I was silent for a long time, taking in all that she’d said. “Do you really mean all that?”
“I have nothing to gain by lying. I know you’re too smart to bring me anywhere near another venture of yours. I guess I’m just getting it off my chest. It’s been weighing on me. If nothing else, I wanted to clear the air and tell you how I felt. I can’t change how you feel, but it hurts to think you will always hate me for the mistakes I made.”
“I agree that you made some really poor choices. And some of those were because you were misguided, but I don’t hate you, Risa.”
Her gaze flickered up to mine.
“You look good,” I said.
“Oh . . . thanks.” She looked confused, tucking her sleek hair back nervously behind her ear.
“When we met, after Max attacked me, you didn’t seem like yourself. You looked like he had put you through the ringer.”
Her face fell. “You have no idea.”
“What did he do to you?”
She sat back and fumbled with her napkin. “I don’t know if I can talk about it,” she murmured.
“You can’t, or you don’t want to?”
She shook her head. “I guess I want to believe that he can’t hurt me now, but two years can go by and that could all change.”
“You’re afraid of him?”
“Even if I weren’t, I’m not sure I’d want to talk about what happened between us. It’s . . . embarrassing . . . shameful.”
“Was he violent with you?”
Pink painted her cheeks, and her eyes seemed to glow against the flush of color sweeping over her skin. “Sometimes. Never in a way that anyone could tell. He was . . . careful. He never left marks anywhere that people could see.”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“I—I don’t know. I didn’t think anyone would believe me, I guess. He’s rich, good-looking. Charming. Who wants to believe a man like that beats his girlfriend?”
I closed my eyes and didn’t like the vision I saw there. No one, not even Risa, deserved to be treated that way. I knew firsthand what it was like to fall prey to his violent streak. I didn’t think I could despise him any more than I already did, but Risa’s admission had done that. I didn’t want to ask, but I had to know more.
“You seemed taken aback when I told you what he did to me,” I said, pushing her to tell me more.
Lips thin, she drew tiny circles into the tablecloth. “I was, I guess. Sounds strange to say, but a small part of me was jealous. Even though things were crumbling between us, that he wanted you sexually was really hurtful. I had fallen for him. Loved him. How else could I have stayed as long as I did? I knew things were fucked up, but I was still under his spell in a lot of ways.”
“Did it surprise you that he wanted to rape me?”
Her eyes were serious before her gaze dropped to her lap. “No,” she said barely above a whisper.
I swallowed over a fresh wave of emotion. “What did he do to you?”
She squeezed her eyes tight. “I can’t talk about this, Erica.”
“Why not?” I knew why, but I had to press her.
“You don’t understand—”
“I understand perfectly.”
She opened her eyes and the fear I saw there inspired me to say the words that she struggled to say now. She wasn’t alone, and that was how I’d felt for so long. No matter what she’d done to me, I could never really shake the thought that Max had carried out his plans for me on her, possibly more than once, and disguised the wrongdoing under a promise of love.
“When Max attacked me at the engagement party, it wasn’t the first time I’d been through something like that. His friend Mark MacLeod raped me my first year at college. He took my virginity on the dirty ground behind a frat house while my friends partied without me inside. Liz was there. You can ask her.”
Her eyes brimmed with tears. “I had no idea.”
The memory worked its way through me, like a small earthquake that eventually faded into the distance. Every day it had a little less power over me.
“You wouldn’t, because it’s a hard story to tell. I felt the way you feel. Embarrassed. Ashamed. I spent the rest of my college career looking over my shoulder, waiting for the day when I’d see him again. I never knew who he was until I recognized him one night at a bar. And Blake was the first lover I ever told about the whole experience. When Max attacked me, it all came back. Years of pretending like I’d healed and had moved on came crashing down on me. The only real solace came when I made my statement to the police. That was one of the hardest things I’d ever done.”