He was keeping a secret, and it didn’t take long to figure out what it was.
We called him Shush. Every now and then we caught him out and staring. We talked to him and tried to get him to respond before we realized he was mute. We gave him a piece of paper and we found out his horror.
The pen trembled in his hand as he wrote:
Daddy held me in his arms and crushed me against his sweaty body. He whispered things to me. He told me of all the terrible things that he would do if he ever heard me speak.
He is listening. He is everywhere.
We didn’t know how true those words were, but that is for another time. Shush would arrive as a traumatized child—scared and jumpy, wide-eyed and trembling—and when he did, Job sat with him. Job was a good friend to us back then, a valued member of our lives. He was making it better one conversation at a time, one kind word after the next.
He sat with Shush for hours, just the two of them. He never asked a question. He never made a demand. Job knew what all four of my friends knew. Shush had been abused. He had been threatened. Shush was fragile, and Job could make him laugh.
Bekah and Shush had a system. When her phone rang and she answered it, if no one was there, she waited.
“Is that you?” she would ask.
He would punch a number. The tone in her ear was his voice.
“Do you want me to come over?”
One tone for yes, and she was in the car, no matter the time, no matter the situation. Two tones for no and she would talk. She would tell him pleasant things about how he was smart and beautiful and cared for. She talked about the family that lived within him. She talked about the family that lived with out. She told him of things he liked to hear, told him about her dogs or the food she had eaten that day. She told him anything she could, and she soothed him.
Chanel was the same. When Job was at work, his girlfriend Chanel would sit with Shush. She had a kind spirit and a soft way about her. She was the only one that he could touch.
Shush sometimes sat next to her on the couch and held her hand. The first time he did that, she jumped and he pulled away.
“No, I’m sorry. You can touch me, dear. You just surprised me,” she said with a beautiful laugh. “You just reached out. Man, I didn’t expect that. I’m sorry I jumped. If you want to do that again, you can.” And a few hours later, he did.
Shush was known to be a kid. He was known to be a victim. He was known to be fragile. Shush was to be protected. He was watched over and cared for by everyone in my life back then. Everyone but Regina.
The first time Job saw what she was doing, he nearly punched her. Regina went to the bathroom, and while she was gone, Shush had appeared. He was sitting on the couch, his eyes wide and staring. When she walked in, she knew something had changed.
“Who do I got?” Regina asked. She stepped closer and looked him in the eye. Shush looked away. She grabbed his chin and turned his eyes back to hers. He looked down. She turned to Job. “Who is this?” she asked.
“That is my man Shush. How you doing, partner?” he said.
Regina kissed him on the mouth. She grabbed Shush’s face with her hands and kissed him. He rushed within. Shadow came out, but he had no idea what had just happened. He kissed her back, and she stared at him.
“Who’s this?” she asked. We all hated answering that question.
“Shadow,” he said. He pointed at the television. “What are we watching?” he asked Job. Job said nothing. He just stood up and walked away.
“What the hell, man?” Shadow said.
“Not you, brother. Really. I just have to go,” Job said. And he took off. He talked to Chanel. He called Bekah, and they went out to dinner.
They came back as one, unified and angry. Regina was sitting with Child. He was talking about some show he had watched and something he had done. The three of them walked in and he turned to them and smiled. He started to talk and Regina kissed him.
“We need to talk,” Job said. Regina looked up at him and nodded. She looked to Bekah and Chanel and back to Child.
“What you just did is not OK,” Bekah said.
Regina stared at her. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“That is a little kid,” Job said. “You just stuffed your tongue in his mouth. That is not OK.”
“We were told that we are not even supposed to touch Jesse unless he touches us first,” Bekah said. “You just kissed him. And what is worse, you kissed a kid.”
“What do you know about it?” Regina said. “You have no idea what I do with him when you are not here.”
“Yeah, that is our point,” Chanel said.
“What is this?” Regina said. She looked at the three of them, then to me. I heard it all as if from far away.
“We have just gotten done talking, all three of us, and we have decided that a few things need to change,” Job said.
“No more touching him,” Bekah said. “At all. If he touches you, then you can touch him. Otherwise, keep your hands to yourself.”
Regina turned to me and snapped, “Are you going to just sit there and let them talk to me this way?”
I heard her say it. On some level, I had a feeling, some emotion about the things going on around me, but I was gone. Someone else had stepped forward. And though I could see and hear, I could not speak.
“Look at him,” Job said pointing at me. “He is gone. He is not in the room with us. He is far off. You want him to defend you, but you can see that he is not capable of even being in the room when we are talking about this.”
“I’m leaving,” she said.
“Then never come back to my house,” Job said. “If you walk out before we are done talking to you, then never come back.”
She huffed and crossed her arms.
“Today I saw you walk into a room where Shush was and, as soon as you knew it was him, you kissed him,” Job said. He was a warrior that day. Job was not going to let it happen anymore. “You knew who it was. You kissed him anyway—as soon as you could.”
“Do you know what that kid has been through?” Bekah asked. “It was so bad, he can’t even talk. About anything. He is mute because of it, and you violated him as soon as you could. He is a victim of molestation. One brush of a hand is rape to him. You kissed him. He is also a kid. A kid, Regina. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I don’t even want to hear it from you,” Regina said. “We all know why you are here.”
“What are you talking about?” Chanel asked.
“She wants Jesse for herself. That is why she is here talking to me right now. If I wasn’t kissing him, she would be!”
“How old is Child?” Job asked. “Let’s walk away from Shush for a moment, and let’s talk about what you just did. Just now. How old is Child?”
“We don’t know,” she answered.
“Oh, yes we do,” Chanel said. “I know, and you know. You were right here when Guardian was talking about it. That ego state is six years old. I know you know that. You just stuck your tongue in his mouth a minute ago. Do you realize that? That is what you did to a six-year-old.”
“Jesse is a grown man.”
“Child is not Jesse. Child is a child,” Chanel said. “And you’re gonna keep your lips to yourself if you want to be around him anymore.”
“What did you just say?” Regina asked. “Think hard about what you say next.”
“OK,” Bekah said. She leaned in close to Regina. “I’ve thought about it. If you ever kiss any one of those children again, if you kiss Pain or Child or Shush, I am going to talk to Assassin about it.”
Regina leaned back. She turned her head. She could not look at them. She had looked into Assassin’s eyes once before. He had talked to her about hitting us.
“Do we understand each other?” Job said.
Regina looked at them both for a long moment before she turned to glare at me. “Want to say anything about this? Any of you? Jesse, any of you going to say anything?”
“You don’t understand what this conversation is doing to him, do you?” Chanel said. “You don’t understand what is going on in his mind right now.”
“Are we done here?” Regina snapped.
“We are,” Job said.
She grabbed my face and looked into my vacant eyes. “If you want to find me, I’ll be with my friends. This is all bullshit!” She stood and walked to the door. “Bullshit!”
The three of them watched her go, and Job locked the door behind her.
Chanel looked at me with what looked like a broken heart and she shook her head. “What do we do now?” she asked. “He is in bad shape.”
“We wait,” Job said. They lit a few candles, played some music, and waited for it to pass over.
When it did, I woke up to friends.