A Novel

      Emily's Choice
      More than an hour passed, as Emily sat in the gazebo listening to the laughter and music cascading down from the open windows of the Harrison. As the voices began to diminish, she could not bring herself to return to the house and chose to stay outside in the cold where she could feel the night air and monitor the barn door. It was well past midnight when she rose from the bench and heard the music’s volume lowering in unison with the lights at the top of the house. She stood and watched as the last light on the third floor finally went dark.
      The last thing Emily wanted was an encounter with Derek. She feared he would pursue her now that the others had paired off into the other two bedrooms. She truly despised him and his arrogant behavior. Derek was attractive, and wasn’t lacking in the area of self-confidence. He had convinced himself that having a good time meant flashing himself and his lifestyle all over the city of Marquette. He arrived to every party on campus with a date. The fact that his dad was a successful Detroit land developer helped Derek’s image at Northern considerably. Daddy could buy everything, and Derek wasn’t the least bit hesitant about taking advantage of that situation.
      Emily rose and stepped out onto the back lawn. The frigid darkness spooked her, as she replayed Elsie's comments about bad wolves roaming the area, and she decided to go back to the house and sleep on the couch in Elsie’s parlor. She began to move slowly forward and stopped at the edge of the shadows just before entering the front lawn, unable to keep her thoughts from the young wolf that lay in the dark barn behind her.
      The front door to the Harrison began to open slowly and creaked against its old, iron hinges. Startled by it, Emily moved quickly to hide herself in the shadows and decided to bolt for the barn. She ran lightly, trying not to risk being heard by whoever was now outside. She ran straight to the barn, slipping inside the door Elsie had left partially open. Once inside, Emily ducked behind a row of large, metal milk cans and crouched low to the ground beneath a window. After several moments, she began to relax and her breathing slowed.
      Someone or something was definitely approaching the barn. Emily maintained her crouched position behind the milk cans and waited for the intruder to be exposed by the moonlight shining through the barn door. The movement outside the barn grew closer, stopped, and then it seemed to be moving away. Her mind was racing. Was it Elsie? Had she returned to the barn to check on the wolf? Emily was already planning future stops at Blaney Park to spend more time with Elsie in order to learn about this place and the creatures that lived within its grounds. Being caught back in the barn might mean losing Elsie’s respect, as she had clearly instructed Emily to leave the wolf alone for the night.
      The movements drew closer. Emily’s heart was racing. What if it was the poacher from the clearing? Perhaps he was angered by the wolf being released from his trap and somehow knew it was here. Had he had come to claim his prize, after all? Emily was now fearful for herself and the wolf. How could she protect them both?
      The moon was extremely bright on this night, and the lack of cloud cover allowed its illumination of the lawns around the Harrison and surrounding buildings. Its glow entered the barn door and reached the edges of the hay bed where the wolf lay. Emily considered pushing the door shut, just a little, in hopes of blocking the moonlight from revealing the sleeping creature. She decided against it, knowing the noise of the large wooden door straining against its pulley would most certainly draw the attention of whoever may be looming nearby. A large shadow in the moonlight entered through the doorway, and was soon followed by the presence of its owner.
      “Well, this is where they brought the little river rat, huh?" Derek's voice echoed in the large barn. "Because of you, I lost my date for the night.”
      It’s only Derek. Of all the fears she had for who or what it could have been, she expected him to have fallen asleep with the others in the Harrison. Her heart’s rapid beating slowed at the sound of his voice and Emily felt both relieved and irritated at the fact that he was even out there. She heard him shuffling towards the place in the hay where she and Elsie had left the wolf. His movements were erratic and, from his heavy breathing and soft laughter, Emily knew that he had been drinking, and drinking a lot.
      "God, Derek," she said aloud, stepping out from behind the milk cans. "It's only you. You scared me."
      "Emily,” Derek was surprised to see her. “So, where have you been all night? I’m not used to having my dates stray from me. If I didn't like you so much, I would be offended by such behavior. Are you going to come back with me to the house so we can make up for lost time tonight? I really don’t mind if you take care of some mangy animal, as long as you also take care of my needs, too.”
      Derek turned away from the wolf and surveyed the barn. He went to the wall and extracted a pitchfork that was hanging against a large support beam. He then walked around all four sides of the barn, removing different items from the walls. Emily did not know what to say nor understood what he was doing. She looked at the wolf whose eyes were open and blinking slowly, as it fought the affects of the relaxant. The look in the wolf's eyes no longer reflected approachability. She could only assume that the wolf was troubled by Derek’s intrusion.
      “Derek, I'm staying out here tonight. Thanks for coming out to look for me, but why don't you go back to the Harrison? We can have fun tomorrow during the drive downstate.”
      Derek did not respond. Intermittent stumbles and fumbling with the items he was carrying confirmed to Emily that he was either high or drunk, but definitely under the influence of one or more of the many substances that were available to the group that evening. While she was not pleased with his presence, he was the better of all the possibilities that were on her mind while she sat behind the milk cans.
      “Were you hiding from me, Emily?" Derek asked with a slight smile on his face, as he continued his walk around the barn walls.
      “Hiding? Why would I be hiding from you?"
      “That’s what I kept asking myself this evening. Why would a woman like you not want to be with a great guy like me? Let's hold that thought for a while."
      “Derek, what are you doing? You come into the barn, say nasty things about the wolf, and then walk around taking things down from the walls. What exactly are you up to?”
      “Oh, so now you are interested in me?" Derek closed the door, and slid the large plank board into the door’s side brackets, locking it into position.
      “Derek, please don't do that. Elsie asked me to keep the door open.”
      “Elsie? Elsie?” Derek leaned forward and shook his head at Emily. “First the wolf and now some old hag who doesn't even know what day it is. Come here, Emily. I want to explain something to you.”
      “Derek, you're drunk. I think you are a nice person, but you are beginning to make me uncomfortable. You are not acting right.”
      Derek began laughing. He placed the items he had removed from the walls neatly on the barn floor, as if he were taking inventory of them.
      "I am not acting right?" he repeated. "So, you tell me, Emily. What’s right and what’s wrong? Better yet, who cares about right and wrong? I don't, do you?"
      “Yes, I do, Derek. My parents raised me to know that doing what is right is important."
      Derek began to chuckle with an evil presentation. "Parents, parents, parents... so, now you think you have better parents than me? First, you are too good for me. Now, you are trying to say you have better parents than me. Who do you think you’re talking to?" His tone and words turned sarcastic and this alarmed her, accelerating her heart beat. She realized that she was locked in the barn with Derek and couldn’t allow him to see how afraid she was. She looked to the wolf. It was now looking directly at her, as if warning that danger was present. Emily’s mind began considering her options.
      “Derek,” she sighed. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. I don't think I am better than you. I’m just not the right type of girl for you. I’m doing you a favor by telling you, you can do better."
      “Exactly," Derek responded. "I agree. I am better than you, Emily. There is no doubt in my mind that my family is far superior to the country hicks you have for parents. But, you are all I have for this weekend. I think you could do a better job at showing me the respect I deserve from white trash like you. You should be feeling fortunate to be in this barn with me. And, while you don't dress like a woman, I am pretty good at undressing with my eyes and imagination. I would bet you are all woman underneath those farm boy clothes of yours."
      “Go to hell, Derek!" Emily was now feeling her back to the barn's wall and her pleasant approach was not working. It was time for a new strategy. She thought back to her mom's lectures of never allowing herself to become vulnerable to men. Her mom was concerned about Emily’s journey into adulthood and had explained that you never really know a person until you get to know them well. She had cautioned about placing being in any vulnerable situation with a man. Emily didn't really know Derek, and was now in a very uncomfortable predicament with him.
      “Exactly," Derek smiled. "Now that we agree on what’s happening tonight, we can get started.” He unbuckled his belt.
      “Derek, don't be an asshole! Why are you doing this? I have no interest in you. I am saying no. Do you hear the word no, Derek? I do not want to have sex with you or spend any time whatsoever with you for the rest of this trip. Now, open the door because I am walking out of this barn - alone."
      Derek slid his belt from his pants and went over to the wolf. To Emily's horror, he lifted his arm and struck down, whipping the animal once. It yelped softly, unable to call out for help in its sedated state. The look in the wolf's eyes was of great pain and fear at the situation.
      “You bastard!” Emily screamed, as she lunged forward and pushed him back. She then knelt next to the wolf and began whispering softly, trying to calm the trembling animal. Risking an attack on her, Emily reached out and gently petted the wolf, knowing full well that this was very dangerous. She turned with clenched teeth toward Derek.
      "Get out of here, Derek. So help me, if you hurt this wolf again, I will kill you! Or, I will call somebody and you will be in more trouble than your daddy can fix!"
      "I thought you knew who I am, Emily," Derek laughed. "Who gives a damn about this wolf except that senile old lady and you? No one else does. So, do you honesty think my dad would allow some country bitch like you to accuse me of anything? You're nothing. This wolf is nothing. Besides, who says you didn't kill it to put it out of its misery, maybe with this pitchfork." He picked it up and placed the blades lightly upon the neck and shoulder of the wolf. Emily didn't move. Her hand was still comforting the animal and only inches from the pointed fork. As her anger and fear collided, she began to cry softly.
      "That's it, Emily. Show me how much you care about this insignificant little river rat. I love it when people are about something. It makes them stupid. I, personally, don't understand why anyone would waste their energy on anything besides money, sexual satisfaction and the thrill of the power that comes with being me." He laughed in Emily’s direction. She would not look up at him and was doing her best not to provide him the satisfaction of placing her in a submissive position. She was confused, as she realized Derek had her. She slowly moved her hand and grasped a blade of the pitchfork, lifting it from the wolf.
      "I am so sorry," she whispered, thinking that if she had left the animal in the woods at the mercy of the trap, its pain would be over by now. She had wanted to save its life, and now felt she had only prolonged the agony.
      "I will give you a few moments to be with your dog,” Derek stepped back holding the pitchfork. “But don't take too long, sweetheart. I want you to be a good dog and obey me."
      Emily stared at the wolf as tears clouded her vision. She no longer felt afraid of the creature. They were on the same side now, both at the mercy of the pitchfork. She leaned down and buried her head behind the wolf's shoulder, wishing the wolf would turn its head and bite her neck. This would be appropriate compensation to Emily for placing the wolf in this predicament, and might cause Derek to run for help. She could smell the bitter odor of the wild in the wolf's fur. It was not a pleasant smell, but Emily hoped her apology would be felt and she could make sense of the decision she was facing.
      She hadn't dated much during high school, or in college. She had, however, cared very deeply for a couple of young men. As much as they urged her, she never felt the need to give up her virginity. She was the only one in her circle of friends who had not experienced a sexual relationship and had always felt good about her decision.
      Now, Emily had to choose between the safety of the wolf and a threat to her sexuality. Her tears soaked into the wolf’s fur, moistening its skin and releasing more of its wild odor. The decision was too difficult. She knew if she denied Derek's wishes, the wolf would be killed right in front of her. If she consented, part of her soul might die.
      Clearing her mind, she wiped away her tears and lifted her head, turning to see Derek tossing the knotted end of a heavy rope up over a beam. It had a slipknot and swung down beside her, hanging a few feet off the ground.
      "What's that for?" Emily asked.
      "You didn't really think I'd put a pitch fork through that animal, did you? Hell, no! I think hanging it by its fucking neck would be much more entertaining. I used to do this to dogs and cats in my neighborhood when I was a kid. It was a treat to see the legs kick while the animal would struggle to survive, only to make the rope tighter. It was truly a lesson of survival for me."
      Emily was now trembling with anger instead of fear.
      "Or. Now, Emily, this is a big or, okay?" Derek walked a few feet to her, and unzipped his jeans. "Or, you can crawl over here and suck on this for a while, to take my mind off it. Oh, and don't forget to take your clothes off, too, so I can enjoy the beauty and softness of your body."
      "Derek, you are sick! You disgust me. Do you really think you are going to get away with this?"
      "Ah, but I do. It's not like I haven't gotten away with it before. This shit excites me, baby. Especially when I have a high going like I do tonight."
      With that, Derek vaulted the pitchfork into the hay pile, just past the wolf's body. Emily looked at the rope dangling from the beam. If she fled from the barn, she would undoubtedly come back in the morning only to find the wolf dangling lifelessly from the rope. She had no choice. Derek had won. She looked, once again, into the eyes of the wolf. The creature tried to lift its head towards her and Emily smiled, sensing that the wolf was asking to die. She gently caressed its paw, a gesture of one last connection between them, and then stood up slowly to face Derek.
      Laughter from the hallway brought Emily to consciousness, and she opened her eyes to the morning sunlight streaming in through the bedroom window. Derek was lying next to her, still asleep. Her mind quickly awakened with the nightmare she had lived through and tears fell from her eyes. Every crevice in her body ached, every muscle cried with her as she looked to the ceiling for answers around what had occurred the night before. Trying to calm her mind, Emily slowed her breathing. She needed resolution to her experience before the long drive downstate with the others.
      Emily's eyes focused above her. The ceiling was beautiful, a true work of art. Its architect had not just slapped up some mud and paints, but had put much love and time into it, creating something special within this house. It had contours and lines that were uncommon to just any ceiling. It was one that was crafted with care and concern. As she scanned the vaulted ceiling, her eyes tracing the lines, she noticed a crack in one corner that had become stained yellow with age and water damage. It was unsightly and took away from the overall beauty of the ceiling. Her thoughts turned back to the artist who came to this room perhaps some forty years earlier. How that creator would be disappointed to know that the roof had been neglected and allowed to leak, blemishing his beautiful work, leaving it scarred by the outside elements of nature.
      She looked back at Derek, spread out next to her, naked and sleeping peacefully as if nothing wrong had occurred the night before. She blinked hard as the tears slowly trickled down from her eyes into the sheets. There was only one pillow and Derek had it under his head. She looked back to the ceiling and tried to settle her emotions. Her life was now going to be like that ceiling. Her architect had been an artist, too. He had created her lines in such a way she felt beauty within herself. Her parents had protected her, taught her to protect herself, and all were determined to keep the outside elements from staining her image.
      Her wrists were tingling, and she lifted her arms above her face. They were red and swollen from the rope burns she received as she hung from the wooden beam while Derek had his way with her. All of her wounds began to awaken, as she felt the delicate muscles and flesh of her vagina throbbing to her heartbeat from his abusive treatment the night before. She had not fallen asleep, but had fainted into unconsciousness from exhaustion, and was now taking inventory of her being and knew she was deeply damaged by her experience. Emily was like the corner of the ceiling, except the plaster and paint could be repaired. Her wrists would heal, but for the remainder of her life, she would see the scars around them and be reminded of that horrible evening. Her mind was racing and she knew what she wanted. She must tell someone. He must be arrested. Derek must be punished. Emily suddenly wanted to call her mom and dad. She wanted to speak with them and ask that they come to her, bringing whatever was necessary to fix what had been broken in her.
      Derek, had rolled from his stomach to his side, and was now facing away from her. She so wanted a knife to stab him in the back and find satisfaction in the revenge of killing him. Just the fact that he had the nerve to lay there next to her after what he had done made Emily realize that he would have no regrets, or sorrow.
      She rolled away and slowly lifted her body from the edge of the bed, suppressing her whimpers from the stiffness and aching she felt. She did not want to awaken Derek. She looked to the floor to find her clothes, not remembering how she came to the bedroom or became undressed. Emily had not wanted to give Derek the satisfaction of seeing her body during his assault and had struggled to keep her clothes around her body for protection. She knew he would not rip them and provide proof that she was not participating in his advances on her.
      She looked around at her feet and bent over, carefully and quietly collecting the wrinkled items from the floor. Almost underneath the edge of the bed lay her light blue camisole. Emily stared at it. She looked at the delicate lace edging, the satin straps and again fought back tears as she remembered shopping with her mom for new clothes to take to college that fall. It was a time when womanhood was settling in and, for the first time in her life, she had decided to purchase a few things that would enhance her femininity. A lump rose in her throat, as her eyes focused on the delicate silk fabric now stained with semen. One of the straps had been torn away from the lace bodice. Emily did not touch the camisole, but instead took her foot and slowly shoved it beneath the bed. She never wanted to see it again.
      She dressed, and slipped from the room, pausing on the landing at the top of the stairs. She had held her breath while she was dressing, afraid Derek would hear her, and now was breathing deeply as she tried to capture all the oxygen available for her lungs. Emily sat down on the top step and turned to look out through the window behind her. It was a beautiful morning in Blaney Park, as the sun shown warmly on the river. Canadian geese had settled there for the night, and were diving for food as they swam across the smooth water. Once again, she looked at her wrists and decided she would do whatever she had to do in order to heal them. After all, she did have a choice as to how it was going to impact her life. It would take time, and it would take courage. Emily promised herself that one day she would bring justice against Derek and he would pay for this.
      She would despise men like him from this day forward. She would hope that the emotional scar inside of her, along with the physical scars that she had been given, would soon heal without notice. She pulled down her sweatshirt, thankful that it was oversized and she would not need to worry about hiding the marks on her body.
      Emily began to slowly descend the staircase and paused at the bottom. The smell of the morning's breakfast told her food was waiting, yet she could not bear to eat along with the others. Instead, she slipped out the front door and decided to check on the wolf. As she rounded the back of the Harrison, she broke into a run and stopped at the barn's entrance. Her heart sank at the sight of the empty hay.
      "She's gone," Emily heard Elsie's voice and turned to see her standing by the milk cans. She was wadding up the remnants of the gauze bandage she had used on the wolf the night before. "Her bed was cold, so she probably left before dawn."
      Emily stared at the hay. For some strange reason, she felt emotional and tears welled in her eyes.
      "Her pack will care for her," Elsie said gently. She walked over and patted Emily on the arm. "They always do."
      Emily blinked, and wiped the tears from her eyes. She squared her shoulders, as the car horn blared from the front of the house. She then looked to her left, at the rope still dangling from the beam. She slowly turned toward Elsie, who was also looking at the rope. Elsie's expression had gone more serious and she looked back, staring intently into Emily's eyes.
      Emily said nothing for a moment, as she returned the woman's gaze. She sensed Elsie's confusion about the rope. It was not there the night before when they had left the wolf and returned to the House.
      "I'll be back," she whispered, dropping her eyes as she turned toward the door.
      "Emily," Elsie reached out and clutched Emily's wrist, causing her to wince with pain. Emily did not turn back to face her. Elsie gasped at the sight of the burns on Emily’s arm. "What happened here last night?"
      "I…" Emily's voice began to crack, as she struggled to respond. "Nothing."
      "Look at me," Elsie said, sternly, and she turned Emily toward her. She put her finger gently under Emily's chin and lifted her face. Emily's eyes were filled with pain, as the tears began to fall again, and she looked up to Elsie. "My God, child." Elsie embraced her, and the car horn blared again.
      "I can't go with them," Emily cried.
      "Stay here, do you here me?” Elsie directed. “Do not leave this barn until I come back for you." She stepped out of the barn, pulling the large doors securely shut behind her.
      Emily began sobbing uncontrollably, as she lowered herself into the hay. She curled into a ball, holding her knees tightly against her chest, and waited for the doors to reopen, for the sunlight to return.