Antonia left the car dealership. They had given her a fourth less than she thought she should have gotten for Tiana’s car but the economy was making things difficult and she didn’t really have a choice but to accept what they had given her. It had taken most of the day.
She looked at her phone; there were a dozen missed calls from Coach Wallace, two more from Sheriff Tanner, another from Mrs. Pence, and one from an unknown number with a foreign prefix. Before she could call the number, her phone vibrated. It was Camille.
Scowling, Antonia answered it. “Camille, I don’t appreciate you calling me repeatedly when you kept my daughter overnight on a school day without my...”
“Shut up Tonia! I am at the medical center with Tiana. We have been here since yesterday after school. Something very bad happened to her and you need to come as soon as you can, if you can be bothered.” Camille’s voice had a waspish tone.
The coach’s judgmental words and the fact that that her daughter had been there overnight without her made Tonia livid. It made her look like a very bad mother. Her mind rushed to create an excuse that would be believable.
“Oh my gosh, Camille. Why didn’t you call me?“Tonia hoped she sounded upset and worried.
“I have been calling you since it happened yesterday afternoon, and been by your house twice. Honestly Tonia, where have you been? ,” Camille demanded. “Your daughter needs you. We even have the sheriff’s office looking for you.”
Tonia realized Camille didn’t know she had been home last night. “I... I went to visit a friend in Black Bear Creek. She’s having a rough time and the rental car broke down after dinner, so I stayed the night and got the car fixed this afternoon,” Tonia lied. “I’ll come right away.”
She hung up Camille, oh how she hated the super-mom Coach Wallace. Raising two girls alone, coaching the swim and dive team, running the ranch after her grandfather died and her cousin lost his leg, teaching self-defense classes, volunteering, and everything else she did for the school made Camille one of the most respected women in the community and most desired. For nearly a decade, the Sheriff had rejected her for that tattooed tramp, and now Tonia hated Camille even more for being the reason her latest mark refused to have any more to do with her. Kyle Hightower had basically called her a prostitute and had her escorted off his property after confessing that he loved Camille. She wondered if Coach Wallace knew about the Sheriff and the Developer’s plan to share her affections.
Tonia would find a way to turn this into her favor and she would make sure the coach and the developer never reunited, and if she had to destroy the sheriff to do it, she would. She was an expert of manipulation, she could create a scandal out of air and innuendo, as soon as she got Tiana through Nationals and made team captain for her senior year, she would find a way to destroy Camille Wallace once and forever.
While Tiana showered before dinner, Camille tried Antonia’s number again. This time Tonia answered it. “Camille, I don’t appreciate you calling me repeatedly when you kept my daughter overnight on a school day without my permi...”
“Shut up Tonia! I am at the medical center with Tiana. We have been here since yesterday after school. Something very bad happened to her and you need to come as soon as you can, if you can be bothered.” Camille’s voice had a waspish tone but she didn’t care, in her book Tonia’s actions and neglect made her an unfit mother.
“Oh my gosh, Camille. Why didn’t you call me?”
Tonia’s voice had a ring of insincerity that made Camille’s blood boil. She pulled back on the reins of her rage and resisted the verbal tirade that came to mind, in the calmest coolest voice she could manage, Camille explained, “I have been calling you since it happened yesterday afternoon, and been by your house twice. Honestly Tonia, where have you been? Your daughter needs you; we even have the sheriff’s office looking for you.”
Tonia stammered “I... I went to visit a friend in Black Bear Creek. She’s having a rough time and the rental car broke down after dinner, so I stayed the night and got the car fixed this afternoon. I’ll come right away.” Then the call disconnected.
Standing down the hall from Tiana’s room near the waiting area, Camille stared at her phone angrily and resisted the urge to throw it at the wall. Antonia hadn’t even asked how Tiana was or what happened. There was no excuse for Tonia not to return her calls. The cellular service in Black Bear was excellent because of the casino tourism. She reached up and rubbed her forehead, Tonia’s reason had a ring of untruth and Camille fought her usual suspicious nature.
Camille didn’t know Tonia much beyond their interactions through school and swim team fundraisers. Perhaps she was just a flighty woman. They had never gotten along, never been friends. Camille appreciated the help and Tonia had come highly recommended, but Camille had learned, since she began coaching Tiana, that Antonia Ballard had a vicious streak. It went far beyond being the head community gossip, the innuendo she created was so far beyond the gossip she had spread because Beau refused to date her after Tim, and Camille still suspected that Tonia was behind the rumors that had led Asher Colmer to commit fraud and vandalism against a new resident because the woman dared date one of Tonia’s exs.
Camille had put it off to Tonia being a very bitter divorcee and resenting Tiana’s father for abandoning her with a child and barely any child support. But after she talked to Tim and Mrs. Pence, and her Gramma had talked to Lloyd, Camille worried for the team accounts. There was nearly twenty thousand dollars to pay for the trips to Nationals and the Olympic trials. As soon as Nationals was past, Camille was going to the school board about getting Tonia’s name off Blue Wings accounts and other school related ones.
Tank walked around the corner, his face had the same grim expression it had worn the last time she saw him. He held out his arms, she stepped into them and hugged him. Both of them ignoring the two nurses who were peeking at them from the reception desk with knowing smiles. Their years’ long ruse had most of the community believing they were a solid but quietly reserved couple. This single PDA would probably be a marriage proposal by tomorrow’s gossip vine.
“We haven’t found Tonia yet, I am about to notify state patrol since it’s been 24 hours,” he said softly. “You okay?”
Camille shook her head, “No need. She just answered my call and got mad at me for repeatedly calling, then she lied and said she didn’t get my calls. She claims she was in Black Bear Creek visiting a friend.” She hissed angrily, “She didn’t even ask what happened or if Tiana was okay.”
“Well, at least she’s coming,” he sounded exasperated.
She looked up at him, “Please stay with me till she gets here, if I have to face her alone, you’ll have to arrest me for assault.”
“Don’t hurt her too bad, I still have questions for her, buuuut,” Tank chuckled, “Then I’d have to arrest her for assault and trespassing too. Evidently she showed up at the Blue Water resort site uninvited and threatened to stop the resort from being built then she slapped Hightower for insulting her.”
Camille raised an eyebrow, “She slapped Kyle? I guess my Gramma is right, Tonia does try to do everything I do.”
“I think you did it better, beautiful.” He smirked, “She didn’t even leave a mark, and not only did you knock him in the pool but he still had a bruise when I saw him two days later,” He complimented, “I warned Hightower you hit as hard as an angry mama cow kicks.”
She grinned, winking, “I am an angry mama cow.”
“More like mama bear. Come on; let’s go sit with Tiana till her mother gets here. It is going to be a long night. I’m brought me, a coffee, her, a milkshake, and you, a tea.”
Camille looked him up and down, humming, “I don’t see themmmmm.”
He startled then looked out at the parking lot, the drink carrier was sitting on top of his Durango. He just hung his head, shaking it at himself and groaned, “I’ll be right back.”
Camille snorted amused, then smirked, “You do that Sheriff.”
As she watched him walking toward his patrol vehicle, she had to admit he was a handsome hulk of a man, but as he pointed out less than a week ago, they would never be. Tank was her best friend but she couldn’t deny that she still had feelings for Kyle. It was just so hard with Kyle, and so easy with Tank, why couldn’t her heart cooperate! She thought about what he’d said and wondered what was Tonia’s real reason for going to see Kyle, and what he had said to make her slap him. Things in her life had gotten so complicated since Kyle returned to it two weeks ago, and now she was dealing with a drama she cringed to think about. She breathed out her exasperation; she couldn’t throw herself a pity party right now. One of her team needed her to be the pillar of strength everyone believed she was, everyone but herself that is.
Tonia pulled up in front of the medical center and parked, she put a drop in each eye so it would look like she had been crying as she drove and smudged her makeup carefully to make it believable. In truth, she wasn’t upset, she was enraged. Her stupid daughter had pulled some foolish stunt and made her look bad. Tiana would pay for it as soon as they got home. Losing her car wasn’t enough for the ungrateful brat; if she wasn’t going to answer her calls or text messages then she would lose her phone too.
Properly flustered and emotional, Antonia rushed into the Medical Center and up to the nurses’ desk.
“I’m here, my daughter, my poor Tiana. Coach Wallace called and said there was an accident,” Tonia half -sobbed.
“Antonia, I need to talk to you first,” Sheriff Tanner’s voice came from behind her.
She turned and hugged him, crying, “Oh Tank, what happened? Is Tiana okay? Did she wreck her car or something?”
Tanks untangled himself from her arms, as he pushed her away and not gently. He felt more like he was being groped than hugged. “We need to talk in private, you know Mrs. Pence from Human Services. Come with me.” He was very brusque.
Tonia was surprised that the elderly social worker was there, but quickly recovered and regurgitated the story she had practiced. The lies were already falling from her lips in a tremulous voice. “What is going on? I went to Black Bear to see my friend who’s getting divorced, had car trouble, and then Coach Wallace called, saying something bad happened to Tiana, and I come back to you treating me like I did something criminal while my daughter is in the hospital and no one has told me anything.”
The Sheriff just looked at her coldly, “Please come with us, Mrs. Ballard.”
Tonia barely managed to keep her worried expression in place, as she followed. She really was getting pissed about being treated so negatively when she was acting the way she thought they expected her to act. Something was very wrong and she had the distinct perception that this was going to be more difficult to deal with than the excuse of car trouble would fix. He led her into a vacant room. Mrs. Pence closed the door behind them.
“Mrs. Ballard, can you tell me the name of the man you had staying at your house over the last Thanksgiving holiday?” Tank demanded coldly.
“Uh, I don’t see how my personal life is any concern of your, Sheriff Tanner?” Tonia feigned confusion.
Mrs. Pence asked in an emotionless voice, “Did you know the man who stayed at your house over Thanksgiving well before he stayed at your home, Mrs. Ballard?”
“It’s Ms Ballard, I am divorced. And I think I knew him well enough. I was introduced to him online through a divorcee dating service but after we met that week, I never talked to him again. He seemed nice but we just didn’t have any chemistry,” Tonia lied, she had a very bad feeling about the line of questioning and she wondered what Tiana had said about that week.
“But you were comfortable enough to let him stay in your house for several days and have access to your daughter, were you not?” Mrs. Pence asked again in different words.
Tonia swallowed uncomfortably; she needed to change to focus from her until she could think of a cover story for what happened. “Where is my daughter? What is wrong with her?”
Sheriff Tanner, sighed sadly, “It appears your online friend raped Tiana and she’s pregnant, she collapsed at school during dive practice. She said...” As he continued about why she was brought to the medical center and what she told Coach Wallace in the changing room.
Tonia let tears run down her face, repeating over and over. “Oh no... no no no... Not my baby girl.“.
“Ms Ballard, you need to tell me the name of the man who raped your daughter over Thanksgiving,” Sheriff Tanner demanded at the end of his explanation, as Mrs. Pence from social services looked on passively. They knew too much already, she needed to deflect them before they questioned Tiana and got a more detailed account, if they suspected what really happened Tonia would lose everything she worked for.
Instead Tonia shrieked dramatically, “Where is Tiana? Oh gawd, oh no, not my baby girl.”
Tonia rushed out of the room calling for Tiana. She hurried down the hall until she saw Tiana lying in a bed talking to Camille. She stumbled dramatically into the room and threw herself on her daughter, hugging her fiercely.
“Oh Sweetie, Mummy is so sorry about what did that terrible man do to you!” Tonia gushed, crying convincingly.
Tiana stared at Camille shocked over her mother’s shoulder, quickly huge crystalline tears filling her green eyes then she started sobbing. “I’m sorry. He made me have sex with him, mummy, and he said he would kill you if I told anyone. I’m sorry,” Tiana apologized over and over. “I’m so sorry, Mummy.”
Camille stood quietly, her soul cleaved at Tiana’s heartbreaking pleas. Tonia seemed so upset, crying with her daughter that Camille almost believed her regret until she spoke again.
“Don’t worry, you can have an abortion and we can pretend it never happened. We won’t tell anyone what you did. No one ever needs to know, it can be our secret,” Tonia insisted.
Tiana pushed her mother away, her expression horrified, “I don’t want it to be a secret, and I want him to go to jail. I don’t want to have an abortion.
“You’re going to have an abortion, Tatiana and that’s final.” Tonia insisted angrily.
“No mum, I won’t. It isn’t my baby’s fault I was raped. I’m keeping it, I love it.”
“You will do no such thing. I am your mother and you will get rid of that thing. No daughter of mine is having a bas*tard rape baby,” Tonia snapped, shocked that Tiana would refuse anything she was told to do. She thought her control over her daughter was stronger.
“Mum, it’s my body. It’s my baby and you can’t make me kill it. I love my baby, the only bas*tard I know of is the one you brought home who rape me all weekend!” Accusing, Tiana’s eyes shined with something Tonia had never seen before, defiance.
Her words were too close to the truth and Tonia realized she needed to make Tiana be quiet. In the face of Tiana’s disrespect and backtalk, she snapped,” You are my daughter and you will do what I tell you. People will think you have loose morals. You will not embarrass us...”
“You’re the slut, not me, embarrass us. It’s not my fault your boy toy did this,” Tiana screamed at her, interrupting, “I hate you. It’s your fault. Get out of my room.”
“Tatiana Tsarina Ballard! How dare you backtalk me, you... you spoiled little bi*tch!” Tonia hissed.
“F* you, Antonia! Oh wait, there’s no one left in the county for you to screw, that’s why you have to bring men in from other states.” Tiana spat hatefully.
Tonia’s temper and panic got the better of her and she slapped Tiana to shut her up. And Tiana lunged at her, punch her mother in the shoulder and tearing her own IV out of her arms as they shrieked profanities at each other.