by Heidi Turner
Lydia tried floating on her back, like she’d seen in movies, but it wasn’t relaxing in the actual ocean. The sun was far too bright overhead, and the warm water rocked her enough to make it impossible to tell if she was drifting faster than was safe, or if a wave was coming. She could feel the grains of sand exfoliating all the nooks and crannies of her bikini and the surf shorts she always wore—another experience that sounds pleasant but isn’t. She rolled over onto her stomach, only dipping below the surface for a moment in the practiced motion. Her limbs dangled down into the water, deep enough that her toes could only scrape the bottom at her full height. She turned her head to the sky and breathed. Face down in the water, she could feel her lungs pushing her body against the pull-down of the ocean. I bet I look like I’ve drowned.
Sure enough, when Lydia finally looked back at the shore, she was at least ten yards farther out than she had been when she first stopped looking. She flipped around under the water, letting her fingers scrape into the bottom. She caught a broken piece of coral in the fistful of sand and let the grains wash out of her palm until only the pure white coral bit remained. She swam, and then waded, back into shore, still clutching the tiny coral.
Wilmont and Tori were doing a handstand contest, so Lydia was almost to Ikaika before he noticed her coming. He was almost dry from his last swim and would probably ask her if she wanted to jump off the sea cliff with Tori and Wilmont. She knew, if he did, she would have to say yes—she didn’t want to start high school as the only person who had never made the jump.
“What’d you find?” Ikaika asked.
She opened her hand and he gently pressed one of the tiny branches down, making the coral rock back and forth in her hand. Somehow, even though it had already died, it was something she wanted to protect.
Tori’s head cocked to the side, still upside down, and she stepped off her hands and onto her feet in one smooth motion. Wilmont rolled onto his back, somewhat less gracefully.
“Come to the bathroom with me?” Tori sounded chill but her eyes were tight. Lydia glanced down—she was shiny with sea water, but it was unmistakable: some of the drops were tinted red. Lydia nodded her assent and Tori grabbed her purse from under their pile of clothes.
“It’s a good thing we went Ka’anapali today,” Tori said, “there’s no more toilet at Cliff House.”
“True, true.” Lydia clutched her stomach, digging her nails into the soft skin of her sides. She was a late bloomer at almost fourteen; everyone else had started their ma’i in sixth or seventh grade. For Lydia, it was a mercy. Tori rummaged through her purse on the other side of the stall wall for another tampon and tripped on her own feet trying to pass it down to Lydia, her body thudding against the door of the bathroom stall. Both girls cursed different words at the same time. The lock held.
The door of Lydia’s bedroom didn’t really lock. Not that it shouldn’t be able to or that her father and stepmom had taken it away for bad behavior. The door did have a button lock, the circular sort that presses straight into the knob with a tiny circle on the other side instead of a keyhole, but when even a paper clip could undo the latch the button hardly counted. The sound of the button popping back out would echo and amplify through the hollow doorknob and would awaken her from whatever sleep she managed to get. She often cited her noisy house as the reason she did not invite friends to sleep over—her stepbrother was always playing video games in the room next door; the doors were loud and obnoxious; the neighbors refused to keep their music down. Aside from Tori, her friends believed those were the only reasons. In reality, she knew she couldn’t bring anyone to her house, not ever—not as long as an unraveled paper clip could undo her lock.
Watching the blood drip down into the water, Lydia wondered if she would attract enough sharks to start a feeding frenzy—suicide by shark attack.
“Do you know how to put one in?” Tori asked, gently but amused.
Lydia slapped the stall wall in response, already finished.
“It’s your first time! I had to ask. The first time I used one I left the cardboard in.”
Lydia opened the stall door and stared in exaggerated disgust.
She washed her hands slowly with Tori watching her in the mirror. This was a touristy beach, and even the public bathroom had nicer tile than the bathrooms in either of their houses. The mirror was huge, way bigger than anyone at a beach would need. The public bathrooms in the state parks had mirrors about the size of a sheet of paper.
Lydia shook her hands over the sink, not bothering to wipe them on her shorts which were still damp and salty. She unclenched her jaw, rubbing her cheeks to try to get some of the stress out. Tori was still watching, leaned up against the wall. Lydia caught her eyes in the reflection.
“Tor, I don’t know if I can go home with this.”
Tori grabbed her shoulders, and pulled her into a hug. Lydia often imagined how her body—which she so rarely thought of as a living thing—would feel to another human. She’d been called a washboard since she was nine: her ribs were visible and prominent all the way down her chest, and she didn’t have much chest to speak of. Yet she knew from the jabs of pain she’d have on the nights the door opened, and the newer stabs of pain when he was crushing her with his weight, that her chest was coming in. She’d known this day was coming. Of course she had known. Sand tinkled against the floor.
“Don’t. Don’t go home till you have to.” Tori opened the restroom door and the wet-looking sunshine poured in. “The boys will be worried.”
Lydia had been wrong about one thing: Wilmont, not Ikaika, offered the suggestion to jump off Black Rock, the long arm of black lava jutted out toward Molokai and cut Ka’anapali Beach in half. At only twenty feet tall or so, and with at least that much water below them, it wasn’t a risky jump. She’d told herself it was a rite of passage to jump, just like the greatest King of Hawai’i had—he had dived into the water and been blessed by the gods, if she remembered anything from her seventh grade Hawaiian History project. More than that, it was a choice, something she could control, a rite of passage only she could choose to take. Plus, her ma’i had started; if she was lucky, she would bleed into the water and be eaten alive by sharks. The four of them walked into the water and started their swim to the edge of the cliff where they could safely climb to the top.
“You good?” Ikaika called from under his arm as he came up for air. He was a fast swimmer, and knew the rhythm of waves better. He was only a few yards ahead but his voice sounded far away.
Lydia managed a “yeah, brah,” between labored breaths. She looked up for the first time since the swim started. The limu covered rocks were close, and she could almost count the little branches swaying in the whitewash. Wilmont was clinging to the side with one hand, waiting with mock-impatience for Lydia to catch up.
Lydia watched what rocks the boys reached for as they scrambled up the side. For once, there was no one waiting in line to jump—they were alone at the top. Lydia sat and waited to catch her breath. Nothing had come to eat her. The boys’ chests were covered in goosebumps; the hairs on their arms standing straight up. Lydia crossed her arms to cover up her bikini top, just in case the padding didn’t hide everything.
Ikaika picked his way back to the edge and prepared to jump, changed his mind, and turned around to do a backflip. The wind carried a chill from the mountains which were capped in their usual clouds.
“Lyds, what’s up?” Ikaika asked.
“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” Tori answered, as though the question was directed at her. Wilmont shook out his hair and the spray got into Ikaika’s eyes. It was the kind of thing that had happened hundreds of times; a moment that meant another moment was over. A chance to remain quiet.
Lydia opened her mouth and tried to shape the words she wanted. Her silence drew the boys back from the edge and they sat waiting for the story that would come.
The first time the door opened while locked she was eight years old and Jack, her stepbrother, was twelve. She locked her door out of habit, a leftover from earlier childhood when she would try to keep the monsters out, not knowing that it would not work. Jack cast a shadow in the light of her Tweety Bird nightlight, and his figure grew until it was not a shadow. The door locked behind him.
That was the first time she’d bled, and after he left she let her bladder go on her sheets to hide whatever stains the blood might have left. The thin crescents of fingernail marks on her chest had both scabbed and bruised in their little hollows between her ribs. Even now, she rarely touched her own chest except to wash it, wiping it clean with a washcloth covered in the cheap soap her stepmom brought home from Longs Drugs. She tried not to think about how she and Jack used the same bar of soap, and whether or not it meant she could be clean ever again.
She sometimes imagined telling her father, telling her stepmother, telling anyone, and being believed. She’d tried a couple of times, but the first person she told ended up being Tori. That was almost two years ago.
Until that moment they had been close friends by proximity, but not by choice. Even so Lydia knew Tori was the sort of person who could keep a secret forever, long after the secret-teller had forgotten who was carrying their story. Lydia was surprised at herself when she answered Tori’s question about Jack honestly. They were at a sleepover with sleeping bags spread across a mutual friend’s living room circled-wagon style. Lydia would never turn down a chance to go to a sleepover, but even in that most feminine cluster of safety she would hear the sound of the button lock clicking itself out, would wake in a sweat, would bite the edge of the pillow so that her ragged breathing would go unheard. On that night Tori was awake. Too much coffee, she said. The two of them wandered barefoot onto the lanai, careful to shut the sliding glass and screen doors. They wrapped beach towels around themselves to keep warm. Tori told Lydia about her family and Lydia listened carefully, listening for signs that perhaps Tori could be trusted. She never remembered the specifics of the first hour of their talk.
Tori turned and faced Lydia directly, leaning onto her hand. It was almost the same color as the faux-marble tile of the lanai. “Has your stepbrother ever done anything to you?” Tori asked.
“What do you mean?” Lydia answered.
Tori just watched her, read her. Lydia hadn’t thought of Tori as observant, but she knew in that moment that Tori had seen a lot more of her than she’d realized. This was someone that was hard to lie to.
“Yes, he has,” Lydia answered, biting her lip. She tried to stammer a reversal, but it didn’t matter. She’d never planned on telling the truth.
Tori hugged her and Lydia didn’t ask her how she’d known; for that moment it was enough to be wearing pajamas, wrapped in two towels, and held by someone, anyone.
“Jack…he’s done stuff. A lot. A lot of stuff.” Lydia had started. Then the story poured out of her, washed over the rocks. Now, a silence. Lydia watched Ikaika and Wilmont, saw Tori watching them and holding Wilmont’s hand. Their abs rippled with tension, as though they were trying not to yell at her, trying not to make things worse. They were kids—they were all just kids. Speaking out was a mistake, of course, and Lydia had known that. For the first time, she realized how close they all were to nakedness, in bikinis and surf trunks, and how the wind would not blow away that feeling.
“Well, fuck that guy,” Wilmont said into the empty space. Ikaika punched his legs.
Once, when everyone was home at the same time, she mentioned that a classmate was living with her grandparents—her uncle had molested her and her parents were unconvinced. Sitting at the kitchen island, she watched for her father’s reaction.
“Kids. They’ll say anything to get away from their parents.” He paused and shook his head at the state of the modern child. “Not you, kiddo. Just things like that make me so mad.”
“Attention whores.” Jack smirked at Lydia and she felt her sip of Coca-Cola rising back up her throat.
Her stepmother had nodded along, letting the story wash over her as everything did—she had the personality of a bottle of oil, completely separated from everyone . There was a time—there must have been a time—when she was gregarious and had won her father’s heart, but that was not the woman Lydia knew. For as long as she had lived with them, her stepmother was about as consequential as the color of the cabinets.
Before Jack left her room that night he made a fist in her hair, pulling chunks of skin out with the locks. “See? No one to tell.”
Lydia was trying to decide if she could vomit without anyone noticing when she realized Ikaika was crying. Not exactly crying, but his jaw was tensed and he looked at her with wettish eyes. His body was so much smaller than it seemed when he was happy. He finally looked up; a little pool of sweat had gathered on the four brownish-blonde hairs he called a moustache.
“Why tell us now? We’ve been family since hanabata days. You could have said something, dude. We could have helped!” Ikaika spat the last bit at the sea below and Lydia wanted the lava to re-ignite and kill her there.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think…I didn’t know I could tell anyone.”
Wilmont looked between them, and at the space between them. “Course you could. You didn’t have to tell us, you know? But now that you did it’s our kuleana too.” Ikaika nodded, the little blonde locks falling and sticking to his forehead.
“I don’t want to get pregnant.” Lydia said, actually looking the boys in the eyes which widened with understanding a few seconds later than Lydia or Tori thought was reasonable.
“I’ll fuckin kill that guy.” Ikaika curled up like a dog ready to pounce.
“You can’t fight Jack, Ikaika. He’ll kill you.”
“He wouldn’t fucking kill me. Fuck that guy.”
Lydia’s heart caught. If Ikaika got hurt it would mean that she hadn’t done her job. As long as Jack had her to play with he might not hurt anyone else. Might not ask a girl for her number. May not join the kids’ ministry at church. Tori looked up.
“Kai, do you still have your ‘opihi knife?” She asked.
Ikaika opened the zippered pocket of his surf trunks and pulled out a stainless steel pocket knife. Tori took it, and handed it to Lydia.
“Sure, you can borrow it,” he said.
“Oh yeah, Ikaika, do you mind if Lydia borrows your knife for a few days?” Tori asked in her Mary Poppins voice.
Wilmont chuckled. “Check em, dakine’s coming.” A group of older kids was swimming out toward Black Rock. Suddenly, they felt like kids again.
Lydia closed her hand around the knife, put it in the pocket with the coral. “Thanks. And don’t tell anyone about this. It’d ruin everything.” The knife felt a little too familiar, like she’d imagined one like it before, or had one. If nothing else, she could use it on her wrists.
“For sure. We gotchu.” Wilmont gently punched Lydia’s shoulder, as though that was reassuring.
“For reals though?” She said.
The others in the water were calling to the boys to do a flip. Ikaika obliged. He resurfaced and called up to Lydia. She waited for a turtle to swim away, but finally she jumped off the cliff into the depths below.
Lydia kept her hand under the pillow, wrapped around the thin knife, torn between staying awake and catching the few moments of sleep she might get. She slept fully clothed some nights, as though the inconvenience of a belt or second layer would stop Jack. It had once. The windows were open, sirens singing in the night. Her phone lit and faded next to her.
Click. She saw the back of her eyelids, felt something digging into her thigh. Click. The thrust of the unraveled paper clip and the fainter shadow. A rattle she could not unhear. She felt the string of a tampon between her legs, and a pressure on her hip. It was in these moments, before she stopped imagining her body as her possession, that she was most aware of its tiniest changes.
Jack turned to shut the door and with her one open eye she could count the new chest hairs growing in. The footsteps that had only grown heavier in the last six years. She knew what would come: a hand on her mouth, another tearing at her clothes. She waited until he leaned over her, still a shadow. The hand came down over her lips. Her hand came out from under the pillow. Her thumb flicked once and she heard the safety click, metallic amongst the sounds of twisting fabric.
The tip embedded itself in the taut skin of his stomach, only eyelid deep. His eyes widened and she clenched her teeth behind his fingers. If she couldn’t scream he couldn’t either. She felt the warm wetness drip onto her hand, pushed the point deeper. His hands flew back to his stomach. He turned away from her. His figure was more familiar to her than his face; Lydia knew the danger of the tense in his shoulders, his face to the hallway light. The seconds were over before they began: Lydia snatched the phone up and leapt onto the desk, slicing the window screen and leaving Jack’s blood on its edges. The grass crackled under her feet and the pavement had no give while she sprinted down the road, toward the silhouettes of half-built houses casting darkness in the moonlight.
The battery on her phone was low; she made the call to Tori and walked toward the McDonald’s. The piercing in her hip was getting worse, and she wondered if her feet would bleed by the time she’d walked the rest of the way. In the glow from the windows, Lydia watched the old meth heads sleep on the grass, took her place beside the door. She found the source of the stabbing pain in her pocket: the piece of coral: dead and beautiful and fragile, golden in the light. She put the tip of it in her mouth, sucked the saltiness from it, and sat on the sidewalk waiting for Tori’s headlights to blind her.
Heidi Turner is a writer and musician from Maui, Hawai’i. She earned an MA in English from Azusa Pacific University, where she also earned a reputation for professor impersonations. Her work has been published in Cirque, The Other Journal, Forth, Barren Magazine, and the Adirondack Review, amongst others. Her debut novel, The Sacred Art of Trespassing Barefoot, won the 2019 Great Story Project and is published by Heritage Future.