Chapter 39

“And then what happened?” Greg’s eyes revealed he already knew the answer. “I need to hear it from you,” he persuaded.

I shook my head as tears streamed down my face. Please don’t make me say the words. I know I’m damaged goods. You don’t need to tell me I’m dirty. Stupid. Impure. I already know that. I cringed as the awful memories pummeled by conscious mind. “I don’t know why Brad did what he did,” I answered with a shaky voice. “When I said no, I meant no. I didn’t have any hidden agendas.” I searched Greg’s eyes as he handed me a box of tissues. “Problem is, you don’t tell Brad what he can or cannot do. He always gets what he wants.” I dabbed at my nose. “At the time, he was 200 pounds of pure adrenaline. Who was I to try to stop him? I kept having flashbacks of when Gavin was on top of me—that brute force that overpowers everything. Guess I thought God would come to my rescue again. So, I just laid there. Frozen. Unable to move. Not wanting to get hurt.” I lowered my eyes, clasping my hands in my lap.

“I could tell Brad wasn’t listening,” I continued. “His eyes were saturated with lust and greed. I begged for him to stop, but he told me to be quiet—that it’d be over in a moment. All of his strength was consumed in pulling my clothes off. I’d never seen him so driven. Uncaring.” I pressed my pointer finger and thumb against the bridge of my nose and breathed in and out slowly. “I had no say in our first time. It wasn’t consensual.” I rocked forwards and backwards, trying to calm my nerves.

Greg watched me self-soothe, sympathizing with my loss. “It sounds like Brad takes whatever he wants—no matter the cost or consequence.” I nodded, wiping wetness from my cheeks as more tears fell.

“The entire time I was lying there, he didn’t even look at me. I didn’t exist. I was just a means to an end. Easy. Naïve. Trusting—until I wasn’t. Then it was too late. My virginity was gone. Taken.” My emotions felt like a weighted rock in the pit of my stomach.

Greg’s forehead creased. “I’m sorry you were forced to experience that, but you need to hear me. It was not your fault. It doesn’t matter if you were in a committed relationship or if Brad was a complete stranger. If you said no, and he didn’t listen, he committed a crime.”

“But we were going to be married,” I excused Brad’s lack of better judgement. “He’s not to blame for me walking into the bedroom where he was staying that morning, either. I was a grown woman. I could’ve gone out to the kitchen and waited for him. I should have gone out to the kitchen and waited for him.”

Greg shook his head. “That doesn’t matter. I don’t care if you walked into that room wearing absolutely nothing but a pretty smile and your birthday suit. The moment you told Brad no, it was Brad’s job to end his advancements toward you. Plain and simple. It’s that cut and dry.”

“But he’s a guy. I should’ve known better,” I insisted. “I created the temptation just by being there. That means I’m just as responsible as he is.”

“That’s not completely true,” Greg disagreed. “Let’s just say for a moment that you married the horniest guy in town, you still have the right to say no. It’s your body. He does not have the right to force himself on you. True love doesn’t demand another human to act against his or her conscience. Remember? Love is patient. Understanding. Respectful. Kind. You don’t ever have to second guess its motives. If you do, that’s not love.”

“You sound like 1 Corinthians 13,” I laughed.

“Maybe so,” Greg acknowledged, “but that’s just me sharing with you the ethical side of things. I’m sensing that your focus is on the technical aspect, so let’s look up the actual definition of the word.” Greg stood and pulled down an Oxford English Dictionary from a shelf on the wall and set it on his desk. Flipping the pages to the back of the book, he flattened the rippled top page and began to read. “Rape. Noun. Definition: ‘The crime, typically committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will.’” I heard the words, but internal logic fought with their meaning.

Noting my blank stare, Greg stood again and pulled down a second book, this time The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition. “Let’s see what this one has to say,” he mused. Rummaging through the pages, he located the word rape. “Noun. Definition: ‘The crime of forcing another person to submit to sex acts, especially sexual intercourse.’ Or, ‘abusive or improper treatment; violation.’” This time, the words resonated at my core, evoking emotions. Tears began pooling in my eyes.

“Look for yourself,” Greg instructed, pointing to the words he’d just read. “Those are pretty solid sources which agree on the definition.”

I didn’t say a word. I could hardly breathe.

Greg didn’t relent. “Does this sound familiar? Something you can relate to?”

I slowly nodded, blinking back tears. “Yes. I was raped.” The words barely came out above a whisper, disgust churning my stomach and choking my words. “That means I married my rapist. Who does that?” I wrapped my arm around my stomach, gagging on the thought. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Greg lifted a small trash can from the floor next to his desk and placed it in front of me, concern covering his face. “Here. Just in case.”

I swallowed hard, forcing down the acid in my throat. “Thanks, but I think I’ll be OK. I just can’t believe this is real.” I focused on my breathing, willing the sensations to subside.

Greg squinted, not so positive. “You sure you’re all right?”

I nodded. “Yeah. It’ll pass. I just don’t handle stress well, that’s all.”

Greg exhaled loudly, leaning back in his chair. “You’ve had a rough go of it,” he indulged me, “but you know what might surprise you? You’re not alone.” I shrugged, not feeling particularly special. “It’s typical for most people to be aware of their surroundings,” Greg continued, “but until you recognize the reality of your situation and acknowledge it for what it truly is, it will never be your truth.” Greg gave me a moment to think. “Hope, you did nothing to deserve the grotesque violations committed against you. You know that, right?”

I shook my head, shouldering the blame for every bad action ever brought against me.

Greg reached across his workspace and retrieved the small stack of papers he had tossed onto his desktop earlier. “I would like for you to take a look at these. I think you’ll find some important information that might help you right now.” He handed me several photocopied handouts, pointing to the top sheet. “Many women, just like you, have found themselves in abusive relationships, not sure how they got there. I thought you might find these resources useful.”

I briefly scanned the top page. “What Does Abuse Look Like?” I shook my head. “But I’m not in an abusive relationship. Brad loves me. He takes care of me. He has a respectable job and provides for his family like a responsible man. He hasn’t laid a hand on me. We’re just going through a rough patch, that’s all. We’ll get through it,” I objected. I have to believe that. I can’t survive without him. I’d never make it on my own.

“Abuse is more than just being physically aggressive.” Greg made eye contact with me again. “Tell me. When is Brad ever wrong? When has he ever said ‘I’m sorry’ and actually meant it by changing his behavior?”

Everything I thought I knew about Brad suddenly had a big question mark hanging over it. “Never.” Come to think of it, Brad had never actually admitted being wrong, only that he didn’t want me being mad at him or holding his actions against him. Maybe that’s why his apologies have always felt so insincere. They really haven’t been apologies at all. I sighed. “He told me, ‘If I’m wrong, I’ll tell you I’m wrong. I don’t have a problem saying I’m sorry.’”

“But?”

I laughed at the thought. “I have yet to see the day.”

Worrisome lines creased Greg’s forehead. “So, how did the encounter in the guestroom affect your relationship with Brad after having nonconsensual sex?”

I sniffed back some tears then wiped my nose with the back of my hand. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Arguing? Fighting? Withholding affection?”

“All of the above,” I swallowed my pride. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but before we got married, Brad had me feeling grateful he was choosing to stay with me instead of ending our relationship. He convinced me no one else would ever want me.” I rolled my eyes, feeling my dignity become nonexistent. “I believed him. I bought the lie. He even convinced me he was doing me a favor.”

“Oh, how so?” Unhindered concern revealed itself from behind Greg’s eyes.

“Brad knew I believed in the sanctity of marriage—actually, I still do. He explained that by marrying me, he was preventing me from ever having to explain to another man why he wasn’t my first. In this way, he was doing me a service! How thoughtful, right?”

Greg pinched his lower lip, trying to keep his emotions in check. “Were there any other red flags you remember before getting married?”

I thought a moment then nodded. “Yeah. At least one.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Curious, yet afraid to speak, I stood frozen in the doorway leading outside to the restaurant’s private, manicured gardens. Who is this bombshell beauty crashing our rehearsal dinner? I wondered. And how does Brad know her? They look awfully cozy. I watched as Brad stood in front of a mystery woman enthralled, almost enamored. Gorgeous blonde hair flowed halfway down her back. Flawless, fair skin radiated youth. Her long legs and petite figure postured close to Brad, provocative and alluring. The closeness between them seemed familiar and intimate, her low-cut, cobalt blue blouse and skin-tight, beige miniskirt captivating his attention. “Brad?” I spoke up, announcing my presence.

Turning several shades of pink, Brad quickly distanced himself from the seductive figure, straightening his shoulders and clearing his throat as I stepped onto the terrace. “Sweetheart! There you are. I’ve been looking for you.” His quick response welcomed me into the conversation and threw me off guard all at the same time. “Have I introduced you to Amanda, yet?”

My eyes widened, hairs prickling on the back of my neck. I knew that name. “Amanda? The Amanda?” Like your ex-girlfriend, Amanda? I blinked back my shock, still wrestling with Brad’s odd behavior. “No. I’m sorry. We haven’t met. Nice to meet you.” I extended my hand, offering a cordial greeting.

“Hope, Amanda. Mandy, this is Hope, my beautiful bride.” Brad wrapped a possessive arm around my waist, drawing me to him as I shook her hand.

“Welcome to our li’l party,” I smiled. I can see why you’re attracted to her. She’s not only pretty, she seems genuinely nice, too, I thought.Cringing inwardly, I shied from Brad’s hand on my hip.

“Thank you for the hospitality,” Amanda answered. “I hope my being here isn’t a problem. I almost didn’t come, but Brad’s mom insisted I stop by and congratulate you in person when I talked to her on the phone the other day.”

“Of course, you’re welcome,” I offered a polite response. But why are you really here?

“Mom never mentioned talking with you,” Brad acknowledged.

“Oh, that.” Amanda shrugged. “I called to ask for one of her famous recipes, and we got to chatting. You know how she is.” Amanda flashed a pristine smile. “Well, while catching me up on all the latest, this came up. She’s so happy for you!” An awkward silence followed.

“So, how long are you in town for? Or do you live here now?” Brad expressed his curiosity.

“Just visiting my folks,” Amanda responded. “Mom took a fall and broke her hip a few weeks ago. Dad keeps himself busy at the office. I’m here trying to make life a little easier while Mom heals and gets back on her feet.”

“That’s thoughtful of you,” Brad replied. “You’ll have to make sure to give them my best.”

“I will.” Amanda batted her long lashes and clutched her metallic silver purse to her waist.

Gently touching Brad’s bicep, I slowly ran a finger down his forearm. “Hon, Mandy’s our guest now. Have you offered her a drink?”

“Where are my manners?” Brad straightened his shoulders and stared intently at our visitor. “What may I get you? A glass of wine, perhaps? Or a seltzer?”

“Water will be fine,” she answered.

Strange. We’re not serving alcohol tonight. I wrangled up a smidge of sarcasm, testing Brad’s presence of mind. “I’ll take a hint of Merlot while you’re at it.”

Brad turned and planted a quick kiss on my cheek. “You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” I eyed Brad curiously. He knows I’m joking, right? I’ve never had a drop of alcohol in my life. This isn’t new news.

“Whatever my bride desires,” he smiled, brushing the tip of my nose with his finger. “I’ll be right back.”

As Brad disappeared through the same doorway I had entered, I motioned for Amanda to join me at the edge of the garden. “Please, have a seat,” I offered, sitting on a concrete bench.

“Thank you,” she obliged, sitting near a collection of potted tropical plants. “We don’t have much time, so I’m going to make this quick.” Her silver-colored stiletto heels tapped anxiously against the brick pavers as she glanced around to make sure no one else could hear her. “I know this is going to sound like a strange question—especially since you barely know me,” she started, “but, do you love Brad? I mean, do you really love him?”

Oh, here’s the reason you came tonight, the revelation hit me. You’re here hoping to win him back. I get it now. My pulse began pounding in my ears, knots forming in my stomach. This can’t be happening. I swallowed hard.“Of course, I love him,” I answered in a calm voice. “I wouldn’t be marrying him if I didn’t. Why do you ask?”

Amanda ignored my discomfort, her unease deepening. “I know this sounds personal, but I need to know. Do you and Brad generally get along or does he ever get angry at you?” Her eyes begged for my honesty.

“We’ve had our share of spats, but nothing major,” I assured her. “What are you getting at? You’re starting to scare me.”

Amanda hesitated a moment, but a greater purpose moved her forward. “Listen carefully,” she instructed. “Brad isn’t who you think he is. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a very lovable guy when he’s getting what he wants, but take away his control, and the situation can become volatile very quickly. He’s a master at hiding this side of himself, so you may not have even seen it yet, but I had to let you to know it’s there; because not only is it there, it’s real, and no one should have to live with that the rest of their life.”

My mind began to swim with questions, flashing back to the morning Brad forced himself into me. But the wedding, all the planning, all the money. What would people think? I can’t call it off now.

“I don’t have names,” Amanda continued, “but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only girl who’s ended up on the wrong side of his anger before you came along.” Her eyes darted to the doorway then back at me, her words increasing in intensity. “I know your wedding day’s tomorrow, and I don’t want to spoil any of these special moments for you; but I couldn’t let you make one of the biggest decisions of your life without first letting you know what you’re getting yourself into. Your life isn’t a game, and you’re not his possession, but Brad will be the first to argue that. Please don’t lose yourself in his warped idea of intimacy and love. I know I don’t know you, but I guarantee you, you deserve better than Brad. Any woman does.” She dug a piece of paper out of her purse and tucked it into my hand. “Please feel free to use that number if you ever need to talk. I’d be happy to share my experience with you. I guarantee you haven’t heard the real details surrounding our relationship or why I walked away from Brad when I did.”

I shook my head, unnerved by this new information. “He’s never really talked about you, but he did say that he left you, not the other way around,” I admitted.

“Figures,” Amanda sighed. “He lives in his own reality. You’ll find that out soon enough, if you haven’t already. He’s a master of distorting the truth and dishing out lies. He’s also great at pouring on the charm.”

As if on cue, Brad sailed onto the patio with a drink in each hand. “Ahh. My past and present finally meet,” he teased. “I hope I wasn’t gone too long.” He noted my furrowed brow, handing me my drink first. “Everything OK? I brought you some cranberry juice. I know how you like it.”

I accepted the beverage, taking a sip and forcing a smile. “This isn’t what I asked for, but thank you. We’re good.” Amanda looked at me and nodded, accepting the second glass from Brad.

“I really don’t want to keep you from your guests,” she announced, standing and smoothing the creases from her skirt. “I’m afraid I’ve taken enough of your time already.” She smiled at me, a sadness reflecting in her eyes. “It was nice meeting you, Hope. I’m really glad we had a moment to talk. Remember what I said.” She then looked at Brad, bolstering his ego. “You picked yourself a good one. Make sure to take good care of her.”

“You know I will,” Brad beamed, sliding his arm around my shoulders as I stood.

Amanda set her glass on the bench, clinking it against the stone. “I wish you both the best. I hope your wedding is everything you’ve always dreamed it would be.” She made eye contact with me, then lowered her gaze. Gracefully stepping past us, she then exited by the garden gate.

“That was an unexpected surprise,” Brad remarked, watching her leave.

“Really? You didn’t know she was coming?” I sounded skeptical.

“I had no idea,” he affirmed. Laughing at my insecurity, he tapped on the wrinkles creasing my forehead. “These aren’t necessary, Babe. You’re making something out of nothing. I’m completely over her. I’m all yours. You know that, right?”

“But, is she over you?” I ignored his disregard for my emotions, feeling justified for my irritation. “Ex-girlfriends don’t just show up at rehearsal dinners uninvited.”

An endearing smile surfaced on Brad’s face as he tucked a stray hair behind my ear. “What did she say that has you all riled up? This should be a happy day. No worries.”

“For starters, she questioned our love—asked if I truly love you,” I disclosed.

“Well, do you?” Brad traced the outline of my left cheek, tilting my chin upward, toward him.

I stared into his eyes. “Yes,” I whispered.

“Then there’s nothing to worry about. She’s probably just jealous. After all, I chose you.” Scooping my face into his hands, Brad gazed lovingly into my eyes, sealing the moment with a kiss. “Was there anything else?” I shook my head. “Then let’s get back to our guests.” Picking up Amanda’s glass from the bench, Brad laced the fingers of his free hand through mine and guided me back inside to our family and friends.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Wow! Reliving what you experienced then and knowing what you’re dealing with now, I’d say you have a lot to sort through.” Reaching the end of our session, Greg motioned to the papers in my hand. “Why don’t you take the handouts I gave you and look them over at home. We can discuss any questions you may have at our next visit. In the meantime, know I’m always here, and I’m open to meeting with both you and Brad for couples’ therapy, if you think that would help.”

I laughed in derision. “Are you crazy? Brad won’t set foot inside this office. He already thinks my visits here are a total waste of time and money. He will never admit he’s part of the problem. The problem is me—all me. You either fix what I bring you or things will remain broken. Brad won’t have anything to do with you.” I scooped up my purse and headed to the door, feeling desperate and abandoned.

Greg’s words followed me out into the lobby. “My offer still stands.”

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