Please be aware that the following piece contains graphic description of a rape. Please proceed at your discretion.
Intra-vaginal stitches are especially daunting at age fourteen. Being rushed to a hospital in a foreign country in your dorm advisor’s sweatpants while nearly bleeding out can’t be much better. When I first met the girl who nearly bled out, I was sitting on the plane to Beijing for a summer immersion program. Catherine Helms was the girl with home-dyed hair and hickies on her neck who is inexplicably smarter and more accomplished than you. She’s a mixed drink of insanity, immaturity, and genius. She had the face of a kid that day, all wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked at the age of fourteen.
When we were assigned Chinese classes, I wasn’t sorted into the level with Catherine. I was with Catherine’s roommate, who, while young, was a native-level Mandarin speaker because of her Taiwanese heritage. Tally and I picked up a habit of going on late-night bubble tea runs. Catherine would occasionally come with us. One night, we were sitting on the steps of the university, cold cement leeching heat from our thighs, drinking bubble tea when Catherine decided to confess something quite personal.
“I really want to lose my virginity on this trip.”
“What?” said Tally and I in unison. Catherine just shrugged and took a sip of tea.
“Why?” I asked.
“To who?” Tally questioned. To answer both questions, Catherine gave us a look of casual disinterest and continued to drink. She didn’t seem to want to talk about her personal goals anymore, so we finished up our teas and called it a night.
The lock on my dorm room door was broken. It would often swing open randomly, forcing my roommate and I to stack books behind it, just in case. The laundry room was on the girls’ side of the hallway, so most of the boys knew that our door had the potential to open itself if there was too large a draft from them walking by. For the most part they politely ignored our vulnerability, except for Zach Jacobson.
Zach did not understand courtesy. I was changing when he burst into my room in search of a hair dryer. Standing in a sports bra and athletic shorts, I screamed at him to get out.
“What? It’s nothing that I haven’t seen before,” he said nonchalantly. “I’m a senior, you know.” He made no move to leave. He stood in the doorway, his flat eyes languidly focused on (probably) my face.
“Could you please leave? I do not have a hair dryer. I do not know why you need one. I am very uncomfortable right now,” I explained. He sighed heavily before turning around and trudging out of my room. Far from my line of sight, Zach’s distinct flavor of creepiness was attractive to Catherine like the smell of rotten pork.
While China has no drinking age, the program directors made it clear that we would be sent home for partying. As nerds that chose to spend a month of our summer at Chinese camp, no one broke the rules until our final night.
A cohort of my friends, including Tally, decided to have a sleepover. We pulled our rock-hard mattresses and flat comforters off of our dorm beds and piled them in the middle of my floor. The entire night was spent watching whatever movies we could find on Chinese TV and voicing over whatever we didn’t understand with a ridiculous, made-up script.
Catherine invited Zach over to her empty room. While we were pretending to be historic Chinese generals, Zach pretended he didn’t know that Catherine was barely fourteen. His dead eyes stared into hers, and maybe she saw something alive. He walked out of her room covered in blood. Not his own, of course.
“Hey, Tally, Catherine needs you,” he said, popping his head into the sleepover. Tally, assuming there was something she had forgotten to pack, climbed over the tangled mass of limbs and headed down the hall with him. Because he had just poked his head in the door, we couldn’t see the river of blood running down his chinos.
Tally never came back to our sleepover that night, and we forgot about it until the morning. Before we were able to ask her where she’d gone, morning roll call began.
They called Catherine’s name on the roll and no one answered. As we all looked around for her, one of the dorm advisors hurried up to the one holding the list and whispered in his ear. He quickly moved on and called the rest of the names. Uncomfortably, all of the girls at the sleepover looked at Tally, who just shrugged. Zach was off in the corner, napping in his hoodie. He had changed into clean sweats, and none of us knew that he had stashed a pair of bloody men’s chinos in a trash can outside the dorm. I didn’t know that Catherine was in surgery while I was printing out my boarding pass.
A few months later, I visited Tally in New York City. We went out to lunch and walked around SoHo, talking about our happy memories of bubble tea and curious adventures abroad.
“What ever happened to Catherine? I heard that she was in the hospital… was she okay?” I asked over an artisanal BBQ flatbread. Tally proceeded to relate the entire story to me as my jaw slowly dropped onto the floor of the restaurant.
“Yeah, that’s why she missed the group flight home,” Tally explained. “She texted me afterwards that she somehow blames herself. She thinks that she should have been wetter.”
“She wasn’t mad at Zach?” I was dumbfounded. Zach should have been old enough to realize that sex with a kid isn’t a brilliant idea. The age of consent exists for a reason.
“Not really. I think they still text sometimes,” Tally said. The chinos sat in a far-off Chinese dump, out of sight. Catherine wore Birkenstocks around Portland. Tally and I tried and failed to forget Zach’s cold, dead eyes.
Katie is a student and early career writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She is a graduate of the Alpha Young Writer's Workshop for Genre Fiction (2017) and of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop (2017). She will be attending UVA for a B.A. in English in the fall. She has had paid publications in short speculative fiction and short YA, including Ricky's Backyard’s special Valentine's issue with 'Floidoip' (2016), 'I Tried' (2017) at The Passed Note, 'My Hand' (2018) at Hello Horror, “The Marble Girl is a Party Trick” (forthcoming 2018) with the Laurel Review’s millennial publication, 'You Met Thor at a Gas Station at 3 AM and He Probably Hates You' (forthcoming 2018) at The Offbeat, and 'Burn the Witch' (2015) and 'A Pleasant Sunday Run' (2016) at Metamorphose. 'Burn the Witch' was their most popular story of 2015, and she won their author of the year award.