Title - Preservation
Chapter 3 - Too Late
I, of course, don't sleep.
At first I just hold her until she falls asleep, her entire pillow soaked with sweat or tears - maybe both.
I then slowly extricate my hands from under her body, her head, and disentangle myself from the sheets and the bed, and pace on over to the window, taking in the crescent moon. The startling pure glint of white light.
*How could anyone do that to a child?*
I don't know who hurt her. But I have an idea.
"How could anyone rape a little girl?*
I have...a suspicion.
She stirs an hour or so later, as I glance over at the restless legs - legs kicking back and forth against the ridiculously rose-girly butterfly percale sheets she made me put on the bed. I guess it's really our bed, but Cassie said it wouldn't feel like her bed - "not at all" - without butterfly sheets.
I didn't care that much, really, and I certainly wasn't going to complain after she washed the things in almond scented Downy, ironing out imaginary lines and creases that probably never existed in the first place. The pillow cases too, all new, all ironed, all washed in ridiculous amounts of cleanser and fabric softener.
"I like soft things," Cass had said. "I like soft, clean things."
That statement hadn't made me sad then.
It makes me so sad now.
When she finally wakes up - far later than typical - it is quarter after 7 in the morning. Which isn't really very late at all, but Cassie hardly seems to sleep much past that time anyway, regardless of when she falls asleep.
And she's pretending like nothing has happened. That, of course is typical.
Big grin, messy hair, eyes trailing green-blue remnant eyeshadow that she didn't exactly remove before bed. They make it look like two silvery-teal bruises or evergreen halos around each eye.
"Oh it's going to be SUNNY today!," she says with, what seems like, genuine cheer. "And the birds are chirping! Oh a robin, Sid - see! A robin!"
I don't really care about some damn robin. I don't really care about any damn bird right now.
A bloody bald eagle could be peering through our window...I wouldn't care that much!
Not right now.
Not...after last night.
"Cass, we need to talk."
I see it then: that faltering, slipping smile. Just for a moment. Awareness.
And then it is replaced by one of her false 'I-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about' smiles and a "Oh, but, Sid - it was just a nightmare."
Yes, I've heard similar tales before.
But I've never heard such back story before. I never knew why she'd sometimes scream and scream for...minutes, which really is too long to be screaming, and not waking up - and why she'd just shake and shake, and sometimes...why I'd find her crying in the bathroom for no apparent reason at all.
"Look, Sid. I KNOW. I woke you up. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
She stresses the second sorry double-time. That's Cassie-speak for: I AM sorry - that you found out. Just drop it.
"I don't want you to be sorry, Cass. I want you to talk to me. You were talking to me last night. Why can't we talk some more now?"
I should know better than to expect anything more than the look of pure anxiety, the shaky hands that toy with cupboards - closing, opening, closing, opening...all in the name of finding a particular t-shirt that she just has to wear today.
"It was just a scary dream, Sid. That's all. I'm-"
"I don't want to hear you say you're sorry again, Cass! Damnit! I'm sorry! I'm sorry for what he DID to you. Don't you get that?"
She's looking at the ground now. Immobile. In a second she's going to be looking for her shoes. That's what she'll try for next... Shoes. If only she can leave.
"I'd rather have a picnic, Sidney! A bright festive picnic with little sushi animals, and we can get that apple cola you like from the asian store? That would be so much fun! We could take the Double-Decker and snap pictures from the bus and..."
"No Cass. I won't STOP IT. I'm not ignoring this. Not anymore. Not when I KNOW now...that this is why you're hurting yourself!"
Her face, a mask - right there, right then. A flicker of anger, a flicker of fear, a flicker of something else - something tugging and pulling.
"Leave it Sid! You PROMISED last night! You PROMISED I wouldn't have to talk about it again. That would be it! Over and done with! Dead! You PROMISED!"
"I shouldn't have promised before I knew how serious this was...if I had known, I WOULDN'T have promised anything! And it's not dead. It's more alive than you being so-called happy...your fake-Cassie-happiness with brightly coloured candy and cute things and fucking UNREAL things - don't you see? Your arms are lined like a train track, some person broke your wrist, Cass, some person held you down and-"
"No-" Soft. Too soft under my anger.
*'I like soft and clean things.'*
"Someone DID break your wrist - and the proof is right there. Someone raped-"
"SHUT UP! FUCKING SHUT UP, SID!"
Her voice that time is not soft. Her voice that time is not clean.
"YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS! WHY? WHY would you want to talk about something so ugly?"
She runs to her cabinet, opens the door, riffles around looking for something.
Comes back with a small burgundy sweater.
"Let's see, still. Let's SEE, SIDNEY. Let's see if it will keep me safe. Keep the pain away!," and Cassie sob-cry-laughs then. Tears merging with an almost hysterical giggle.
And before I know it, she has her lean arms sticking up under the child sized cardigan, stretching the thing, but definitely...definitely trying to put it on.
"Stop it, Cass-," I try, unnerved.
I pad across the room, where she has most of the blasted garment on already. It's far too short. But it fits her width. It fits across.
And that stuns me.
Because it's like...made for a 6 year old child. And the thin material further highlights my girlfriends recent, continued, weight loss.
"Fuck this, Cassie! You don't have to do this. This doesn't MEAN ANYTHING. STOP IT!"
But the laugh-crying is continuing, and she giggles as she smooths the red wool over her concave belly, the hollows of her hipbones sticking out, the reed-thin wrists dangling down.
She wipes at her eyes and falls in a red blurry mess to the bed, her eyes now totally swollen, bloated. The evergreen colour mingling down her cheeks like some perverse watercolour.
Cassie mummbles something, which I don't catch. She's sobbing next thing, though, and I don't know if I should come over to her side, or stay where I am...
I go to her.
"What, Cass? What did you say, sweetheart?"
"It was to keep me safe, he said. It was a...magic sweater. It was going to keep me safe. If I could wear it, he said - I'd be safe. He said!"
The voice is shrill, and she pounds on my chest. I have a deja-vu experience, recalling last night's events.
"Who said you'd be safe?," I whisper against her ear, her face turned away from me.
She's probably mucking up her bedding. Oh yeah - there's going to be a lot of laundry being washed later today.
"Can't you know? Why do I have to tell you? Can't you just know? I don't want to say, I don't want to say, Sid."
"But why, Cass. Why would that hurt - to say? Someone gave you a cardigan, as a little kid. They said it'd keep you safe, and-"
And then I feel something squirm in my guts. Something evil, offensive.
*'Why do I have to tell you? Can't you just know?'*
"He promised. He promised, Sid. Why'd he promise? Why'd he tell me I'd be safe if he knew it wasn't true?"
*'If he knew it wasn't true...* *'If he knew it wasn't true...'*
Her words repeating, like a sick looped tape. I can taste bile.
I know, just a little, what it must be for Cassie when she wants to vomit.
I need to know, for her. To help her.
And I don't want to know.
"Did your grandpa give you the sweater?," I try, swirling circles on her back.
She shakes her head. No.
Another shake of the head, another No.
Apparently...she'll play 20 questions with me. But she won't say it directly.
*She wants me to ask her*
*She wants me to know...*
*She doesn't want to have to say...*
"Was it...was it your father? Was it your dad, Cass?"
And I know when she hugs me, that it is, and was.
I know when she hugs me, wrapping vein-stretched arms around my back, her warm, frantic breath against my ears, trying not to cry, trying not to cry at all.
...trying to not say, 'Yes.'
I know then - I know it's her father.
Her father gave her the sweater.
Her father hurt her in the park, too.
I know it's the same person. I know it in my gut.
After a few minutes, I slowly rise, orient myself upright, and Cassie follows wiping at her eyes, mute.
"We have to tell someone, Cassie," I try, tentatively.
She looks at her lap, twirling old yarn from the sweater...watching it unravel, transfixed.
At long last, "Why?"
Soft. Like a butterflies landing.
I feel totally...flabbergasted.
"Because your...your dad HELD YOU DOWN, and broke your ARM Cass! When you were 12 years old! Then he molested you. And then he raped you! He should be locked up for the rest of his life! He should be in jail!"
And I'm not yelling. But I'm almost yelling.
Luckily I closed all the windows earlier, but I lower my voice all the same, realizing getting so angry is scaring her.
"We have to, Cass..."
She wipes the overflow of tears away from her eyes, rubs her hands back and forth over the sweater. Looks...dejected.
"It's...it's over now. It happened a long time ago. So long ago it almost never happened at all."
"That doesn't even MAKE SENSE, Cassie!"
"It did! It-"
"And that's it, isn't it? Just like that? He hurts you once! And that's it? People who sexually abuse their daughters don't hurt them once, Cassie!," and I crouch down low, trying to meet her eyes. Trying to get her to talk to me.
"And you lived with him - until...until..."
*Until you were in the clinic. Until you nearly starved yourself to death, and got put in Restorations. And then maybe, when you came home. Maybe then he didn't touch you. Maybe.*
*and then you went back to the hospital...so maybe not...*
"It doesn't MATTER what I say, Sid! There's no evidence, anyway! There's no proof! And I don't want...anyone to..."
"You don't want anyone to know, right? You can't even say who hurt you. Even to me, right now. Go on, Cassie. Say it. Say what your father did to you! You've as much as admitted to it - so just say it aloud so I can hear it come from your mouth!"
"It doesn't MATTER what he did to me! I just went ahead and gave it away to everyone else who asked, and so none of it matters anymore, and none of it hurts anymore! Sex doesn't matter. None of it matters. It doesn't hurt anymore! I made it stop hurting. I made him stop hurting! Why do I have to talk about it anymore? Why, Sid?"
I pull back from her, totally numb, feeling like she's hit me with her words - knocked the wind out of me. I finally wander over to the couch, squeezing my eyes shut.
"Because it's eating you up inside, Cassie - despite what you say..."
"AND, CASS... Let's talk about "ands"...and you have a little brother! A baby brother!"
The thought just came to me, and upon realization, I knew I couldn't dismiss it.
"He won't...he won't touch Reuben..."
"How can you know?"
"How can you know for sure, Cass? For sure? Because he's a boy? Is that it? It doesn't *matter* Cass! If he hurt you, he could hurt him too!"
"Because I'll kill him if he does!," and her eyes are too wild, and the scars on her arms are too fresh for me just to discount her outright.
I don't know how to proceed. I can't just...tell her secrets for her. I can't just go to the police, testify for her.
And I don't want to push her.
But if her brother is at risk...
"Cass...anything you'd do...it would come too late. It would always come too late."
"I know, Sid."
She gets up, turns from me, and slowly removes the old, faded sweater.
"Can I, though? Do you think?"
I don't know what she's asking. Not fully.
I offer her my hand.
"I'll help you. I'll stay with you. I won't leave you."
"I know you can't...can't trust promises so much anymore, but you can always take my hand..."
She still looks anxious.
"Then how about this. I only want you to do this...to tell someone, *if* I can help you. If I can be there with you."
A deep exhalation, a look, and that wretched symbol, the cardigan, still there - still held between her hands. Still wishing it was a symbol of safety. Still wishing she could believe in something that could always protect her. Or believe in the people who said they would.
"It will get better...afterwards. It will...help. All this stuff you've been carrying. It's like...the biggest weight...and telling someone will help make it...not be so heavy. Trust me."
"Yeah?," she starts, turning the sweater over once more, focused on one of the bear buttons. "But Sid?"
"Do you think...something like that...can ever feel, really feel, like it never happened, if it did?"
The voice is so small, so childlike, that it almost takes my breath away. Almost drowns me in pain for her.
She mumbles something about wanting to sleep some more, just a little more, and I squash down my fears that she just wants to run away from this, that she's getting swallowed up in her depression, like before.
"You're not...broken, Cass. You're not meant to be broken. Before - last night...when you said your wrist, breaking your wrist...was the only thing that made him stop. That it was the only pretty thing left, because it made him stop...it was you that found something to take your mind off it. Something to hold onto to survive. That was your strength. So even if...you can't make it disappear, you can know that it made you stronger, not weaker..."
Again, she wants to sleep a bit more. "To wake up and be a stronger person."
"You found a way to save yourself, Cassie. When there was no one. This...this is for Reuben and you, both. This is to ensure that something that could happen, something bad, won't. Not for him."
She hands me the sweater, the torn, child sweater. Burgundy sweater with bear buttons.
"I want to fix it, Sid. Not for me. For Reuben. So I can give it to him. So I can...make it right. Like it was supposed to be... "
I trail a wispy tendril of blonde hair beneath her ear, curl it up by her ear, away from the little fruit earrings she's taken to wearing.
"You can't promise him that, Cass. There's no such thing as magic sweaters. There's no such thing as...being able to promise that the people you want to stay safe, will always stay safe..."
She lets me unfurl the fabric from her fingers, fatigue quickly pulling her back into a gentle sleep.
"But can I promise him I'll always try?"
I take the sweater, understand what she's saying...what this means.
What she's saying she'll do.
"Yeah, you can promise him that, Cass," I say finally, returning groggily to the bed before I realize that she's fallen back asleep.
All I can hope is that her sleep will be better now.
It seems to be.