order.
The next morning, Lucy forced herself up. She ate a bowl of stale cereal and old milk for breakfast and had to fight to keep it down. She was pretty sure that she wasn’t still supposed to be feverish, tender, and bleeding, but she’d rather deal with the school nurse asking questions than her mom’s wrath, so she went back to school.
The bell rang, and Lucy’s classmates flooded from the room. She moved to get out of her desk, and a sharp pain stabbed through her body with the twisting of her abdomen.
“Sh*t,” Lucy cursed under her breath.
She gingerly stood up, relying heavily on the desk for support. Once she’d straightened to her full height, despite the cries of pain from her stomach, the corners of her vision began to spot out. She unzipped her oversized hoodie and glanced down.
Her green shirt wasn’t tight-fitting, but it had been resting against her body while she had been sitting down. Small patches of blood were blooming through the fabric.
Lucy cursed again, “F*ck.”
She took one step forward, maybe to try to leave the room, maybe to alert Ms. Jenkins. She wasn’t quite sure. She didn’t make it further than that one step because her head began to spin, and she promptly blacked out.
She didn’t remember falling over or hitting the floor; all she remembered was the world going dark.
Lucy fluttered in and out of consciousness, catching flashes of light and snippets of conversation.
“... mom… 911…”
“... blood… don’t touch….”
“... she… alive?”
At some point, during her foggy, dismembered state, she was dimly aware of her body being moved but not fully aware to return to the land of the living. Maybe this was it for her. It would be a bad way to go.
When Lucy finally regained full consciousness, she could hear sirens. Her vision was blurry, and she had to blink about eight times before it cleared.
Lucy blinked again. A head came into focus somewhere to her left.
She opened her mouth to speak, but something was blocking it. It reminded her of the mask that Pete had put on her, but this one was of higher quality.
A warm hand settled on her shoulder. It was the woman who had just spoken. She was middle-aged, with dark hair in a low ponytail and purple scrubs.
“I’m going to need you to stay still for me, if that’s alright.”
Lucy managed a nod.
“Alright, good. We’re going to help you, you’re going to be okay.”
Lucy must have looked scared because the woman kept repeating it.
“You’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”
Was the woman trying to convince Lucy of that, or was she trying to convince herself? No matter, really.
Lucy craned her neck to look out of the tiny windows on the side of the ambulance. She watched the houses blur together and taper out into a beige expanse of land. Despite the circumstances, a thrill made its way down her spine as she watched the “Thank you for visiting Gurletsville, please come again” sign fade away in a whir of peeling green paint and white lettering.
She’d always dreamed of the day that she would leave Gurletsville, but she didn’t think it would be in the back of an ambulance.