“I...suppose so.” Feeling the heat in her cheeks, she stood and shimmied out of them quickly, pulling back covers and climbing in before she dared look at him again. Then she lay back against his pillow, comforter tucked under her arms.
“Scoot over.” When she did, he sat beside her. “Have you done any reading about repressed memories?”
Her breath came faster and she quit worrying about where she was or that she was already half-undressed. “Yes.”
“Then you know that a common theme is sexual abuse. More than children who are physically battered, ones who are sexually molested learn to distance themselves. Go away in their head, so whatever is happening to them feels unreal.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. Your brother is too young. Your father leaped to mind, but you don’t seem to react to him as if you have that kind of history with him.”
“I wish I knew for sure,” she said, troubled. “Could it have been Beck?”
“You associate him with something traumatic, but if he made sexual advances you didn’t like, why wouldn’t you just have said no? He didn’t have any hold over you. You could have avoided him.”
“That’s true. And then there’s his shirt. It was comforting to me, not scary.”
“Were there any other adults you spent a lot of time with?”
“I don’t know. I can ask Felix. I’d say my parents, but they’re pretty mad at me right now. I asked why I was such a disappointment to them.”
“Didn’t go well, huh?” he said sympathetically.
“No. I probably shouldn’t have bothered. Mom said I was acting like a spoiled teenager and stalked out. Dad was mad because I had upset her.” She shrugged. “No great insights shared.”
“I’m sorry.” He sounded as if he really meant it.
“I wasn’t as upset as I thought I might be. I guess I didn’t expect anything else.”
His jaw set. He seemed to have trouble speaking. “I’m really starting to hate your parents,” he finally said, then shook his head. “And I shouldn’t have said that.”
She smiled and touched his hand, lying on the cover temptingly near hers. “Why not? I appreciate the sentiment.”
His hand captured hers, not letting her draw back. “It occurs to me we should talk to your uncle Duane. As far as I know, he didn’t spend that much time with you, but it won’t hurt to ask him.”
Why didn’t she remember this uncle at all? Her puzzlement didn’t last long; why didn’t she remember most of the kids she’d gone to school with, or her teachers? Why didn’t she remember most of her life?
“Ask Felix, too,” Colin continued. “You may have been involved in some activity. Debate, Knowledge Bowl? There could have been overnight trips to competitions.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so, but...” She felt a spurt of temper. “Oh, do you know how tired I am of having to say ‘I don’t know’?”
“I can imagine.”
Both were silent for a moment, and her thoughts jumped back to her confession. Maybe she wasn’t done with what she had to say.
“I feel dirty when I think about what I did.” The burning pressure in her sinuses was different from her “trying to remember” headaches, but just as bad. “I don’t see how anyone else can not despise me.”
He shook his head, and she could see only tenderness and understanding. “I hate that it happened for your sake. I kept a picture of you where I could see it for twelve years. You looked so young, so innocent, and yet also so sad. It’s hard for me to imagine that girl enduring what you did.”
She blinked hard to keep herself from crying. “I only did it a few times. I thought I could stand it, but I couldn’t. I got by after that for a couple more months by hanging out in fast-food restaurants and snatching food out of the trash when people threw it away. They had clean bathrooms, too, and nobody paid that much attention to who was hanging around.”
He closed his eyes. “God, Nell.”
She remembered him saying, You’re breaking my heart, and wondered if she could. If he felt that much for her, and why.
“You really don’t mind.”
He looked at her again. “For your sake,” he repeated. “Not mine.”
She waited for him to tell her she really should sleep and they could talk about this later. Under the guise of caring, it would be easy for him to leave her without overtly rejecting her. But when he didn’t move, her heart felt as if it were swelling painfully in her chest.