My brother was what my mother had always referred to as a 'lost soul'. The first time he was brought home by the police - he'd been drunk and vandalizing both public and private property - he was fourteen; it just got worse from there. I never smoked pot, but I wasn't so out of touch that I didn't know what it was, or that my brother started smoking it around that first time he was arrested. The list of drugs and arrests both grew as he got older.
Meanwhile, I was the ideal child - at least, I was the ideal child for my mother. I was okay in school - mid-seventies to mid-eighties - but what always bonded my mom and me was our faith. I never questioned the beliefs she raised me with; I felt the truth in my heart. Every time we went to church, this sense of peace just came over me. I prayed when I woke up and before I went to sleep, I dressed modestly, and I attended Bible study and the church youth group.
Looking back on it, my brother's hatred of me was probably largely because of that bond. He never related to our mom on that level because he never believed. Like pretty much every other authority in life, he questioned it and rebelled, and, unfortunately, that drove him and our mom further apart. So far apart, that he went to live with our dad when he was thirteen – another thing that probably didn't help.
Our mother and father divorced when I was three, and Jared six. Our dad claimed Mom had become a religious nutjob and had forgotten how to live, and our mom claimed he'd promised to settle down after they had kids but couldn't handle the responsibility. Her picture of Dad always rang true to me; he's now forty-six, often drunk, and dating loose women. I have pretty much the same relationship with him that Jared has with Mom: not much of one at all.
Anyway, the result of our separate home-lives was that we were completely different people who had nothing in common. Dad let Jared run completely wild, while I followed in my mom's more conservative footsteps of my own free will. Whenever Jared came to stay with us, or I had to go stay with him and our father, he tormented me. I've prayed for the ability to forgive him, but maybe my hurt runs too deep.
But those petty childhood grievances pale in comparison to what would happen right after my eighteenth birthday.
All I did to celebrate was go out for dinner with some friends. None of us drank as we all shared the same beliefs. I got some presents, they told the waiter it was my birthday so the poor waiters and waitresses had to come out and sing me this silly birthday song, then I got a slice of birthday cake with sparklers. Pretty tame, especially compared to what my brother did for his eighteenth birthday. Or rather, what we assume he did - he didn't actually come home for almost a week, so we really don't know what he was doing.
The weekend after my birthday, my mom was going to a ten day religious retreat. We ironed out the last-minute details. It was great to have her trust me enough to leave me by myself, and I wanted to prove I could handle it. It was April, so school was still on, and I also had a part-time job. It was basically like a week to be an adult for the first time in my life, completely responsible for myself. Maybe I'm lame, but I found it exciting.
My mom stood by the door the day of her departure, her packs sitting at her feet.
"Well, kiddo, I'm all ready to go. Come here and give me a hug." She held out her arms.
I meant to give her a quick hug, but I ended up holding on, and before I knew it we were both crying.
"Look at us," she said, sniffling. "You'd think I'm heading off to war the way we're acting."
I stepped back and swiped at my eyes. "I know, but I'm going to miss you. It just really hit me that I'm going to be all alone here."
"Well, we could always ask your brother to come keep you out of trouble."
We burst out laughing.
I hugged her again. "I'm going to miss you, Mom."
"I'll miss you too, honey."
I helped her get her bags into the taxi, and stood there watching as they drove away. Excitement and sadness warred in me, but I purposely pushed excitement to the forefront.
I was really trying to look at this as a test for myself. I was very thankful for my relationship with my mother, but sometimes I thought we'd gotten too close, like I couldn't function without her there beside me. And there were things I wanted to do with my life: go to college, do some missionary work, and eventually start my own family. My mom couldn't hold my hand forever.
I decided for my first act of responsible adulthood, I would clean up. I swept, I dusted, I vacuumed. I was mopping the kitchen floor when the phone rang.
"Hey, Scrawn. Mom there?"
I sent up a quick prayer of forgiveness for disliking my brother.
"No, Jared. She left for the airport at three o'clock."
"Airport? Where's she going?"
I rolled my eyes and bit my tongue. "To the Bible retreat in Lake Tahoe. For ten days."
"Would've been nice if she could've told me," he said in his usual surly tone.
"She tried to call you three times this week, Jared. You weren't home, and didn't return her calls. She asked Dad to tell you about the retreat, but I guess he forgot."
"Yeah, whatever. So you going to stay with Dad then?"
"No. I'm staying here," I said reluctantly.
A pause. "By yourself?"
"Well, maybe I'll come visit you."
I swallowed the vehement 'NO!' that sprang to my lips and said simply, "Sure."
I couldn't infuse that with any more enthusiasm than I felt.
He laughed and hung up.
I woke up the next morning right when my alarm went off, and I got to school in plenty of time. After school, I went straight to work for my five-hour shift.
I worked at a bookstore, which was usually great. I'm an avid reader, so the discount on the books was nice. You also got to discover books you wouldn't otherwise hear about.
There were just some occasions though, when it wasn't so great.
The customer in front of me glanced up from the book he'd been reading while waiting in line and smiled at me amiably without a trace of embarrassment. My eyes skirted away and I concentrated on scanning each of his books and trying - without success - not to blush. 'Disciplining Jane', the 'Beauty' trilogy, and 'My Secret Life' were all from our small, but unfortunately still existent, erotica section. After I'd scanned and bagged those three, the customer tossed down the book he'd been reading.
My head felt light as I saw that the cover had a picture of a woman; blindfolded, gagged, and hands and arms tied behind her back, bent over a couch with a riding crop poised over her behind menacingly.
As much as I blushed and tripped over myself whenever someone brought a book like this up to the counter, I had a dark secret: I read smut.
Not smut on par with the stuff this guy was reading – I'm not into the kinky stuff. But I'd gotten hooked on trashy romance novels with graphic sex scenes.
It had started as an accident. Usually, I read Christian Fiction – used to be all I read. One day when browsing the Christian Fic aisle, I found a book with a harmless cover showing a pleasant pastoral scene. The summary on the back described it as a woman's journey through work problems, family issues, and rediscovering love. Turned out to be a very explicit romance novel that someone had misplaced in the Christian Fic aisle, but I didn't find that out until after. I bought it, and, at sixteen, discovered things about sex they never taught us in Sex Ed.
I learned to touch myself while reading that book, after an ache that I'd never before experienced developed in a place I'd believed I wasn't supposed to think about too much until I was married. I tried to put the book down after the first sex scene, but my mind kept returning to it, and I kept feeling that incessant pulse between my legs, a steady drumbeat until I finally gave in.
I prayed, and I felt in my heart that it wasn't a bad thing I'd done. If anything, it kept me from being tempted to commit a sin. Of course, maybe I was just rationalizing to allow myself to do what felt good.
At any rate, romances and masturbation became my guilty pleasures. I would drive to the Chapters across town to buy my novels, eyes darting nervously around me, looking for anyone I knew. All my friends knew what kind of smut was contained in those romance novels. Before I got addicted to them, a girl in my Bible study group had once confessed that her mother and father constantly fought about the romances her mom read, her devout father angry about her bringing trash like that into the house. None of us had openly condemned her, but we'd all thought it. And then I became what I'd judged.
I'd read my novels locked in my room – one hand holding the book, the other dipping below the sheets. And I couldn't wait for my shift to be over so I could go and do just that.
Time crawled by, and I found myself seizing upon any task that became available so that I could stay busy until the end of my shift. Finally, the clock said it was time for me to head home.
During the drive home, I found myself flashing back to a particularly bad Jared experience – as I'd come to call them in my head. It was during one of the few times over the years that I'd stayed at my father's place. My dad had moved into a two bedroom apartment, so whenever I came to stay over, he made Jared give his room up to me.
I hadn't been reading the romance I'd brought with me. Jared had a habit of bursting into the room without knocking, responding to my protests with only, 'It's my room.', so I didn't want to start something when I might be interrupted. There was no lock on the door to keep him out, and our dad wasn't too effective on disciplining Jared.
Finally, one afternoon I had the place to myself. Dad was still at work, and Jared had told me that he was going to be out until late that night with his friends. I went to my room - or Jared's room, as he refused to let me forget - and took out my new romance. An hour later, after a few erotic skirmishes that the heroine had cut short, the main characters were finally going to have sex.
I was boiling; on top of the heat of arousal, the air moved only sluggishly through my brother's window. I stripped off my clothes and lay on top of the sheets. My fingers went back to work between my legs, stroking, rubbing, and delving. As the hero put his mouth between the heroine's legs, his face became Justin's - my brother's friend who I had a crush on - and the heroine's face and body became my own.
The hand holding the book grew limp, and my eyes drifted shut.
"Ew, dirty!" I heard from the doorway.
My eyes flew open to find Jared and Justin - oh, God! - staring at me, Jared sneering, his expression somewhere between amusement and disgust - Justin wide-eyed and shocked. Jared made no move to block Justin from seeing me. I screamed and flew off the bed, landing on the other side of the bed from them in a heap and yanking the sheets down to cover myself.
"Fuckin' nasty. I don't need your pussy juice on my bed, Katie. And anyway, aren't you holy rollers not supposed to bang yourselves?"
My face burned even at the memory.
I never understood why Jared got such pleasure from tormenting me. I was pretty sure he didn't love me, but I didn't get the level of antagonism he seemed to feel for me. I thought I loved my brother, but, unfortunately, I knew I didn't like him very much.
When I got home, I changed into shorts and a tank top to combat the unusual heat we were experiencing. I turned on the living room fan and stretched out on the couch with my latest romance. I still read Christian Fic occasionally, but in truth, after I discovered it, romance was practically all I read besides the Bible and religious literature. Fighting off those teenage urges, I think. I was determined to remain a virgin until I married, but it was hard sometimes.
A noise at the door caught my attention; someone was opening the door! I dropped my book and ran to the phone, ready to call the police when I heard, "Katie?"
Relief warred with anger inside me as he came into the living room. "What are you doing here, Jared?"
He gave a lop-sided grin. "I need a reason to visit my sister in our mom's house?" He emphasized 'our' pointedly.
"I guess not," I muttered. I went to grab my book, trying to put it away before he could see it, but he caught a glimpse of the entwined limbs on the cover.
"Wow, looks hot," he said, snatching it out of my hands. His eyes skimmed the back and grew disinterested. "Chick book."
I held out my hand for the book, but he ignored it.
"Remember when Justin and I walked in on you-"
"Yes!" I snapped.
He grinned, flipping through the pages. "Justin was so embarrassed. When we left, he had a boner like a baseball bat shoved in his pants."
A thrill shot through me at hearing that. I tried to appear disinterested and hold on to my anger.
"Bet he jerked off thinking about you. What do you thin-Hey!" he exclaimed, eyes lighting on a paragraph that had obviously caught his interest. "'He slowly parted her with his thumbs, leaning in and running his tongue up her dewy slit.' Wow, no wonder you finger yourself when you read this shit."
My face burst into flames, and - with my strawberry blonde's complexion - I knew I must be bright red.
"Do you have to be so crude?" I reached for the book again, but couldn't budge it from his hands.
He looked up at me. "Fuck, you take everything so seriously. Can't you ever just relax and be normal?" he asked in an irritated voice, finally handing over the book.
"If by normal you mean being a drunken idiot who sleeps with everyone, like your friends, then no."
I turned and went to my room, forcing myself to close the door softly, just barely keeping myself from slamming it shut like a child having a temper tantrum. Like Jared always did when he was mad.
I took deep breaths, forcibly calming myself.
Why was he here?
He sure didn't come out of any love for me. Two minutes in the house, and he'd already humiliated and insulted me. I just didn't get it, but I doubted I ever would. Jared was a mystery to me; despite having blood in common, we shared absolutely nothing else.
"Hey, I'm making Shake 'N Bake; you want some?" the object of my thoughts called out.
Part of me resented him cooking, like he was making himself too at home, even though, as he'd pointed out, this was our mother's house. I chided myself for my petty thoughts, but I still didn't want his peace offering.
"No, thank you," I called back, my tone coming out snottier than I'd intended.
I locked the door and pulled out my homework, then spent the next three hours studying. I emerged from my room for a snack, trying to avoid looking over at the living room when I went into the kitchen, but a noise caught my attention.
He wouldn't, I told myself.
But he would, apparently. There, on our devoutly Christian mother's TV, was porn.
He looked over at me then returned his attention to the TV.
"What the hell are you doing!" I exploded.
He looked back and met my eyes. "Watching porn, which is pay-per-view, so quit bugging me so I can watch."
"You ordered pay-per-view porn!" I screeched. "Mom is going to kill you!"
He rolled his eyes, then took out his wallet. "Here," he tossed a twenty onto the coffee table, "Mom can keep the change. Now fuck off."
"You're not watching that! Not here!" I grabbed for the remote.
He pushed me away. "Seriously, Katie, quit being such an annoying bitch. You're eighteen now; you can drop the little prude act."
I was livid. I stomped over to the TV and looked him right in the eyes as I pressed the off button. "Get. Out."
He stood up, and menace radiated from him as he made his way toward me. "If you don't like it, then go back to your room." His voice was low and dangerous.
I swallowed, but stood my ground. He was always pushing me around, and I couldn't take it anymore. "No. You need to leave, Jared."
He snorted. "You think you're kicking me out?" His fingers clamped down around my wrist and he hauled me up against him.
"You know how Mom would feel about this. All of this! Let me go, Jared!"
He didn't answer, but dragged me toward the couch, shoving me to my knees in front of it. He flopped down behind me, grabbing a fistful of my hair to stop me from rising.
He found the remote, and suddenly the sounds of moans were filling the room again.
"Jared, please, let me up," I pleaded.
"Just watch the movie. Maybe it'll help you to relax and stop being such a freak."
I shut my eyes, and turned my head away. Jared didn't do anything; maybe he didn't care as long as I didn't mess with his movie.
Fine, I decided. He could watch his revolting porno. I would go into my room and let him do as he pleased, then tell Mom and let her deal with it.
"Oh yeah, baby, fuck my ass!" I heard from the TV.
My mouth fell slack and my eyes sprang open. They sure didn't say stuff like that in my romance novels...
The girl on the screen was laying on her side, while the man beside her held one of her legs up and pushed himself into her anus. The camera zoomed in to show her puckered hole stretching to its limit around his thick girth.
It was simultaneously revolting and fascinating; I couldn't tear my eyes away.
The hand that had been wrapped in my hair trailed down to my nape and started a slow, suggestive massage.
"You like that, Katie?" he murmured.
Reality crashed back down upon me, and I tried to lurch back up to my feet only to have his other hand clamp down on the back of my neck and shove me down again.
"No! Let me up! You can watch your movie. I'll go to my room."
Fingertips stroked over my collarbone. When he spoke, his voice was right at my ear, "You sure? Looked like you were getting into it there..."
My shoulder jerked up at the strange sensation. "I'm sure. Let me up."
"Fine." The hand pulled back.
I shot up and walked jerkily to my room, my body feeling overcharged and too aware of itself.
"Night, Katie," he called softly behind me.
The next morning, I could barely drag myself out of bed, I was so tired. I'd been unable to sleep the night before, rolling and kicking and getting twisted up in the sheets.
I just didn't know what to think about what had happened. Jared bugging me was nothing new, but last night things had turned almost...sexual.
I'd told myself all night that it was just the background noise from the porn putting funny thoughts in my head, but I just kept remembering Jared's fingertips brushing over my collarbone, his hot breath at my ear. I'd felt an excitement that would have been sinful with any man not my husband, but with my brother...
The morning sunlight whipped away the haziness of sleep, and I knew what I had to do. I dropped to my knees in front of my bed and bowed my head in prayer.
By the time I walked into the kitchen nearly an hour later, I was prepared to face Jared. I'm not an assertive person by nature, but I had the strength of the Lord on my side, and I knew I had to confront Jared. I would simply tell him that he'd crossed the line, and give him an ultimatum: behave in a respectful manner, or leave.
My timidity tried to sway me, telling me to just ignore him and keep my distance, but prayer had energized me and put everything in perspective. God's power flowed through me and I quashed the doubts. I had visions of me explaining the sinfulness of what he'd done to Jared, how far into Satan's clutches he'd obviously sunk, and of him finally understanding and repenting. We would be a happy family, healed and whole at last.