I wake up in a cold sweat most nights, and I think it’s happening again.
I think he’s in my bedroom, and I can feel him running his hands all over my body. He’s rubbing my back, squeezing my butt, and trying to push his fingers down into where the tightly wrapped blanket makes a V, where my legs meet. He tries to roll me onto my back again and again, but I have my arms locked at my sides and my hands prayer-like across my breasts. My legs are pushed together and slippery from sweat, and I’m as stiff as a corpse. . . .
I grit my teeth and force myself out of the nightmare. I roll onto my back, unlock my hands, and open my eyes to prove that I am safe in my bedroom, just down the hall from my father and stepmother. The bathroom light stays on all night for my extra reassurance. I snake my hand from beneath the covers and rub the rough cedar paneling, then pull the comforter up to my chin, turn onto my side, and align my body with my dog Emma’s. She paddles her feet, and I know she’s chasing rabbits in her dreams.
The memories intrude again. I groan in frustration and pull Emma against me, hugging her hard. She lifts her head and, if a dog is capable of giving a dirty look, gives me one. She jumps down, circles once on the floor right next to the bed, and emits a weary sigh as she closes her eyes and tries to catch up with that elusive rabbit.
I slowly breathe in and out as I stare at the white ceiling fan spinning shadows, and once again, it’s as if I am falling into that place—my old bedroom in Northside. . . .
My mother’s asleep across the hall. My stepfather Charlie is standing over me in the night, and I’m frozen.
I close my eyes tight and hold my breath. My heart’s racing, and I feel nothing. I think of nothing but being numb, and I am nothing—nothing but a shell encased in a cocoon of blankets. My head fills with a whoosh-ing sound, like when you put a seashell up to your ear. I hear his ragged breathing and the tiny groans he emits once in a while. Why won’t he leave me alone? Where is my mother?
In the daytime, I always promise myself that when he comes in the night, I’ll at least try to call for my mother. But when it’s happening in the dark, I’m paralyzed with fear and cannot find my voice.
Many nights, I escape his touch by sleeping in my closet, hiding behind the clothes on the lower rod. The heat’s unbearable, and I hold my breath so he won’t hear me. I always think I hear his footsteps on the carpet in my bedroom, even when he isn’t there. Every nerve in my body is on edge; I’m convinced he’s going to open the closet door any second and turn on the light.
Sweat slides down my legs as I wrap my arms tight around my knees, trying to make myself as small as I can. I think I feel a draft; I’m not sure if it’s the perspiration running down my face or if, instead, my worst fear has come true and he’s discovered me. I loosen my grip on my knees enough to reach out and pull the clothes tighter around me, then check and double-check that my feet are still covered.
Pitch. Black. Darkness. I bend as close to the floor as I can and lay my head against the carpet. My eyes want to close, but I won’t allow it. I use two fingers to part the curtain made by my winter coat and the pink, fuzzy robe that Nanny gave me for Christmas. I stare hard at the thin line of space between the door and the carpet, thinking that if I wish hard enough, I can pull the sun up and make it daylight so he will not come. I blink repeatedly, trying to focus my eyes on the pencil-thin gap, watching for any sign of morning.
When I think I see some light, I unwind my feet from the clothes and crawl from the back of the closet to the door. I don’t stand up yet; I allow my fingers to walk up the door and quietly turn the doorknob. But this is difficult to do while trying to stay hunkered down in a crouch.
Tension. Spring-loaded tightness. What if I only imagined the sunlight under the door? Mom and Charlie say I can’t tell my dreams from reality; what if they’re right? What if I open the door and see him, his white underwear looking blue in the moonlight, standing at my bedside?
I close my eyes and bow my head. “Please, God,” I whisper, hoping that Jesus or Allah or Jehovah or Somebody Up There is listening now—even though I know that He must not have been paying attention since I was nine years old, when Charlie started touching me and I started praying for help. I pause my shaking hand halfway up the door. Maybe I’ll just go back behind the clothes. But what if I am right and it is morning, and it’s time to get ready for school? I have a math test today, and I still need to study for it. I hold my breath, close my eyes, and twist the doorknob. The cool air of my bedroom hits my face.
I was right; the morning sun is real. He won’t come in the light. It’s early yet. I get ready for school as silently as I can. Then, fully dressed, I set my alarm to go off in thirty minutes. I crawl back into bed, burrow under the covers, and close my eyes. I feel my body relax for the first time since sunset the night before.
My clock radio clicks on, and a morning show host tells me that it’s going to be a beautiful day.
I walk into the kitchen for breakfast. I say nothing to Charlie, just glance at him as I walk by.
“You’re such a bitch in the morning,” Charlie says, looking up from his breakfast. “No man is ever going to want to marry you.”
“Wipe that go-to-hell look off your face,” Mom tells me.
“There’s no look,” I say dully, but inside I feel like screaming. I wish I could crawl out of my skin and kill someone—me. It’s an exercise in self-control not to grab a kitchen knife and stab myself in the neck. I want to die. I don’t even know why I want to hurt myself so much, but I do. I feel like a ticking time bomb.
Mom slaps my cheek hard. “There. I wiped it off for you,” she says.
“I didn’t even know I had any kind of look on my face!”
“Bullshit!” Charlie says. He rises, throws his plate of food into the sink, and storms out of the kitchen.
“Way to go, Ashley Nicole,” Mom says.
Just the start of another day in the Baker household. . . .
Thank God, I don’t live there any more. I’m sure I would have killed myself by now. Even though Charlie broke my arm a couple of months ago, when he and my mom showed up here in Patience to take me home one night and I told him I wouldn’t go, that visible scar of what he did to me is nothing compared to the ones nobody can see.
My name is Ashley Nicole Asher. My parents got married young because they had to. They thought that making my first and last names sound so similar was cute. The Nicole in the middle inspired Charlie to meld my first and middle names into his nickname for me: Ash-Hole. What a guy.
I guess my mom and my father, David, didn’t actually have to get married. My grandparents, Nanny and Papaw, weren’t enthusiastic about their eighteen-year-old daughter marrying a nineteen-year-old fledgling mechanic, the son of a father he’d never known and a woman who changed husbands as often as she changed her underwear. My grandfather, a doctor, arranged for one of his friends to give my mom an abortion, but when my dad heard about that, he talked my mom into running off with him to get married.
They landed in the tiny East Texas town of Patience, where my dad’s older brother Frank had settled on fifty acres of land that’s been in the Asher family for generations. Uncle Frank’s still here; he and David own Asher Automotive, which operates out of a barn-like shop in the pasture up the hill from our house. Frank’s a single dad to my cousin Stephen, who’s eleven. They live on the other side of the acreage from us.
When I was three months old, my mom, who’d had enough of my dad’s drinking and quick temper, took off for her hometown of LaSalle, a suburb of Dallas. My dad never went after her or tried to see me, and if Child Protective Services hadn’t called him to come get me last May, I probably never would’ve gotten to know him. I wouldn’t have found out that he’s never touched a drop of alcohol since the day my mom took me and left or that he went through counseling to get his rage under control.
My mom remarried when I was eight years old. Things went pretty well at first, but a year after she married Charlie, he started getting creepy with me. It just got worse from there. It was like he thought the only reason I existed was to satisfy something in him—something I still don’t understand. I’m learning, though, that trying to figure out why he did that stuff to me is pointless. I mean, did I ask for it? I was nine years old when it started, and sure, I grew boobs pretty early. But I was just a child, and Dr. Matt, my therapist, told me that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. My mom said I flirted with Charlie, but I don’t think little kids even understand flirting. See what I mean? It’s crazy-making stuff.
For six years, Charlie became more and more aggressive. He went from watching me while I showered to touching me while I slept to what happened last May, when my mom went to pick up pizza. I tried to get her to take me with her, but she wouldn’t. She told me I had to stay home and “play” with Charlie, who’d been squirting us with a water gun he’d found on one of his construction job sites.
I remember that he chased me; I know he tackled me. Then I blacked out. And when I came to, the lower half of my body was covered in blood. I still don’t remember what happened while I was unconscious. Sometimes little pieces of it blip through my mind; it’s as if I once had a box containing a million puzzle pieces and somebody threw the box in the air, making the pieces fly everywhere. Now I’m trying to catch those pieces and assemble the puzzle in midair. I told my mom what I did know for sure: that Charlie had been molesting me for years. And she didn’t do a damn thing about it.
The next day at school, I was pretty much a mess, and when my best friend Lisa noticed how spaced out I was, she made me tell our theater teacher, Mrs. Chapman, what had happened. Mrs. C. called Child Protective Services and repeated what I had told her. Within a couple of hours, I was at the hospital and the rape exam showed that he did. Rape me, that is. The hospital called the police, and Charlie was arrested. Then CPS started trying to figure out what to do with me.
Before I knew it, my dad—who I couldn’t have picked out of a lineup—showed up in the CPS offices to bring me to Patience, and I’ve been here ever since. I moved in with David and his wife, Beverly, and her son, Ben, who my dad adopted when Ben was two—he’s twelve now. Our house is a log cabin that David, Bev, Ben, Frank, and Stephen built several years ago, and it’s in the middle of a forest.
I didn’t have a choice about moving here; it was either David or the emergency shelter. Nanny and Papaw were so pissed when CPS called them and said that Charlie did those nasty things to me that they threatened to sue the State of Texas. They sure weren’t about to take me in.
When the police investigated to see whether I’d been raped, my mom told the police that I was a slut with a track record of sleeping with a ton of boys and that the rape kit found tears and bruising in my “region” because I liked it rough. Makes me sick to think about it—not only because my mom’s the one who said it but because it’s not at all true. I admit I’m not a virgin any more, but it’s not like I chose to have a thirty-seven-year-old man tackle me and rape me in the front and in the back--they filled me in on this little detail at the hospital, too. I’d never even held hands with a boy, much less had sex with somebody I actually liked. And now, to be honest, the idea of having anybody touch me at all just creeps me out. I’m still working on not cringing when David puts his arm around me, even though I know he’s not going to be like Charlie.
When I moved to Patience, even though nobody was coming in my room at night to mess with me any more, I still hid in my pine wardrobe (because I have no closet), whenever things freaked me out. Over the past few months, I’ve started to realize that no amount of hiding works, seeing as how the stuff inside my head is impossible to hide from. If I could manage to never sleep, then I’d be home free—maybe.
Another thing I found out is that I’m mentally ill. I figured this out because every week, I see Dr. Matt, who is a mental health professional. Besides that, when I google stuff like post-traumatic stress disorder, it pops up under the heading Mental Illness.
Last Fourth of July, Charlie drunk-dialed me; he told me that I’d broken my mother’s heart and that because of me, she’d never be the same person. I broke apart inside as the knowledge that she didn’t care that he’d raped me clashed with my fear that what Charlie was saying was true. Following that phone call, I held a knife with its sharp point right between my breasts and begged David to let me die. “It’s too hard!” I told him. “It hurts too much!”
Ben was there, too, and what I did terrified him.
It’s embarrassing even to think about that now.
Dr. Matt told me that suicide is a despicable thing to do to people who love you. He told me that if I kept thinking up ways to die, he, my dad, and Bev would have to send me to a place where I couldn’t hurt myself. That got my attention.
He helped me to start seeing that clawing my skin, and tearing out my hair and thinking about suicide were like extreme temper tantrums I was having in reaction to not getting what I needed from my mother.
I’ve always been book smart; I learned the terms for what was happening to me—molestation, sexual abuse, incest—by snooping through the books in the school counselor’s waiting room when I was an office aide in seventh grade. So when Dr. Matt tells me I’m having “tantrums” because I’m angry at my mom, I get it on a book level. But really getting it—like the way I understand that it rains because water droplets in the clouds get too heavy and fall to the ground? No. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. The way my mom is just hurts me so much, I can’t even describe it. When I’m upset, all that book thinking goes right out the window, and Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, or Somebody Up There only knows what I’ll do when that happens.
Right after I moved to Patience, I enrolled in an English II summer school class that Bev taught. She used this cool book, Ironman, by Chris Crutcher, to teach us how to write in response to literature. To be clear, I didn’t take English II in summer school because I’d failed it in Northside; No, I took it to get ahead—because, let’s face it, I’m an ION: an Invisible Outsider Nerd.
The popular kids always peg me as being really smart, even though I’m not. But I love books and writing, and besides that, what else did I have to do with my time? Reading about somebody else’s problems was a lot easier than dealing with the shit-storm of my own life. Still is. In Bev’s class, we learned a lot about literature, writing, and ourselves. And though you’d never think we would all have that much in common, we bonded in a way that I’d never experienced in a class. Besides learning how to write an expository essay, we discovered that all people are pretty much the same: they just want to be understood and accepted for who they are. Bev told us on the first day of summer school that studying Ironman was a quest for truth—and she meant it.
Ironman wasn’t like any other novel I’d ever read in school. For one thing, the characters talked and acted like real teenagers. They swore sometimes, and they talked about having sex. The main character, Bo Brewster, had problems with anger. He kept calling his football coach an asshole. He fought with his dad, but he was close to his teacher, who it turns out was homosexual. I’d never read a book that had a gay character. And Bo’s girlfriend was sexually abused; I’d never read a book with a character who went through that, either. Her home life sounded a lot like the one I’d just escaped, and it made me feel less alone, like less of a freak. Even though Ironman wasn’t on our district’s approved book list, Bev chose it because she knew it’d draw in the kids who were taking the class because they’d failed it. And I suspect she thought it might help me, too.
Mr. Walden, the principal of Patience High School, had given Bev creative license in that summer school class because she’d only found out at the last minute that she’d have to teach it. As long as we learned to respond to literature by writing an essay, Mr. Walden didn’t really care how the class was taught. Bev was a longtime teacher in the district; her students always scored high on the state standardized test, and he trusted her judgment. That all changed when some people got upset about Ironman for the very same reasons that I loved it, and then things got uncomfortable for Mr. Walden.
Right before the school year started, Bev and I were working in her classroom. We were hanging a border above the white board when Mr. Walden’s secretary, Marvella Brown, tapped on Bev’s door. She stepped into the classroom, wafting the overwhelming scent of Chantilly. She cleared her throat, then said in a very loud, nasty-sounding voice, “Mrs. Asher, I just want to make sure you know that you’re expected to use district-approved books in your class this year, not the sort of filth you taught in summer school.” Marvella had a funny look on her face, and she kept jerking her head toward the hallway as she spoke.
Bev’s eyes got huge, and her voice shook a little as she responded: “Well, Marvella, I’m glad you told me how you really feel. At least now I know where I stand with you.”
Marvella put an index finger to her lips. “Ssh,” she hissed, then tilted her head, listening.
We heard a CRASH! in the hallway, then Mr. Walden’s voice: “Gabe! Why’d you leave that ladder right here in the middle of the hallway? Now look at this mess!”
“Uh, I’m sorry, Mr. Walden. I was just changin’ the light bulbs. Are you okay? Did ya . . . did ya stub your toe or somethin’?” Gabe asked.
“No, I didn’t stub my toe, I—just clean up this mess! I oughta dock you for those bulbs, you dumb son of a…” As he continued his hallway tirade, I moved to stand behind Bev. I started rolling the border strips, twisting them into spirals, unrolling them, then re-rolling them. After a while, it sounded as if Mr. Walden was leaving our wing. He was still yelling at Gabe, but his voice became fainter as he got farther away.
Realizing that the principal was out of earshot, Marvella turned back to us with her hand clapped over her mouth, stifling a giggle. She listened for a moment longer, then whispered, “Ashley, could you close the door?”
I peeked around Bev at Marvella.
“Go ahead, Ashley. It sounds like he’s gone,” Bev said.
I stepped into the hallway. Gabe had righted his ladder and was sweeping up the broken light bulbs.
“Is the coast clear?” Marvella whispered hoarsely.
“Gabe’s in the hallway, but nobody else.” I closed the door and slid into a desk in the row closest to Bev’s. Nervous, I started tracing the boxy outline of a panther’s head that someone had carved into the desk.
“Whew!” Marvella exhaled. She looked around for a place to sit that was big enough to hold her and finally hiked herself up onto the edge of Bev’s desk, exhaling again. She plucked a tissue from the box on Bev’s desk and dabbed her forehead. “I’m sorry, Bev. I didn’t mean a word of that.”
“Then, why—?” Bev asked, shaking her head, her eyebrows furrowed.
“Because that jackass was in the hall the entire time—” Marvella began.
“Marvella, you’re going to have to let go of your anger with Gabe at some point,” Bev said.
She was referring to Marvella’s son, Gabe, a tenth-grade dropout and all-around disappointment who’d gotten tangled up with a white supremacist group for a while. Last Fourth of July, he and another man had nearly beat to death Jasper Freeman, a mentally disabled African American man who used to be a fixture on the streets of Patience. When Marvella found out about it, she nearly twisted Gabe’s ear clean off. He was put on probation in exchange for agreeing to testify against the other man. Gabe’s been keeping a low profile ever since, behaving himself and working as a custodian at the high school. I think he’s even more afraid of his mother than a potential cellmate named Bubba, and maybe with good reason.
“Not my jackass, Bev.” Marvella said. “The other one, our esteemed leader. He made me give you that speech. And he was in the hallway, listening, just to be sure.”
“So you don’t think the book I used in summer school was filth?”
“Heavens, no, Bev! But Walden’s serious as a heart attack about you stickin’ to the approved book list. And I just sent in an order for exit test workbooks. I think he’s gonna expect you to do a lot of drill-and-kill this year.”
“Drill-and-kill?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“It’s where you drill students so much on test prep, you kill their love of learning,” Bev said. She walked around her desk, opened a top drawer, and tossed her stapler into it. She stood behind her desk, rolling her chair back and forth. “There’s a lot more to learning than that damned test! “
“You’re preachin’ to the choir, Bev. But Walden’s not thinkin’ that way. He’s just determined to keep you under control.”
Bev sat down hard in her chair, ran her fingers through her hair, and said bitterly, “Oh, yes, I’m such a rebel. God, that guy’s a—”
“Jackass?” Marvella and I said together.
Bev managed a tiny, rueful smile.
“Well, I found a way to keep him out of my hair.” Marvella reached into the pocket of her tent-sized denim jumper and withdrew a Blackberry. “He thinks he lost his favorite toy and he’s spent the entire morning looking for it.” She snorted, “Ha! He keeps saying, ‘Dammit, Marvella! Where’s my Blackberry?’ More like Crackberry if you ask me.” Marvella was too gleeful at her own mischief to continue. And when she laughs, every inch of her jiggles.
Bev sighed as she got up and started back toward the white board. “Marvella Brown, you are a trip. I’m lucky to have a friend like you.”
“I do what I can,” she said, heaving herself off Bev’s desk and walking toward the door.
“Yeah,” Bev said softly, looking lost in thought as she bit her lip. “We all do, don’t we?”
When I first came to Patience, I wasn’t that nervous about starting at a new school, seeing as how Bev’s a teacher there. By the time fall came, I already had friends from summer school, and having spent so much time there already, I knew the layout of the school. What I wasn’t prepared for was being repeatedly asked, “How’d you break your arm?”
If I told people the truth, it would lead to even more questions. I felt awkward enough already, without having everybody and their brother knowing about what had happened to me. So instead I deflected them; I just answered their questions with more questions.
“How’d you break your arm?”
“Where’s the bathroom?”
“How’d you break your arm?”
“I’m so lost. Where’s the cafeteria?”
“How’d you break your arm?”
“Do you know where Coach Griffin’s room is?”
It generally did the trick.
In spite of the questions, I was still glad to be back in the routine of school again. I nearly went crazy the week after my arm was broken. That happened on August 10, and school didn’t start until the 28th. I had to lie still with my arm elevated for the first week; that wasn’t a good thing because I kept thinking about my mom and it hurts so much to do that. And I wanted to start running with Bev again—she got me started on distance running this past July, and it really helps me relax and cope with all this shit—but I had to wait until X rays showed that my bones were fusing and healing.
After that was confirmed, I got the go-ahead from the doctor to start running again, arm in a cast and all. It was cool because I’d signed up for cross-country and practice started before school reopened. I was slow at first and my arm ached, but that didn’t really matter because I’m a slow runner anyway and I was pretty much covered in pain, both inside and out. To me, the world seemed so full of darkness that I was always surprised when the sun came up every day.
There was one thing I looked forward to every day, though: seeing Joshua Brandt. He’s sixteen, a junior, and he went to the state finals in cross-country last year. He’s about four inches taller than me and has a killer set of dimples. He’s lean, but his legs are very muscular. The thing I like most about him is that he seems like a really nice person. I don’t think he knows I exist, though, and that may be a good thing because I don’t know what I’d do if he ever asked me out.
I can imagine going out with a guy, and I like hearing other girls talk about what it’s like to have guys pay attention to them. But actually being out with a boy and taking a chance on being touched? Jeez, it just wigs me out. My heart starts racing, and I end up with my shoulders slammed against my earlobes, with every muscle in my body wanting to go on lockdown. The words Leave me alone! Leave me alone! go scrolling through my mind at warp speed.
I wanted to hurry up and heal from what had happened to me—all of it. I wanted my arm to mend overnight so I could get the cast off and be able to forget it all: everything that happened that night when Charlie broke my arm—and what he did to me in the six years before that. I longed to be able to scratch the dry, itchy skin inside the cast in the same way that I ached for a new start, one where all my pain about my mom and my scaredy-cat nature would just disappear.
It’s so bad that sometimes I wish the reason she isn’t there for me is because she’s dead, instead of the way it really is. Sometimes I wish that I had been with guys my own age before what happened with Charlie. Then at least it would mean that I’d been able to choose to be with somebody in a physical way, instead of being forced. If I could, I’d just cut off those parts of myself—but I wouldn’t even know where to start with the blade.
I finally got my wish to get rid of the cast when the second week in October rolled around. David and I were just walking out the door to leave for my doctor’s appointment to remove it when the phone rang.
“This is David. Who? And who are you with?” David turned his back to me, then glanced back over his shoulder to see whether I was listening. “Ashley, could you excuse me just a sec?”
I walked out of the kitchen but stopped just beyond it in the hallway and listened.
“No, I am not interested in a meeting between the Bakers and Ashley. . . . Counseling? Yes, she sees a counselor, a psychologist. Why? No, she does not need to see your— No, I will not ask her to do that. She’s fifteen years old, Mr. Sanger. She’s still a child, although I know that didn’t matter to your client. You’re filing a motion to do what? Are you kidding me? Look, you need to speak to Alejandro Guzman, the Anderson County prosecutor. No, there’s no way we’ll consider asking him to drop the charges. All right, then, you do whatever you think you have to do, but— Right. I guess we’ll see you in court.”
I stepped into my bedroom doorway, then came out of it as if I hadn’t been eavesdropping. “Who was that, David?”
David sat down heavily on one of the bar stools, and a horrible screech filled the room. He jumped up, and Loki, our habitually angry cat, shot out from beneath him, a gray streak of indignation.
“Damn cat,” David sighed, shaking his head. “He comes out of hiding once in a blue moon, spits and hisses at me, then disappears again.” David was looking at me, but he seemed to be staring right through me.
“David? Who was that on the phone?”
He didn’t answer at first, but then he opened his arms to me. I moved closer to him, but I didn’t enter his embrace. He reached out, put his hands on my shoulders, and pulled me closer. I crossed my arms over my breasts and looked at my feet. It’s just a habit now; I picked it up to deflect Charlie.
After a few moments, he explained, “That was Charlie’s lawyer, Ash. Charlie’s insisting on havin’ a trial. He’s not going to plead out like we’d hoped. They’re tryin’ to get us to drop the charges.”
I felt my body tighten up, my spine curving in. I stepped back from David. “So . . . I’m going to have to see him again?” My voice went higher than normal.
“Yeah, I guess so.” He sighed and then asked, “Do you—you don’t want to drop the charges against him, do you, Ashley?”
“If I do, does that mean I don’t have to see him again?” I asked, surprised at how much I sounded like a little kid. I felt like I was about four years old.
“Well, yeah, I guess. But . . . is that the right thing to do?”
“I don’t know, David. All I can think of right now is how much I don’t want to see him again. I’m . . . scared. I’m scared of him.” My throat was getting tight, and I held my breath.
“I know, sweetie, but—”
Whoosh . . . the noise whispered in my head. I hadn’t heard that in a few weeks. I couldn’t meet David’s eyes, and it felt like my chin was Super Glued to my chest.
“Ash, look at me. Will you try to look at me, please?” I shook my head, and a tear ran down my cheek. David gently pulled me a little closer to him, then leaned down to try to get me to look at him. “Are you in there, Ashley?” He gave me a hopeful smile.
I forced myself to meet his gaze and tried to smile back, but I couldn’t. Feeling my body relax a little, I allowed him to pull me closer in a hug and laid my head on his shoulder.
Barely above a whisper, David said, “Ashley, honey, I know you’re afraid, but he won’t be able to touch you any more, he—”
“It’s not just that, David,” I breathed into his shoulder, then inhaled his scent, a mixture of Right Guard deodorant and fabric softener. I exhaled a shuddery breath and wiped my cheeks and nose against his shirt, then laid my head on his shoulder again. He gathered up my legs and held me in his lap, rocking me back and forth like a little kid. It felt so good. It was like being covered in warmth and love. And it wasn’t sick, like when Charlie made me sit in his lap and held me tight so he could touch me wherever he wanted.
“What is it, baby?” he said into my hair.
It took me a little while to be able to put it into words. “It hurt so much last time I saw my mom, David. She—she’s really mad at me for . . . telling—”
David abruptly stopped rocking me, and his voice was angry when he spoke. “I need you to hear me when I tell you this, so please listen. Are you listening? Are you?” He held my arms and shook me a little. I took in a breath but didn’t let it out. “Look at me!” he said.
I forced myself to look, and his eyes were like black coals.
“Ashley Nicole Asher, you are the best thing that ever happened to your mother. And if she can’t see that, fuck her. You matter, honey. You matter to all of us who love you, and don’t you ever forget that. If your mom is so selfish and fucked up that she can’t see that you’re the best thing in her life, then that’s her loss. Her loss. Are you listening? Do you hear what I’m sayin’ to you?”
“Let me go, David. Please,” I said, trying to get my arms loose and sliding my legs out of his lap, my old “run like hell” instinct kicking in.
He abruptly let go. “Ashley, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you—”
“Let’s—let’s just go, okay? We’re going to be late,” I said, going out the front door. “I’ll be in the truck.”
Ashley Nicole Asher, 15, is a mess. She's starting a new school in the tiny East Texas town of
David, Ashley's long-absent father, hadn't seen his daughter since infancy, until he showed up in the offices of Child Protective Services to bring her back to his home in the woods of East Texas, and the life he's built with his wife of ten years, Beverly, and their son, Ben. No longer a heavy drinking rage-a-holic, he's sworn he'll spend the rest of his life making up lost time with Ashley, and hopefully earning her trust and love.
Beverly is balancing her life as stepmom to Ashley with her job as a high school English teacher, and her reputation in the community as a magnet for controversy.
Scott "Dr. Matt" Matthews, a slightly unconventional, drop-kick-the-teddy-bear and kick-the-desk therapist, is determined to pull Ashley out of the darkness she crawls into when her self-destructive tendencies overtake her better judgement, and the "squirrel on speed" that gets going in her mind is making laps and chugging Red Bull.
More than anything else, Ashley craves normalcy. She envies girls who can experience relationships with guys without fear of being touched, and she wishes that being a consistent back-of-the-pack finisher in cross-country was her biggest problem.
But.. do other people have it that easy?
Krystle "K.C." Williamson has an electric guitar named Kurt and a mother who believes that the best cure for K.C.'s homosexuality would be a trip to J.C. Penney's to pick up some cute skirts instead of the t-shirts and jeans that K.C. wears every day.
Pam Littlejohn is driven by jealousy and insecurity to push herself hard for a cross-country medal in State, and to spread the rumor that Ashley moved to Patience because she had an affair with her stepfather Charlie.
Marcus Merriweather is so afraid of not having all the answers, he hides behind THE Holy Bible (the only "version" that's right), and a stiflingly narrow world-view.
T.W. Griffin quit his position as running back for his father's Patience Panthers football team, and now his dad's hell-bent on making Bev Asher pay for taking his son from him.
Zaquoiah "Z.Z." Freeman, self-described as "bountiful, bodacious, and beautiful", is fighting the urge to knock Pam's smirk right off her face and beat Marcus to death with his holier-than-thou attitude. She's still reeling from her cousin, Jasper, being nearly beaten to death earlier in the year, and depends on dancing to help her deal with the fear that comes with being a racial minority in small Southern town.
In a shocking turn of events, Ashley is forced to choose between living her life or longing for a relationship that was never what she had convinced herself it had to be. Will her new family be enough to keep her from treating her skin like a scratching post, sliding back into suicidal fantasies and hiding in small dark spaces?
What people are saying about Hope in Patience:
Latest Goodreads Review
From Ashe, who lives in New Zealand:
This book absolutely blew my mind. Ashley and I share a lot in common, not just a name, but also a past that involves being sexually abused by a step-family member. I read this book from beginning to end in a matter of hours, and just could not put it down. I only wish that I had had the support system that Ashley had, when I was in my initial recovery. This book will remain etched in my mind, forever.
From Teri Lesesne, AKA "Professor Nana", the "Goddess of YA Literature":
It took me entirely too long to read HOPE IN
PATIENCE by Beth Fehlbaum (West Side Books 2010). Somehow this book got
stuck behind other books. I should not be permitted to double shelve
ANYthing. In any event, it kept me good company on the flight to NYC
last week. I am pleased to be able finally to talk about this
remarkable book about the resiliency of the human spirit.
Ashley Asher has moved in with her father and stepmother in their home in Patience, Texas. She has not known her father long, but he has rescued her from an abusive household with her mother and stepfather. Now, Ashley hopes to put some of the awful events of her past behind her. It is not a simple matter; Ashley's stepfather sexually abused her; Ashley's mother defended him instead of protecting her own daughter. Ashley wants desperately to be like everyone else in her class: carefree, happy, "normal." With the help of her new family and some other caring people in her life, there might just be light at the end of the tunnel.
There are no easy answers here. Nor should there be given the circumstances Ashley has to live with and then somehow survive. Fehlbaum has told an honest, searing story that shows Ashley moving slowly toward what will be her "normal." This should offer hope for readers, especially those who might find themselves in similarly frightening situations.
And speaking of the phrase "the light at the end of the tunnel," Natalie rode through her first tunnel (Lincoln Tunnel) on the way into the city. I forget sometimes that things I take for granted are still new experiences for others. Needless to say, Natalie now knows what the phrase "light at the end of the tunnel" truly means.
I read a lot of books. No, I mean a lot! A physical review is required before selection and I read the first three chapters, dip into the middle and read the end of all your fiction that goes into our collection. That said…I read your entire book without stopping. I was crying by the end. What a complex and fragile thing our humanness is. Thank you for this story.
Cathie Sue Andersen
Selector -Youth Fiction
Tulsa City-County Library Support Service Center
1339 N Lansing
Tulsa OK 74106
3.3.11: Flamingnet Book Reviews: Flamingnet Student Book Reviewer KCleve
Ashley Asher is fifteen years old, and is sent to live with her father and his family, after being sexually abused by her stepfather for four years. She seems to be making progress, with the help of her therapist and her new family, but she still struggles with trying to forget the abuse she'd endured for years. With her guard built up, she starts school in her new hometown of Patience, Texas, where she meets all of these new people including her soon to best friend, ZZ. She joins the cross country team with her new friends, when a special boy catches her eye. Josh is cute, funny, and attractive, but Ashley has no confidence in things working out with him. Will she soon learn that forgetting about her past isn't an option anymore? Will Ashley see that there is still hope for her in Patience? Or will she end up losing herself, the progress she's made, and Josh to something that never should've happened to begin with?
I thought that 'Hope in Patience' was a great story about a girls struggle with sexual abuse. Once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down. I was so anxious to see whether Ashley would make it through all the craziness of what was happening in her life, or if she would end up giving up. I loved that Beth Fehlbaum was also a victim of abuse, because she could write from what she knew, and you as a reader, would know that what Ashley was feeling in the book were what real people who've went through this actually felt. I loved the way it let you see into her mind; the whole story was really tremendous. I would definitely recommend this book to any young adult reader, or victim of sexual abuse.
This book has some material that may be considered inappropriate for young readers.
Reviewer Age:13Reviewer City, State and Country: Enon, Ohio United States
3.2.11: The San Francisco Book Review: "Ashley Asher has been sexually abused by her stepfather since she was
little. Her mother and grandparents never believed her, saying she was
telling lies. Child Services finally gets notified, and Ashley is sent
to live with her biological father, David. A good man, he lives in
Texas with his wife and kids. With therapy, love, and support from her
friends and family, Ashley slowly starts to overcome her post-traumatic
stress and fear. But will this be enough to help her chances with a
high school crush?
//Hope in Patience// is very engaging. It takes hold of you and doesn't let go. While reading, I started to share fears with and for Ashley. The other characters are very realistic, and it is easy to connect with them, or see another aspect of the world reflected. The book also looks at ways teens are pressured by their parents, and how that restricts a teen's ability to be herself. The ending was so sweet. It squeezed my heart to see how far Ashley had come. I almost wish there was more about Joshua, Ashley's crush, because he is so kind. If there was a sequel, I'd definitely buy it!"
Reviewed by Amanda Muir
School Library Journal Excerpt: ".. The author is to be applauded for her courageous and accurate portrayal of the many small steps that lead toward psychological healing. It is Ashley's friendships with other 'misfits' that help Ashley understand that she, too, deserves love. This book will open hearts and might well save lives."
(To read full review, please visit: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/printissuecurrentissue/887982-427/grades_5__up.html.csp)
Honest and direct, Ashley Asher is a beacon for at-risk teens. You are not alone, her story says; others have survived and so can you. This is one of the hardest and most important things for at-risk teens to remember -- and believe -- during their long, lonely nights of the soul. Hope in Patience is the kind of book that can save lives. - Allan Stratton, Printz Honor author of Chanda's Secrets and Borderline
Beth Fehlbaum digs down into the intensely painful and unforgettable pain of Ashley Asher, a girl who has every reason to give up all hope, but who chooses the far more difficult path, finding a way to be strong and healthy. An extremely brave work, Hope in Patience takes us places we don't want to go but must, if we are to care about victims of child sexual abuse. -Terry Trueman, Printz Honor Author of Stuck in Neutral
Hope in Patience is a powerful novel about overcoming abuse, letting go of anger, and learning the true meaning of family. Thankfully, most readers will never endure Ashley's trauma, but all readers can identify with her vulnerability as she journeys on the road to resilience. - Daria Snadowsky, author of Anatomy of a Boyfriend
The grittiest, most uncompromising story I've ever read about a mother and daughter. You've got to meet Ashley Asher, a teen heroine for our tough times. - Robert Lipsyte, author of Raiders Night and The Contender
Ashley's story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, a true testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Written with elegance and fearless honesty, this book is a shot of hope, and quite simply a must-read for anyone who's suffered abuse. - Jennifer Brown, author of Hate List, a 2010 ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a 2009 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
--Nancy Garden, author of Annie on My Mind, named by ALA as One of the Best of the BestBooks for Young Adults of the Last 4 Decades of the 20th Century
In this powerful story Fehlbaum scrapes below the surface of the trauma caused by sexual abuse,exposing layer after layer of pain and damage. She then shows how complex the healing process is, fraught with setbacks. Using a cast of delightful, multi-dimensional characters, Fehlbaum also shows that recovery is possible, and the human spirit is indomitable. A remarkable achievement.
--Shelley Hrdlitschka, author of Dancing Naked, an ALA Quick Pick 2003, ALA Best Book Nominee 2003, ALA Popular Paperback Nominee 2003, CLA Y/A Honour Book 2002, White Pine Award (Ontario Readers Choice Award) 2002, CCBC Our Choice Award 2002, International Reading Association Choice for Young Adults, ALA Popular Paperback, 2005
This gripping novel takes us deep into the emotional devastation of Ashley Asher, who finds strength and courage in a small Texas town after her step-father's abuse and mother's abandonment. Readers won't be able to put this book down.
-- Mary Beth Miller, author of AIMEE, a 2002 ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Colorado Blue Spruce Book for 2003, & named by Barnes and Noble as one of the Best of 2002 in their teen category