“Marlina, we’ve been waiting for you. Please, take a seat,” the counselor said, gesturing to the empty chair. Marlina did what she was told, cautiously taking a seat across the room from Eddie.
He smiled at her, prompting the knot in her stomach to tighten. She was not expecting to see Eddie, not today anyway. But there he was, sitting upright in the wooden school chair, grinning and wide-eyed.
Her ability to laugh was suppressed by a heaviness that weighed on her chest. And as he laughed she felt the tears well up behind her eyes like an overfilled balloon about to burst.
Eddie stopped laughing and donned the most convincing, resolute face he could construct. He wore the expression like an ill-fitting mask.
“We brought you in today because we thought that you and Eddie could benefit from an open conversation with one another,” the counselor said while Marlina grabbed the edges of her seat with both of her hands, not being able to think of a better way to keep herself grounded in the room.
“I’ll start,” Eddie said. The counselor shifted in her chair to face him, seemingly delighted. He made her job easy. “I want to apologize for what happened last week. I’m sorry that I made you uncomfortable.”
Marlina looked up from the ground, where she had been staring at her old, worn-out shoes, and into Eddie’s oversized brown eyes. Eddie stared at her forehead. Perhaps he couldn’t bear to look her in the eyes.
“That’s very nice of you, Eddie. Thank you for saying that,” the counselor said. “Marlina, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Marlina almost didn’t say anything, but seeing the grins on Eddie and the counselor’s faces put her over the edge. Under her own circumstances, Marlina didn’t get many chances in life. This was a rare opportunity.
“You are a thief,” Marlina said under her breath. She looked around the room, noticing that the smiles on everyone’s faces were beginning to fade.
“I’m not a thief. I didn’t steal anything from you,” Eddie exclaimed. Marlina could see his fists clench at his sides and his face turn a shade of red brighter than any rose she’d ever seen.
“Yes, you did. Every day that you roam these halls my safety and the safety of other girls at this school is compromised. I can no longer sleep, eat freely, or go where I want to without feeling endangered. My freedom is gone. You took that from me.” Marlina was standing now, but she couldn’t remember when exactly she got out of her chair. She felt beads of sweat running down her back. Her whole body was hot.
“That’s enough, Marlina,” the counselor said. “Eddie apologized to you. The least you can do right now is to say you’re sorry too.”
In that moment, Marlina knew that she had two choices. To be the good girl that she always was, or to become her own person. The latter was frightening.
“The least I can do,” Marlina wondered aloud. She knew that she could do better.
Marlina turned and stormed out of the counselor’s office. She heard footsteps following her, but didn’t look behind.
“Wait, Marlina!” she heard the counselor call after her. Marlina stopped abruptly. “I know you’re upset, but maybe you could look at this from Eddie’s perspective. He only thought that you liked him. And even if he wasn’t completely sincere, what he did wasn’t that bad.”
No, it wasn’t bad. Bad was an understatement — a euphemism for the injustice that Marlina had been through. She had let too many things go on the outside, while they gobbled up her insides.
She couldn’t take it anymore. Marlina kept walking until she was outside of the school building. She dialed a number in her phone.
The voice on the line spoke slowly and with assertiveness.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“I need to report a sexual assault.”
Sarah Losner is a writer from Long Island New York. Her poetry has appeared in The Monterey Poetry Review, The Beautiful Space, and on the Indolent Books blog. Sarah is also an accountant for a non-profit in New York City.