This is how it began.

We stood in the kitchen, hair and pajamas mussed from sex and sleep.

His roommates completed the early morning talk circle: Max, the darkly brooding future artist, and Rod, “the God”, his exceptional physique highlighted in no shirt and a pair of flimsy cut-off sweat pants, clinging to his sculpted hips. They were my classmates, my peers. He, being the grad student, was basically our superior in the hierarchy of college life. He ardently pursued me for the program so I thought I was safe in his care.

A conversation lull made him open his lips in invitation. “Want some breakfast baby?” Till that moment, I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. My stomach answered with a growl as I said, “Yes, yes I would.”

His lazy morning smile still in place, my benefactor, my coach, the taker of my virginity replied, “Make it yourself, bitch.”

I had, by this point in my life, enough of bullies. Just enough self respect moved my hips in deadly leisure down the hall to his room, him right on my heels, much like he was when he wanted me on his forensics team. “I was just kidding, baby, don’t be mad, come on, wait-,” he cajoled all the way.

He grabbed for my arms, trying to still my already constrained motion as I grabbed for my tennis shoes, the only thing I could get to, and shoved my feet into them sans socks. In nothing else but boxers and a t-shirt, I marched through his attempts to hold me back, out the door and down the mile-long road to the highway.

Halfway there, good sense returned, and the reality of chucking it down the interstate with no underwear on impelled my brain to scrabble for an alternate plan. Going back was not an option. Otherwise hopelessly direction-challenged, I somehow remembered the route to the nearest friend about two miles away.

He did not pursue. He must have thought I’d walk off the steam and come back. I did not.

I reached my friend, sweating and mad as a disturbed killer bee nest. I woke her up, judging by her own sleepy appearance. “What the- Amelia?”

“Becca,” I huffed, “can I just stay here, please?” She looked hard at me, more like clearing the cobwebs out of her head than any kind of judgment.

She stepped back and swept her arm out. “Come in.” She gave me time to clear my own head space while she got us both a cup of coffee before she started her inevitable investigation.

“So,” the cup poised at her lips, “what’s, uh, going on?” My apartment was fifteen miles away. She knew I was dating her closest neighbor and colleague; it wasn’t a hard mental leap.

I stared at my empty cup. I’d only ever been in one quasi relationship. At fourteen, I’d dated Richard, an eighteen year old drop out with a crazy mother. Somewhere along the way, though, I convinced myself it wasn’t real. With that lack of experience and consequent denial, I’d never developed the tools to forge and sustain a real grown up relationship.

More denial seemed to fit. “I don’t know… I just, if he shows up don’t tell him I’m here, okay?” I gave her my best pleading eyes. “And,” I looked back down at my cup, “could you give me a ride home?”

She gave a burdened sigh. “Look,” she seemed poised to lecture but changed direction at the last moment, “I have to get ready to go into campus, so I can give you a ride then.” She took in my clothing. “Do you need to borrow something to wear?”

I looked down at my obvious bralessness. “Uh, no…”

This is where the narrative takes the bend I’ve long wanted to go back and straighten out. The following is what I wish happened.

“Uh, no… if you could just go to his house and get my backpack?” Becca successfully holds back an eye roll, but the long suffering sigh comes out unhindered. “My apartment keys are in there.” I wave my hand over my torso, “For, uh, clothes?”

“Yeah, yeah… alright.” Becca disappears for a bit to get ready for the day while I assess my rushed relationship with the graduate speech coach, deciding that, although I’d made the mistake of getting involved with him, I would now do the right thing and end the barely begun thing between us.

It would be the  best decision of my entire college career.

Becca reenters the room, putting in dangling hippy earrings. “So, just stop by, get your bag and dash out?” she raises her eyebrows at me.

“Yeah,” I figure, keep it brief. I’m already asking a lot.

She grabs her well worn leather satchel and her to go cup of coffee. “I’ll be right back.” She pulls the door as she walks through but stops just before it snaps shut and sticks her head back in, “I’ll get the rest of your stuff too – no use prolonging the inevitable.”

Although I only know her as an older, married graduate student, she’s proving to be a very good friend. “Thanks, Becca.” I say it pretty softly, but she nods and shuts the door.

True to her word, she’s only gone maybe ten minutes. She opens the door and drops my back pack just inside the door. Without preamble, she says, “Sorry. He followed me. Wouldn’t take no for an answer.” As Becca skirts the entry, he comes in the front door.

“Come back. It was just a little joke,” is all he says.

Self conscious in front of him, I hug myself to conceal my breasts. I figure, pull the bandage clean. “It was a mistake to get involved with my coach.” His lips part, but I hurry on, “I’m quitting the team, it’d be inappropriate to stay.”

He shifts toward me, arms already reaching. “You don’t have to do that,” he soothes, so I cut him off.

“Yes. I do. I mean a clean break.”

His jaw ticks. “You’ll lose your scholarship.”

I shrug. “So, I’ll take on a second job.” At his dubious smirk, I add, “I’ll make it work.”

Plain as an Amish suit coat, I see the thin sheen of anger spread under his entire skin. “You know, when I met you, I thought you were special because you were sweet.” His lips screw up in a scowl. “But you’re just an average bitch.”

At this, I nod. “Whatever you have to tell yourself, dude.” I move past him to reach for my pack, every inch of my sinew itching for him to try something. I’ll be ready. But he hangs there in mid air, like a slow mo replay in a boxing match.

“You think you’ll have a shot here? I will make your life mis-,”

I cut him off, “Try it. I will go to the trustees and tell them you seduced me.” This shuts him up nicely. Graduate assistants aren’t supposed to fraternize with the undergrads. He’s a bully, sure, and a callow one but he isn’t stupid.

He stands there, clenching and unclenching his fists. I just blink. “Well,” he huffs, “get in the car. I’ll give you a ride home.”

Still as lake water in early morning, I say, “No. Becca’s driving me in.”

The air in the room swells, like a building storm, until he pierces it with a loud “Fine!” He throws the door open and leaves it swinging on squeaky hinges as he spits gravel peeling out of the parking lot.

I jump when Becca says, “Well, that went well.”


That’s not how it happens.

I don’t quit the team and I don’t get a second job. And the worst thing, I don’t break up with him. The forensics team never gets off the ground, so I’m at the college for no discernible reason. I recognize this feeling; been here before. Completely cut off from all safety nets.

And I would soon need one.


Forks shows his teeth

With a look back at Eddie, I walked through the door Forks
held open. He shoved it closed with a loud snap, leaving me feeling a little
less confident than I did in the main office. “I’m more of a hand-talker,
Forks, so if you could just remove-,”

“Shut up, Ellen Wiel.” The Sheriff slapped my file on his desktop, emphasizing his order. He shoved
a rolling chair my way, missing me by an inch or two.  “Sit down.” I stood still, gritting my teeth
and avoiding his rabid eyes. He closed the distance between us in a step,
grabbed my shoulders and shoved me hard into the chair. “In here, I’m the boss,
you little turd. When I say ‘Move’ you say ‘How far, SIR’,” he bent down to eye
level with me, “got that, missy?”

Holding my tongue between my teeth, I focused to the left of
him. Two long steps and he stood behind his desk, smoothed his shirt front and
sat down, rebar straight in his big leather chair.

“It’s Wiels,” I blinked and looked at the cord pull on his
window blinds.

His head twitched to the side, kind of like a buzzard does
taking stock of fresh road kill. “Excuse me?”
His voice was deadly calm.

I cleared my throat, “I said, ‘it’s Wiels’ – with an ‘S’ at
the end.”

He snorted and sat back then, “You been a thorn in my side
from day one, you know that Miss Wiels?” He emphasized the “s” on my name like
a hissing snake. I watched him fold his arms over his chest, studying me like I
was one of those speared frogs in sixth grade science class. “You know,” he
shifted, “I don’t like you much.”

Biting down on the insides of my mouth, I willed myself to
shut up. Couldn’t keep the spit from gathering in the back of my throat and cursed
my need to swallow. He focused on the bob in my throat and a slight smile
pulled the corner of his mouth.

“You go around this town like you own it,” the sneer cranked
from zero to sixty in his voice, “such big stuff when you’re showing off in
front of everyone. Bringing talk of drugs into my town. Breaking curfew. Back talking
your mama and daddy-,”

“She’s not my mother-,”

“That’s right – she’s your step-mother.”  He sat forward again, “That woman was good
enough to take you in, even though you’d been in all that trouble.”  He sat forward in his chair, his brow knit in
affected concern, “Juvenile detention, wasn’t it?” He flipped open the file, “That’s
what I figure. Oh, the records are sealed but anyone in law enforcement can
read between the lines, Ellen.” He directed a pitying look my way. “Truth is,
you ain’t wanted by no one, even your own kin, why I bet your mama kicked you
out and here you are causing a whole new mess of -,”

I shifted in my seat, “my mother didn’t kick me out.”

“-problems in a whole different home,” he went on like I
hadn’t spoken. “That’s pretty bad.  Mama
gives up on you, and daddy doesn’t know what to do with you.”

The tears stabbed at my lids and I blinked hard to stop
them. “I said,” I looked square at him this time, “my mother didn’t kick me

He shook his head, then removed his hat and wiped the sweat
off his forehead, “You can lie to everybody, but ain’t no one in this town
gonna believe you.”

I wanted to hit him. I wanted to knock him on the floor and
jump up and down on his chest and scream in his face. “I’m not lying.” I said it
loud enough but couldn’t keep the wobble out of my voice.

“How can you stand it,” he cocked his hat back away from his
eyes with the roughened tip of a forefinger, “how does it feel to know nobody
wants you around?” Shaking his head, he whistled lightly through his teeth,
“Shoot, if I had half the enemies you have around here, I’d wear body armor

I looked up, right into his eyes. Cold and hard, the color
of a well-oiled gun barrel, they revealed things that made me squirm in my
seat. “Keep on, Forks.” My voice sounded dry and tight. “You and I both know
how this all started,” the slightest pinch around his eyes told me I got his
attention, “If you’d done the right thing-,”

He rolled his eyes, “Rich – you talking about the ‘right

“Rich coming out of YOU, a kid comes to you to report a
crime – an assault-” He stood so fast the words stopped up in my mouth.

“You think anyone would believe anything you say against me,
little girl?” Before I could duck, his hands shot out over the desk and he
lifted me up to dangling like a half stuffed rag doll over his desk. “There’s
no police report, Ms. Wiels,” his voice was low and quieter than the pulse
throbbing in my head, “no witnesses, and no corroborating evidence.” He shoved
forward and let go at the same time and I fell into a heap in the chair. “And
do you know why, Ms. Wiels?” At this he sat back in his chair and watched me from
behind his laid back, politician smile. “Because there was no crime.”

My whole body shook, quaking right through my core. “So you
say,” I forced the words through my chattering teeth,” but you and I both know
the truth.”

The man leaned over the desk, mouth drawn up in a poor imitation
of a smile, “I don’t give a sawdust fiddle what you think you know. You understand?”
He sucked at his teeth and sneered at me, “Think anyone gives a damn what you
think ‘round here? You think anyone would shed a tear if you vanished into thin

That Forks didn’t like me, I already knew.  That he might actually take steps to get rid
of me, never occurred to me before. I stared down, watching tears hit my lap,
leaving behind dark circles. I focused on the first one, then another. “Whatever
you say, Sheriff…”

“One of these days, Ellen Wiels, you will slip up, and make
no mistake,” he sat back, crossed his arms over his chest, “I will catch you.
And when I do, you are going away for a long, long time. Do you understand what
I’m saying to you?”

Blinking hard, I swiped my sleeve across my eyes. “Oh, yeah,”
I stood up and fixed my eyes on him, “I hear you. Can I go now?”

He raised his hand like a gun and pointed at me, “I’ll be
watching you, Ellen Wiels,” and he made a soft “pow!” sound like we were little
kids playing a cowboy shoot ‘em up game or something.

I walked out of that office feeling the bulls-eye on my

Friendly Fire is an oxymoron

“You think you can fill this out, Ell?” Eddie slid the forms
he’d written my name on at least a dozen times before across the desk, “I’ll
get us some Joe.” Station house coffee is about the best coffee in Pierce County,
so I readily agreed and set to penning in my information. Scribbling in the
answers faster than a slacker who’d memorized the answer key to a standardized
test, I tossed the pen onto the desk, sat back and closed my eyes.  Pictured Delbetter trying to start that truck
of his and cussing the air blue when he couldn’t.

“ So,” Eddie barked and I jumped, “why don’t you tell me
what you did to Delbetter’s beater?”  He
folded into the squeaky office chair and slammed down a manila file folder, my
name sharpied down the side.

I smiled. “Why, Deputy, I don’t know what you’re talkin’

“Cut the crap, Ell,” he leaned forward, “strictly OFF the
record.” He stared me down, and broke into a grin, “Spill.”

Look, I’m as vain as the next criminal mastermind, being
particularly proud of hitting the three-time, all-district star pitcher
Delbetter smack in his swollen ego. Truthfully, I couldn’t help myself.

“Alright, first? I pulled all his fuses and superglued them
to his headliner.” I laughed at the mental picture of him trying to pull all
those fuses without marring the vinyl. “Then I dumped a bunch of confetti into
the vents and set his fan speed on high,” the deputy laughed out loud, “so when
he DOES get his fuses back in and starts the car, the vents’ll blow the paper
all over his cab.” I sat back satisfied that Eddie appreciated the humor of the

He shook his head, and then struck me with a hard look,
“what were you doing under the truck, Ellen.”

Shi-take mushrooms. Deputy did it again. Disarmed me with
that ‘just one of your pals’ thing he always did. “It ain’t that bad, really,

“So you can go on and tell me, then.”

“I –uh, I wrapped a zip tie ‘round his drive shaft is all.”
I squirmed in my seat.

Deputy Eddie Bishop was no more’n four years older than
me.  He’d been a senior at the LaFoy K-12
school when I’d first transferred in during the first half of eighth grade.
He’d looked out for me during that first year when I was kind of kicked around
for being the new kid, appearing out of nowhere like some kind of cartoon hero.  He was always nice and I always repaid him by
telling him to stay outta my business. Even back then, he had a kind of
authority with everyone. Even the teachers.

He was a natural for law enforcement.

I cleared my throat and sat up straighter in the nicked up
wooden chair, “Alls it does is make a clicky noise, Eddie. Delbetter’ll be
scratchin’ his butt for a week and then he’ll figure it out.” Biting the inside
of my cheek to keep from laughing, I chanced a look at the Deputy.  A slow smile spread over his face. Not what I
was expecting. Finally he laughed and leaned back in his chair, stretching his
long legs in front of him.

“Nah, he won’t, Ell,” he stared at his coffee cup, swirling
the contents absent-mindedly, “he’ll have it figured out ‘afore he leaves the
parking lot.”

For a moment I just stared at him. “And how will he do that,
Deputy,” I glared at him, “thought this’s all off the record. You gonna rat me

He pulled his feet down and sat forward again, “First of
all, young lady,” he opened the file folder and pulled out a sheet covered in
tightly packed lines of print, “I’m a sworn officer of the law. You already
know,” and he held up the sheet which I now recognized as my list of
altercations with his department, “anything you say can be used against you.”
He slid the sheet in front of me, “So, I don’t ‘rat people out’.  And finally,” he stretched his arms up and
clasped his hands behind his head, “off the record means off the record, Ell,
how the hell long you known me?”

I glanced down at the list. “How else is he gonna figure it

“Ah hell,” he laughed again, “Gary Delbetter’s been ‘round
engines his whole life, first click, he’ll climb under that truck and spot that
tie right off.”  He turned to the
paperwork and made red marks beside the places I was supposed to sign. An
unnecessary kindness, as I was pretty familiar with them, but nice all the
same. “He’s prob’ly home right now.” He glanced up and slid the papers over toward
me. “Sign on the lines, initial at the check marks.”

Staring at the forms, I kept my still-cuffed hands folded
best I could over my chest. Only thing I had to look forward to, and Bishop had
to go and ruin it. “How’m I supposed to sign anything with these things on?” I
raised my hands and shook the cuffs.
“Dang Deputy, I ain’t done nothing illegal-,”

“Uh- Ellen, you broke into a vehicle belonging to someone
else, and that means-,”

The big door in the back swung open and the Law of Pierce
County, Sheriff JT Forks, stood framed in it so the late afternoon sun lit him
like an old time Hollywood star. “Well, Ellen Wiel,” he shook his head, “this
is a surprise,” he said. He jingled his way into the room, money and keys in
his pockets announcing his approach. He grabbed a paper coffee cup and poured
up the last dregs in the pot. “What’s it been, a week, week and a half? Some
kind of record for you, idn’t it?”

Bishop’s head swung around and he cast a wary eye on his
boss. A much repeated rumor around town said Bishop and Forks didn’t care none
for each other. Something about Bishop’s outsider attitude and tendency to keep
to himself, although I suspected it had more to do with Forks’ general attitude
of superiority to anyone and anything not directly related to him or his way.

Eddie shifted around in his seat and gave me a cautionary
look. “I was just finishing up processing a minor complaint, Sheriff.” That was
another reason Forks had no use for Eddie Bishop. He was about the only person
in LaFoy who didn’t address the Sheriff as “sir”. Well, aside from me.

“Yeah, Forks, Eddie just brought me in on a formality, it’s
not like-,” another warning look and I shut up.

Forks eyes narrowed and he studied me like something on the
bottom of his shoe. “A formality, huh?” He walked over to the desk and flipped
the cover on the manila folder, “Bishop, I’d like to see Ms. Wiel in my
office.” Not a request, an order. Eddie’s brow knitted and he glanced back at
me and bit the inside of his cheek.

“Yeah, sure, Sheriff.” He stood and fished the keys to the
cuffs out of his pocket and started toward me.

“That won’t be necessary, Deputy.” Forks stared
hard in my direction, his lip practically twitching with disgust.  Eddie nodded and stuffed the keys back into
his pocket, then fell in step beside me toward the office. We reached the door
and the Sheriff stopped Eddie with a hand to his chest. “Alone, Deputy.”