I had fallen silent, too angry to say a thing, "So...what all had he done to you?"
She gave a little sniffle, "According to Jeff, I have a concussion, plenty of bruises, and fifteen stitches that closed a gash that was a little too deep."
"Damn. Does Bridget know?"
"Of course she knows. I practically had to tie her to a chair to keep her from telling anyone."
I stood up, taking Sophie's hand and pulling her up with me, "Why won't you tell anyone?" I put her face between my hands to make sure she would look at me, "If you tell what he's done, he'll be gone, out of your life forever."
But she was shaking her head before I even finished speaking, "I can't do that," she turned away from me and glanced down the row of books in time to see Broderick, "I'm sorry Cooper. I...I have to go."
"Wait," I quickly grabbed a hold of her hand, "Please tell someone. Please."
She glanced between both of us and shook her head, "I can't. I really really can’t. I'm sorry," this time when Sophie tried tearing away from me, I let her. All she needed was for Broderick to see us together.
He saw her and with a smile enveloped her in his arms. When his head was lying on top of hers, his eyes settled right on me. Quickly, I tried busying myself by looking intently at the bookshelves.
"God if she just would've listened to me, then we wouldn't be in this damn situation."
I was in the lounge, ranting at a very high Zack, "I try so hard to protect her, and then she goes and screws it all up."
Zack was slouched in one of the lounge chairs, with a box of Ritz crackers and Cheese-in-a-can on his lap, "Do you hear what I'm saying Zack?!"
"Would you calm down? Christ the whole dorm can probably hear you. Anyway, it sounds to me like you are taking this out on her," he picked a cracker out of the box, brought it to be level with his eyes, and squinted at it, "In reality it's no one's fault," he squeezed the cheese can and made fake cheese slowly ooze from the nozzle. He studied the cracker intently before popping it in his mouth, "god I hate dealing with the munchies. But all Sophie has done is try to put her faith in someone. I mean, according to you, you basically ripped all sense of faith from her when you were kids. So she believed Broderick wouldn't hurt her when he was drink, so what? She was putting faith in someone. Granted, it was a dick of a someone, but you know," he shrugged and reached in the box for another cracker.
I plopped into a chair across from Zack and pinched the bridge of my nose, "He learned she wasn't a virgin. It's my entire fault."
He smashed the cracker in his hands, "Fuck boy five minutes ago you were blaming her and now you're blaming yourself. You're hopeless. How about it was no one's fault? Hmm? Perhaps it was Sophie's fate to get the shit beat out of her last night."
"I don't believe in fate. Why would fate let a beautiful wonderful girl be pummeled by her boyfriend?"
Zack shrugged, "Why would fate let Princess Diana be smashed into a tunnel's pillar?"
I fell silent and rested my eyes while Zack reached into the box of crackers, "Damn it Cooper you made me smash the last one."
I opened one of my eyes, "Or maybe it was your fate to smash that last cracker," and ended it in a smile.
"Touché, my friend, touché."
Later that evening, Bridget called me to invite me over to their room, "I'm really glad you could be here," she stated while I walked through the door of the house, "I don't know why she won't report him," she hugged herself as they walked down the hall, "I mean, I'll admit I've seen her come home after being with him with little bruises, things that would clear up in a day, but nothing like this."
It was strange seeing Bridget this way. I had imagined she called me to beat me up for what I let happen to Sophie (afternoon fate talk pushed aside). But she seemed truly upset, fear boiling her ice blue eyes. We stopped in front of Bridget and Sophie's door, "Bridge, it couldn't be that bad. There wasn't anything on her face."
As if on command, Bridget pushed open their door where inside Sophie had just taken her shirt off, exposing the truth.
"Soph I..." I couldn't speak. Her whole upper body was an explosion of purple, black, blue, green and yellow hues. There were a couple cuts here and there, including the deep one Jeff stitched that peeked just above her jeans then disappeared.
When she laid her eyes on me she threw a shirt over her bare body and pointed a finger at Bridget, "you said you were going to get pizza!"
"Soph he needed to see this."
"He doesn't need to see anything! You brought him here to convince me to talk, didn't you?!"
"Didn't you?!" Tonight no one seemed to be acting like themselves. Bridget was acting like Sophie and Sophie was just pissed off. Bridget sighed, "Yes I did. But look at you; you'll have to wear pants and a turtleneck until next year!"
"So what?! Broderick could have killed you! Do you understand that?"
"Yes," Sophie took a seat on her bed and let the shirt fall from her grip, "But it's my fault okay?" she covered her face with her hands, "So it's my brunt to bear."
"You're telling me you're using this as a way to punish yourself?!"
As the two girls argued I studied some of the bruises. Some had the eerie marks of objects, like shadows displayed on her skin. One seemed to be almost the perfect imprint of a candelabrum, including a burn blister at one end of it from the flame on the candle. Another bruise was shaped like a square of sorts, likely from a box.
"I suppose it could be taken that way."
Bridget gritted her teeth, "I swear you can be so stupid sometimes! What wrong have you done?!"
Sophie shot off of the bed, "Obviously, Bridget I was unfaithful to him."
Each time someone talked it seemed they had to top the decibel level of the other. Bridget was borderline screeching now, "You guys aren't married! And even if you were that doesn't mean he can beat you to a pulp!"
Sophie hugged her arms and suddenly got quiet, "So you think."
Bridget threw her arms in the air in annoyance and defeat, "I'm leaving. Maybe lover boy over there can talk some sense into your brainwashed head," she grabbed her coat off her desk chair and stormed out, slamming the door behind her. Sophie gave a little flinch from the noise then sat back on her bed, putting her face in her palms again. Soundlessly, I walked over and sat down beside her. But when I tried putting my arm around her, she made a little grunting sound and shrugged my arm off her shoulders and stood up again. There were no words said between us as she peeled off her jeans, exposing even more bruises. She lay down on her bed and remained silent. I followed her suite but instead of holding or kissing each other, we just stared at each other. She was wearing a bra and panties that was the color of flesh and would have blended in with her body if she was not mottled by so much. I noticed how the stitched-up cut went in an almost perfect line down the middle of her thigh, stopping a little higher than mid-way. But the cuts and bruises weren't the worst things to look at. The worst were her eyes. Inside those dark emerald eyes anger, regret, and above all else, hurt brewed. I remember a time before Broderick and before I hurt her, her eyes danced with joy and hope. Now they danced no longer and appeared almost dead with all the shit she's dealt with weighing her down.
I leaned my head towards her, seeing her eyes following my movements. Then I gently pressed my lips to the bruise on her shoulder. I turned my gaze to her face to see her close her eyes with contentment on her face. I smiled and repeated that action with every bruise I could reach, including kissing the spot on her hip where the stitched gash began.
And when I was finished I sat up and gave Sophie a half smile. She threw herself into my lap with enough force to make me wobble backwards, but I regained myself and wrapped my arms around her. Tears fell from her eyes and her body began shaking with sobs, but we continued not speaking. Instead I held her tighter, thinking that if I held her tight enough she wouldn't fall apart. I kissed the top of her head and laid my head on top of hers.
We remained liked this and said no words to each other, but we had probably admitted the most to each other than we ever did without them.
But of course I couldn't stay with Sophie all night. We had learned well enough from the last time I stayed over.
The weather was not on my side when I was walking to my dorm. The temperature had dropped to below freezing and the clouds appeared ready to erupt with snow. The jacket I left with certainly wasn't thick enough and I wrapped my arms around my chest to try and keep warmer while I picked up my pace, trying to beat the snow.
I was probably two-thirds of the way to my dorm where I began getting the feeling I was being watched. I pivoted on my heel to see the path and everywhere around it was empty, "Strange," I murmured to myself before continuing on my way.
The snow began falling. I cursed to myself and wrapped my arms around myself even tighter, believing it could help.
There was a rustle in the tree next to me. I turned sharply, expecting to see whoever was following me and found a squirrel at the base of the trunk. I released a nervous chuckle, "Oh, it was just a squirrel. I really probably need some sleep."
Suddenly, there was a holler from above and immediately something landed on my shoulders and made me fall to the ground, head cracking on the pavement. I instantly knew I was bleeding because I could feel the warmth pooling around where my head was sitting.
I felt my arms being pulled behind my back and rope tying my wrists together. There were voices, but my mind couldn't comprehend anything that they were saying. In fact the last thing my mind did comprehend before I blacked out was how the snow was already starting to stick to the ground.
"Dude, I think we killed him."
"Oh shut the hell up you pussy."
"No seriously man, you didn't see how badly he was bleeding from his head."
There was a chuckle, "Please Mark, it's not like he isn't going to bleed any more tonight."
I was conscious obviously, but I knew I wasn't outside anymore and I personally didn't want to know where I was.
"Hey he's awake!" someone kicked my foot, "Open your eyes! Hey!"
This guy was definitely not that bright. The first guy whom didn't care how much I bled, groaned, "You're such a moron. This is how you get someone to listen to you. Hey!" he slapped me across the face. Hard, "Open your damn eyes!"
This time I listened. The light was making the aches in my head even worse and I squinted to make it a little better.
There were five guys in front of me, wearing hoods that hid their faces, a fact that made my palms sweat. To make matters worse I was tied to a chair with my head wound still trickling blood from underneath the bandage they must have put on me. But the fact that made my stomach churn was how the guy in the middle was holding a fraternity paddle. The middle guy rolled his neck and I could hear the popping from his bones. I tried to be cocky and grinned, "So I'm assuming you're not going to tell me your names right?"
The guy with the paddle chuckled again, "You can call me God."
His response was so stupid that I rolled my eyes, "Oh please."
"God" nodded at the other four guys and they left the room. He grabbed another chair and sat on the chair backwards so he could sit his arms on the back, "You know Cooper, I like you. I think you're a good kid. You're also fairly attractive in the sensitive, poetic kind of way. Girls really go for that lately, you know?"
He reached to the floor and picked up a bottle of vodka. He took a gulp and shook his head to try and lessen the burn, "Want some?" he offered the bottle to me, but I shook my head. He shrugged and set it back down beside him, "So anyway, you seem like a nice guy. But there's a problem."
He leaned towards me, "Any guess what that is?"
I shrugged, "No idea."
"I don't trust you Cooper. I'm not a good friend to you, so I can't trust you nor can you trust me."
He studied the paddle while continuing, "You know who I do trust? I trust Broderick, that's who. And recently," he put the paddle underneath my chin and raised my head up to make me look at his hood, "Broderick ain't too happy. He ain't too happy at all. So I'm going to be straight with you," he removed the hood to reveal someone with a meaty face, mousy brown hair, and acne scars. Normally, guys looking like this wouldn't be someone to fear at all, but this man had shiny steely eyes that reminded me of daggers, something not to mess with. He picked the vodka up again and took another swig, "You know his girlfriend, Sophie Farro, right?"
I shrugged again, "Of course. We were friends in high school."
He leaned forward again, "I think you mean more than friends right? Don't go lying to me already."
"Yeah sure whatever we had a thing."
"Did you happen to have sex?"
My palms were getting sweaty with each question, "No she thought we were too young."
"Oh! Damn the famous cockblock, eh?" He slapped his knee and laughed.
"Well," he gained his breath again, "The keyword was 'were' right? You're not too young anymore are you?"
"We're not, but she's dating Broderick."
"More cockblock huh? Mr. Plasse over here just can't get a break," another gulp of vodka went down his throat, "So, do you think she's beautiful?"
The blood from my head wound had reached my mouth I licked my lips to rid myself of the drop. He continued, "It's okay. You can admit it," he laughed then spoke in a small whisper, "between you and me, the whole fraternity would kill to tap her ass. She's like the innocent little thing that's probably an animal when it comes to sex."
I set my jaw but didn't dare say a word. That's what he wants you to do Cooper. Don't do it.
Paddleguy did his chuckle again, "Once Broderick went on a jog with her. He said he stared at how firm her butt was and how nicely it bounced every time her feet hit the pavement. But he also says how for as sweet and tasty as she looks, she's a rule breaker."
I scoffed, "Last time I checked we're a little too old for 'rules to dating'."
His knifelike eyes studied me, "But they're engaged."
"She never said yes," I closed my eyes and mentally cursed myself. I responded way too fast to ignore my statement.
"Oh like anyone would say no to Broderick Reams. Girls would kill to be with him," another drink from the bottle, "so sometimes he needs to give her a little spank you know? Throw her around a bit."
"Isn't that a criminal offense?" My hands were balled into fists from all the disrespect Sophie was getting.
He stood up and looked out the window that was set in the door. I took this pause to take in my surroundings. The room looked to be like one of the unused classrooms that Sophie and I would sneak into.
"The difference, Mr. Plasse, between legal and illegal is whether or not you get caught and if you have money," he turned and winked at me, "In all honesty, I would do the same. Women these days, especially aspiring ones like Sophie, need to be put back in the place where women have always belonged, you know?"
I was feeling warmth dripping through my hands. My nails had dug into my palms enough to make me bleed.
"And when someone loves you so dearly but just won't stay in her place, rest assured, she'd be taught her lesson and keep it quiet after dealing with the embarrassment of a black eye and-"
"Shut up!" Who yelled that? Based on Paddleguy's stare and perverse grin, it was me.
Might as well go out strong, "I said shut up. You don't know what love is. And people like you and Broderick," I shook my head, "You'll never find out. Women like Sophie, well they're rare. She's strong but not oppressive, kind but not a liar, smart but not a bitch about it, beautiful but doesn't know it," I was digging my hole deeper, I knew, "And Broderick should have never laid his eyes or fists on someone so special."
He raised his hand to cover his agape mouth, "Oh goodness!" he said in a shrill voice, "You love her! Oh my God!" he jumped up and down and giggled, "You love her don't you?"
I hung my head while licking my lips, "Yeah I do," from the corner of my eye I saw Paddleguy wave his hand and the rest of the fratboys reentered the room. I sighed, "I'm not denying it either."
He chuckled again, "That's a shame. You know what else?"
I didn't say anything, knowing he'd answer himself, "It's a shame you didn't drink any of that vodka."
I gave him a queer look, "Why?"
He had a perverse grin again, "Because this would hurt less," then he slammed my leg with the side of the paddle, a resounding crack being heard in the entire room while pain was registered as almost an explosion in my brain.
After he had the first hit the others joined in, his chuckle being the last thing I heard.
I didn't even flinch.
It was cold.
For some odd reason I was fine with feeling that. Once I tried opening my eyes only to find one of them was swollen shut. The good one only saw white. I'm blind, aren't I? Why lord why?
Eerie sounds were coming from the distance. They sounded almost like my name, but in slow motion. I turned my head to the side, the only thing I could still do, and still only saw white, "Oh fuck," I whined and shut my eye. The sounds were getting closer.
The gentle hands reached under my arms and laid my head on their lap. When I opened my eyes I saw short golden hair peeking from underneath a burgundy winter hat and beautiful green eyes. I grinned, ignoring the pain, happy to know I could see after all. Sophie looked like she was shouting my name but no sound was coming from her as if someone had hit the mute button. I stared at her in confusion. Where was the sound? She was crying as she shouted, the tears landing on my face, and she was shaking me. There was a loud pop in my ear and then I heard her, "Cooper!" she was shrieking, but the wind around us was just as loud, "Cooper!"
Despite the pain, I reached out and laid my bloody palm on her cheek, "Sophie. We match now, don't we?"
She covered my hand with hers, "Yes" she smiled, "We do."