SURFACE | 4

JEREMIAH | 4

Jeremiah immediately went into hero mode.
 
“Can you walk?”
 
When Kaiya didn’t respond, he rushed barefoot into the rain and put her arm around his shoulder leaning most of her bodyweight on him. She felt heavier than normal, like deadweight wrapped in sopping wet clothes. “C’mon, Kaiya, we’re almost inside. Just a few more steps.” With the kick of his foot, Jeremiah shut out the cold before slowly sitting Kaiya at the end of the brown leather couch.
 
He snatched his cell phone from the coffee table and sat close beside her on the couch’s arm, quickly dialing 911. Before the first ring, he felt Kaiya’s hand grab his wrist.
 
“No,” she whispered. There were no tears, no sniffing. She just stared at him, slowly blinking her eyelids as if she was too tired to lift them.
 
“But you need…”
 
“Please.”
 
It was like that was the only word she could get out. Her voice was hoarse and faint. Her clothes were hanging off her—the button-down was missing half of its buttons, one suspender was no longer attached to the twisted skirt around her waist, and her black tights had so many holes in them that it was hard to imagine how they were still on her body. What had happened to her?
 
Against his better judgment, when the emergency operator answered, Jeremiah calmly explained to her that it was a false alarm and the person did not need medical attention any longer.
 
Still in panic, he dialed his mother’s cell number. “Well, will you at least let me call my mother?”
 
His mother was the night shift charge nurse in the emergency room at Augustine’s Memorial in downtown—a quick fifteen-minute drive. He could get her there in less time if they left immediately and she wouldn’t have to wait to be seen because his mother would be ready. His mother would know just how to help Kaiya with little to no information. And Kaiya would trust his mother if not anyone else.
 
“No!” she took the phone from his hand and pressed ‘end’ before another ring. “You can’t tell anyone.”
 
Jeremiah exhaled in frustration, harshly rubbed his hands over his face multiple times before settling them on his jeans. He cornered himself on the edge, his wet clothes making a faint squeak when he faced her. She just stared at him and without a word to say, watched a single tear run down her right cheek and settle on her chin. Even with her dense, dark curls falling all around her face, he could tell that she was not looking at him but past him. Her breathing was slow and deep, as if every inhale and exhale counted toward keeping her still and calm. She did not seem bothered by her drenched clothes or the water that made puddles on the hardwood floor and seeped into the area rug.
 
With a sigh, Jeremiah walked behind the couch toward the staircase to get her a towel and hopefully find some clothes she would be able to fit from his mother’s room.
 
“Don’t leave me.”
 
“I’m just going to find you some dry clothes. You can barely walk.”
 
She caught grip of the end of his graphic tee as he passed between the back of the couch and the bar seating that extended into the walkway from the kitchen.
 
“Just stay with me.”
 
He paused with his back turned to her, attempting again to figure out what she needed him to do even if it went against what she wanted of him. Would it be better to get the clothes and leave her psychologically damaged after a trauma or just stay with her until his mother made it home?
 
His mother would have a better chance cleaning her wounds, anyway.
 
Jeremiah climbed over the back of the couch and pulled her body closer to his. He wrapped her in the motorcycle jacket he was going to wear when he left to meet her at the church and allowed her to nestle her body between his arm and his chest. He held on tight.
 
The television was on, an old episode of Rocket Power motherentarily distracted both of them. But he began to get fidgety. There was no way he could just sit still when his best friend was clearly hurt and most likely needed medical attention.
 
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Even if she had allowed him to call his mother, he would not be able to explain anything because he had no clue.
 
He felt her wipe away tears.
 
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” she shrugged her shoulders, “It’s already happened.”
 
He glanced down at her fiddling with the lone ring on the ring finger of her left hand. It was looked oddly shiny, an almost polished gold, with a single pear-shaped emerald sparkling at its center. It was the abstinence ring her mother gave her at her Sweet Sixteen birthday party; there was an entire wedding ceremony and all. That day she wore a lace ivory dress that was just enough of a party dress to satisfy her fashion taste yet had she worn a veil, it would have been mistaken for a beach wedding dress or baptism attire at the church. She was happy and excited to take that vow despite most of the church members’ assumptions that her mother coerced her into doing it. But that was Kaiya, always wanting to do the right thing. She told him earlier that week that she wanted to please God and she didn’t want to wait until she was old and worn out to do so.
 
He watched her slowly pull the ring off and hold it in the palm of her hand. She tightly closed her fist and crossed her arms around herself.
 
Jeremiah cleared his throat. “You didn’t want to.” He didn’t phrase it like a question or even state it as if he were surprised. He knew. He could clearly tell by the disarray of her clothes and hair, her demeanor. How she would not let him leave her alone even for a few minutes. He felt he had to say it to reassure her that he believed her, that there was no judgment coming from him.
 
She shook her head. Neither of them paid attention to Rocket Power any longer. It was background noise.
 
“You gonna tell me who?”
 
That was a dangerous question. Jeremiah had no plan now, but he was sure to think of something devious that would get him in to a lot of trouble but make sure this guy paid for every ounce of pain he put Kaiya through. He didn’t care. Whoever it was that hurt her was going to pay, if he had anything to do with it.
 
She curled deeper under his arm and buried her face in his chest. There wasn’t anymore cold air inside and their body heat combined made them more content to where they were on the leather. In their silence, he could hear the loud clap of thunder and heavy rainfall crash against the roof and windows. They weren’t going anywhere tonight.
 
He contemplated calling the church or someone who had RSVPed, but then that meant he would have to give them an explanation as to why he nor their host showed up to the party. Jeremiah simply left his phone on the end table next to them. They were smart people. They’d figure something out sooner or later.
 
 
 
BEFORE he knew it, both he and Kaiya had fallen asleep on the couch in damp clothes, his arm still tight around her body. He was beginning to sweat a little from their body heat and the leather. When he opened his eyes, his head was resting against the back of the couch and all he could see was the ceiling fan. Without moving his body his eyes roamed around the family room. All the lights in the room, the kitchen, and above the staircase were still on. His glasses were a bit blurry from the dried droplets of rain he never cleaned off after he brought Kaiya in. The television was still on, now playing a late night rerun of some show he knew he had seen before but couldn’t quite find the name in his mind.
 
He turned his head to his right and carefully reached for his cell phone on the end table next to Kaiya who was softly snoring with her head against his chest. He pressed the home button. Underneath the bright readout of 03:47AM, he saw the list of five voicemails, twelve missed calls, and eight text messages—all of which were from a few peeps in HGA, Deacon Allen, but mostly from his mother. He wasn’t even going to bother trying to call her back. She would be home soon enough.
 
He was tempted to kiss Kaiya’s forehead before going back to sleep, but decided against it. Just as he was about to make himself comfortable again, he heard keys jingling against the wooden door that led to the driveway where he found Kaiya.
 
As soon as his mother’s feet crossed the threshold, Jeremiah had a “shh” on his lips and slowly removed himself from under Kaiya, leaving her to lie on the couch.
 
“Jeremiah Nathan Rivera Perez.” His mother spoke quickly and in a tone that did not require her to be loud to know that she meant business. “I have called you at least six times. What is the use of you having a phone if you don’t ever answer it?”
 
“I’m sorry, Ma. I fell asleep.” He closed the door behind her and took the bags from work she carried on her arms and walked through the archway to place them on the kitchen counter. His mother followed and put her purse next to the bags.
 
“Who is that on the couch?” Kaiya moved as if summoned by the question but did not wake. “What is Kaiya doing here? I thought you two were supposed to go to that study party at the church?”
 
“We were,” Jeremiah took off his glasses and cleaned them with the end of his shirt, “but something happened.”
 
His mother only glanced at him as she put items from her bags away in the refrigerator behind her. With his back against the counter, Jeremiah rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses as if they were itching or trying to wake himself up from a dream. He hoped it was all just an extremely horrible nightmare that he would wake from and go on about his business.
 
He turned his head to his left through the archway, away from his mother and her preoccupation with the fridge, contemplating how he was supposed to break the news to his mother and not wake Kaiya.
 
“I think Kaiya was raped.”
 
His mother dropped the plastic bottle of water she had in her hand on the floor and simply looked at Jeremiah with one brown raised and her jaw tight. “And you called no one?”
 
“Ma, I tried, but she wouldn’t let me.”
 
He could tell his mother was badly attempting to contain her rising frustration. She stepped over the bottle without looking at him and held her hand up to quiet his speaking. “She wouldn’t let you? Miah, this is serious. You could’ve just called me.” He followed behind her thinking, I tried all of that, Ma. With his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans, he stood silent in the empty space between the couch and the bar stools as his mother gently shook Kaiya’s shoulder. “Mi hija…wake up, sweetie.”
 
Kaiya seemed to wake up with such clarity, almost like she had never gone to sleep. She still didn’t speak and had a tough time walking. When she looked at him Jeremiah bit the inside of his cheek, hoping that she knew he didn’t leave her to call his mother. He swallowed hard.
 
Afraid that he would do something else that his mother didn’t approve, like lift Kaiya too fast or touch a tender limb—or one that had to be examined and his touch would contaminate whatever evidence they might still have, he carefully helped his mother lift Kaiya from the couch and lead her upstairs to his mother’s room.
 
With his mother home and taking care of all the medical procedures he could not do, taking control of the situation, the shock of finding his best friend collapsed outside his house in the rain began to wear off. Kaiya would get the help that she needed and he could stop worrying—at least for now. There was still the question of who had raped her and if she was going to press charges against him. If she wasn’t going to do anything about it, Jeremiah was sure he would handle it for her.
 
After he and his mother got Kaiya to his mother’s bedroom and on the neatly made bed, he was pushed out of the room and made to sit waiting at the top of the staircase. He rested his head against the railing and closed his eyes, his palms together and vertical in front of his face.
 
He opened his mouth to softly whisper to the only other person with him. “Lord, I know you’re here and that you hear me and that you know everything, but I really don’t understand what is happening or why you let this happen to her. I just ask, please…please make it better. Please help Kaiya.”
 
 
 
IT wasn’t long before Jeremiah’s mother, still dressed in her lavender scrubs and sneakers, exited her room and slipped beside Jeremiah on the top step. She placed her cold hand on top of his; she had washed them. He unfolded from his position of prayer and removed his glasses from his face.
 
“How is she doing?”
 
His mother exhaled before answering. “She should be fine…physically. She’s sore, but mostly scared and hurt. I’ll call Denise in the morning and see if I can get a hold of her in Tokyo.” His mother’s hand was on top of his head, smoothing down his short cut hair, a method of calming him since he was a baby with lots of trouble going to sleep. “You still should have called me as soon as she got here. But she’ll be fine.”
 
Jeremiah fiddled with the rim of his glasses and tried to focus his eyes on the door to the driveway. His vision blurred trying to see that far. “Can I stay home today?”
 
His mother continued to soothe his anxiety. “Sure.” He did not look up at her. “You did good. Now try to get some rest.” She softly planted a kiss on his cheek before making her way down the stairs and toward the back of the house where his brother’s, Joey, room lay empty. “Good night.”
 
“Night.”
 
Jeremiah had no idea if Kaiya was awake or not. He ran to his room and grabbed the red and navy blue patchwork duvet off his bed and a pillow. “I’m right here, Kaiya,” he said through the keyhole. After making a pallet on the carpeted floor, he laid his head on the pillow and wrapped himself in the duvet with his back against the bedroom door. He refused to leave her alone.

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