Days later, she is unloading groceries at her grandmother's house, idly listening to her grandmother gossip, and his name catches her attention. She sets down a carton of orange juice and leans against the open door, hearing car accident, hearing rolled over, hearing into the canal. She feels hollow, shaken, speechless.
"You two used to be friends, didn't you, dear?"
She looks down at her grandmother, hair falling over her face. "Yes," she answers, not trusting her voice any farther than that. Yes.
It was their grandmothers who'd introduced them. She was four and he was seven, and every time she visited her grandmother, she'd run down the hall to see if he was visiting his. They're so cute together, everyone said. And when her mother got sick and needed help minding her after school, of course his parents had stepped in - his nervous, shy mother and his shark-smiling father.
Flashes of memory -
Sleepovers - blanket forts in his bedroom, sleeping bags nestled together, staying up late recording stories on his cassette player - spooky stories, spy stories.
Walking down by the lake, feeding ducks, light glinting in his golden hair. He crumbled stale bread into her cupped hands, grinning.
Watching him punch the wall, brief flash of anger like a falling star straking across her world.
Hiding in the little room beneath the stairs, snug and silent behind moldering boxes. Hiding? From -
His father with the too-wide smile and too-large hands.
She excuses herself from her grandmother's company and goes out onto the balcony, half-seeing ghosts of the two of them, ages 7 and 10, 9 and 12. She clutches the railing, letting metal dig deep into her palms.
His father's voice, calm and relentless.
His father showing her what good girls do for men; what she is built for, what she is meant for. Training her. She should be grateful.
And she would be, if his mother would meet her eyes. If he would speak. He just looks at her, eyes full but mouth shut, and she doesn't know what to think. She just wants him to say something.
His father tells her that this is their secret. That other people wouldn't understand.
Then, later, that they would not believe her.
She leans over the railing, dry heaving sob caught in her throat, caught on decades of unspoken fear.