She didn’t wait for him. The ATV was right there, keys in the ignition, so she took it and headed down the path toward home. Tina wasn’t stealing. She’d leave the quad behind his house unharmed. She would treat it with more respect than he had treated her.
Ray. Fucking Ray. She could still taste him, his musk now mixed with blood in her mouth. Her cheeks still stinging, her eyes damp. A slight wind soothed her as she wound her way home.
He would be furious, of course. It would take him hours to walk home, and he’d have to carry her helmet, too. She hadn’t taken time to grab it when he’d chased off after those boys. She wanted as much distance between them as possible.
Maybe, she thought, it won’t take him hours. When he gets out of the woods, he could use his cell and have someone come get him. She pushed the throttle a bit harder at the thought.
It was a cool day, strange for late August. The whole summer had been oddly chilly, temperatures in the mid-70s or lower almost every day. They had gone riding today because it didn’t feel warm enough to drive down to the dam and go swimming. She thought about the water, about diving down far enough that the world above was gone, unseen and unheard.
Ray was a nice guy, everyone agreed. Member of the youth group, hard-worker. He had dirty blonde hair that curled just enough, and his cheeks dimpled when he grinned. Her mother liked him a hell of a lot more than Tina’s last couple of boyfriends.
There was Greg, who wore flannel shirts with the sleeves cut off and too-tight jeans that had a noticeable Skoal ring on the back pocket. He had piercing dark eyes and a strong jawline, strikingly handsome. Kissing him tasted like stale snuff, but worse, in the opinion of Tina’s mother, were the mud-caked boots he wore everywhere, even in her living room. He lasted a while, but eventually Tina wanted a date that didn’t involve driving a truck through a mud-bog and then getting freaky behind the volunteer fire hall.
Richie was cute, but he had so much body hair that when he took his shirt off to show her his considerable muscles, the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking he had on a sweater vest. He laughed a lot, always seemed stoned. He wasn’t, not at first. After Tina turned him on to weed, his incessant giggling increased, and so did his paranoia. Before long, he was more interested in discussing black helicopters than anything else.
When Tina started dating Ray Morris, her mother couldn’t have been happier. Finally, a nice boy, clean-shaven, with a dazzling, tobacco-free smile. The first time he came over, Ray brought flowers–including one for Tina’s mom. Tina’s father had looked up from the television, perplexed at the idea that a man might bring something to a woman, and then put it out of his mind.
Ray’s mother had not welcomed her with the same joy. Tina Novak had a reputation. Even if much of the gossip about her was bullshit, a sensible woman like Tammy Morris knew that at least some of it must be true, and none of it was good. Tina turned over a new leaf–she had (mostly) given up pot, had tried to curb her profanity, went to church almost every Sunday, but Mrs. Morris still acted like she’d have to fumigate when Tina left.
Riding Ray’s four-wheeler home, taking deep breaths to stay calm, she could not remember when she’d stopped believing his act.
Not the first time he’d hit her. He’d been so sorry afterwards. He’d asked her to pray with him, and they had gotten on their knees there in her bedroom and he had begged God for the strength to be a better man. He had cried then, praying with the fervor of Jesus in Gethsemane, and those tears convinced her that he meant it.
That original forgiveness made it easier to accept the next time he got rough. For months now, they had re-enacted this moment–anger and violence followed by prayer and tears–half a dozen times.
When Tina considered the guys she’d jettisoned for far lesser transgressions, she felt angry. How weak was she? Why were they still together? But she knew: His father, the Reverend Thomas Morris.
She pulled the ATV into the Morris family’s yard, driving it back to the shed behind the house, where she eased it inside and closed the doors. From behind her, a voice called.
“Hey, Tina! Where’s Ray?” The Reverend Morris was standing at the back door of his brick rancher, wearing a polo shirt and shorts that were a decade out of style. He was a tall man, broad-shouldered, with a gently bulging belly that made him seem jolly and unthreatening. His wife had sharp features, eyes like drill bits that searched Tina for weakness and sin.
“He stopped off to visit some friends,” she answered. “He asked me to bring the four-wheeler home for him. Said he’d catch a ride back in a little while.”
Reverend Morris–Tom, which she could never bring herself to call him–stepped forward, letting the wooden screen door bang shut behind him. He was smiling, always smiling, but his eyes seemed to recognize her lie for what it was.
“Something happen to you, honey? You look out of sorts.”
And she lost it, then. She cried and he embraced her, his warm arms holding her, his big palm rubbing her back as she sobbed into his shoulder.
Her own father hasn’t hugged her since she was in elementary school.
She couldn’t tell the Reverend about Ray, about what he’d tried to do to her in the woods. About what she’d actually done to his son.
Tina lost her virginity when she was in eighth grade. A party at her cousin’s house, almost no supervision. They’d all been playing Seven Minutes in Heaven. Tina had drawn an older guy, a bit aggressive, but she didn’t say no.
She’d had sex with all of her boyfriends since, including Ray, but never without a condom. If he had remembered to bring one with him on their ride, they might still be in the woods now. Those two kids might still be watching them.
Oh god, the kids… Had Ray caught them? What had he done? What would they say?. Through the screen door, Tina heard the phone ring. She pulled away from Reverend Morris.
“I can’t–,” she began, and then broke off. She backed away, unsteady.
“I understand,” he said, his lips curling into a puzzled frown. “I’m here to talk if–”
“Tom!,” his wife called from the kitchen. “Phone!” It was Ray. Had to be. Or maybe the parents of those boys.
Tina ran, then, her tears falling in a trail behind her as she moved toward home.