[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win the big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. --Jane]
It happened on a hot August night in Texas.
I'd left a party after deciding it would be more fun to walk home than wait until my ride got bored enough to bail. A three-mile walk at 1 am wasn't my idea of a good time, but neither was that party.
I walked. And walked. After what seemed like forever but was probably about 45 minutes, a black Lexus pulled over. The driver was lost and trying to find I-35. I told him how to get there and he asked, "Why is a pretty girl like you walking alone at this hour?" When I explained, he offered to drive me the rest of the way home.
I was tempted. I knew better than to accept rides from strangers, but I was sick of walking and his car had air-conditioning. I wasn't completely stupid, though; I made him promise not to hurt me before gratefully climbing into the passenger seat.
"I was at a party myself," he said. "Would you like to go back to it with me?" New people, a new party -- maybe a reboot was just what I needed.
"There's just one thing," he said. "My wife's out of the country on sabbatical so I need to swing by my house and check on the kids." Lexus, wife, kids, sabbatical -- these were clearly good people, not dangerous criminals.
His house was exactly what I'd expect from a man with a sabbatical-taking wife. Inside, he slipped off his shoes before disappearing into the back of the house. I removed my sandals and held them awkwardly in my hands, my sweaty bare feet sticky on his hardwood floor.
When he returned, he started pulling pillows and cushions from the couch onto the floor. I stared. "You should go take a shower," he said. "You walked several miles. You must be sweaty and dusty."
I kept staring, confused. "I thought we were going to a party," I said. "I thought you were going to take me home afterward."
"I will, I will," he said. "In the morning. You can shower off the dust and borrow some of my pajamas. I will drive you home in the morning."
I freaked out. I was alone in a strange house with a man I didn't know who wanted me to get naked -- by myself, but still naked. Without a word I turned and ran out the front door and down the street, clutching my shoes to my chest. Gravel stung my bare feet, but fear is an excellent anesthetic.
I reached a main road and spotted a cop standing next to his cruiser. I'm not sure what I expected him to do, but I told him the whole story anyway. He didn't know what I expected him to do, either.
He suggested that I calm down, get a cab home, and go to sleep. I didn't have $20 for cab fare, but it was nearly 4 am and the buses would start up again soon. In the meantime, I had enough cash to buy coffee at the Denny's near the bus stop. I started walking again. I was beginning to believe that I would spend the rest of my life walking.
In Texas, if you find a patch of grass you will find stickers, tiny balls of hatred and thorns. I hadn't put my shoes back on, so of course I stepped into a sticker patch.
"Ow! Fuckfuckow!" I tried to balance on one foot while pulling stickers out of the other, all without dropping my shoes or falling over. I was so tired and this night was going to last forever and it would not stop sucking. I burst into tears.
A car pulled over. The driver got out and asked what was wrong. I told him the whole story in one breath, a two-minute run-on sentence of epic proportions. "Where do you live?" he asked.
"Near campus," I told him.
He said, "I work near campus. Why don't you come use my phone? I have to be at work at 5.30, so if you can't get hold of anyone, I'll drop you off on my way to work."
It sounded like a rescue, like a happy ending. Still. I hesitated, and he said to me, "I promise I will not hurt you." I must have looked unconvinced because he added, "I won't even touch you." I got in his car, still sniffling.
When we got to his place, he put on some Pink Floyd. I sat on the floor and we talked for a while. He handed me a scrapbook his girlfriend had made. She was pretty, with short brown hair and a dazzling smile. He went into another room to change clothes while I made some calls with no luck. When he came back, he had a joint.
All of my tension fled -- he was a stoner. The only way I'd be in danger was if I suddenly became a Cheeto. After a few hits I was buzzed and happy and safe, and when he tried to kiss me I started to let him. Then I remembered his smiling brown-haired girlfriend and pushed him away. That's when it happened.
He pressed me back against the floor and put his hands under my shirt, pushing my bra out of the way. He tugged at the top button on my jeans while I tried to convince him that I didn't want this. I didn't want to have sex with him and hurt the happy girl in the album. I asked him to stop.
He pushed himself up against my face, filling my mouth until I gagged. He pulled out and then he was inside me. He wouldn't stop. At one point, he rolled over, trying to pull me with him so I'd be on top.
I stood up, crying, confused. I couldn't form a coherent thought. Nothing felt real. I took a few steps one way and then the other and said, "I can't do this. I can't do this. Please stop. I can't." He didn't seem to hear me; he pushed me down on a futon and this time he didn't stop until he came.
He went somewhere to clean up. I stayed where he left me. I wasn't crying anymore, just lying there resigned and waiting. He came back and looked at me in surprise.
"Hey. You should get dressed now, because I've got to leave for work." I stood up, pulled up my panties and jeans, straightened out my bra. We went down to his car. I could not remember any of the words I wanted to say.
"Wait," he said. "I forgot something." He left me in the car and went back upstairs.
Pure, clear terror washed over me and I thought I would drown. He was going to get a gun and shoot me; I knew I should run but I was frozen in panic, trying to breathe. He hadn't used a condom and I choked on the smell of him. I didn't want to die this way. I didn't want to die at all. I started to cry again.
He came back with a rolled-up apron and my breath came back. We headed south on the freeway.
"That was really great," he said.
I mumbled something.
"You should give me your number. We should do that again."
I promised to write it down later. A few minutes after that, he asked if I'd go down on him, right then, while he was driving. "You tired me out," I said, "Not right now."
I gave him directions to an intersection about a quarter-mile from my actual house and watched until he was gone before walking home in the early gray light.
I didn't seriously consider calling the cops. Later that day I tried to explain to Pato, my best guy friend. I didn't want to get the guy in trouble.
"Aside from the making me have sex thing, he was a nice guy," I said. I wanted to spare myself the humiliation of a trial. "Why did you go into his apartment? Why did you get high?" I imagined them asking.
Recently divorced, I'd been sleeping with anyone who smelled good and asked nicely. That would definitely not work in my favor. I went on at length about my stupidity. What had I expected, really? Pato listened without comment; when I was through, he said gently, "It wasn't your fault that he raped you."
I stopped breathing for a moment. I'd been trying not to think that word.
Years later, I understood what he was saying, and I have compassion now for the brown-haired girl who spent that night going from frying pan to fire to bigger fire. I did not understand how big and dangerous the world is or see my own hopeless optimism, but my rape didn't happen because of my bad choices -- it happened because of his.