She looked down at her phone. Missed call. She knew it was her mom, wondering what time she’d be home, if she wanted a ride. She ignored it. Tonight was the night and nothing was going to ruin the moment.

She lingered by the cash registers, rummaging through her backpack as if looking for something. The lights systematically shut down around her until only the blue storefront neons glowed softly. She was still bent over her backpack when she sensed him approach. He walked with Chris, the manager, who winked at her subtly when she looked up. He knew. She was slightly mortified, but the excitement quickly overtook that.

They all walked out together, but Chris immediately turned right towards his car, waving a lazy goodbye. She went left, following a step behind him — Jonathan — to the bus stop. He slowed down and before she knew it, they were walking side-by-side chatting about the night and she was in heaven.

This had become a nightly routine over the last week or so. She had the biggest crush on Jonathan ever since she spied a tattered book peaking out of his back pocket in the break room. At the time, all she knew about him was that he was a hard worker, quiet with kind eyes, and older — maybe even college older.

She peered over at him shyly as he talked. She wasn’t really listening to him, so it took a second before she realized he asked her a question, “What are you up to Friday night?” It was Wednesday. She was stunned, so shook her head in answer first before croaking out a simple, “Nothing.” They set a date just as the bus pulled up. She walked in. He stood and waited for her to get on safely before crossing the street towards his stop.

She must’ve been glowing, a smile stuck on her face the whole ride home. But she doesn’t remember because she wasn’t on a bus anymore, she was riding cloud nine all the way there.

He noticed though.

She almost missed her stop, stuck in happy thoughts. It was dark, but not darker than any other night she came home after the late shift. She walked on autopilot towards her house. She doesn’t remember much after that, but this is what she does remember:

Feet running up behind her.
Hands grabbing her backpack, which she managed to rip off to run away, but not fast enough.
Her head whipping back as he yanked her by the hair, a knife suddenly at her throat.
He threatened something. She nodded submissively.
He pushed her into the front yard of a house under low bushes.
She asked for a condom.

He left her almost as suddenly as he raped her, saying, “Count to a hundred or I’ll come back and kill you.” Broken and bruised, she laid there. Well past a hundred, she started to gather her stuff slowly. A sloth. Her dream night now a nightmare.

She walked two doors down to her home. She opened the door and went to the basement immediately. She called her best friend, her aunt. She rambled, saying everything and nothing. She doesn’t remember her aunt’s reaction, doesn’t remember her words except for one sentence, “I’m calling the police.” She does remember trying to change the story, make it less horrific. But it was too late.

She had to tell her mom.

It was procedural after that. The cops came. They investigated where it happened and found the condom he left behind. They used that to catch him. They told her she was brave to have ask. She felt like a coward. But a numbness was starting to take over, a welcoming anti-feeling.

They drove her to the hospital, blowing through every light. They made a joke to help lighten the mood, but it was forced and no one laughed. She was violated again, but this time by gentler hands. Hands that washed away blood and took samples. Hands that helped put him away.

She took the rest of the week off from school. Only one friend suspected something was wrong. The one friend that read the paper every morning. By Friday night, she convinced herself she was ok. The excitement of seeing Jonathan trumping everything. She realized later that he became the embodiment of hope. And she had the best time. Except every time she moved, her body ached. And when she smiled, the sores in her mouth stung. But other than that, she was fine.