Trigger warning: the following story includes graphic sexual and violent content EDIT: The story has been edited as of 05/01

It was the second time it happened. The first time could have been a misunderstanding, a mistake. Perhaps she led him on, perhaps it was a blip of insanity in which he’d lost control. She was unsure yet blamed herself. But this time, she was certain of what had happened. She knew it was barbaric and brutal. He was barbaric and brutal.

Mary sat in her polyester desk chair, organizing the weekly newsletter when he came up from behind. She felt a hard lump against her back as he placed one hand over her breast and pulled her knee-length skirt up over her knees. Shock paralyzed her entire body and she sat frozen in a live nightmare. She opened her mouth to object, to scream, to plead and nothing came out. He forced his fingers underneath her cotton pink underwear and physical pain plowed through her immobilizing fear. She’d never felt such agony, it felt as if a pocket knife pierced through her body and stabbed her, over and over again.

Mary wanted to break his hands and run away but he was twice her size. He could prevent her from standing up. He could prevent her from ever leaving the room again. Instead, she squeezed her eyes shut and prayed for it to be over, prayed for the ability to leave. Something gave in and the burning pain started to subside from a knife’s blade to a bee sting and it was over.

He ferociously swiveled her chair around, his eyes empty and black. His face softened when he noticed the blood trickling down her legs.

He stepped back. “Are you okay?” She was surprised to find worry upon his face.

Mary looked down at her legs and watched the blood drip down the office blue carpet. She shook her head, unable to find an appropriate response.

He snatched the Kleenex box off of her desk and gently placed it on her lap. “Are you–are you a virgin?”

With trembling hands, Mary wiped her legs with the tissue as quickly as she could. “Yeah. I’m—I’m 17.”

How could he not think she was a virgin? What kind of a stupid question was that? Did she give some sort of implication she was not a virgin? That she wanted it because she was not? Does it make any difference?

Mary ripped her purse out from the bottom desk drawer, stuffed the Kleenex box inside, and bolted from his office. She ran down the carpeted stairs, through the administration office, and went straight to her car. She did not shed a tear until she was safely inside of her car with the doors locked and the radio turned up high. She hung her head over the steering wheel and wept. She could hear her soul snap and shatter into pieces, leaving her empty. There was nothing but a black hole of shame within her and she felt helpless as she sobbed uncontrollably against the rubber steering wheel.

Mary couldn’t tell anyone. How could she?

Abel was the senior pastor for The Garden Church and her boss. Everyone would believe the forty-three-year-old pastor over his seventeen-year-old, part-time assistant. She’d only been his part-time assistant for six weeks and the previous assistant, a sixteen-year-old high school student worked with him for a year without a complaint. Pastor Abel was highly respected by the community and their church. She and her family were newcomers and charity cases. At least, that’s how the others viewed them.

When Mary’s father abandoned her mother and siblings, The Garden stepped in. When Mary’s mother lost her job and they were on the brink of eviction, The Garden stepped in. When Mary needed money to save up for a car to help transport her younger siblings, The Garden stepped in. The Garden became their home and God became their new father. Mary and her family were provided with employment and stability when they needed it most. Although it was her mother who was their savior, providing everything with almost nothing, The Garden gave them the boost they needed. Mary knew this wasn’t because they possessed hearts of gold, it was because they pitied the family. They were needy and broken.

Mary wiped her nose with the sleeve of her cardigan and stared down at the crumb-filled floor of her car. The car had been graciously donated to her by another member of The Garden. She could feel the warm blood puddle underneath her. She needed to tell someone. If she didn’t show up to work the next afternoon, her mother would ask questions. Human Resources would remind her she’s still on a 90 day probation and she must show up. Pastor Abel might even fabricate his own story out of fear. Although it was unlikely he would say anything at all. He couldn’t risk his position at the church, he couldn’t risk the stress upon his wife.

Pastor Abel’s wife was almost seven months pregnant and would visit the office most Sunday afternoons, caressing her basketball-shaped belly and warmly greeting everyone with snacks and words of kindness. She was often followed around by their foster daughter. The wife admitted the doctors advised against the pregnancy but they’ve been wanting a child for many years, and God finally answered their prayers. God provided a miracle. After her second miscarriage, the wife quit her job as a schoolteacher and devoted her time to ovulation cycles, monthly attempts of conceiving, and homemaking. Their last successful attempt resulted in a stillborn, due to an infection in her placenta. Traumatized by their losses, they accepted and raised a foster child until she conceived for the fifth time.

Pastor Abel repeatedly told everyone it was a blessing. God answered their prayers and blessed their good work by rewarding them with the child they always wanted.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” Pastor Abel repeated at every sermon.

Mercy Me, Mary’s favorite band, blasted on a loop from the radio and drowned out her cries. It burned like fire between her legs, her underwear now crunched with dried blood, and her face was stained with tears, black from mascara. She was a garbage can of damaged goods. She was dirty gum under a shoe, rotting fruit in the kitchen, a degraded corpse in the morgue. She was half-used and thrown out like snot-filled tissues.

Mary wanted to tell everyone. She wanted every member of the church to believe her, she wanted the men to storm into Pastor Abel’s office and throw him out the second-story window, she wanted to see his blood blanket the sidewalk and fragments of his skull strewn across the blacktop. 

And then she would ask, quite stupidly, just as he had, are you okay?

Even if everyone believed Mary, it would be his wife who suffered.

Two weeks prior, the doctors labeled the pastor’s wife a high-risk pregnancy and diagnosed her with preeclampsia. She was unable to move much and could lose her fifth child. If Mary pressed charges, his wife would lose the foster daughter she’s loved and raised as her own. They’d be forced to hire expensive lawyers who would clean out their bank accounts and take their homes. His wife would live in the basement of some relative, divorced, broke, and alone. His wife, overwhelmed by it all, would lose her fifth baby. A baby girl they were going to name Esther after the character in the bible, a Jewish wife of a Persian king who stood up for her people.

Mary’s heart became heavy with the harrowing realization that it was not just about her. She was now forced to choose between herself and the Pastor’s wife.

She has a foster daughter and a baby girl due. It wasn’t rape. I didn’t say no. I didn’t scream. Would anyone believe me? Would I be held accountable? But, there were two incidents in one week, she reminded herself, had he done this before? Would he do it again? To me? To someone else?

And as she sat in the parking lot debating, tears streaming down her cheeks, she watched Pastor Abel walk across the parking lot with his arm over one of their church volunteers, a small blonde girl who was no older than 15.

Pastor Abel walked as if nothing had happened, his arm wrapped around the neck of the small blonde girl, like a snake curling around its prey. It was just another blessed day in his blessed life. Mary hung her head and cried.