Palm South University_ Season 2, Episode 5(17)

By: Kandi Steiner

Wouldn’t it be easier to face him if I weren’t alone?

Straightening, I wipe my nose against my bare wrist and pull my eyes to Jess’. I inhale a shaky breath that doesn’t quite reach my ribs and then, with her hand squeezing mine, I tell her everything. I tell her about pole dancing, how much I loved it, how much I miss it now because of a stupid decision I made with a stupid boy. I tell her about getting shoved out of the car and waking up that night, realizing I was making a mistake, but I was too late. Jess still holds tight to my hand, not an ounce of judgement in her eyes.

I tell her about the first payment, how I lied to my parents, how I let Bo help me and we thought we figured it out together, but then Kya showed up and blew up my entire world. Every word leaves me feeling more broken and somehow fixable at the same time.

I can’t look at her when I tell her I did dance for money—once—just enough for me to realize I couldn’t do it. I still can’t lift my eyes to hers as I tell her about the deals I made with the devil—the payments, the stolen money from our auction, how I asked him to hit me, how I sold drugs on Spring Break. By the time I’m completely caught up, telling her how I lost over a third of the money I owe him and I know any day now he’s going to give up trying to call me and send someone to bring me to him, I can’t place how I feel. Relieved? Terrified? I’m not sure.

I don’t know how long I’ve been talking. My voice is scratchy, my throat sore, my eyes puffy. Jess’ hand is still firmly holding mine.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” I whisper, shaking my head as my eyes stay fixed on our hands. “I’ve tried for so long to figure this out on my own. I was afraid of the judgement, afraid of the consequences. I was so ruled by fear that I kept digging deeper and deeper into a hole I fell into accidentally but stayed in by choice.” Realization hits me like a freight train. “This is my fault, Jess. This is all my fault.”

“Hey,” she says as I start to cry again, her free hand finding my chin. She lifts my head, but I keep my eyes shut. “Look at me, Lei.”

Shaking my head, I force a breath and finally crack my eyes open, her blurred face coming into view slowly.

“It’s okay. Do you hear me?” She leans in closer, her chocolate eyes connecting hard with mine. “It is okay.”

It’s like those words are all I’ve been wanting for months now, I just didn’t know I needed them. I didn’t know what to even ask for. Now that she’s said it, my heart finally realizes.

I just want to be okay.

“I wish you would have come to me sooner, Lei. I can’t believe you’ve been going through this on your own.” She hugs me close to her chest again and I wrap my arms around her shoulders.

Sniffling, I stare out into the dark ocean, feeling better but not saved yet. “Jess, what am I going to do? He’s going to come looking for me. He’s killed people before.” I choke on the words, gripping her shirt between my fingers. “He could kill me.”

Everything is heavy—the air, my arms, those words. Jess peels me off of her and frames my arms with her hands, holding me tight, forcing my eyes to hers. Though the mascara stains under her eyes and her body shakes with mine, she no longer looks remorseful or sad. She looks determined—fierce—the Jess I know slowly rising to the surface again. Her eyes narrow, her lips pursed, and slowly, she nods.

“I have a plan.”

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