The doctor decided to keep Willow for another day, so Gramma Dorine drove Gracie in to see her adopted sister. Kyle watched amused as Gracie ‘forced’ Willow to be still while she painted her finger and toenails. It fascinated him the way Grace used a fine paintbrush to draw thin lines in black over an iridescent blue polish gradient. He realized she was creating butterfly wings. Between each color, Grace put her sister’s fingertips into a shell shaped light.
“Are you done yet?” Willow complained again.
“No. And you promised to help me with the designs for Nationals. Now stop moving so I can get the glitter and toco on this hand,” Gracie scolded.
“How does it dry so fast?” Kyle asked.
He had seen decorative manicures before on the women he occasionally dated but he never realized how much work and actual craftsmanship went into them. He suddenly had a great respect for the people who did this for a living.
“The shell is a UV light and fan, I guess it kinda cooks the polish without getting hot. The glossy toco seals the design and protects it from chipping,” Gracie paused, biting her lip as she dabbed tiny bits of glitter inside the wings. “But not from chewing.” And she gave Willow a look like she was the biggest disappointment in the world.
Willow grumbled something about not being ‘girlified’, as Gracie put her opposite hand into the dryer and inspected the finished set.
“That is really beautiful, Gracie,” Kyle complimented.
“She’s a natural artist. Gracie has been forcing Willow to let her paint her nails since they were 8,” Gramma Dorine laughed, “When they were younger, Willow would chew the polish off as fast as Gracie could get it on her.”
Kyle chuckled, he could see the more outdoorsy Willow resisting being girly, she was so much like Camille. “Well, Willow, your sister does beautiful work. Ladies would pay a lot of money to have a manicure like this.”
Gracie beamed, “Awww, thanks, Dad. I saw these on pinterest. I want to do all the girls on the team when we go to Nationals and I got waterproof skin paint so I can give the boys fake bicep tatts of the Bluewings logo I designed.” She sounded so proud of her creativity and she had called him Dad a second time.
“He’s your dad?!?” Tiana blurted out from the doorway and they all turned. Amy, the mayor’s daughter, was staring between them, mouth open like a fish.
Gracie and Willow both gave them a look that said, ‘well, duh’ before Willow held out her hand. “Look at the nail art Gracie designed for the Nationals.”
Amy immediately forgot her shock. “Omigawd, that is so pretty. How do you make it look so professional? You know you could be one of those famous youtubers who make videos about fashion nails.”
Kyle realized he had never heard a person talk so fast in his life.
Dorine stood up and pulled Kyle toward the door, “Let’s leave the girls alone.”
In the hall, he asked, “How much does the team need for new uniforms for Nationals?”
The matriarch of the Wallace women looked at him oddly, “We don’t need new uniforms, we got them before state. Why?”
“Oh just something someone suggested to me,” Kyle scowled and he wondered just what Ms. Ballad’s game was.
“Let me guess, Antonia?” Dorine just shook her head, “She was unhappy that the team chose Gracie’s designs over hers. But truthfully Gracie’s looked better, more professional, and Antonia’s design idea, well... it reflected her style.”
“Gracie is really talented,” Kyle observed, and then he thought of something. “Has she ever had art classes?”
“No, nothing professionally taught, just the ones in school. She does watch a lot of art videos on YouTube. Some girl who’s obsessed with holo nails. Gracie’s is talented in art like Willamina was.”
Girlish giggles echoed down the hall from Willow’s room. Kyle could only nod, his daughter was gifted, and a gift.
“Antonia, I can’t ask Coach Wallace to remove Willow as team captain just because she has a few stitches. Her doctors said she could still dive after it heals,” Superintendent Bernard Patrick couldn’t keep the exasperation from his voice.
His ex-sister-in-law had always been a status climber, and was always trying to push Tiana ahead of her schoolmates. She wanted her daughter to be as popular as she had been in high school. Bernard was just glad that his brother had divorced her after a year but she still used him as leverage to secure her job and influence. As soon as her teaching contract was up at the end of this year, Bernard would be rid of the thorn in his side. For the last 3 years, she had missed as many days as she taught. He didn’t even know why she worked; she was getting alimony from all three ex-husbands because her uncle was the judge who handled the divorces in this judicial district and had removed the remarriage clause from her alimony settlements.
“But Bernie, Tiana is a Junior, and the only female upperclassman on the team. She should be captain instead of that freshman. Willow has plenty of time to be team captain without nepotism robbing my daughter of her rightful place. Surely you want what’s best for your niece,” Tonia cooed, putting her hand on his arm but he stepped away.
“I will remind you, Ms. Ballard, that just because you were married to my brother temporarily does not make Tiana my niece. And it is my understanding that Coach Wallace chose Willow for two reasons: she was the most skilled, and she was voted as captain by her peers. Willow also far outperformed Tiana in the State Championships. The swim and dive team is for Coach Wallace to manage and she has done a far better job than expected,” Bernard reminded through gritted teeth. Tonia had been the only person on the faculty against the former Olympian being made head swim coach. “Now if you will excuse me, I have duties and you have classes.” He walked away from her as the bell signaling the end of first hour classes rang.
Antonia glared after him as he made his way through the students, greeting many them by name. She had tried her best to get rid of him in the last school board election and failed. It had only taken two weeks to get his brother to marry her and yet Bernard seemed complete immune to her natural feminine charm, if he wasn’t married with children she would believe he was gay. As her students filed in she handed her T.A. worksheets to pass out.
“Okay class, since you all read of Macbeth last night, we are going to discuss one of my favorite Shakespearian heroines, Lady Macbeth, how misunderstood she was, and why the playwright was forced by societal norms and the upper class patriarchy to diminish her role as a protagonist, and kill her by the fifth act.”
The next week, Willow was enviously watching the divers swam laps. They were warming up for the afterschool practice as she sat on the sideline with her crutches. Her leg hurt terribly and was still weeping a little. Gracie ran up and handed her a bottle of water and a white pill. Willow scowled at her but Gracie just gave a deadpan look.
“Mom said take it, since you didn’t take one at lunch.”
“Fine but I hate these things,” Willow groaned.
“Yah, well, you’ll be crying like you’re dying if you don’t.” And Gracie stuck out her tongue.
Willow stuck her tongue out back at her sister, as their mom was whistling for the dive team to clear pool and head to the boards. Something caught her attention and she leaned to look past her sister. Tiana was standing on the 7M platform but she looked paler than normal.
As the junior swayed, Willow started to ask, “Is Tiana o... Oh crap! MOM! Swimmer down!”
Gracie turned as they watched Tiana fall toward the water like a ragdoll. In three steps, Gracie was to the water and diving in, splashing the surface only a moment after her fellow diver. Will had also dived into the water. Together they both grabbed an arm and pulled the unconscious girl to the surface. Gracie kept Tiana’s face out of the water as Will pulled them to the side where the coach and team helped them out of the pool. Tiana coughed violently as her eyes fluttered open then she closed them again.
“Will, Reggie, can you carry her to the changing room, we’ll lay her on a bench. Amy, see if Ms. Ballard is still in her room. Gracie, get the medical bag out of my office.” Coach Wallace ordered.
A chorus of ‘Yes, Coach.’ followed.
“I’ve got 9-1-1,” Willow said as she hobbled after them, “The ambulances are both out. They’re sending a deputy to drive T to the med center.”
Mara and Riley were already laying down towel for the boys to lay Tiana on. They laid her down and hurried out with worried glances as Gracie hurried past them with the medical bag.
Camille looked Tiana quickly, no obvious bruises or bumps, and then she took Tiana’s blood pressure, it was very low but her pulse was very high, and she was trembling.
“Coach Wally,” Riley said in a timid voice, “Is Tiana sick because she didn’t eat lunch again?”
Camille’s head came up, in a harsh tone she asked, “How long has she been skipping meals?” Swimmers and Divers needed calories. Being in the pool as much as they were meant their bodies used a lot of energy, as much as if they were running.
“She threw up a few times in the morning last week but didn’t want me to tell anyone. She said it was nerves for Nationals,” Riley seemed to shrink on herself, Camille reminded herself not to snap at the timid diver. “It’s okay, Riley, thanks for telling us.”
Camille carefully studied Tiana’s reclined body and cursed herself for not noticing earlier.
“Mara, Riley. Get me a bottle of orange juice now. Change for the vending machine is in the top drawer of my desk. Go!”
The two freshmen ran out of the changing room.
“What is it, Mom?” Gracie asked nervously.
But it was Willow who answered, “Mom, thinks Tiana is pregnant, don’t you, Mom?”
Nodding, Camille broke an ammonia salts capsule and waved it under Tiana’s nose. Her eyes fluttered, she looked around surprised and tried to sit up.
“Shhh, it’s okay, Tiana. Just lay still, you fainted and fell off the 7M board. You’re okay but we are going to send you to the hospital to get checked out,” Camille said as reassuringly as she could.
“No, no, I don’t’ want to go, if mum finds out, she’ll make me...” Tiana stopped suddenly as if scared.
“Tiana, do you know how far along you are?” Camille asked quietly.
“Please don’t kick me off the team; I need the scholarships for college. I have to get away from her and those men she brings home,” Tiana sobbed.
Willow and Gracie looked at each other shocked, as Camille barely managed to keep her face passive.
“Sweetie, no one is going to kick you off the team, I dived until I was 6 months pregnant with Gracie and you can too and dive after the baby is born, no problem. Can you tell me who the father is?” Camille prodded gently.
“I... I don’t know. Mom brought some guy home at Thanksgiving, he... he came to my room every night. He said he’d kill mum if I told,” Tiana started sobbing, “I knew I was pregnant but I... I just want someone to love me, like those girls on Teen Mom.”
“Oh good grief.” Willow groaned then Gracie punched Willow in the arm with an angry look.
“Willow...” Camille warned her stepdaughter in a low voice then softly, “Tiana, your mom can’t make you do anything you don’t want to. It is your body, and it’s your choice, but you were raped and we need to know who did this to you. You will need to tell Sheriff Tanner everything you remember, so that man can’t do this to other girls. It will be hard but we will support whatever decision you make, okay?”
“Whatever you need, T, we’re here for you and your baby,” Gracie agreed, then glanced her sister with a slight frown, and nodded her to the side toward Tiana.
“What? Oh yah, we’re here for you and I know where we can find a bear to feed that ba*stard to.” Willow smirked malevolently.
“Language,” Camille growled but Willow shrugged unrepentantly.
Camille glance toward the door to see Tank and Bernard both standing there with outrage written on their faces. Mara and Riley hurried in with two bottle of juice then Amy sprinted past the Sheriff and Superintendent, gasping for breath, “She’s... not... here... Coach Wally... Ms. Liz said... she left... early...”
“Thank you Amy. Here Tiana, drink this,” Camille offered the juice to Tiana, “The girls will help you get showered and dressed and Sheriff Tanner can drive you to the medical center.”
“I don’t want to go alone,” Tiana said in a panicky tone, clutching Camille’s hand.
“You won’t, I’ll go with you. I just need to dismiss practice. Get dressed. Girls?” Camille nodded to them.
“On it, mom.” Gracie said then in a soothing voice, as they moved toward the showers, “We’ll get you showered and stuff, and then stay till they find your mom and I’ll do your nails, I need the practice to perfect the team nails before Nationals but I can change the colors, if you want.”
“Hey, you said you were going to fix my nails,” Willow complained, following on her crutches.
“Not if you keep eating the polish,” Gracie snapped, making an outlandishly angry face at her sister, it was ridiculous but it made Tiana laugh.
Camille rolled her eyes and walked out to the pool. “You heard?”
Both men nodded grimly, none of them wanted to believe what the high school junior had just admitted had happened to her. Pagosa Cliffs was a close knit community where everyone knew everyone. Crimes like this happened in the cities, they didn’t happen here until now. It was shocking, like a sudden hail storm that flooded the streets and destroyed everything under it. The three adults stood silently for a moment, Tiana had just admitted to Camille that one of her mother’s ‘guests’ had repeatedly raped her over the last Thanksgiving week break. Camille closed her eyes for a moment and prayed Tiana could find her way back from the damage now that the truth was coming out. The knowledge that she was pregnant because of it and her admission that she was afraid of what her mother would make her do, hurt Camille’s heart. It made her want to physically harm the woman whose petty behavior had bothered her for over a decade and yet she knew Tiana would need her as her coach and a friend if the 17 year old was going to get through this.
Superintendent Patrick spoke first, “I can’t believe Antonia let that happen to Tiana. She always puts her first, like a princess.”
“What do you mean?” Tank asked confused, “My deputy Lloyd was her third ex. He said she treats that girl like Cinderella and she’s the evil stepmother.”
“What? Just this morning, she was demanding that I make Wally give Tiana the team captain spot because Willow is a freshman and Tiana is a junior and needs it for her college resume.”
They both stared at him for a moment as if surprised that the English teacher would do anything for her daughter’s benefit.
“Tonia acts like Tiana is an accessory, Bernard. If she wants Tiana to be the team captain, it is because it makes Tonia look good, not Tiana. One time they had a row because Tiana didn’t do her hair and make-up after morning practice and went to class looking like a normal girl.” Camille rubbed her forehead, and then looked up, “Bernard, can you get my team home?”
Jaw and mouth set in a grim line, he nodded, “Don’t worry about a thing, Coach.”
Camille turned and walked over to where the team sat in the bleachers. She smiles as reassuringly as she could at the nervous worried teens. “Everyone, Tiana is ill. She will be okay but we are taking her to see the doctor anyway. Practice is called today and tomorrow morning; Superintendent Patrick will give anyone a ride home that needs it. Get changed.”
“Yes, Coach Wally," They chorused as the kids scattered to the changing rooms.
“Tonia is going to have a meltdown over this,” Tank said quietly.
“I don’t give a crap what Tonia does, she caused this. Tiana is my focus.” Camille hissed.
“Mom, Tiana is woozy,” Willow’s called from the changing room door.
“Have her finish the juice,” Camille called back.
“I’ll wait here,” Tank promised.
Bernard nodded beside him. Both men looked like they were somewhere between needing a drink and punching someone. She felt the same but she knew they would do everything they could to get justice. This was their town, their school, their kids and someone was going to pay for hurting taking away its innocence, they same way they would pay for hurting Tiana.
As Camille walked away, she heard Tank on the phone to his dispatcher, telling them to have his deputies find Antonia Ballard and bring her to the medical center. His voice had a hard edge she had only heard once before.