LIAM was such an actor. He was so fake, but was obviously so good at pretending that he had everyone fooled except for Jeremiah…and now Kaiya. It was bad enough that he had chosen Jonathan and the wrestling team over Jeremiah freshman year and became an obnoxiously stereotypical jock for no reason. Then to make matters worse, he started hanging out and going to parties with Jonathan’s older brother, Westley, who had understanding of the word subtle when it came to his obsession with the “thug life” and all things gangsta rap (even when he wore the occasional preppy outfit to ease the minds of their neighbors); a lot of people already knew Westley was dealing drugs on the university campus and around town.
Liam’s casual, “I just came by to drop off homework in hopes you knew where Kaiya was,” the day after raping her was the icing on the cake. What was wrong with him?
Jeremiah could not believe that Liam had the audacity to even show up to his house asking for Kaiya in light of what he had done to her—as if nothing had happened. It took every ounce of self-control to keep Jeremiah from rushing through his front door and tackling Liam on the front porch. He could imagine himself, having already the upper hand due to the element of surprise, taking a strong right hook to Liam’s face and punching until he saw blood.
He didn’t have a desire to kill Liam, but he was moving pretty close to that much anger. Fortunately, for Liam, all he did was show up with homework and a serving dish. Had Liam said or done something else, Jeremiah was sure his last nerve would have been non-existent and the line would have been crossed.
“Is he gone?”
Jeremiah looked up from the bowl and homework assignment in his hands and saw Kaiya peep her head around the edge of the archway that separated the foyer from the dining room where she hid when she heard the knock on the door. Both thought it was his mom’s detective friend coming to take her statement.
“It was just Liam.”
She froze again, staring wide-eyed at him. “You didn’t tell him I was here, right?”
Jeremiah walked past her down the hallway and into the kitchen and placed the items on the bar counter. “Of course I didn’t. I just took the stuff while trying to keep myself from strangling him.”
She reached over the counter and grabbed his hand. “Please don’t do that. Don’t do anything that’ll get you in trouble…especially not on my account. You’ve already done more than enough.”
Kaiya’s facial expression was the same as it was when she showed up on his doorstep: the edges of her mouth curved down, her eyelids were low over her eyes as if she was half asleep, and she kept her head down. His anger subsided, somewhat. He desperately wanted to help her, wanted to figure out a way to get her from being so afraid to press charges and make Liam own up to what he had done. Then he would remember that much of his frustration came from his own vengeful desire to expose Liam for who he truly was. He wasn’t going to push her anymore, especially not now, not after the information he now knew.
THAT morning, his mother woke him up from his cramped position on the floor wrapped in his comforter and leaning on the wall. He had been pushed away from the door to his mother’s room, which was wide open, and it was empty. There was a glimmer of something on the dresser that caught his attention: Kaiya’s abstinence ring lay shiny, the emerald stone glistening beautifully, and unworn.
Jeremiah’s mother told him that Kaiya was already awake and in the shower and that he should probably get ready too. She was on her way to meet with her friend, Detective Abraham, to get advice on what she should do with Kaiya in this situation and give him Kaiya’s clothes. The one thing she suggested was going with Kaiya to the church to get her things.
As he laced up his shoes, he saw Kaiya standing in his doorway with her arms at her side. She was dressed in a pair of oversized gray sweatpants, a plain white v-neck that from its shape clearly came from his mother’s dresser, his black baseball hoodie and the pair of denim sneakers she wore the day before. Her hair, though still a bit frizzy from yesterday’s rain, had been brushed back into a low bun and she wore a colorful fabric headband. She stuffed her hands in her pockets as she waited and stared at the floor.
Jeremiah moved from his bed and wrapped his arms around her. She didn’t move or make a sound.
“We should go get your stuff.”
When they pulled up to the church, Kaiya kept her focus straight ahead, looking through the rain-covered windshield. She never glanced to look at him or to nod hello to Deacon Allen who came to unlock the multipurpose building.
“I’m not going in.” It was the first thing she said all morning.
Jeremiah shut off the car before opening the door. “You don’t have to. I’ll just be a minute,” he reached out to touch her, but changed his mind. She continued to look forward down the street.
“Hey, Jeremiah. How are you doing this morning?” Deacon Allen asked as he shook Jeremiah’s hand. “How is Kaiya? Some of the kids told me she was sick.”
“I’m doing fine. And she’s…,” Jeremiah glanced behind him at his car, “she’s getting better.”
“That’s good,” Deacon Allen responded as he handed over Kaiya’s tote bag. “I was worried when she didn’t call for me to lock up. She’s not one to do that. I had to run home after I opened for her and when I came back, she was gone. I’m glad Liam was here when she did leave.”
Jeremiah shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, I guess that was a good thing. But you know it’s not like Kaiya to just leave things. I’m pretty sure she was extremely sick. Thank you for her stuff.”
Deacon Allen nodded his head and waved in Kaiya’s direction again. “Let her know I’m praying for her to get better.”
Jeremiah lifted up the bag and thanked Deacon Allen before climbing back in the car. He heard Kaiya sniff and watched as a tear slowly fell down her cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her hand.
He bit his lip before speaking. “How about we grab some breakfast?”
Jeremiah’s first idea, IHOP, was denied: Kaiya did not like the idea of being out in the open and around people. Also, she wasn’t quite ready to go home. So they went through the drive-thru at McDonald’s, ordered a sausage McGriddle and an egg white biscuit with tea and orange juice, then drove to Memorial Park where they parked in front of the duck pond and sat in the car as it began to sprinkle.
For a while, Jeremiah quietly ate his breakfast. He noticed her watching the raindrops out of the window while she massaged her leg, a constant, painful reminder. Her food was still in the bag, sitting on her lap untouched since he gave it to her.
“You really should try to eat something,” he whispered. No response. If she did not want to talk or eat, he wasn’t going to force her.
Then she began sobbing. Though he could’ve guessed it was coming, she was so quiet that this sudden outburst startled him. Her crying was so deep and hard that she almost hyperventilated. He had to pull her close to him for her to calm down enough for him to understand what she said.
“Why does this keep happening to me?”
He had no clue as to what she was talking about. He continued to hug her as her tears created a large wet spot on his shirt.
“Why? Why me?”
He didn’t know how to respond. He had the same question.
He sighed. “Kaiya, tell me what’s going on in your head.” He wiped the tears from her face. “I don’t know what you want me to say or what I can do.”
“I’m sorry,” she whimpered.
“Don’t apologize. Stop apologizing to me. You didn’t do anything. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
She held her hands over her face. “This isn’t the first time though,” she whispered.
“I don’t know what you mean, Kaiya.”
She looked in his eyes and took a deep breath. “I was molested when I was younger. A lot. By more than one person.” Jeremiah bit his bottom lip. He gently stroked her hands, contemplating what to say to her. “And no, I’ve never told my mom.”
“Why not?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I felt dirty. I didn’t want anyone to know. And now this? Were my clothes too tight? Was my skirt too short? Did I give him the wrong impression? I mean, yeah, I liked him, but I never asked for this.”
Jeremiah, speechless, let her talk. Since they met, she was never one to really flirt, never wore skimpy outfits, and barely wore any makeup unless she was told to do so by her mother. She didn’t act any different around the guys she crushed on, especially during the times when she meant business.
She cared for everyone like a mother. She listened to people when they shared their problems with her, actually listened and kept things confidential. She watched out for people, especially the little ones. All the things she did for the church. Why would anyone want to rape her? Why would anyone even try to do it? Especially to her?
“Are you gonna tell me who did this to you?” Jeremiah finally spoke.
She looked down at her hands. “Only if you promise not to tell anyone.”
Jeremiah scoffed. “Why are you protecting this bastard? Why won’t you make him pay?”
“Because of who he is. It would involve too many people. Too many people would get hurt.”
“What about you getting hurt Kaiya? This guy raped you!”
“I know that! But…”
He calmed down, noticing that she was ready to burst into tears again. Reminding her of what happened was becoming too much for her. He softly took her hands in his.
“But what, Kaiya? What?”
She averted his eyes. “I-i-it,” she moved her body around in the seat, crossing and uncrossing her feet, “it was Liam.”
Jeremiah held his breath until he couldn’t hold it any longer. Liam? How could he? Why would he? What happened? What? Sure he was the jerk jock now, but this was just too far. All the girls that would have gladly opened their legs to him, in and out of the church without anyone telling, and he goes and forces himself on Kaiya? Jeremiah didn’t understand. Had Liam gone crazy?
Still in shock, Jeremiah just sat in the driver’s seat, watching the rainfall.
“I’LL be fine, Mom. Really,” Kaiya said.
She was finally able to reach her mother in Tokyo over Skype’s calling system. Her mother wasn’t in a place to video call, but after the message Jeremiah’s mother left the night before, her mother had called multiple times to get the details.
“No, you don’t have to fly back now. I don’t want you to miss out on your opportunity.” From the kitchen, he watched her pace the living room floor with the phone to her ear, smoothing her hair back with the other hand. Though he heard what she told her mother, he was still trying to process all the things she told him in the car and Liam coming by his house. “I’m being honest. Madrina already said I could stay here with her and Miah until you come back. Yes, she has me talking to a detective. I will, Mom. I won’t go anywhere alone, I promise. Okay. I love you, too. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“She said you could stay?”
Kaiya nodded with a roll of her eyes as she entered the kitchen. “As long as I talk to that detective guy and promise her that I won’t go anywhere by myself.”
Jeremiah opened the refrigerator for her. “It’s just precaution, Kaiya. If I were her, I’d be ready to come back, too. I’d be on the first plane smoking; forget about a job.”
She pulled out a large gallon of ginger ale and poured herself a glass. “I’ll get over this just like I got over everything else.”
Jeremiah looked at her with one eyebrow raised. “You still haven’t told her about the other times?”
Kaiya sipped from the glass. “I just want people to stop asking me about this. I don’t want to talk about this or anything else anymore. It’s over. It happened. There’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
“But there is, Kaiya. All you have to do is tell who—”
“I want it to be over,” she said slowly. “I don’t want to think about it. So just…please don’t tell anyone what I told you.”
“Kaiya, I can’t keep this a secret.”
“Please. I really just don’t want to think about it anymore.”

~ (&) ~

“Hurry up, Kaiya! I will eat this popcorn and start the movie without you,” Jeremiah hollered from the living room as he plopped down on the leather sectional directly in front of the television with a large bowl of popcorn in his lap. “I’m serious! How long does it take you to shower?”
It had been two weeks and a couple days since Kaiya basically moved in. Ms. Denise and Jeremiah’s mother thought it was their best option until Ms. Denise was able to return from Tokyo: an adult would be there to keep an eye on Kaiya and everyone knew for sure that Jeremiah would watch out for her at school and such, which he did as he said he would. He wouldn’t allow her to be alone unless she needed that privacy. From the night she showed up at his house soaking wet and hurt, he promised he would never leave her alone.
That also included the past three Sundays she pleaded with Jeremiah’s mother not to go to church. By the second Sunday, his mother figured it out that the person who violated Kaiya was there; but she was still unsure of whom it was. “Make sure you two get some scripture,” his mother would respond with saddened eyes focused on Kaiya, who would return a half smile. So they did read, Kaiya hoping that they would find the answers to her questions and Jeremiah pleading to God that they would.
“Girl, I’m giving you one minute!”
He heard the water from the shower in the upstairs bathroom between his and his mother’s room shut off. Kaiya surely hadn’t heard him call her if the water was on because that also meant she was playing music, something she had been doing since staying at his place. She told him it helped her think and somewhat deal with what happened.
Since the incident, Jeremiah figured if he never changed the way he treated Kaiya, it would help her work through her emotions. Or at least feel a little normal. She wouldn’t have to re-live the moment, wouldn’t have to talk about it, like she asked. And he didn’t have to watch his best friend wallow in sorrow. He thought that if they acted as if the situation never happened at home, she would be able to go to school without fearing the worst would come to her. He was grateful that the classes she did share with Liam she also shared with him. Jeremiah couldn’t say anything about the rape, but he sure as his name was Jeremiah could keep Liam from touching her again.
Before he could call for her again, the bathroom door opened. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a flash of Kaiya as she ran to his mother’s room, the room she had been sleeping in.
“Miah!” she hollered. “Could I borrow a shirt?”
He laughed to himself as he trotted up the stairs to his room, twisted the little knob of the floor lamp closest to the door and grabbed his oversized baseball camp tee from his drawer, one that she had borrowed before. He had mind to give it to her as a gift or have it ready whenever she had need of it at his place in the future. She wore it more times than he did.
He crossed the hallway in a hurry and knocked a little harshly on his mother’s door. “Hurry up, girl! I want to watch this movie before the sun comes up. I’ll leave the shirt on the knob.” She didn’t respond for a long time. “Did you hear me? I’m very serious about this movie.” He noticed the door was a bit open and still rushing, came into the room with one hand covering his eyes.
He heard Kaiya laugh. “I’m still wearing a towel.”
Jeremiah shook his head. With his eyes still covered, he tiptoed across the white carpet to the edge of the bed where he noticed the end of his mother’s orange duvet and placed the shirt on top of it.
“The shirt’s right here. I’ll let you get dressed, and please don’t take long.”
With caution he began to back out of the room but then saw her bare feet meet his. She was quiet. He felt her hand softly touch the one that was over his eyes and pull it down. His eyes met hers and all he could see was the perfect oval outline of her face, only covered partially by her black curls. His heart beat a bit faster in his chest and he felt heat spread around his face and neck. He swallowed. Her mahogany skin glistened under the light and from the lingering water drops on her body. All he could smell was the vanilla and brown sugar shower gel she must have used and lingering hint of cotton candy in her hair. She held up her towel with her right hand in the middle of her chest.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Kaiya stood on the tips of her toes and moved closer to his face with her eyes shut. He now had to look down at her and attempted to look away. He couldn’t see anything past her face. She was so beautiful without makeup. He didn’t blink. He watched her lips part slightly before they touched his.
His eyes closed as he kissed her back. His entire body felt electric. His arms wrapped around her out of instinct. With every second that passed, the kiss became more passionate.
Then, without warning, she stopped. He opened his eyes and saw her mouth drop open and her eyes grow large in horror as she put her hand over mouth.
“Oh my God. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she kept repeating as she turned away from him and walked across the room to the where the mirror hung above the potted plants and oak chest in the corner. “I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry. I-I-don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sorry.”
Jeremiah licked his lips before rubbing his forefinger across them, thinking. Then he moved behind her, keeping his eyes on her in the mirror. While looking down, she continued to hold on to the towel around her body that seemed to fall around her hips and bottom following the exact same curves. Her pear shape was more apparent to him from this angle. But it wasn’t like he hadn’t noticed her shape before; the weight loss only made it more prevalent.
He moved her hair from her shoulders. “Don’t apologize.” She turned to face him, still looking down at his feet. He caressed her face with both hands and made her focus on him. “I’ve wanted to kiss you for almost three years now.”
He brought his lips to hers again and gently pecked them continuously. As if following some sort of recipe to the art of kissing, he then parted her lips with his tongue and met hers. He felt her body grow heavy as he leaned against her and she rested on the end of the dresser. He then remembered where they were. If his mother caught them kissing, in her bedroom, with Kaiya only in a towel…she would have more than a fit. This was not at all what she had in mind when she agreed to keep an eye on Kaiya by allowing her to stay with them. Then again, it wasn’t until now that her decision might pose as a problem.
He stopped.
“Not here,” he whispered.
He took her hand then led her to his room. He could still hear the television on downstairs. For the first time in years, he was somewhat glad his mother worked nights at the hospital and Joey had gotten married and moved out.
The floor lamp in the space next to his door was still on from when he got the t-shirt—that was now left behind in his mother’s room—showing his unmade dark grey and green bedroom. It was never really neat, but never dirty, just somewhat unorganized—unlike how Joey kept his room when he lived here. There were a few unfolded clean clothes dropped at the opening of his closet and at the foot of his bed. Skyline photos of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Las Vegas hung on the dark green accent wall on the left side of his bed where the covers were already pulled back from that morning. All his shelves were stacked with books, photos of his mother, grandparents, baby photos of him and Joey. Some of his deejay equipment was sprawled over his L-shaped desk in the far right corner. His computer was on, his latest music project in colorful parts across the screen. It was a song he was working on with Kaiya. He had hopes the distraction would change her outlook on her situation.
“It’s nice to know you’re not as messy as you used to be.”
He smiled, still holding her hand and sat down on his bed. She stood over him and let go of the towel when he laced his fingers with hers. He watched it slowly unravel and reveal her naked body. It was just as he had imagined. She attempted to move her arms to cover herself and pick up the towel, but he kept her hands still. To him, even her light stretch marks were in the right place.
“You’re beautiful.” She glanced away. “I’m serious.”
This was way past the time for them to stop. Yet, he wanted to keep going. He wanted to do more, show her more of him.
He and Kaiya had all these talks about how good it was for them to wait until marriage, enjoy sex the right way, the way God wanted them to. He remembered once how in depth she had explained the science and psychology of it and how that clearly showed that God had created something to keep a husband and wife together, not only just to procreate. It was the highest level of intimacy that human beings could share on this earth, which was why the Bible used the word “know,” and only God could know every person in the world at a higher level. She said it was like a little piece of Him that He gave for husband and wife to share with one another and become one.
They even had a conversation, just after HGA watched a TEDx-like talk given by a former R&B singer about sex, about how explosive their first time with their respective spouses was meant to be. Similar to the speaker, they discussed all the built up energy they had, how they would remember their first nights forever, and how they would be recreating those feelings with their spouses over and over again, keeping them together. That was definitely her dream and she talked about it with such zeal that it helped him get past his fear of being ridiculed by his friends for being a virgin and actually wanting to wait until he found his wife.
Then Liam happened.
They hadn’t talked about anything Liam or sex since his mother dropped off her clothes at the police station and Kaiya met with his mother’s detective friend. She refused to say who had taken away her dream and begged Jeremiah not to tell. The whole situation had surely shattered her view of everything.
And now, all Jeremiah felt was the heat and the urge to touch Kaiya. He felt the desire to give to her what he knew she couldn’t give to him. He pulled down and she straddled his body, sitting in his lap. He began to plant kisses on her neck and chest and caress her in his arms. He heard her let out a small moan which only intensified his feelings. Slowly, she removed his glasses and placed them on the nightstand beside his bed. After they both removed his shirt and tossed it to the floor, he brought his kisses back to her lips.
It wasn’t long before he found himself on top of her, stripped down to only his boxers and between her propped up knees and thighs. She pushed herself up to kiss him again, but he paused.
“What?” she whispered.
He gave her a half-smile, taking in her entire body. He pulled her left wrist to his mouth and kissed down her arm before placing it around his neck.
“I wanna make you feel good. I want to replace every pain and hurt that he caused, that anyone caused you.” He focused directly into her eyes. “I love you, Kaiya. I do. And you know I mean every word.” He could see her thinking, a half smile forming on her lips as she caressed the back of his head and neck. “But I won’t…if you don’t want me to.”
Kaiya gave a small laugh, moving a little under him. “If I didn’t want you to, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.” She gave him a full smile and moved her hair from her face.
Without hurrying, he leaned over and pecked her forehead, the tip of her nose, and then her lips. He pulled her legs up around his waist and steadily slipped in, watching her face. She opened her mouth a bit as they both inhaled deeply. They exhaled simultaneously and she smiled again at him, biting her bottom lip and letting her eyes close.
He couldn’t help but smile back. He watched her grab hold of his sheets and felt her cross her ankles. He kept his focus on her the entire time, taking note of every sound, movement, blink, and breath she made. He kissed her neck and chest in between his movements and allowed her to grab his arms, hold on to his body and move freely with him. He was making her feel better, feel good. And even in his mind, he couldn’t describe what he was feeling.
All his reservations about where things were going between him and Kaiya were moved aside for the moment like the pile of his clothes and Kaiya’s towel made on the floor next to his bed. His brain made room for what was happening now as it was being etched into his memory. He was making love to Kaiya, in his room, on his bed. The dim lighting was just enough to enjoy his view of the beauty he had always noticed. The sounds and rhythm of their breathing and her voice repeating his name in his ear, heightening his sensitivity to everything—the warmth of Kaiya’s body as she pulled him closer to her and tightened her grip around his neck and waist, the sweat forming on his forehead, the texture of the wood on his headboard, the pillow soft feeling of her hair against his skin. He was giving himself to her and she was doing the same and that was all that mattered. He couldn’t stop.
Jeremiah had never noticed just how much he wanted to be with Kaiya. He had no clue as to what changed in her mind that made her desire him so strongly. He never imagined it would ever get this far, especially with being friend-zoned early in their relationship. Her affection always seemed to be captured by someone else. Most days, he found himself wondering if there was something wrong with him, which would give her the reason why he couldn’t be in the position of the other guys. Other days, he figured there would be a day when they were older, she would finally realize how much she loved him too and they’d end up married with a couple of kids living in some random suburb or college town—and all he had to do was wait for that day.
He questioned: was that day now? Had it really come to the point where he and Kaiya had mutual feelings? Everything felt so good and so perfect—he didn’t want it to stop. And since this was real, did it mean what he thought it meant?
When all had calmed down, Jeremiah finished the way he started: he kept his eyes on Kaiya, moving with care and watching for her reassurance that it was what she desired. Her eyes were closed, but her mouth curled up into a smile.
“How do you feel?” he whispered in her ear, still breathing heavily. She nodded “yes” in response, reaching for his hand as he brought the sheets over their bare bodies and lay between her and the wall. He turned her head to face him and planted another kiss on her lips. “I love you, Kaiya Marie Parker.”
She opened her eyes a little, still holding on to his hand. She turned her body away from him, brought his arm around her and curled into his form. She kissed his bicep as he held her closer to him.
He closed his eyes and his pecked her neck before drifting off to sleep inhaling her scent, feeling her heartbeat, and listening to her breathe. He had Kaiya wrapped in his arms and for now, that was enough.

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