Chapter 1: Steve
MJ couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned, part of her wishing the sun would rise so she could get up, the other part wishing this day would never come.
It was past midnight, so it was official: today was the day she was telling Steve about… about everything.
MJ had been at the Keystone Rehabilitation Center for just over a week now, spending her days in group counseling and individual therapy, getting to know the other patients while her body recovered from the trauma of her overdose. It hadn’t been an easy week by any means- her body was still going through withdrawal symptoms, she hadn’t seen the kids since she left the hospital, and all the therapy was making her question just about every decision she had ever made in her life.
Which was why she was going to tell Steve. Today.
It was her idea originally, although one she now regretted. She couldn’t figure out the right way to word it. As she laid in bed, possibilities of what she would say filled her mind.
I was sexually assaulted.
I was date-raped.
I was raped.
MJ knew that that was the term for what had happened to her all those years ago, but she hated saying it. Part of her had pushed the idea down so far into her psyche that it took several long sessions with her new therapist for her to say it.
But it was different saying it to her therapist. Megan was there to listen to her problems. She wasn’t supposed to judge MJ, or voice her opinion about the matter. But Steve…
Part of MJ knew that Steve would respond with love and kindness and that his love for her wouldn’t change. His perception of her might change a little, but if anything, he would be mad at himself for not noticing something was wrong sooner.
But a little tiny part of MJ’s brain screamed at her whenever she tried to tell him. He had come to visit every day since she had been admitted here, and Megan had been encouraging her to tell him, so they could work through it and move past it.
But every time MJ wanted to open her mouth, and say those words, say “I was raped”, that voice in her head convinced her that Steve would hate her. Leave her. Think she was damaged goods and that he wouldn’t love her anymore.
And frankly, MJ wouldn’t blame him if he did. She still blamed herself for what happened, even though she was trying to work on the idea that it wasn’t her fault. But for MJ, it was her fault, and it would always be her fault, and like it or not, it was still affecting her every day.
And so she had to tell Steve.
Eventually, MJ drifted off, waking when the floor nurse came in to bring her breakfast. MJ checked her phone and saw that Steve had texted her, “I’ll be there by 10” with a bunch of smiley face emojis that MJ had no idea he knew how to use.
MJ ate breakfast and took a shower, and while she stood under the hot stream of water, she practiced the conversation over and over in her mind. She had practiced it with Megan, as silly as it made her feel, it was helpful now. By the time her hair was dry, MJ knew exactly what she was going to say to Steve.
And all of a sudden, there he was. In her doorway, holding two coffees and a bag of muffins. Because of course he did.
MJ plastered a smile on her face and beckoned him in, sitting cross-legged on her bed while Steve handed her coffee before settling himself into the armchair beside her.
“How we doing today, honey?” Steve asked with a smile.
“Good.” MJ replied. “I feel… better.”
“Well that’s good! Right?” Steve said.
“MJ are you alright? Your hands are shaking”, Steve asked with a concerned look on his face.
MJ glanced down at her hands, which were in fact shaking, and said, rushed, “I have to tell you something”.
Steve looked at her with a slightly confused expression, but one that was somehow still warm and open. He looked so innocent, with those eyes and that face that MJ knew so well.
MJ didn’t say anything, she just sat frozen on the bed. Steve put a hand on her knee and said gently, “MJ, whatever you have to say, just say it”.
MJ took a shaky breath and started.
“You know how… after my accident, we… we stopped having sex?”
Steve looked at her and nodded slowly, clearly unsure of where this conversation was headed.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but that thing our couples therapist said about physical trauma bringing back… other things… that was happening. To me”
“What are… other things?” Steve asked quietly.
“During my junior year of college…” MJ started, “I… I was raped”
As she said it, she breathed out deeply, while Steve tried to process what his wife had just said. When he didn’t say anything right away, MJ continued.
“It was a frat party. I was wasted. I don’t really remember much, except for some scattered pieces, but… I know what happened to me. It was my fault for putting myself in that situation, and it’s my fault that I never told anyone and-”
Steve cut off MJ’s growingly frantic words by enveloping her in a hug that was secure and gentle at the same time. His head rested on hers, he whispered, “MJ, that was not your fault. It wasn’t”.
MJ relaxed a little into Steve’s embrace, but as he pulled away, she could barely make eye contact with him. He sat on the edge of her bed and asked “Why did you never tell me?”
MJ took a deep breath and said “I never told anyone. Until Bella, because I thought… thought it would make her feel better, somehow? I just…” she trailed off with tears beginning to form in her eyes. “I’m sorry I never told you. I knew I should have and I wanted to I just… I couldn’t do it. I don't know why,” she finished.
“And your accident brought all of this back?” Steve asked.
MJ nodded, looking down at her lap.
When she looked back up, Steve was nodding ever so slightly, with an unfocused gaze- the face he always made when he was thinking.
“And is that what… all of this came from?” he asked, gesturing around the room, though MJ knew he meant her overdose.
She nodded again.
Steve grabbed her hands in his and held them tightly.
“MJ, look at me. Please” he said.
Slowly, MJ raised her gaze to meet his eyes, which were starting to fill with tears.
“I’m so sorry, honey, that that happened to you. And I’m sorry that I didn’t… that you didn’t feel like you could tell me. But listen to me. What happened that night was not your fault. It wasn’t. I know that. And I know that part of you knows that too, okay? We’re going to work through this together.”
With that, he hugged MJ again, while she nodded against his chest. She knew that Steve would help her with whatever she was feeling, help her with whatever she needed. And now that he knew, things would be easier. Not at first, but over time, it would be easier. And they would be okay.
MJ knew that they would be okay. That she would be okay. And that thought brought the first genuine smile to her face for the first time in a week.
They would move past this, together, how it should have been from the beginning. Her and Steve, against the world.
Chapter 2: Nick
TW for mention of rape.
MJ paced back and forth in her room at Keystone Rehabilitation Center nervously. Nick was coming to visit her today, by himself. Steve had taken Frankie to a poetry contest a few hours away, but Nick stayed behind so MJ wouldn’t have to spend the weekend alone.
MJ hadn’t spent any time alone with Nick since before her overdose. While her and Steve’s relationship was getting stronger, especially since she had told him the truth about her assault, her relationship with Nick felt strained. At least, it did to her. She never had to worry about Nick-he studied, had good friends, behaved himself in school. Frankie was always the one she had to be more involved with. But since Nick had told her about what happened that night, at that party, she had trouble looking at him the same way.
He was still her son, and she still loved him, but her perception of him had changed completely. Nick had always been the one to make friends with the kid who had no friends. When he was in the fifth grade he punched a bully who was making fun of Frankie’s hair. He had always done what was right… as far as MJ knew. Part of her felt like she didn’t even recognize him anymore, even though he acted as if their relationship hadn’t changed. He still brought movies with him on his visits, and brought MJ books he thought she’d like.
But to MJ, he was different.
He stood by and watched as his friend took advantage of Bella. He knew that she wasn’t okay, and he let Andrew rape her. He could have stopped it. Could have stopped Bella from a lifetime of hurt and anxiety and trauma, and he didn’t.
It took a long time, but MJ eventually realized that she was so mad at Nick because she was still so mad at her friends, who let that boy from that frat take her upstairs, even though they knew she was drunk. They knew she was drunk, and that sober MJ wouldn’t have wanted to sleep with him, and they let her go with him.
And that made her angry. All it would have taken was one person to step in to make sure she was okay when she clearly wasn’t. Then none of this- the trauma, the drugs, the tension on her marriage- none of that ever would have happened.
And sure, she had “grown” as a person and maybe there was some kind of silver lining to this whole “addicted to opiates” dark cloud, but mostly she was mad at all those people who could have helped her, but didn’t.
And now Nick was one of those people.
And she was going to tell him about what had happened to her.
A few minutes later, Nick showed up at her door, flowers in one hand, a DVD of Die Hard 2 in the other.
“Hey, hon”, she responded softly.
“I brought Die Hard 2, and I thought maybe if you wanted we could-”
“Nick, can you sit down please? I have to talk to you”, MJ interrupted.
Nick glanced at his mother with confusion, but sat down beside her bed, leaving the flowers and the movie on the table.
MJ looked at him, studying his face. He was such a combination of her and Steve, and she marveled at just how big he was, how quickly he had grown up. He was an adult now.
Old enough to know the truth.
“I’m going to ask you not to share this with Frankie. I haven’t told her yet”, MJ started.
“Told her what? Mom, what’s going on?” Nick questioned. He was used to his mom being serious sometimes, but only for important stuff. She was staring at him with this pained look on her face, like she didn’t want to tell him whatever she was about to say.
She took a deep breath.“When I was in college, I was raped” she said strongly. Ever since she had told Steve, those words came easier now. She had ownership over them, a power, almost.
Nick stared at her with a look of horror. “Mom, I-”
MJ interrupted. “I was drunk, at a party. My friends, they let me go off with some guy that I didn’t know. I was blacked out. I don’t really remember much, but… it happened. And that’s a big reason why this”, she said, gesturing vaguely to her surroundings “happened. My car accident last year triggered bodily trauma I didn’t know I still had. I’ve been trying for years to move past it, but I couldn’t do it, not by myself”.
She paused, but when Nick said nothing, she continued.
“I have never told anyone this. Ever. It has been over twenty years and I just told your father a few weeks ago. But I needed you to know. Do you understand why?”
Nick nodded, his face pale.
“I need you to understand that this happened to me because no one stepped in to help me when I clearly needed it. People saw me go off with him, and no one said anything. And maybe part of it is my fault because I got too drunk and-”
“Mom, this wasn’t your fault. He took advantage of you, he-” Nick started before MJ interrupted him, growing angry.
“And so it wasn’t Bella’s fault either, right? Andrew took advantage of her, do you understand that? And how did he take advantage of her? How did he get away with it? Because you let him! Bella wasn’t okay and I know that you are damn well smart enough to know that. But you let it happen anyway. You let that boy rape your friend. And now Bella has to live her entire life with that trauma while you float over to Harvard and Andrew goes to Yale. Fucking Yale, Nick! Do you know how many opportunities Bella will lose because of this? How she’ll spend the rest of her life regretting her decision to go to that stupid party? And part of that is on you, Nick”.
MJ was yelling now, getting breathless and red in the face. She was so angry at Nick, so angry that he would let something like this happen.
Nick had shrunk back into his chair, uneased by her yelling. MJ rarely yelled at home, and he had never seen her this angry before. Ever.
MJ saw his expression and softened a bit. “Nick, honey… I know that you would go back and change it, if you could. I know that you regret it. But you can’t change the past. The only thing you can control is what you do moving forward”.
Nick was nodding now, clearly thinking over his options.
“I don’t want to go to Harvard” he blurted out.
MJ looked at him with confusion written on her face.
“It’s not the right place for me. I need a break. From everything. And after all of this, with Bella… I can’t go. Not until we do something about it”, he continued.
MJ was shocked by what she was hearing. “Nick, I’m not saying you have to punish yourself for what happened. You can still go to Harvard, but-”
He interrupted. “I don’t want to go. I don’t… I don’t think I ever really wanted to go, I just… thought that would make you and dad happy. And I thought it would make me happy too, but… it won’t. Especially after all this. I can’t go pretend to be happy at some prep ass school while Bella has to stay here and…” he trailed off.
“So what are you going to do?” MJ questioned softly.
Nick paused, carefully considering what he was about to say.
“I… I think Bella should press charges. And I should testify. Against Andrew” he said.
MJ sat back against her pillows, absorbing what she had just heard.
She looked at Nick again, who, as grown up as he was, looked very small sitting in his chair. Her heart broke a little then, because as mad as she was at him for failing to do the right thing, she knew he didn’t have bad intentions. And now he wanted to make up for it. For Bella, and for MJ. For what had happened to her, all those years ago, and the things she had lost because of it.
“Okay”, she said.
Nick looked up from his lap to look at his mom, who, despite everything they had been through, was still the person who drove him to cello lessons and swim practices. Who cheered for him at every swim meet, helped him with his math homework, and read over his college essays. He was so mad at himself for what he had done, and so mad at the people who let his mom go upstairs with a stranger. But now he had the opportunity to make it right. For Bella, and for his mom.
“Go home, get your laptop, and then come back here. We have to find a lawyer for Bella before we do anything else” said MJ.
As he got up, he reached for his mom’s hand, holding it tightly.
“Mom, I’m… I’m so sorry”, he said, his voice breaking.
MJ looked up at him as her eyes filled with tears.
“I know, Nick. I know”.
Chapter 3: Frankie
TW for mention of rape
MJ was tired. She was so goddamn tired. Her body was still recovering from her overdose, and she was still struggling through withdrawal symptoms. On top of that, her emotions were all over the place, she had therapy three times a day and she was working on building a case for Bella.
It was a lot.
At times, it felt like it was too much.
But Steve was there now, all the time. He was on a leave from work for the entire time she would be at Keystone, so he could take care of the kids and MJ.
Nick was still broken over what had happened, and although MJ could tell he tried not to show it, he was struggling. He had just started seeing a therapist last week, at MJ’s suggestion. He was still Nick, but he was different. Or maybe MJ was just really seeing who he really was after all these years.
Frankie, on the other hand, was still very much Frankie. She was still passionate and loud and bold and brave, all the things MJ continued to admire about her. But it was too much sometimes, as guilty as MJ felt admitting it. Frankie had always been so… Frankie, but now, with MJ’s head spinning 24/7, sometimes Frankie’s presence was a little too much to handle.
Frankie was coming to visit today, even though it wasn’t a Saturday. She had just won another poetry contest at school, and when MJ couldn’t be there to see her piece, she cried so hard that Steve asked the supervisors to make an exception to the rule, so Frankie could visit on a weekday, and show MJ her poem.
But more than that, MJ realized that she hadn’t really talked to Frankie since before her overdose. Their relationship had always been kind of strained, especially as Frankie had hit her teens, and MJ’s overdose had provided a nice distraction from the bigger conversations they needed to have.
MJ knew that she had messed up a lot with Frankie. She was trying to make her into something she wasn’t, maybe even projecting her own behavior onto her daughter. MJ had spent so many years trying to be someone she wasn’t that she had made her own kids do the same.
But now, she had a chance to change all that.
She could start being honest with Frankie. Be open with her. Explain that maybe part of Mj’s behavior towards her was a selfish instinct to protect her from the world, and from all the bad that was in it.
MJ didn’t want Frankie to end up half naked in a frat house with a boy she didn’t know.
That’s what it boiled down to, really. MJ wanted to make sure that Frankie didn’t end up how she did, but the way she had thought she was protecting her daughter really only drove them apart.
MJ was lost in thought when Frankie showed up at her door, wearing a huge smile and holding the first place certificate she had won in her hand.
“Hey, baby, how was school?”
Frankie came into MJ’s room and threw her backpack on the floor by the bed, plopping herself into the oversize chair next to MJ.
“Good, I guess. Chem sucks, but English is still fun”.
As Frankie spoke, MJ studied her- the new piercing in her ear, the ink stains on her hands. Her heart swelled a little. As much as she had fucked up with Frankie, she was still an incredible person. And MJ had made her feel like she wasn’t.
“Mom, are you okay?” Frankie asked concerned. MJ had drifted off into thought and was now staring blankly at the wall.
“I think… I think we need to talk, Frankie”, MJ started.
“Did I do something wrong?” Frankie asked.
“No, sweetheart. You didn’t do anything. I think that there’s just… a lot of things that we should have talked about a long time ago.”
Frankie nodded, allowing MJ to continue. They had both been waiting for this conversation.
“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I created an environment at home, where… where you couldn’t be your true self. And I need you to know that I didn’t mean for that to happen, I thought I was protecting you, but I think I was just, I don’t know, making it worse. I was inadvertently trying to turn you into someone you’re not meant to be.”
Frankie just nodded again, absorbing everything MJ was saying.
“And it's taken me a long time to realize this but…” MJ trailed off before continuing. “I was so obsessed with making it seem like I had it all together, that I was dragging you along with me. You, Nick, you father… all of you. I was so desperate to protect myself that I accidently took it out on our family. But you especially. And I’m so sorry, honey, for not realizing that sooner.”
With that, Frankie let out the breath she had been holding and launched up to hug her mom. She held onto MJ so tightly, and MJ realized it was the first time they had really connected in a long while.
Frankie sat back on MJ’s bed and said “I don’t understand what you were trying to protect yourself from, mom. You’ve always been great”.
MJ paused and took a deep breath before replying.
“I haven’t always… been honest with you about what I was feeling, I guess. Not that I was lying, I just was… hiding a lot from you. Not just the drugs but… a lot”.
“So tell me now, mom. I almost lost you and... I don’t want to go on not knowing stuff”.
MJ nodded slowly, looking Frankie in the eye before asking, “What do you want to know?”
Frankie paused, clearly thinking about what she wanted to ask.
“Why did you start taking the pills so often?”
“I mean, I needed them at first, I really did. Especially after that one surgery but…” MJ’s voice faded as she tried to come up with the right words. “My accident… triggered a lot of physical trauma that I wasn’t dealing with. And the pills were the only way I could calm myself down, really. And I tried to stop, I did, but I couldn’t. Not without help”.
Frankie bit her lip, like she was holding back words, before speaking again.
“What do you mean, ‘physical trauma’? I don’t understand”.
MJ knew that she had to tell Frankie then. She took a deep breath and started,
“When I was in college, I was sexually assaulted. Raped. At a party. Kind of like what happened to Bella”, she stated.
Frankie froze in her spot on MJ’s bed. “Mom…”
MJ continued. “But I never told anyone, I never did anything about it, I just tried to deal with it on my own. And for a really long time,” she paused as her eyes welled with tears, “I thought that I was doing it. That I had moved past it and that I was okay. But when I got into that accident… it was all too familiar. It was like… like the accident brought up every single thing I had tried to forget about that night and then all of a sudden I was drowning in feelings and I didn’t know what to do, and then I was taking it out on you and your father and I-” MJ was fully crying now, but Frankie cut off her words by wrapping her mom in a hug.
MJ sobbed into Frankie’s hair and held her tightly. Frankie held onto MJ just as tight.
Once MJ had stopped crying, she released her grip on Frankie’s sweater and sat back against her pillows.
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. You shouldn’t have to see me like this” MJ said quietly, wiping her eyes.
“Mom, please don’t apologize. I didn’t realize how much you were struggling. I wish… I wish you had told me.”
“I know. And maybe I should have, and I’m sorry that I didn’t. And I’m more sorry that I took all of my feelings about it out on you” MJ replied.
“Maybe going forward, we can… tell each other stuff? And talk about it?” Frankie asked with a slight smile, reaching for her mother’s hand.
“I think we can do that”, MJ said with a chuckle. “That being said… is there anything you want to tell me about you and Jo?”
Frankie got red in the face at that, but she knew that this was the start of a new relationship with her mom. One where they could lean on each other, learn from each other, and love one another for who they really were.