By: Aria Cage

“What happened in there, Charlotte?” Paul rushes to me. He has a small patch of blood on the hip of his scrubs, which happens a lot in ER, but it surprises me he hasn’t changed. He always changes if he gets anything on himself. He stops in front of me and waits for my answer as I gaze up stupidly at him, trying to think of anything but the truth.

“He’s family. I was in shock.”

He softens at my words and crouches. This is the Paul I need. “Charlotte, love, I thought you were brought up in foster care.”

“I was. Nathan is family in every way that counts.”

“Oh, love. I’m sorry. But you should have left the room. You know the rules. I was embarrassed, as you probably were.”

I wasn’t embarrassed, but we are so different; he would never understand what I felt. There are many things I keep hidden deep within me which he would never understand. That’s just not how he works, and that’s okay. I accept him for what he lacks, and he accepts me where I do. Hopefully, we can make the most of it.

I never minded being alone; I deserved it, and didn’t have to worry about disappointing anyone. But when Paul came into my life, he made me see that we aren’t all perfect, but the best way to fix that is to pretend it is.

It sounds shit, but it works. Sometimes it works so well I trick myself into thinking we are a normal couple. But we aren’t. I don’t like to be physical, and he doesn’t push the matter too much. I don’t like to share, and he doesn’t want to know. I have secrets, and he would prefer they stayed as such. I want to please wherever I can, and he needs it that way.

Screwed up? Yeah, but it’s my world, and it’s better that way.

At least, I thought it was until he came back.

I’M SHAKING. I HATE this day, and I hate him. Nate wants to tell someone; he says between the two of us, they will believe. I’m ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure they will believe us, but it’s a high risk in the point-one.

Deep inside I wonder if it’s the risk of losing Nona or Davey that really has me pushing to keep it a secret. Maybe it’s because I don’t want people to know. Maybe it’s because I don’t want the shame placed on Nate. Maybe I’m disgusting and don’t want to stop. Maybe I’m starting to like it in a different way when he touches me.

God, that’s so disgusting! I’m twelve years old, and he is just fourteen. I shouldn’t be thinking things like this. I should only be beginning to start thinking about boys and giggle when they turn my way; not think about how his fingers feel against my waist and under my breast.

Daddy made me go on the pill; it’s made my boobs bigger, which I hate. I don’t know where he got them from, ’cause I never been to a doctor. I was real sick last year and couldn’t get out of bed. I never saw a doctor then, even though I felt like death for almost three whole weeks—it was the best three weeks ever, though. Daddy left us alone, alone-alone. For the first time in my life, the third Thursday passed without going into the garage. Nate sat by me every day and brought me soup from Nona. He and Davey would play cards with me even though I was scared I was contagious.

I would read to them when I wasn’t too tired, and we would pretend that life out of that room didn’t exist. We liked Peter Pan the most; he’s our favorite for many reasons, but I think it was because I was Nate’s Wendy bird, and he was my Peter. He would steal me away to escape the world and enter one where time stood still; his Neverland.

What scared us the most on that Thursday as Daddy drove away without him calling us, was the prickling silence between us. Nate sat by me on my bed in silence until I took his hand in mine and kissed it. He gasped a little and watched my lips, his mouth slightly open. I don’t know why, but I slid over onto his lap. My heart was rampaging, flooding my veins, making me shake. I took both of his still hands in mine and kissed them both before sliding them down my chest to where my nipples stung under my bra and shirt. I felt his warm breath against the back of my neck as he began to pant, and grow hard under me.

Daddy left us in peace and still we find ourselves as creatures of habit, only now it felt much scarier. I wanted it more than ever. I wanted him to do more without Daddy watching. I wanted so much, and hated myself for it.

That Thursday changed everything about Nate and I forever.

Now I find three weeks passes by too quickly. Both Nate and I get real quiet from about Monday. Kids at school notice but stopped asking. They stopped asking a lot of things actually. I no longer get asked out, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. I will always be Nate’s for many reasons, and he mine. Girls flock to him still, but he pays them none, and I’m guilty of liking that too much. I should want girls to like him, and he like them. I should set him free before another Thursday comes, before I take another piece of my best friend.

I have told Nate many times not to follow me, that this is my demon, my nightmare. Long ago, before I could understand what it meant, I made the decision not to upset Daddy, to please him until there is nothing left for me to give. He is my daddy. I hate him… I love him. When Nate holds me under our tree while I shake before we hear the call, I want him to stay. But deep down, where it’s dark and dirty, I want him with me.

I want it to be his skin that traces mine, not Daddy’s. I want Nate to be my first. I’m so scared of the day Daddy will ask us to do that, scared like you wouldn’t believe. I look up at Nate, his face a bit paler like it always gets right before, and I stroke his gentle face.

“I want you to stay here,” I say. I always say this.

He shakes his head. “I won’t leave you. One day you will stop asking me and just know I won’t.” I know already; I know him more than I know myself.

“Some things need to change.”

“Not that. A lot of things do, but never that. What needs to change is we walk away from all this. Run as far as we can. I’ve been saving all my mowing and house painting money; all you have to do is say yes.”

We have this discussion every time too. “You can’t leave Nona and Davey. They need you.”

“You need me more, and I need you to be free. I want to free you from all this, so you can grow up and be strong.”

I titter at this because I know what he wants will never happen. I am my daddy’s daughter and he will never let me go. I’m a caged filthy animal, not exotic or anything, maybe not even a broken dog. I am just tattered, and the only one who will love me like this is my daddy. Nate tells me he loves me, but he is fourteen and never allowed himself the liberty to move on from me. I’m waiting for that day. He won’t want to leave me, but that is his guilt. Hopefully his heart will win that battle because he deserves better than my life and my dirty want.