She swiped at the damp trail the tear had left on her face and returned her tortured gaze to mine. “So I did nothing and it killed my best friend. That’s my story and her story, the entire ugly truth of it, Counselor.” Her breath shuddered out of her and her watery eyes locked on mine. “Do you still like what you see and what you get when it comes to me, Quaid?”
Her self-loathing was evident, and so was the guilt and responsibility over the tragic event that was hanging around her neck like a leaden anchor.
I walked towards her until I had her backed into the door once again. I put my hands on either side of her face and tilted her head back so that she was looking up at me with wide eyes and an open mouth.
“I’ve been a defense attorney for a few years now, and if there is one thing that all my clients, whether they’re innocent or guilty, have in common it’s blame. It’s always someone else’s fault and it’s always someone else’s responsibility that they’re in the situation they’re in. No one wants to be accountable for the choices they made that led to them needing a defense in the first place. All of my clients are like that, except for you, Avett. You own your choices, you take the responsibility, and you don’t make excuses for your behavior. What happened to your friend is horrific, and no young woman should ever have to go through that, especially alone, but she made the choice to go with you. She made the choice to take that drink. She made the choice to not say anything to people that could help. Did you force her to go with you that night?” She slowly shook her head in between my hands. “Did you tell her that your friendship was over if she didn’t go with you?” Again with a negative response. “Did you do anything different that night than you did any other night the two of you went somewhere you probably shouldn’t have been?”
This time she breathed out a soft, “No.”
“Then you need to realize that what happened wasn’t your fault. Was it awful and avoidable, yes, but the only people to blame are the men that attacked your friend. I don’t care if both of you walked into that house naked and ready to party. Consent has to be given and those boys took the option to say yes or no away from her. They are at fault. Not you and certainly not her.” I narrowed my eyes as I thought about how devastating that conversation with the other girl’s parents must have been for her. “Her parents were looking for someone to hand the blame off onto because they were hurting and looking for a target to land that pain on. No parent wants to think they failed their child, that they may have missed the clues that their kid was hurting and in trouble and that they may have been able to do something to help them. It makes them feel inadequate as well as heartbroken. I see it every day in court when parents are in disbelief that their baby is capable of hurting someone else or themselves so they look for any other reasonable explanation as to how things could go so horribly wrong. It’s gotta be someone else’s fault. You painted a bright red bull’s-eye on yourself and they fired at will.”
I bent my head and kissed her softly, comfortingly. I rubbed my lips across her still-swollen ones and let my tongue trace the cute little dip in her top lip. She needed someone to take care with her, and while I didn’t think I had any care in me left to give, I was surprising the both of us by doling it out like it was in endless supply.
“Your story doesn’t change how I see you, Avett, but it does change how tolerant I’m going to be with your bad decision making because, sadly, your story is one that belongs to a lot of young women. Some even have the same tragic ending as your friend. Your story and her story are not singular and it kills me to tell you that I see similar stories with similar outcomes pass in and out of court all the time. Those stories all have one thing in common—guilt and blame, too often placed on the incorrect person. There is no need for you to be looking for some kind of cosmic punishment—you didn’t do anything wrong.”
At least, she hadn’t that night. Doing nothing wasn’t the right choice for either of the girls to make, but sadly, it was the choice too many young women that were victimized made when they found themselves in that situation. Too often the responsibility was taken on by the victim, instead of staying placed on the attacker where it belonged, and that blame did horrific things, like make her friend feel like there was no way out of everything she was suffering through besides ending her own life, and it clearly led Avett to believe she was the one responsible for the actions of those depraved and damaged boys.
She didn’t respond, so I pushed back from the door once again and decided it was time for me to go. I had no more wisdom or guidance left to impart on her tonight. Plus, I needed a few minutes to myself to fully comprehend how complicated and deep the waters that ran inside this complex young women were. She fascinated me and captured my attention in a way that was alarming. I’d been focused on work and on moving on from my disastrous marriage so single-mindedly that to have all of that suddenly sidelined by an intriguing pink-haired temptress was enough to give a man whiplash.
“I’m going to see about the patrol unit, but you need to call your dad so that you aren’t here the rest of the night alone.”
She balked immediately at the order and took a step towards me. “I told you, I didn’t want to pull him away from my mom.”
I knew that was going to be her answer, so I shook my head before she got all of the words out.
“Call him, because I’m going to be on the phone with him in twenty minutes after I call DPD and ask them about a patrol. If I’m the one that wakes him up and pulls him away from a warm bed and a willing woman, it won’t go over as well as if you do it.” None of this was the way I typically talked to anyone, let alone a woman I desperately wanted to get naked and nasty with, but all my typical norms and behaviors seemed to have dried up and been replaced with this new incarnation of myself that was a haphazard mishmash of where I had been and where I was now. I let her go and pulled open the door. “This time, actually stay away from the goddamn windows. Whoever was driving that car nearly ran me over, so there is no telling what they would do to you if they get a clear shot.”
She shivered a little and grabbed the edge of the door as I exited through it. “Aye-aye, captain.” The sarcasm was heavy in her voice and in her actions as she lifted her fingers to her forehead and gave me a little salute.