On Monday night, Emily told Cindy what had happened on Rugby Road. To her surprise, Cindy took it very calmly, apologizing for having been so selfish over the weekend when Emily first came back to the room.
Emily could not train after the attempted rape. She needed to study for mid-term examinations anyway, she told herself. In fact, she was hanging on by an emotional thread. During the day, she jumped at sudden sounds and found herself getting tense in crowds. At night, she tossed around, sleeping in fits. She struggled to appear normal.
“Is this like PTSD?” she asked Hilda, who stopped by after work each evening for the first two weeks.
“Some of it is your reaction to Ambien. The rest is PTSD, Em. The ‘T’ is for trauma. There are many kinds of trauma.”
“How do I get over this?”
Hilda sat on her bed. She looked over at Cindy, who had stopped studying to listen.
“You probably both need to hear this.” She took a breath. “I never forget my first attempted rape.” She looked at Emily. “The drill instructor I told you about.”
“There were more?” Emily gasped.
“Like I told you then, he was the last to get anywhere. The rest were attempted assaults. You saw me putting down drunks and untrained would-be jihadis this summer. In the Army, some fought back, and I took some hits.” Cindy’s eyes were so wide, they almost looked crossed. “You probably won’t forget this, either, Em. The question is how to go forward from here. Will it disable you? Leave you scarred?”
Emily looked down, then up. “You took martial arts right away. Became pro-active.”
Hilda nodded. “I did. I was still assaulted, as you saw in Atlantic City. In the Army, I built a reputation for my ‘look, don’t touch’ rule.”
“Rule number one.”
Hilda smiled. “Made it hard to score a date if I wanted one, but I didn’t mind. When I did meet a guy I liked, it would be someone like Jack.”
Emily chuckled. “Jack would be worth skipping the others for.”
Hilda reached over and held Emily’s wrist. “What are you going to do now?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How are exams going?”
“Not great. We’re half-way through, and I have B’s in everything except French.”
“You realize that you are coping already?”
“Yes. You’re not exploding into tears. You’re managing to study and take the tests, so those B’s are actually victories, this soon after the attack.”
“She’s awesome, I think,” said Cindy. “If I hadn’t seen her doing those breathing drills in the room after class, I would never have known.”
“Will it get better?” Emily asked.
“I can’t say. We all react differently to our traumas. But judging from what I’ve seen, you should recover well. You kept your cool with Lieutenant Hillsdale. You don’t seem to be focussing on anger or revenge. You’re not having nightmares.”
“What about this panicky feeling when there are lots of people around?”
“I think I felt something like that anytime one of the DI’s was near – which in boot camp was all the time. I had to grit my teeth and focus until we graduated. Even now, I try not to get in the middle of a crowd. I tend to favour the edges of the room.”
“Only now, I don’t feel panicky. I just prefer to be where I can see and feel.”
“And case the room before you step in.”
“Thanks, Hilda. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you as a friend.”
“Works both ways, Em. I would not have survived the summer without you.” She gave Emily a long, strong hug. “I’ll stop by tomorrow.” She nodded to Cindy with a smile and left them.
Emily let out a deep sigh and turned back to her computer. She clicked Spotify back on and the strains of Berlioz’s Symphonie Pathétique filled the silence. She brought up the Calculus text and found the place she was studying. She looked up and noticed that Cindy was still staring dumbfounded at her.
“She ‘would not have survived the summer’? What was that?”
“We just looked after each other.” Emily smiled. “Ask her tomorrow.”
Emily and Cindy survived mid-term examinations. As they were packing for Fall Break, Brianna came in.
“I thought you might like to know that the boy who ‘tripped’ outside your room on Move-in night won’t be back. Turns out the two sets of parents were close friends, and the fathers were not pleased. They decided that community college close to home would allow them to focus on their studies better.” She paused in the doorway and smiled. “Have a great time. See you next week.”
Cindy and Emily locked up their room and went to their respective homes for Fall Break.
On a dreary Wednesday in November, Hilda and Reginald were walking back from the Jackson home. With the new drug, Taniqua’s grandmother improved after Hilda started visiting, and she was able to join the family for special occasions downstairs. It had stopped raining, but the wind was bitterly cold. Hilda was carrying the black bag with the instruments and medicines. They reached the corner near the office when they noticed two men coming the other way, their eyes fixed on the black bag, hands deep in their football jacket pockets. They blocked the sidewalk. They were in their late teens. Hilda recognized one of them from the crew that hung around the gas station, drinking beer in the afternoons.
“You got the goody bag today,” he said, putting out his hand for her to pass him the bag. His other hand was gripping something in the pocket.
Reginald straightened up. Hilda passed the bag to the doctor and stepped forward.
“You are blocking the sidewalk.”
“Just gimme the bag and no one gets hurt.”
“It doesn’t work that way.” She saw him begin to pull his other hand out. She grabbed his extended arm, pulled him into her fist as she kneed him, then laid her fist to his temple. As he went limp, she shoved him into the other man. She had her foot on his arm before he could get up. She dropped and pulled him over and pinned him there.
“Call 911, please,” she said to Reginald, motioning for the black bag. While Reginald pulled out his cellphone and called, she took out some bandage tape from the bag and bound the younger one’s wrists. Then she turned to the one she recognized and felt his pocket from the outside. He had a pistol. She left it there, and wrapped tape around him, binding him like a straight jacket. She felt his pulse and looked up at the doctor.
“Let’s get them to the office,” said Reginald. A siren wailed up Water Street coming closer. Hilda motioned to the approaching cruiser. He nodded and bent over to check the unconscious man. “Shakwan,” he said, as felt his pulse. Shakwan woke up while the officers were getting out of their car.
Five minutes later, Shakwan was swearing loudly as the police took him in an ambulance to the ER at UVA. The other man got a free ride to the City jail in the police cruiser. Lieutenant Hillsdale showed up and took their statements.
“Oh, hell,” said Hilda, looking out the window from the hallway. The Channel 4 news truck was pulling up. She looked at Hillsdale, who was sitting in the reception area taking notes. “Can I get away with a no comment – or even slip out downstairs?”
Hillsdale looked at Osborne, who pointed to the door to the garage. “Can we limit this to Dr. Osborne and his nurse? My name will trigger all kinds of stuff on the internet.”
“We’ll try,” said the detective. “Quick, get out of here.”
Hilda ran downstairs. She put on her helmet and mounted the bike inside the garage. She rolled out under the rising door, took a right and headed away from Ridge Street. She had to walk the bike behind a neighbouring lot and along the right of way for the railroad, but she was able to make it back home unobserved.
Of course, the black neighbourhood knew the full story before the six-o’clock news, but a quick word from Reginald to one of the basses in the choir kept Hilda’s name out of the TV news that night. The young reporter from the Daily Progress did not think to interview everyone or get the nurse’s name. He made Reginald appear to be the hero. Shakwan did not have a concussion, so he was released to the police the next day.
For Thanksgiving, Hilda and Jack joined Emily and the Dempseys on Brandywine Drive.
“I’m afraid to ask how you two are doing,” said Mark as he poured a Barboursville Pinot Grigio. “It’s almost too exciting when you’re around.”
“The robbers were cousins of the Monroes,” said Emily. “Fran was seriously pissed, but not surprised. Did you and Dr. Osborne know them?” She looked at Hilda.
“He did, and I recognized Shakwan, though I didn’t know his name at the time.”
Jack asked, “one of the Oreo chorus?” Hilda nodded.
“At least this time, your face didn’t go viral on the internet,”
“Thank goodness for that,” said Hilda. “Everyone in town seems to know, but the media and the police were really good about keeping my name out of sight, so this won’t bring up Chicago again on Google searches.”
“That’s twice now, you’ve managed to dodge the spotlight,” Mark said. “I hope your luck continues.” He looked at Jack. “Are you enjoying NGIC, Major?” he asked with a humourous emphasis on the rank.
“Actually, yes, so I can’t regret flunking Retirement 101. Ask me again at Christmas.”
“What’s up, or is that classified?”
“It is, but I can tell you that I will have to travel some. I love to travel, but these won’t be tourist destinations.”
“Are you going to be OK?” asked Katherine.
“I think so. We’ll find out if the medical board at Walter Reed was right.”
“I think they were, dear,” said Hilda. “You’ll be fine.” She looked at Emily. “On the other hand, how are you doing, Em?”
“After your talk in my room, I think I got better quickly. Thinking before I step into a crowd has helped; casing the room was already a habit. I was able to sleep the whole night through last week. That Ambien was powerful stuff, but I think it’s finally worn off.”
“Have you started training?”
“Tuesday, I went on the group ride. I got my rhythm back almost right away. Next week, I’ll join Mariana and the team.”
“Looks like we have a lot to be thankful for,” said Katherine, “including that I didn’t burn the roast. Shall we?”
They adjourned to the dining room. The feast lasted into the night, including a walk in the bracing evening air before returning to the house. The five friends relived the adventures of the last year and filled in the stories from the time before Emily and Hilda met again in Charlottesville. They basked in the warmth of good friendship, keenly grateful for each other’s presence in their lives.
Each slept deeply and peacefully that night, confident that whatever the future held, they would always be there for each other.
I hope you enjoyed the first book about Emily & Hilda. Our heroes will be back, because I am already outlining two new novels with them. Meanwhile, I invite your comments about the book, and especially about the blog. Long-time readers will remember that it featured reports on my bicycle wanderings alternating with sea stories from my own past. The experiment about living and working on the road was successful, so I was not planning to return to that topic, but you get to choose. Please take this short poll (check all that apply).
You can also send me email any time: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week, a guest article about travelling as a couple.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,