This story deals with a very real problem in our society—the sexual abuse of a minor. It in no way glorifies or condones but treats it as the heinous crime that it is. Before even writing this story, I checked with Laurel and made sure I followed the guidelines she provided so please don’t go reporting it. If this subject is offensive to you, please take a pass. Thank you.
“Ahhh, son-of-a-b...” Tom cursed out loud from frustration. Between three days of solid rain and the melting snow, half the streets in Chicago were closed because of flooding. It was like driving through a watery maze just to find his way onto the expressway only to discover his exit was now closed as well. He had no choice but to keep going and hope the next one was passable.
Inwardly he told himself to relax. Hell, it wasn’t as if he had someone at home waiting for him. So it took him an extra half hour to get home—big deal. It wasn’t like his wife had dinner waiting or his daughter was waiting for help with her homework. That life ended almost a year ago for him. Still, he was relieved with the absence of a ‘Road Closed’ sign as he came up on the next exit.
He was still choreographing his car through the suburban streets when he heard his phone ringing from his pocket. “Sorry, you’re going to have to wait until I can find my way home through his mess,” he said. “Damn, I’ve got to stop talking to myself,” he continued. “People are going to think I’m going bonkers.”
Finally, he thought, as he pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex. It had taken him an hour and twenty minutes to make a thirty-five minute drive. He pulled the collar of his coat over his head as he made a mad dash between rain drops, splashing his way to the front door.
He took off his coat and hung it up. He was tired and exasperated, but most of all depressed. He just wasn’t himself these days. Since his divorce things seemed to be drifting slowing down hill. Even his photography business wasn’t living up to its potential ... not to mention his daughter was getting more and more moody on her bi-weekly visits ... almost like she didn’t want to be with him anymore. She had a new daddy now and evidently the bastard was winning her over. Out of all the things that had happened over the past year, that was by far the hardest to deal with.
Tom was in the middle of eating dinner when he remembered his phone ringing earlier. He pulled it from his pocket and checked the display. It was Angela, his ex. He wasn’t about to eat cold fish so he put off calling her back until he was done.
He rinsed his plate, stuck it in the dishwasher, and poured himself a cup of coffee before getting comfortable in his recliner. He really didn’t feel like talking to his ex but she only called on issues concerning their daughter so he knew he had to do it.
She sounded friendly enough when she answered. “Hi Tom, thanks for calling back.”
“Yeah, no problem. What’s the matter?”
He heard a small sigh into the phone. He guessed, from the flat tone of his voice, she knew he wasn’t interested in small talk and he sure as hell didn’t want to talk about the weather.
“I was wondering if Lana has said anything to you about something troubling her.”
“To me? No. She hardly speaks to me at all these days. Whatever you’re filling her head with seems to be working, congratulations.”
“Tom, what are you talking about? Filling her head with what?”
“How should I know with what?”
“Tom, okay we’ve had our differences but you can’t believe I’d try to poison our daughter against you.”
“Oh come on, Angie, you’ve got a new husband, she’s got a new daddy, I’m just the inconvenient ex-husband; get her to reject me and you can all live as one big happy family with me out of the way.”
“Tom, Dayton is not my husband, at least not yet. And you’re the only daddy Lana has.”
“He’s living in the same house, isn’t he ... sharing your bed?”
In the two or three second delay from the other end of the phone he could almost hear her blood-pressure going up. “Fuck you!” she yelled before the line went dead.
Tom took a sip of coffee and stretched back. About the only fun in life he had anymore was making his ex-wife mad. Did he really think she was trying to poison his little girl against him ... maybe. He wasn’t sure what she’d do these days. He sure didn’t expect her to move someone into the house so soon after he moved out. Nobody falls in love that quickly—unless they had been seeing each other before he even filed for divorce. That would sure explain the lack of sex, her short temper and her always picking fights with him when they were still married. He had absolutely no proof that she was cheating on him, with this guy or anyone else, but it sure seemed logical and it galled him something terrible.
His mind was churning. I suppose I’ll never know the truth, he thought. Oh well, what difference does it make now. She and shithead will soon be happily married and she’s moving on with her life ... which is what I need to do!
Tom closed his eyes and went over the events of the last year in his mind. In the beginning he felt liberated when they split up; no more constant fighting. Of course it would be hard on Lana but he was confident they’d both work hard to make sure she knew they both still loved her very much.
At first he wasn’t too crazy about the divorce settlement, but after he thought about it, he knew it was for the best. She got the bulk of the savings and the house in trade for giving up any claim on the business. What the hell, that way Lana would still be able to go to the same school, have the same friends, and live in the same house she’d lived in all her life. Child support was reasonable...
Things actually didn’t seem to be that bad until she moved her boyfriend in. It was hard enough to think of the guy sleeping with his wife in his bed, but becoming a father figure to HIS daughter ... that was the kicker that started it all. That’s when he started to feel that his whole life was nothing but a waste. That’s when he started feeling depressed all the time.
What’s happened to me? He asked his inner-self. I used to be a confident, take charge kind of guy. I’ve got to stop laying around feeling sorry for myself. I’ve got to prove to Lana that I’m still her dad and always will be.
He thought more of the short conversation he’d just had with Angela. It starts this weekend, he promised himself. If something is bothering Lana it’s my job as her dad to find out what it is.
He had tried a few times over the past several months to raise himself out of his funk but it didn’t last. He’d sink right back down every time he wondered what was going on in his former house ... with his former family. Okay ... maybe his marriage was dead but by God he was still a dad and he made a vow then and there that he was going to start acting like it. Time for mourning was over.
Now ... if he could only get the bloody rain to stop!
That Saturday morning he pulled into his former driveway right on time. At least it had finally stopped raining. Lana looked unenthused as she exited the house and started for the car.
He rolled the driver’s window down. “Honey, would you ask your mother to come outside for a minute, please. I want to talk to her.”
She turned around, opened the front door wide enough to stick her head inside and yelled. “Mom, dad wants to talk to you.” With no more fan-fair, Lana walked around the front of the car to the passenger’s side and slipped in.
“How you doing, pumpkin?” Tom asked with a kiss on her cheek.
A flat, “Okay,” was her only response.
They sat and waited in silence for another minute or so until he saw Angela step outside wearing a coat. He got out of the car and approached her on the porch. “Listen, I wanted to say I’m sorry for the other night. You caught me in a bad mood.”
She acknowledged his apology with nothing more than a slight nod of her head. She was letting him know she was still pissed.
“So, it sounds like she’s acting the same way here as she’s been acting with me. Over the last few weekends she’s hardly said twenty words to me.”
“She seems really depressed lately,” said Angela, breaking her short-term silent treatment. “She won’t talk, she hardly eats anything. I know she’s losing weight, I can see it. I’ve tried just talking to her about school, friends, just stuff in general, but she refuses to carry on any kind of conversation. After dinner she goes up to her room and stays there. I’m really getting worried, Tom. I haven’t seen her smile in weeks.”
“She’s probably still pissed at us for breaking up. That has to be traumatic for her.”
“I don’t know. Yeah, she was upset with both of us after you left but she seemed to be dealing with it. All this other stuff started a few months ago.”
“Do you think she’s getting bullied or something at school?”
“I don’t know, Tom, but it’s not getting any better. If anything she’s getting worse.”
“Okay, I thought she was just acting that way around me. Let me see if I can find out anything over the weekend. Maybe she’ll talk to me.”
“I’d appreciate it, thank you. If it continues, I ... I don’t know; maybe we should take her to counseling or a psychiatrist or something.”
“Well, let me see what I can find out first,” he said.
She agreed and Tom went back to the car wondering about his little girl. She was only fifteen and she had gone through a lot; first her folks get divorced, then her mom moves her boyfriend in and all of a sudden she has a new dad ... yeah, that’s a lot for a fifteen year old to handle.
“Okay, pumpkin,” he said as he climbed into the driver’s seat, “where do you want to go for breakfast?”
All weekend long Tom pumped his daughter, trying to find out what was bothering her, but it was no use. He asked her about school, her girlfriends, a possible boyfriend, her new dad, her mom ... she just kept saying everything was alright.
Tom dropped her off at the house on Sunday night then called Angela later to inform her of his lack of progress. The concern in her voice was palpable.
“What do you think? Should we look into counseling for her? I talked to Dayton but...”
“You talked to Dayton about our daughter before talking to me?”
Her fiancé was a real sore spot with her ex, she knew it and didn’t mean to let her comment slip. “No, I didn’t talk to him before you but he lives here now, Tom. You’ve got to accept that. He’s obviously going to have some influence over what goes on in the house.”
There was a pause before Tom spoke again. “Let me think about the counseling. I’ll let you know. And just so you understand--Lana’s welfare is our responsibility, yours and mine, not Dayton’s.” With that he severed the call.
Her fiancé was sitting in the living room. “What’s his problem now?”
“Nothing. I asked him to see if he could talk to Lana this weekend; see if he could find out what’s been bothering her, but...”
“I told you, she’s going through a phase, that’s all. Leave the kid alone. She’ll snap out of it when she’s ready.”
“Dayton, she’s my daughter. I can’t help but worry about her. This is more than some phase.”
“Hey, I love her like a daughter too, you know. You don’t think I want what’s best for her? She’s a teenager. They’re always going from one crisis to another. Have you forgotten what it was like being that age? I’m telling you, she doesn’t need some shrink screwing with her head. She’s a good kid. Give her some space. She’ll work it out for herself.”
Maybe he was right, she thought. Angela recalled some of her own rebellious antics at that age. Still ... she knew Dayton loved Lana but he wasn’t her real dad. It wasn’t like he was in the delivery room holding her hand during labor like Tom was. It wasn’t his eyes that showed an overwhelming pride when he held his little girl in his arms for the first time. She certainly didn’t want to belittle Dayton’s love for Lana in anyway, but Tom was right about them being responsible for her well-being. It didn’t matter that Dayton was now first in her own life; Tom would always be first when it came to their daughter.
When Tom and Angela were married Tom had everyone’s health care covered under his photography studio’s insurance. When they divorced, Angela had to get her own insurance through her employer but Tom kept Lana on his. On Monday morning Tom checked to see if she’d be covered for psychiatric counseling. The co-pay was $50 a visit but the balance was covered. That was good news. It had been a long, hard winter. Between several jobs being either cancelled or postponed because of weather, the enormous heating bill for the studio, and his child support payments, Tom wasn’t exactly living high on the hog. Later that night he called Angela again.
She and Dayton were in the living room watching TV. Lana was in her room doing homework when the phone rang. She had to get up from the couch and walked over to where the phone was charging on the table.
“Hi Tom,” she answered.
“Hi, Angie. I’ve been giving some thought to counseling for Lana and I think it’s probably a good idea. Did you have anyone in mind?”
“Ah, no, not really,” she said, glancing in Dayton’s direction. “Do ... ah ... do you think she could just be going through a stage?”
“Angie, I have no idea. You’re with her a lot more than I am but there’s no doubt something is wrong. When I tried talking to her last weekend she wouldn’t even look me in the eye. You know yourself, that’s not like her.
“Just a few days ago you were all gun-ho for getting her into counseling. Are you changing your mind?”
“No, it’s just—well Dayton is pretty sure she’s just going through a stage and...”
“Screw what Dayton thinks. Is he there? Let me talk to him.”
“He is but I don’t think that’d be a good idea. No, no I think we should make her see someone.”
Dayton decided to join in the conversation. “What if she doesn’t want to see a shrink? Then what’ll you do? You can’t force her to go.”
“What’d he say?” Tom asked. He heard Dayton say something but couldn’t hear clear enough to tell what it was.
“He asked what if she won’t go,” replied Angela. “He has a point, Tom; what if she refuses to go, then what?”
“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Don’t say anything to her yet. Let me do some research, first. I don’t want to just pick somebody out of the yellow pages. This is our baby we’re talking about. I want to find someone I have confidence in.”
“Okay, but don’t take too long, will you. I really think the sooner we can get her to see somebody the better it’ll be.”
“Yeah, okay. Give me two or three days. I’ll give you a call back Wednesday night if not sooner, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, Tom.”
Dayton just gave a little sigh and put his arm around her as she reclaimed her seat next to him. He finally spoke when a commercial interrupted the show they were watching. “I’m telling you, you’re making too big a deal over this stuff with Lana. You keep pushing her and it’s only going to make things worse. She’s a teenager, she’s rebelling; the more you push the more she’s going to rebel.”
“Maybe you’re right, Dayton, I don’t know. All I know is she’s my daughter and I’m going to try and help her as much as I can.”
“Okay,” he cautioned, “don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
No more was said and Angela left it that way.
Tom was doing some research into child psychologists in the Chicago land area. There were quite a few resources on line with helpful information. He narrowed it down to four then called them to ask several question regarding insurance and possible time schedules.
By the time he called Angela back on Wednesday evening he had two potentials. The next order of business was how to approach their daughter. They decided she would bring Lana over to his condo Saturday morning where they could talk in private.
Angela didn’t bother to inform Dayton of their plans. He usually slept in until nine-thirty or ten on Saturdays so she was hoping she and Lana could slip out of the house before he even got up.
That Friday afternoon their plans became irrelevant. Tom was setting up to photograph a shoe display for one of his clients when his phone rang. He was surprised to see it was Angela calling. She never called him from work. Before he even had a chance to say hello he heard her crying.
“Angela, what’s the matter?”
She sniffled a couple times and had to catch her breath. “Tom, the ... the school just called. Th ... they found marijuana in Lana’s locker.”
Tom felt like someone had hit him with a sledgehammer. From what he’d heard and read about teenagers and drugs, it all made sense now. His wife’s voice broke through the fog in his brain.
“I’ve got to go over there and pick her up. They want to see both of us on Monday.” Her voice was breaking from stress as she talked. “Would ... would you be able to make it?”
“Of course; just let me know what time to meet you.”
“O ... okay, thanks. I’ll find out when I pick her up. They said she’d be in the principal’s office. They’re suspending her for three days but they said if they catch her again they’ll automatically expel her. Oh God, Tom, I’m so scared,” she wept.
He was scared, too ... and feeling guilty. Was all this because of the divorce? Maybe if he hadn’t filed none of this would be happening. He was also feeling sorry for his ex for the first time in years. The heart-wrenching anguish in her voice was stirring up feelings he though were long gone. He had always been the strong one. He knew her. Emotionally she was a wreck and he found himself wanting to hold her and assure her things would work out.
“Tom, what is it? Are you okay?” Cayla, his assistant, saw the concern in his face as he disconnected.
“That was Angela. They found marijuana in Lana’s locker at school. They’re suspending her. Angela has to go down to the school and pick her up.”
It was easy to see how badly the news of his daughter had shaken him. Cayla offered to do the shoot but if he didn’t continue working he’d go insane.
He and Angela talked a couple times over the weekend. He asked her if Dayton was getting on Lana’s case because of the drugs but she said no. In fact, he’s pretty much sluffed it off just saying kids will be kids.
They decided to forget about talking with her on Saturday until after meeting with the school principle. The appointment was arranged for three o’clock Monday afternoon. They both arrived on time and were shown into an office by one of the secretaries who shut the door behind her. A nice looking man, probably in his early fifties, stood up to greet them. A younger, heavy set woman sitting beside him stood as well.
“Mr. Hayden, Ms. Hayden, thank you for coming,” he said as he shook both their hands. “I’m Peter Colfax, the principle here. This is Terry Donahue, the school’s social worker. Please, have a seat.”
As everyone took their places Mr. Colfax looked at Angela. “I’m sorry, I know you’re divorced. Is it still proper to call you Ms. Hayden?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” she replied.
“Okay,” he said with a smile.
Tom could see the man really didn’t like this part of his job.
“As you know, Lana was found with marijuana in her locker. One of the teachers just happened to be walking by when she was getting her books. These days we’re all trained to spot that kind of thing at a glance.”
“Did you call the cops?” Tom asked.
“No, we didn’t. There wasn’t enough. In Illinois, it’s not a criminal offense unless you’re caught with more than ten grams. The little bit that Lana had fell short of that so we didn’t have to call in the authorities; however, an automatic suspension of three days is school policy no matter how little the amount.”
Both Tom and Angela nodded, showing they understood.
“Schools don’t like to pry into anyone’s home life but you have to understand, the welfare of our students is our top priority. Your divorce was hard on Lana as Miss Donahue can attest. Lana spent many hours with her during that time.”
“She did?” questioned a surprised Angela. “I didn’t know that. She never said anything to me.”
“Nor to me,” Tom interjected.
“It’s true,” said the young social worker. “Lana blames herself for your divorce. She said when you guys fought it was always about her.”
“That’s not true,” Tom said. “Toward the end there we fought all the time about everything, but I don’t remember ever fighting about Lana...”
“I do,” said Angela, cutting him off, “several times. Remember when I took her shopping and you had a fit over the length of the skirts I bought her?”
He was remembering; she could see it in his face. “There was another time when she wanted to go to some party I didn’t want her to go to. I thought you’d back me up but you said she could go.”
“Yeah, I remember,” he shamefully admitted, “but like I said, we were constantly fighting.”
Miss Donahue interrupted their conversation. “Maybe so, but Lana only remembers the fights about her.”
Both parents looked uncomfortable. “There seems to be more though. When your divorce became final we were making headway, but just as she seemed to be accepting the situation she stopped coming to see me. Now the marijuana is a whole new wrinkle.”
“There’s something else, too,” said the principle, re-joining the conversation.
Miss Donahue looked at him and Tom got the feeling she knew what he was going to say before he said it.
Principle Colfax cleared his throat. “Lana is exhibiting classic signs of sexual abuse.”
That caught them both by surprise. Angela gasped with shock.
Colfax continued. “Unfortunately, we’re pretty familiar with this kind of behavior. It happens more than any of us would like to think. We usually find that the abuser is someone who is well-known to the victim, usually someone of authority; a close friend, family member, or even a member of the immediate family,” he said, glancing in Tom’s direction.
Tom caught the look and immediately took offense. “Are you accusing me? You’re accusing me of sexually abusing my little girl?” he yelled.
“No, no; please, Mr. Hayden, no one is accusing you of anything. I didn’t mean to infer anything of the kind. From the way Lana talks about you we’ve already ruled you out.”
“Well who then?” Tom asked, his voice filled with anger.
“We don’t know,” said Miss Donahue. “Over the last couple of months Lana’s become unresponsive. She won’t talk to me or anyone else. Even her friends are starting to desert her because she just won’t talk.”
Tom could think about only one person. “Dayton,” he said turning in Angela’s direction.
“Tom, stop it. I know you hate him but Dayton loves Lana. He’d never do anything to hurt her,” she responded.
“Who’s Dayton?” queried the principle.
“He’s my fiancé.”
“I see. Has Lana mentioned him?” he asked Miss Donahue.
“No, this is the first I’ve heard of him,” she answered.
“He’s living there with them,” Tom volunteered. “So help me, if he’s touched my daughter I’ll...”
“Please, Mr. Hayden. At this point we have no idea who it is. We’re not even one-hundred percent sure it’s happening. I said she’s displaying the signs but he have no real proof. This Dayton guy could be completely innocent. If she is being molested, heaven forbid, it could even be one of our teachers or someone from the school, we just don’t know.”
Angela tried desperately to hold back unspent tears. “So what do we do?” she asked while taking a tissue from her purse.
“Ms. Hayden, I’m trained in child development but I’m not a psychologist. Lana needs more professional help than I can give her.”
“Actually, Angela and I have been talking about sending her to a child psychologist. I did some research and had settled on a Dr. Marietta something...”
“Yeah, that’s it. Is she good?”
“Very,” Miss Donahue confirmed.
That made both Angela and Tom happy to hear. What she said next didn’t.
“Mr. and Ms. Hayden, I’m afraid you’re looking at some very rough times coming up. There is a fine line between disciplining a child and persecuting them. I know how high your anger and frustration level is about now, but try to not let it determine how you deal with Lana. Try to stay calm and in control of the situation.
“And one more thing—keep an eye on her. Since she’ll be home for the next three school days, is there anyone who can stay with her? Someone you trust. If she is being sexually abused this is a perfect storm for Lana. These are all the factors that can drive a young girl to run away, or ... or even worse.”
Angela and Tom turned to face one another. Angie wiped more tears from her eyes. “Oh, Tom, what are we going to do? I’m so scared.”
“Yeah,” acknowledged Tom, “me too. Is anyone with her now?”
“Yes, I dropped her off with my folks on the way here.”
Tom took a breath of relief and looked back to Miss Donahue. “I’ll make an appointment with that psychologist as soon as possible. In the meantime, other than keeping an eye on her, any advice, anything we can say or do to let her know we’re both there for her?”
“Don’t tell her, show her. I don’t know how amicable your divorce was or how well you two get along but don’t let any animosity between you spill over on her.”
Both divorced parties agreed they wouldn’t allow that to happen and said they would show Lana all the love they possibly could. Angela had a couple of questions on the way out to their cars.
“Has she ever said anything to you about thinking the divorce being her fault?”
“Never,” he answered.
“You don’t really think I would talk you down to her do you? I would never do that, Tom. After seventeen years as husband and wife I would hope you’d know me better than that.”
He gave a little sigh. “I don’t know, Angela. Let’s just forget it for now and concentrate on Lana. If you can’t stay home with her I’ll move some things around in the schedule.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head, “no, I’ll take time off and stay with her. You’re so angry over the thought of someone molesting her I’m afraid she’ll feel that anger and think it’s against her.”
“You’re not angry?”
“Yes, of course I am, but I can control it better than you can.”
Tom thought about it. “You’re probably right. Okay, but if you need me for anything, call me. Don’t leave her alone, Angie ... and since we don’t know for sure, please don’t leave her alone with Dayton. In fact, don’t say anything to him. Just in case—we wouldn’t want to tip him off.”
She sighed at the thought of Tom still suspecting Dayton but relinquished, “Okay, I promise, but you’re wrong about him, Tom.”
On the way home, Tom thought about the meeting and what was said. Yeah, it was only marijuana, but as a parent it was still very troubling. He’d heard horror stories about out of control and troubled teens. Lana was always such a good child, he never thought she would be one of them. She’d always been like her mother. The woman he married, not the woman he divorced.
He thought back to those young, carefree days of dating Angela. His heart started to pump harder as he remembered how much he loved her back then. From the moment he saw her ... no, actually it was from the moment he heard her, it was her laugh that caught his attention. She laughed so easily. There was nothing phony or pretentious or forced about it. It was genuine and came from her soul.
At the time he was working as an assistant for Raphael, a very successful commercial photographer. Tom was learning more in a week with Raphael than he did in a semester at college. The only problem was Raphael was a jackass! Personally, he didn’t like the man at all, so two or three times a week he’d stop by Plato’s after work to let out his frustrations over a beer.
Tom smiled as he thought about the forces of fate. Angela was working for a firm in the area and it just so happened, she and some of her co-workers stopped in one night for an impromptu party. Tom hadn’t paid much attention to the rowdy crowd until he heard that laugh.
Just think, he contemplated, if I hadn’t stopped in that night I probably would never have met her. That was almost eighteen years in the past and yet it was as fresh in his mind as if it had been yesterday.
Why do people have to change? He wondered. I did everything I could to make her happy but it never seemed to be enough. As the years wore on, Angela’s metamorphosis took her from the happy, loving wife he married to the discontented shrew he divorced. What did I do wrong? He questioned.
Angela pulled into her parent’s drive more worried now than when she left just a couple of hours before. She took a tissue from her purse and wiped the tears from her eyes before going in.
Her dad was sitting in his recliner watching TV. She looked around and didn’t see or hear Lana anywhere. Panic started to set in.
“Dad, where’s Lana?” she anxiously asked.
Her dad recognized the concern in her voice and looked up to see the same concern in her face. “She’s helping your mother with dinner,” he replied. “What’s going on?” Not knowing the entire situation, he was confused with his daughter’s fear.
Angela looked in through the kitchen doorway just in time to see her daughter cross by on the way to the refrigerator and gave a sigh of relief.
“Angela, what’s the matter?” queried her dad as he turned the volume down on the boob-tube.
She sat down on a chair beside him and checked to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard. “Dad, Lana’s been seeing a social worker at the school. Evidently the divorce has been bothering her a lot more than she’s been letting on. I know you guys are wondering why she’s not in school today. She was suspended for three days for having marijuana in her locker...”
“Shhhhh, dad, don’t say anything. I think she’s embarrassed enough as it is. It was a very small amount. The school’s not even calling the cops, thank God; but she can’t go back to school until Thursday.”
“Oh honey,” he said, putting his arm around her, “you must be sick with worry. Is there anything me or your mother can do?”
Angela wiped another tear from her eye. “Just show her all the love you can when she’s here, I guess. For now that seems to be all that any of us can do. At the school they told us to keep an eye on her so she doesn’t run away or hurt herself. That’s why I got scared when I didn’t see her right away. She doesn’t know it yet but Tom found a child psychologist for her.”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding his head. “That’s probably a good idea.”
“There’s ... there’s something else, too, Dad. Don’t tell mom, and whatever you do, don’t say anything to Lana but the social worker thinks she’s being sexually abused.”
This time his voice was full of anger. “What? By who?”
“We don’t know. They’re not even one hundred percent sure but they said she’s showing all the classic signs.”
“Does Tom know this?”
“Yeah, he was at the school with me, just now. Of course the first person he suspects is Dayton but he’d never touch Lana, not that way.”
“Are you sure, Angela? Look, your mother and I are in your corner, you know that. You’re our daughter and we will always support you, but I have to tell you, honey, I never cared for him.”
“Dad, he was there when I needed him. When Tom filed for divorce it almost killed me. I know we had our problems and were fighting a lot but I didn’t realize Tom was ready to just call it quits. Dayton saw how much I was hurting and gave me a shoulder to cry on. He took me out places and got my mind off the divorce for a while. He was sweet and kind and made me laugh. He understood what I was going through. All of a sudden I was a single mom. I was terrified but it seemed like every time I’d hit rock bottom he was there to pick me up again.”
Her dad took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, you know him a lot better than I do, honey, and I trust your judgement.”
“Thanks, Dad,” she said.
After the conversation with her dad, Angela wandered into the kitchen to see if she could help with anything. It was understood she and Lana would stay for dinner so she started setting the dining room table. As she was getting the silverware she overheard a humorous exchange between her mother and Lana. She looked over and saw a broad grin stretching across her daughter’s pretty face. It was the first time she’d seen her smile in ages.
Later that night, on the way home, Angela had hoped her daughter’s good mood would continue. Maybe she could get a conversation going with her, but it wasn’t to be. As soon as they got in the car Lana clammed up again.
For about the millionth time in the last year, Angela wished Tom was there. Over the years she had learned to depend on him; to lean on his wisdom and character. As many times as she looked back at everything that had happened in their marriage, she still couldn’t believe it was over.
Even in the wake of all the fighting, I still loved him, she silently admitted to herself. Why, why couldn’t he still love me? For the fourth time since that afternoon, Angela wiped tears from her eyes.
Lana didn’t stick around and took off upstairs to her room as soon as they walked in the house.
Dayton was on the couch watching TV when they walked in. “How’d it go?”
Angela remembered her promise to Tom. She reminded herself not to say anything about her possibly being molested. She wanted to make sure Lana couldn’t hear her so she waited while hanging her coat up in the closet before walking into the living room to answer. “They’re concerned. A social worker was there. Lana’s been talking to her about the divorce.”
“A social worker ... what did she tell her?”
“Lana blames herself for the divorce.”
“From what I’ve heard that’s normal. Kids always blame themselves when their parents get divorced. Was Tom there?”
“Yes, of course. He’s her father. The school requested he be there as well.”
“What did he say?”
“He sat there and listened, the same as me. You seem to be the only one who’s not concerned, Dayton.”
“Honey, it’s not that I’m not concerned, I just think you’re all blowing this out of proportion. Lana’s a smart kid. She’s got a head on her shoulders. She’s manipulating you. She maybe blaming herself but she’s doing this to punish you and Tom and you guys are playing right into her hands.”
“I thought you said it was a phase.”
“It is a phase, a self-induced phase. She’s pissed, Honey, and the more you guys pressure her, the more pissed she’s going to get,” he told her.
“I don’t believe that, Dayton, but if it’s true then fine. Sooner or later, just like you say, she’ll get tired of the game and go back to normal, but in the meantime we’re going to err of the side caution. We’re taking her to therapy.”
He was alone in his quest to save Lana from a shrink. It was a losing battle and he knew it. He decided to yield. He gave her the smile that she always found so irresistible. “Come on over here,” he said, patting his hand on the couch next to him.
Angela sat down and snuggled up as he put his arm around her. “I’m sorry, honey,” she told him. “I’m just worried about her.”
“I know you are,” he said, supportively.
“Did you have anything to eat? Lana and I eat at my mother’s but I’ll fix you something if you’re hungry.”
“Nah, I’m fine,” he replied. “I figured you wouldn’t be home right away so I stopped at that little bar around the corner and had some hot wings with a beer.” Dayton reached over and lightly pulled her chin around to face him. The worry behind her blue, watery eyes was intense. “Hey, everything is going to be alright,” he told her.
Angela smiled. He was always so comforting. What would she do without him, she wondered as she laid her head on his shoulder?
Try as he did, Tom didn’t get a wink of sleep that night. First thing the following morning he would call the psychologist’s office and book the earliest appointment possible, but this was his daughter, his little girl; it was his job to protect her and he wasn’t about to stand around while some pedophile molested her.
If he could only get her to talk. Why ... why wouldn’t she talk to him? Why would she keep this kind of a secret? Why wouldn’t she turn the guy in immediately ... embarrassment; guilt; fear? He was certainly no expert but he knew that, ludicrous as it sounded, some people who were raped felt it was their own fault somehow. Whatever her reasons were, Tom was going to get to the bottom of it. He was going to find out who was hurting his little girl, and then...
At nine-o-one the following morning Tom was in the back office of his studio and already on the phone with Cathy, Dr. Zarkowski’s secretary. After explaining the situation, she told him the doctor would most likely want to see the two parents before seeing Lana. Tom wasn’t too please with that because it meant delaying the appointment for the person who really need it, but when she explained it would help Dr. Zarkowski understand the situation better, he agreed and gave her his ex’s phone number so they could coordinate the date and time of the appointment. As they finished their conversation, Cathy said she’d call him back as soon as she talked to Angela.