I had never noticed Lucas before that night. It was as though he didn’t exist, and then suddenly, he was everywhere.
I’d just bailed on the Halloween party still in full swing behind me. Weaving between the cars crammed into the parking lot behind my ex’s frat house, I tapped out a text to my roommate. The night was beautiful and warm—a typical Southern-style Indian summer. From the wide-open windows of the house, music blared across the pavement, punctuated with occasional bursts of laughter, drunken challenges and calls for more shots.
As tonight’s designated driver, it was my responsibility to get Erin back to our dorm across campus in one non-mangled piece, whether or not I could stand another minute of the party. My message told her to call or text when she was ready to go. The way she and her boyfriend, Chaz, had been tequila-soaked dirty dancing before they linked hands and tripped up the stairs to his room, she might not be calling me until tomorrow. I chuckled over the thought of the short walk of shame she’d endure from the front porch to my truck, if so.
I hit send as I dug in my bag for my keys. The moon was too cloud-obscured and the fully lit windows of the house were too far away to provide any light at the far end of the lot. I had to go by feel. Swearing when a mechanical pencil jabbed a fingertip, I stomped one stiletto-clad foot, almost certain I’d drawn blood. Once the keys were in my hand I sucked on the finger; the slight metallic taste told me I’d punctured the skin. “Figures,” I muttered, unlocking the truck door.
In the initial seconds that followed, I was too disoriented to comprehend what was happening. One moment I was pulling the truck door open, and the next I was lying flat on my face across the seat, breathless and immobile. I struggled to rise but couldn’t, because the weight on top of me was too heavy.
“The little devil costume suits you, Jackie.” The voice was slurred, but familiar.
My first thought was Don’t call me that, but that objection was quickly dismissed in favor of terror as I felt a hand pushing my already short skirt higher. My right arm was useless, trapped between my body and the seat. I clawed my left hand into the seat next to my face, trying again to push myself upright, and the hand on the bare skin of my thigh whipped up and grabbed my wrist. I cried out when he wrenched my arm behind my back, clamping it firmly in his other hand. His forearm pressed into my upper back. I couldn’t move.
“Buck, get off me. Let go.” My voice quavered, but I tried to deliver the command with as much authority as possible. I could smell the beer on his breath and something stronger in his sweat, and a wave of nausea rose and fell in my stomach.
His free hand was back on my left thigh, his weight settled onto my right side, covering me. My feet dangled outside the truck, the door still open. I tried to pull my knee up to get it under me, and he laughed at my pathetic efforts. When he shoved his hand between my open legs, I cried out, snapping my leg back down too late. I heaved and squirmed, first thinking to dislodge him and then, realizing I was no match for his size, I started to beg.
“Buck, stop. Please—you’re just drunk and you’ll regret this tomorrow. Oh my God—”
He wedged his knee between my legs and air hit my bare hip. I heard the unmistakable sound of a zipper and he laughed in my ear when I went from rationally imploring to crying. “No-no-no-no…” Under his weight, I couldn’t get enough breath together to scream, and my mouth was mashed against the seat, muffling any protest I made. Struggling uselessly, I couldn’t believe that this guy I’d known for over a year, who’d not once treated me with disrespect the entire time I’d dated Kennedy, was attacking me in my own truck at the back of the frat house parking lot.
He ripped my panties down to my knees, and between his efforts to push them down and my renewed effort to escape, I heard the fragile fabric tear. “Jesus, Jackie, I always knew you had a great ass, but Christ, girl.” His hand thrust between my legs again and the weight lifted for a split second—just long enough for me to suck in a lungful of air and scream. Releasing my wrist, he slapped his hand over the back of my head and turned my face into the leather seat until I was silent, almost unable to breathe.
Even freed, my left arm was useless. I leveraged my hand against the floor of the cab and pushed, but my wrenched and aching muscles wouldn’t obey. I sobbed into the cushion, tears and saliva mixing under my cheek. “Please don’t, please don’t, oh God stop-stop-stop…” I hated the weedy sound of my powerless voice.
His weight lifted from me for a split second—he’d changed his mind, or he was repositioning—I didn’t wait to find out which. Twisting and pulling my legs up, I felt the spiky heels of my shoes tear into the pliant leather as I propelled myself to the far side of the bench seat and scrambled for the handle. Blood rushed in my ears as my body rallied for all-out fight or flight. And then I stopped, because Buck was no longer in the truck at all.
At first, I couldn’t figure out why he was standing there, just past the door, facing away from me. And then his head snapped back. Twice. He swung wildly at something but his fists hit nothing. Not until he stumbled back against my truck did I see what—or who—he was fighting.
The guy never took his eyes off Buck as he delivered two more sharp jabs to his face, bobbing to the side as they circled and Buck threw futile punches of his own, blood streaming from his nose. Finally, Buck ducked his head and rushed forward with bull-like intent, but that effort was his undoing as the stranger swung an easy uppercut to his jaw. When Buck’s head snapped up, an elbow cracked into his temple with a sickening thud. He collided with the side of the truck again, pushing off and rushing the stranger a second time. As though the entire fight was choreographed, he grabbed Buck’s shoulders and pulled him forward, hard, kneeing him under the chin. Buck crumpled to the ground, moaning and cringing.
The stranger stared down, fists balled, elbows slightly bent, poised to deliver another blow if necessary. There was no need. Buck was almost unconscious. I cowered against the far door, panting and curling into a ball as shock replaced the panic. I must have whimpered, because his eyes snapped up to mine. He rolled Buck aside with one booted foot and stepped up to the door, peering in.
“You okay?” His tone was low, careful. I wanted to say yes. I wanted to nod. But I couldn’t. I was so not okay. “I’m gonna call 911. Do you need medical assistance, or just the police?”
I envisioned the campus police arriving at the scene, the partygoers who would spill from the house when the sirens came. Erin and Chaz were only two of the many friends I had in there, more than half of them under-aged and drinking. It would be my fault if the party became the focus of the police. I would be a pariah.