A week passed and we were finally feeling better. James - one of Artemis' friends - had invited us to his house for a party. Artemis really wanted me to come so I could meet James' girlfriend. And I really wanted to go just to get out of the house.
I dressed in jeans and a long sleeved black sweater. I convinced Artemis to let me keep my face makeup free. James lived closer than Mike but his house was just as large. Artemis held my hand as we went up to the door. He put his arm around my waist as he knocked.
"Took you long enough!" James laughed and pulled us in. "Nancy is ecstatic to meet you," he told me as we went further into the house. "She doesn't have many girl friends, you see, because she's a little... different."
At first I thought he was being funny, but the look on Artemis' face told me he wasn't. When we got to the living room, it was crowded and music was pounding from the stereo. He had us wait and disappeared into the crowd. I leaned into Artemis and he squeezed me, kissing my head briefly. It took several minutes for him to return.
He was leading a young girl my age. She had long blond hair and light blue eyes. She gave me a shy smile. She was very small, probably only 5 foot tall.
"I'm Nancy," she said and I shook her hand.
"Deidre," I returned. I could see James looking nervous out of the corner of my eye. "It's great to finally meet a girl among all these boys."
She laughed. "Yeah, it is." She looked around at the people pouring in through the door and moved closer to James. "Artemis, can I steal her?"
"Of course you can," he said, kissing me.
Nancy took two bottles of water and gesture for me to follow her. We climbed some stairs and she opened a door on our left. When I walked in, she shut it quickly, breathing out in relief. I was getting a strange feeling from her but I waited patiently. She sat on the bed and I sat at the desk. I assumed we were in James' room.
"So, James mentioned you're going to school," I said after a long, awkward silence.
"Yeah," she nodded.
"What's your major?"
"Biochem," she answered. "Do you go to college?"
"No. I was never given the opportunity."
She leaned forward. "So you really were homeless?" she asked. I nodded, biting my lower lip. "What about school?"
"My mom taught me."
"Wow.... I can't imagine what that could be like," she whispered.
"Can I say something?" I asked after more silence. She nodded, looking nervous again. "James said you were excited to meet me but you don't seem to be."
Her shoulders fell and her face showed relief. "James didn't tell you.... He's a good boyfriend," she laughed. "He keeps my secrets."
She looked at her feet. "I'm.... Well, I'm different."
"In what way?"
She sucked on her lower lip, looking anywhere but at me. "When I was a baby, my mother... she was abusive. I was crying in my crib - Daddy said it was because my diaper was dirty - and she picked me up and started shaking me. She was trying to get me to stop. Daddy tried to stop her but, when she did, she dropped me. I landed on my head." She pulled her hair back and I saw a very slight indent. "My skull was still soft enough," she mumbled.
"I'm very sorry," I whispered.
She stared at me. "You're not just saying that," she stated. "You know how it feels."
I frowned. "What?"
She sighed. "You're going to think I'm crazy," she mumbled but I shook my head. "They think it's because of my mom hurting me so much...." She cleared her throat. "I can see things. It comes and goes. You... someone closer to you hurt you."
I nodded, this time being the one avoiding eyes.
"It was my father. He would... he would rape and molest me."
Tears jumped to Nancy's eyes and she wiped them away.
"That's terrible! Why would he do such a thing?"
I just shrugged. "He was a drunk."
"Is he still alive?"
"Yes. I don't know where he is, though."
"Do you want to know?"
I stared at her. Did I? If he was still in the state, I'm sure he had heard about everything by now. Would I want him at my wedding? I hadn't even considered that part....
"I don't know, to be honest," I said.
"Have you told Artemis what happened?" she asked and I nodded. "That's good. Do you love him?"
I sighed heavily. "I don't know, Nancy," I mumbled. "He's a great man. He's done so much for me. But I'm afraid."
"Of loving him?"
"Yeah. He's had plenty of opportunities to hurt me and he hasn't. So that says a lot about his character."
"Have you guys had sex?"
Her questions were very blunt but there was something about her that made me feel comfortable enough to answer her.
"No. We almost did but he stopped me." I blushed. "It's.... I can't decide if I want sex or if I don't."
She nodded seriously.
"I read in my psychology text book that women who are taken advantage of at a young age face that problem."
I stared at the floor. "I've had such awful experiences with men that I don't think I even know what love is."
She was about to say something but someone knocked on the door. We both looked up as it opened, revealing James.
"Hey, babe," he said. "Your show is on."
Nancy's eyes lit up. "Is it okay if I go?" she asked me. "I mean, we can keep talking but-"
"No, go ahead. I'll probably stay up here for a few minutes, though," I said to James. "Could you let Artemis know?"
He nodded. "There's a guest room if you think you'll be more comfortable."
I smiled. "Just as long as hookups don't come stumbling in."
He laughed. "There isn't any alcohol at this one. We've got underage kids here."
"That's very responsible."
Nancy hugged James around the waist. "That's James."
He smiled lovingly down at her and they went downstairs. I found the guest room further down the hall and shut the door. I stretched, thinking about Nancy and James. They looked perfect together and it was obvious that both of them were insanely in love with each other. I stood by the window for a while, watching snow fall. It was a week before Thanksgiving. The soup kitchen was probably preparing for the dinner they put on for us every year. I wanted to help but, after my last time there, I didn't think I'd be well accepted by those who came in for the food.
"Hey," Artemis whispered, coming into the room. He shut the door and I smiled at him. He kissed me. "How'd it go with Nancy."
"She's really nice," I said. "She told me about what happened to her."
He nodded, wrapping his arms around me. "She can sense who to open up to. I guess you're one of those people."
"I'm glad she did." I leaned into him. "I told her about me," I whispered. "It's really easy to talk to her."
He squeezed me a little. I inhaled his cologne and sighed in contentment. I closed my eyes, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart beat. He began to hum and rotated me on the spot. He put his hand on mine and I put my arms around his chest, linking my hands behind it. I didn't recognize the song but it sounded sweet coming from him.
I opened my eyes a little as we swayed.
"Do you love him?"
I thought back to when we first me. He had been incredibly rude. He changed, though, and then Julia happened. I remembered how he ran through the ice, nursed me back to health, and didn't blame me for what my father did. I thought of how much I enjoyed being with him and how empty I felt when I wasn't. He was my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night.
I looked up at him. He was smiling and staring at me. His lips were parted slightly as he hummed. I stood on my toes and kissed him. He kissed me back for a few seconds.
"What was that for?" he asked.
I swallowed thickly. "Because I love you."