Four times. Four times around the track equals one mile. Sometimes when I’m running by myself around the track after school, I imagine that my mom is in the stands cheering for me. I don’t need an iPod for these imaginary track meets because the inside of my head is full of the announcer giving the lineup and the sound of the starter pistol and the white noise of the crowd. I can hear Mom’s voice above all the others. “GO, ASHLEY!”
There’s no doubt it’s a fantasy—not just because my mom’s there and she’s on my side for once, but also because I’m not the last runner across the finish line. I imagine someone comes up beside me—usually Pam Littlejohn. She hates my guts. I see her out of the corner of my eye and push myself to run faster until it doesn’t even feel like I’m moving my legs; it’s like they’re wheels and I’m just along for the ride.
My name is Ashley Nicole Asher. I live in the small East Texas town of Patience, but I used to live with my mom and stepdad in Northside, a suburb of Dallas.
We—my dad, David, stepmom, Bev, and stepbrother, Ben—live on the Asher homestead: fifty acres of woods and pastureland that’s been in my dad’s family forever. We live in a log house that they built before I moved here. I have a dog named Emma who wandered up this past July, starving for food and somebody to love her. We instantly connected, I guess because I knew what it was like to want somebody to accept me just like I was. The minute David said she could stay, Emma made herself at home. It hasn’t been quite as easy for me, but I’m getting there.
We have an inside cat, Loki, who hates everything and everyone except himself, and an outside cat, Orange Kitty. Three guesses what color she is and the first two don’t count.
David’s older brother, Frank, and his son, Stephen, live on the other side of the acreage. David and Frank are mechanics and they own Asher Automotive. It’s in a big red barn in a pasture between our houses. Bev’s an English teacher at Patience High School, and Ben’s a typical twelve-year-old Pain-In-The-Ass—PITA for short. Stephen’s his trusty sidekick, a year younger but just as big a PITA as Ben. I guess Ben’s not that bad; I just never had a little brother before and sometimes he gets on my nerves.
I think I daydream a lot because I’m an expert at going somewhere else in my head when what’s going on around me is too intense or painful to stay aware of it. Daydreaming is not the same as the kind of mental numbing-out I started when my mom married Satan. I was eight years old, and he wasn’t really Satan—his name was Charlie. He thought it was real cute to combine my first and middle names into the word “Ash-Hole”.
By the time I was nine, Charlie was pulling me into his lap and touching my just barely-sprouted boobs. I was a real tomboy, could barely stand the idea of wearing a training bra, and now I had this full-grown man staring at me all the time and telling me I was a “sexy little thing”.
Charlie went from looking and touching to more violent stuff, and I started going somewhere else in my head when it happened. My therapist, Dr. Matt, calls that “disassociating”—when your mind and your body go their separate ways for a little while so you don’t have to remember what happened to you. It’s part of having PTSD—Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. You usually hear about PTSD on the news when they talk about soldiers who return from war with messed-up heads. Anybody who’s been through a mind-blowing experience can have PTSD.
Once you have it, it can be set off by something called a trigger —a sound, a smell, something you read or see—something that’s just enough like the original trauma to set that bad memory into motion. When I am triggered, it feels like the horrible experience I had before is happening again. It really sucks.
Moving to Patience meant a whole new life for me —thank God, Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, or Whoever’s Up There—if anybody is. I spent a lot of time on my knees from the time I was nine till I was fifteen, praying to Anybody Who Would Listen that Charlie would leave me alone for one night. Most of the time, though, it seemed like nobody could hear me or gave a damn any more than my own mother did.
The truth is, if I looked up in the stands and saw my mom there, I’d probably faint and fall over. I’ve only seen her three times in the nine months that have passed since the day I told my theater teacher what Charlie did to me and she reported him to Child Protective Services. My mom was with Charlie the night he broke my arm last August, when they tried to take me back to Northside. She was in court, testifying on his behalf last October, when Charlie went to trial for breaking my arm. And the November night that Charlie drove drunk, wrapped his truck around a tree and died instantly, she was injured and I saw her in the hospital. She tried to get me to say that Charlie was a good man, and I wouldn’t do it. More like I couldn’t do it, actually.
On the way home from the hospital, my anger at my mom came out in torrents of rage at myself. My first response when I’m really hurt or angry is to carve my skin or hurt myself some other way. I’m working on not doing it anymore, but Dr. Matt told me that recovery from sexual abuse is so hard, it’s like a barefoot walk in all kinds of weather from Texas to Alaska and back home again. Not many people make it all the way, because it’s so scary, full of the same kinds of highs and lows as the world’s most intense roller coaster ride.
No doubt about it, I’m covered in scars, inside and out. I even have them all over my breasts, where I tried to scratch them off when Charlie started paying attention to them. Dr. Matt calls this my “self-injury impulse”—I’ve been trying to control it since I started therapy. I slipped big-time at Christmas, though. I scared David, Bev, Dr. Matt, and myself so badly, I nearly ended up having to go stay in a mental hospital. I’m still on probation right now with Dr. Matt. He told me he’s not giving up on me, but he’s not so sure I’m not going to give up on myself.
I kicked in the afterburners as I approached the finish line. Of course I won—the competition was sketchy at best—and the imaginary crowd went wild. My invisible mother was incredibly proud and I felt all warm and fuzzy when she threw her nonexistent arms around me and said how proud she was.
“That might be a new personal record!” An actual voice from the real person behind me caused me to jump out of my skin. Another perk of PTSD: startling easily.
My boyfriend, Joshua Brandt, came up beside me. He smiled and handed me a bottle of water. I unscrewed the lid and took a swig.
“Thanks, Josh. How long have you been here?”
He shrugged. “Not long. I saw your stepmom on her way to a faculty meeting and she told me you were out here. I asked her if I could take you home, and she said I could. She said she’ll be at least another hour or so, and then she has to pick up your little brother from soccer try outs.”
“You wanna run a few before we go?”
Josh crossed his arms. “Actually…seeing as how it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought we might…” He bumped his eyebrows up and down and chewed on his lip, then leaned down and kissed me.
I hoped my smile was convincing. Every time Josh wants to make out, I feel like I’m gonna throw up. I told him back when we started dating in November that I needed to take it slow—but once he touched my breasts during one of those make-out sessions, it was like we boarded an express train, and I think I want off of it.
I mean, he asked me if it was okay to do it—to go up my shirt—and I said it was, because I wanted him to, too…I think. Then a waterfall of bad memories and tangled images started swirling through my mind—like a storm cloud was just barely dripping raindrops, and the more we fool around…it’s coming a flood, and I don’t know what to do about it.
In my head, I’m on full-tilt freak out, but on the outside, I’m trying to play it cool. Other people probably dream about going to a certain college or accomplishing a goal like running a mile in under four minutes—but I just want to be like everybody else, with everyday worries and simple problems. The thing is, getting physical isn’t simple for me at all.
We’ll be making out and I get this twinge between my legs that feels good but bad at the same time. I’d had that feeling before, and it’s not because I’ve had a boyfriend who did that to me and it’s not because I did it to myself, either. If that feeling happened to me when Charlie was touching me, does that mean I liked it then, too?
Emma met us at the front door. She sniffed Josh’s legs and followed us to my bedroom.
“Ah-ah, Emma, you stay out there,” Josh said. He closed the door almost all the way. “I’ll leave it open just a little so we can hear if your folks drive up.”
Joshua sat on the edge of the bed. “Sorry I didn’t have your Valentine’s Day gift today. It’ll be ready tomorrow. My mom’s picking it up for me when she goes to Dallas to pick up some catering supplies.”
I sat next to him. “That’s okay. You sure you like your present?”
“Yeah, definitely. I can always use a gift card to the sporting goods store.”
I shrugged. “I just wasn’t sure what to—”
He silenced me with a kiss. “It’s fine, Ashley.” He pulled back and his eyes were serious. “You’re all I really want, anyway.”
We lay down together, and I started going somewhere else in my head.
“No.” I thought I said it aloud, but I guess I didn’t. He was still on top of me, and I was suffocating.
I tried again to tell Joshua to stop, stop, STOP! But I could not find my voice.
Joshua’s eyes were closed and when he pulled back once in awhile, I could see a tiny smile on his lips. Usually, keeping my eyes open helps me be sure he’s not Charlie. But it’s not working anymore.
I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Are you okay, Ashley? Want to stop?”
I opened my eyes and forced a smile. “No, I’m fine,” I lied.
“Tell me if you need to stop, okay?”
“Okay if I…?” he slid his hand under my bra and didn’t wait for an answer.
In my head, I screamed. But I kept kissing him, kept faking it, kept telling myself, “This is what normal people do, Ashley. Just do it.”
Joshua gently rolled my nipple between his fingers. I felt that twinge between my legs again and was sure I was going to throw up. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to swallow—not easy to do with another person’s tongue in your mouth. I gagged, turned my face sharply away from his and hunched my shoulders up to my earlobes. My instinct was to curl into a ball, and I jerked my knee up between his legs. He grunted as he rolled off me and hit the floor with a thud.
I breathed deeply at last and swallowed hard. Relief flooded my body.
I heard, “Gunnnnnnh,” and peeked over the side of my bed. Joshua’s body looked like the letter C, and his face was all scrunched up.
I sat up and hugged my knees tight against my chest, relief clashing with shame. I wondered if I could sneak out of my room without him noticing me. Probably not. I finally forced myself to raise my head and asked softly, “Joshua? Are you… okay?”
“Gunnnnnnh.” His hands cradled his crotch and he turned his face toward the floor. “Just… leave me alone,” he finally gasped.
My bedroom door opened slightly and Emma came in. She sniffed curiously at Josh and licked him on the nose before jumping up on my bed next to me. I swear she looked accusingly at me for what I’d done. I said, “It’s okay, Emma.” She circled twice and sighed as she lay down next to me.
“It’s really… not,” Josh choked out.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to,” I began.
“I asked you if you wanted to stop. You could have told me,” he croaked. He pulled himself into a sitting position and leaned against my bed. “Oh, my God,” he moaned. “Why did you do that? I think— I can— feel my nuts in— the back of my— throat.”
“It’s not… it wasn’t you I was doing it to, Joshua. I… I thought… you were… it’s…”
He turned back to me, his eyes huge. “What, that I was Charlie? Your stepdad?” Now Joshua looked like he was going to be sick.
“No, I mean... I know you’re not, Josh, I just…”
“Just what, just confused me with the guy who raped you? Thanks a lot, Ashley.”
I clammed up and pressed my face against my knees. I sensed him staring and curled into myself even more tightly.
“Know what, Ash? That really sucks that you think of me that way.” Joshua’s voice was thick. He took a deep breath and I heard him put on his shoes and stand up. I sensed his presence next to my bed; could feel him staring at me, but could not bring myself to look at him. I felt a hot teardrop run down the side of my nose but did nothing to stop it. Numbness radiated from the pit of my stomach and worked its way down my arms and legs. My mind whispered “Whoosh”— the sound I hear in my head when what’s happening is too emotionally intense to stay aware of it.
“Hey, I think your dad just drove up. You gonna get off the bed so it doesn’t look like we were foolin’ around, Ashley? ...Ashley?” Joshua sounded like he was under water.
I raised my head slightly and looked at him. He shook his head and said angrily, “That guy you got me confused with? He’s dead. I’m probably just as crazy as you are, but I thought that Charlie being dead would have helped you move on. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
I looked down and when I glanced up again he was gone. I heard the front door open and my dad said, “Hey, Josh, how ya doin’? Where’s Ashley?”
I couldn’t hear what Joshua said, but I doubt it was, “I’m not doing that great, seeing as how your crazy daughter just confused me with her rapist.”
“Bye, Ashley,” Josh called, but he didn’t wait for an answer.
I exhaled loudly. Emma nudged me and hooked a paw around my arm, the way she does when she wants her ears rubbed. “Sure, Emma. I think I can do that right.” She moaned contentedly and relaxed against me, as if snuggling close to a person was the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes I really wish I were a dog.
“Ashley? Is everything okay with Josh? He didn’t hang around and talk to me like he usually does,” David said from my doorway. I pressed my forehead against my knees. He stepped into my room, tapping on my door as he did so. “Hellooooo… Did something happen?”
I shrugged, unable to look at my dad.
“Okay if I sit down?” he asked. I shrugged again and felt him sit down next to me. He leaned around me and spoke to my dog. “Hey, Emma. You wanna tell me what happened here?”
I raised my head slightly and mumbled, “She doesn’t feel like talking about it either.”
David said nothing, just seemed to be waiting for some sort of explanation. I tried a diversion instead. “Can we have a driving lesson?”
“Hmm… well, you’re sixteen now, but until you get out of the habit of hurtin’ yourself when you’re mad, it ain’t happenin’. Anyway, it sounds like you’re refusin’ to answer my question about Josh.”
I glanced quickly at David and grimaced when I found him watching me. “I don’t want to talk about it. Okay?”
He rubbed Emma’s belly some more then blew out a breath. “Yeah, I guess so. Just… Ashley, you’re not, um, getting in over your head with him, are you? I mean, it is Valentine’s Day, and you two were home alone and here you are, you know, on your bed, and—”
I sprang off the bed and went into my bathroom, closing the door on his words.
It’s difficult for me to believe that my dad used to be a hard drinker with a bad temper. I’m just glad that he stopped drinking anything harder than iced tea the day my mom took me—I was three months old—and moved back in with her parents. He also went into counseling to get his rage under control, so he was a different person by the time I met him, when Child Protective Services called him to come get me. I’ve only been living with him since last May, but so far, my life here in Patience is so much better than it was with Mom and Charlie, sometimes I think that maybe there is a God, after all.
When I came out a few minutes later, no one was in my room, and my door was closed. Beyond it, I could tell that Bev and Ben had arrived home. Ben was yelling and I could hear clapping. The sob I’d been holding in escaped and I contemplated crawling into my pine armoire, a huge wardrobe with double doors and a space on the left side that I fit into perfectly. It was my go-to place when I first moved to Patience and needed a hiding place, since I have no closet. I used to get in there and close the door until I felt safe again. Joshua’s words: I’m probably just as crazy as you are... echoed in my mind. I thought, I really am crazy. I just want to die.
When I was still living with my mom and Charlie, I found ways to survive. One way was sleeping in my closet at night to try to avoid Charlie’s nighttime attacks. Living in Patience now, where I don’t have to do things like that and I actually get a solid night’s sleep, I have no idea how I kept going for six years. Charlie always told me that if I ever told my mom what was going on, he’d leave her, and I’d have to be the one who told her what happened.
Turns out, even after he raped me last May and I told Mom what he’d been doing to me for years—what I could remember at the time, anyway—it didn’t make any difference. He admitted he’d been doing stuff to me, but he said he wasn’t sick like that anymore. She told me we were just going to move on—like it’s that easy to do—and sent me to my room. Little blips of the night he raped me flit through my head sometimes. My mom wouldn’t let me go with her to pick up a pizza for dinner, and while she was gone, he chased me down, tackled me, and raped me in the front and the back. My memory of it is like a CD that’s skipping: the song is playing and bits and pieces of the lyrics are missing, but the basic rhythm is still there. It’s weird to know something happened without knowing what happened. To be completely honest, I don’t think I want to know everything.
It was surreal- being sent to my room for telling and walking down the same hallway he’d chased me—to my bedroom doorway where he’d tackled me—and feeling like I was breaking into a million tiny pieces. It’s as if somebody took a hammer to a mirror and smashed it to bits.
I was about to climb into the wardrobe to hide out when Ben burst into my room.
“Ashley, did ya hear? I made the soccer team! Wh-what are you doing?”
I whirled and spat, “Get out!”
Ben’s joy drained from his face. “Wha—?”
I stomped toward him and he backed up. “Did you forget the rules, Ben? You have to knock when the door’s closed!”
His eyes were huge. “I’m sorry, Ashley, I just—”
“Get OUT!” I shoved him backward, slammed the door in his face and locked it.
I threw myself against the door, slid to the floor, and put my head in my hands. Crazy as you are. Crazy as you are. I gritted my teeth, growled, and clawed at the tears escaping my eyes. A teardrop slid down my cheek. I dug in my nails and dragged them all the way to my jaw line.
Tap Tap Tap. “Ashley? Please open the door,” Bev said from the hallway.
“Noooo,” I groaned. Goddammit.
In her no-nonsense “teacher” voice, Bev said, “You know what Dr. Matt said, Ash. If we’re worried about you, you have to open the door. It’s part of our agreement for you to keep a lock on your door, remember? The safety contract we all signed back in December, after you…” her voice got higher. “Are you hurting yourself in there, Ashley?”
“Shit! Why can’t you just leave me alone?” Dammit, why did I sign that fucking agreement?
Christmastime without my mom was hard, to say the least. She didn’t send me so much as a Christmas card. I didn’t mean to mess up like I did. It started out as a homework assignment from Dr. Matt. He suggested that I do something to help other people as a way of pulling myself out of my own pain. I like to do crafts, so I bought some ornaments- some clear glass balls- and painted them with Christmas scenes. Bev said that I could put them in the teachers’ lounge and sell them for five dollars each, then give the money to the Eula Mason Community Center, which helps poor people in Patience. I’d donate any leftover ornaments to the nursing home for their Christmas tree.
The first weekend in December, I stayed up late working on the ornaments. While I was painting, I was watching a Lifetime movie about a mom who gives up nearly everything to win custody of her kids, and it sent me down the wrong road: Memory Lane. I don’t remember much, but I sort of recall smashing the ornaments into sharp slivers and carving up my neck, arms, and legs. I freaked out when I started bleeding all over the place and I was screaming when I burst through David and Bev’s bedroom door. They rushed me to the hospital and the emergency room doc said that I came within a quarter-inch of a major artery in my neck. I don’t think I really wanted to die; I just didn’t know what to do with all that rage. Totally fucked up the whole “doing good for others” thing and my chances of being trusted enough to be left alone for long. No chance of getting my driver’s license any time soon, seeing as how I was dumb enough to confess to Dr. Matt that I fantasized about plowing a car into a bridge column.
My birthday, January 30, wasn’t much better. Dr. Matt always tells me to be careful what I wish for. I took that to heart, especially when my Mom didn’t ignore my birthday the way she did Christmas. Instead, she mailed me a box containing some of my baby clothes, my baby book, and handful of photos with me cut out of every picture. David saw that and called her a “psycho bitch”.
I don’t know why Mom sent the baby clothes, unless she was trying to erase every trace of my existence. There was a jacket with bunny ears on the hood, footed pajamas, and a pink dress with a lacy white apron. Oh, and a bib that read, “My Mommy Loves Me”. The clothes smelled like Nanny and Papaw’s house. It made my stomach clench at missing them. Who I thought they were, anyway.
I placed the box in the wardrobe on the side I used to hide in. Every night after I get ready for bed, I pull the box out and look through it. I study Mom’s face in the pictures and wonder what she was thinking when she cut me out of them.
“Ashley, if I have to pick this lock, you’re losing your door for a month! Your dad’s finding the tools to take it off the hinges.” Bev sounded panicked and a little angry. She waited a beat, and then I heard metal on metal. She was picking the lock.
“Fine,” I sighed. I reached above my head and unlocked the door, but did not budge from it.
Bev turned the knob and found that I was still leaning against the door. “Okay, Ash, if this is the way you want it, when we see Dr. Matt tomorrow afternoon, I’ll just tell him that you’re not honoring your part of the agreement.”
I scrambled away from the door. “Fine, you can come in!” I sat on the floor in the same space Joshua occupied after I endangered his ability ever to have children. I covered my face with my hands, hoping Bev would not notice the jagged streaks I could feel rising on my skin. The scars from my ornament-making debacle had just begun to fade, and I had created new ones. What a loser.
Bev closed my door softly, lowered herself to the floor opposite me, and said nothing. I chanced a glance at her from behind my hands. Bev arched an eyebrow at me then reached up and pulled my hands down from my face. She narrowed her eyes and shook her head disapprovingly at the long scratches below my eyes. “Dr. Matt is not going to be happy about that, Ashley.”
“Do you have to tell him?”
“You don’t think the claw marks on your face will do your talking for you? Well, since you’ve decided to add dishonesty to whatever problem you’re having right now…” She pursed her lips and looked at the ceiling. “Let’s see, I guess you could tell him… what, that you came upon a bear in the woods and—”
I sighed loudly and glared at her. “I’ll tell Dr. Matt that I fucked up again, okay? Happy now?”
“What I want to know is what brought this on?” She examined the lines running from my eyelids to my jaw. “Did Ben coming in your room cause you to—”
“I’ll tell Ben I’m sorry for screaming at him,” I said, and started to get up from the floor. Bev grabbed my arm and pulled me back down. “That’s a good idea, but it can wait. What’s going on, Ashley?”
I bit my lip and watched as I wiggled my toes in my sock. I couldn’t feel them move; it’s like those toes were on somebody else’s foot. I wasn’t… what did Dr. Matt call it when I wasn’t in touch with my own body? Oh, yeah, not being “grounded”. I am supposed to choose to stop disassociating by getting “grounded”. I tried to remember how to be “grounded” again, but I couldn’t. God, this is so fucking hopeless.
“Ashley?” Bev waved her hand in front of my eyes.
I swallowed hard against the bile that rose in my throat and shook my head. A teardrop ran down my nose and I angrily jabbed a finger at it. “I can’t… I don’t know how to…” I covered my face with my hands again, formed my fingers into claws, and started to dig into my skin.
Bev caught my hands and pushed them to my lap, then used her fingertip to gently tip up my chin so that I had to look at her. “I want you to remember that you are loved. We love you just the way you are, no matter what. Whatever the problem is, you are strong enough to overcome it. Do you hear me?”
I nodded but my face caved in on itself and I lost the fight to keep from bawling. Sobs shook my shoulders, and Bev held me while I cried.
The next morning, Zaquoiah “Z.Z.” Freeman met me at my locker. We became best friends when we took English II in summer school, right after we both moved to Patience. Z.Z. was in shock at Patience being so small since she’d lived all her life in Nacogdoches, a big college town in Deep East Texas. On top of that, the African-American community in Patience is tiny compared to the one she came from. There are only about ten black kids in our whole school.
Then, her life was really upended when a couple of guys who were members of a white supremacist group beat up her mentally-disabled cousin Jasper, poisoned their dog, and spray-painted “Get out, niggas” on their front door. Z.Z. knows a lot about overcoming obstacles, and I think that’s why we get along so well.
Z.Z. talked me into going out for cross-country last fall, and she bugged me relentlessly until I agreed to run track this spring. I say that we’ll just maintain our last-place- finish tradition in the mile event, but Z.Z.’s got it in her head that she’s going to keep improving until she makes it to State and has a solid shot at the track and field scholarship—the one that Pam Littlejohn believes is already hers. Z.Z.’s bent on proving to her that she doesn’t have a lock on it just because our school’s so small that Pam, Z.Z., and I are the only girls on the track team.
I bitch a lot about how hard it is to keep going when I’m tired, but I actually like running because of the sense of control it gives me over my own body and the way my muscles feel like a suit of armor. When Bev got me started on distance running this past summer, I discovered a way to appreciate my body instead of hating it like I have ever since Charlie started messing with me when I was little.
Z.Z. took one look at me and said, “Uh-oh. What happened, Ashley? You been usin’ your face for a scratching post again.”
I grimaced and shifted my backpack on my shoulder. Why, oh why do I keep doing this to myself, when it always leads to questions about why I did it? “Just a bad night, Z.Z.”
Z.Z. put her hands on her rock-solid hips and worked her neck at me. “Did your mama drop out of the sky like bird shit again?”
“No, it wasn’t her this time.” I slammed my locker closed and found Joshua standing next to me, holding a single red rose. I said nothing—not because I was giving him the silent treatment, but more ’cause I froze like a squirrel just before a car hits it.
“Hey.” I pretended to be very interested in the buckle on my backpack.
“Um, Ashley? C-could we talk—alone?” Joshua’s eyes were glued to the floor.
“Ah-hah,” Z.Z. said, nodding her head. “Now I get the picture. Joshua Brandt? Boy, you better treat my sistah right.” She hugged me. “See ya later, Ash.” She sashayed down the hall, dancing from the waist up to music only she could hear.
“Did you tell Z.Z. what happened yesterday?” Josh hissed.
I cut him off. “I can’t be late to Coach Griffin’s class, Josh. You know he’s a real dick about tardies.” I took off toward the exit doors and Coach Griffin’s classroom in the portable building.
Joshua caught up with me in one long stride. “Yeah, but—” he grabbed my arm and forced me to stop. “I was a real dick yesterday, Ash, and I’m really sorry. Did you do that—” he gestured to my face— “because of what happened?”
I pushed his hand away and pretended I didn’t hear the question. “I- I didn’t mean to—ya know, hurt you like I did.” I gulped hard and looked at my feet.
“I know you didn’t.” He seemed to be waiting for me to say something more, but my throat felt like giant hands were squeezing it.
I croaked out, “What about what you said, Josh? About me being, um, crazy?”
His cheeks flushed and he clenched his jaw. “That was really shitty of me. I’m sorry.”
“I’m doing the best I can,” I said, suddenly angry.
“I know, I just meant that-”
“You don’t know anything about what it’s like,” I interrupted. I could feel the sneer on my lips and knew I was giving Josh the look that Dr. Matt calls my “Bette Davis face”. He says when I’m mad, my mouth does this bendy thing that makes me look like this actress from a long time ago named Bette Davis. It’s probably the same as what Mom and Charlie called my “go-to-hell” look. They used to slap it right off my face.
The tardy bell rang.
“Dammit!” we said at the same time.
“Well, here,” Josh said, holding the rose toward me. I took it from him and one of the petals fluttered to the floor. “Are we okay now, Ash?”
I looked at the petal on the ground. “Yeah. I guess so.” Why do I feel like I have an anchor in my chest if we just made up?
“Great! I’ll see ya next passing period.” He was already heading down the hall toward his class.
I sighed and looked at the rose, noticing all its imperfections. “So it’s this easy to move on, huh?” I mumbled. I knelt and picked up the petal from the floor, placed it in the center of the bud, and slid the rose into my backpack. Then I headed for Coach Griffin’s room and the tardy detention that I knew awaited me.
Ashley Nicole Asher is finally adjusting to life in the small town of Patience, Texas. She’s been going out with Joshua Brandt for three months and he’s wild about her…but what will she do when memories of childhood sexual abuse intrude with the natural progression of their relationship?
Ashley’s mom, Cheryl, marks Ashley’s sixteenth birthday by sending her a boxful of Ashley’s baby clothes and photos with Ashley cut out of every one of them…and Cheryl still won’t admit that her late husband, Charlie, stole Ashley’s innocence.
Dr. Matt, Ashley’s slightly unconventional therapist, is determined to help Ashley see that just because her body reacted to the things Charlie did to her, it does not mean that Ashley chose to participate in the abuse, and that the only way to freedom is to embrace truth.
Ashley’s father, David, and stepmom, Bev, are at the breaking point when it comes to dealing with Ashley’s tendency to self-mutilate when she is angry or hurt. And Bev’s dealing with challenges in her job, too, as an English teacher at Patience High School. When all of her students choose the controversial novel—Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk—for their independent study of a multicultural book, she wonders if she will again have her feet held to the fire at a school board meeting for guiding her students to ask hard questions.
When Jeff Foster’s dad opens the “Dixie Pride” store as a means of dispelling the “myth” that the Confederate flag represents slavery, Jeff comes face-to-face with students whose family members were directly involved in the Slocum Massacre. Soon, he comes face-to-face with his white-hooded father as well, and he must decide for himself what kind of “pride” his dad is really selling.
As Dr. Matt says, “Life’s Messy”—and Ashley’s friends and family are finding out just how messy it can be.
Ashley’s Human Ecology teacher, Ms. Manos, is teaching the students about dating and love relationships —in between running to the hallway with bouts of morning sickness and planning her wedding to Ashley’s Uncle Frank. Ms. Manos will be relieved if she can keep her pregnancy a secret before the news gets out in the tiny town—and also if she can get Travis Hager to stop referring to sex as “Bow-chicka-wow-wow.”
K.C. Williamson’s mother has taken up full-time substitute teaching and volunteering at Patience High School, because if she’s watching her all the time, she thinks K.C. won’t be gay.
And, when Ashley’s grandparents go on an extended vacation and Cheryl is all alone, Cheryl insists that Ashley come back to her: after all, she has papers proving that she has primary custody of Ashley.
In a heart-pounding, long-awaited confrontation, Ashley must find a way to get her mom to see that the game playing won’t work anymore. Ashley insists on TRUTH IN PATIENCE.