“Enough, Tonia!” Camille jumped between them and pushed Antonia away for her daughter, dragging her out of the room past Mrs. Pence.
Camille spun Tonia on her high heels to face her, Camille’s expression was icy and enraged. She emphasized her words in a frigid tone. “YOUR Daugh-ter was sexually assaulted by YOUR date. For three nights, he crept into her room while you slept. She only kept it a secret because he threatened to kill you. She LOVES you and you’re worried about your reputation. What kind of a mother are you?” Camille’s tone was judgmental.
Tonia suddenly realized how bad this looked for her, “I... I’m sorry. I... I just don’t want her to have to live with that. Camille, you know how they treat women who were raped. She has to think about her future, about the Nationals and finishing high school, and getting into a good college. She can’t do that with an illegitimate baby.”
“She can and she will, she’s a strong girl!” Camille reined in her temper so she didn’t strike Tonia.
Over Tonia’s shoulder, Tank and Mrs. Pence were watching, the social worker seemed surprised at Camille’s outburst so she tried to appear calmer than she felt. Camille chose her words carefully, keeping her voice level.
“Tiana has been through a terrible trauma, she suffered silently for almost 4 months because she feared for you. Now, she needs your love and support. If she wants to keep the baby to try to have something good come out of her attack, then you need to support her choice. I know it’s a shock that someone did this to Tiana, but you can help her face it by making sure that man doesn’t take advantage of another mother to get to her daughter, the way he did to you. Help her put him in prison where he belongs.”
Tonia broke down and started crying on Camille’s shoulder, stammering, “It’s all my f-fault my b-baby girl got hurt.... I th-thought he was a n-n-nice man.... I n-never th- thought he’d do anything like that... I’ve n-n-never known anyone who would... would do s- s-som -something that t-t-terrible. Now she h-hates meeee.”
Tonia sobbed between stammered sentences and Camille resisted the urge to slap her the way she had slapped her daughter. ′Think of Tiana,′ repeated over and over in Camille’s mind
So Camille held her while she wept.“She doesn’t hate you, Tonia, she’s just upset.” Camille wanted to say something more to be comforting but she couldn’t think of anything, the only words that came were bitterly cold so she swallowed them. Part of her felt sorry for the other mother, Tonia had invited the rapist of her daughter into her home and now she would have to live with that, the other part said she should only feel sorry for Tiana. Camille chose the middle ground; the blizzard of her rage could wait.
“Ms Ballard, I am sorry but in light of what has happened, Tiana cannot return to your home until we finish an inquest. Do you want me to call her grandmother?” Mrs. Pence asked softly.
Tonia looked up with mascara smeared down her face, in a small voice she whimpered, “You’re taking my daughter away?”
“Just until the inquest is finished, it’s policy in a case like this.”
“Oh... of course.... Can... Can you take her Camille? You’ve been through this, you’ve been raped. You can help her until I can bring her home. Please Camille, you’re her coach, she trusts you and I don’t trust anyone else,” Tonia begged.
“I’ll take her, if Mrs. Pence says it is okay,” Camille agreed.
“Thank you, thank you Camille,” Tonia gushed gratefully.
“I’ll talk to Tiana to see if it is okay with her,” Mrs. Pence turned and headed back into the room. “Coach Wallace is already an approved foster mother. I just have to do the paperwork.”
Tank spoke for the first time since Tonia had rushed out to find Tiana, “Antonia, this is a criminal case now. I have Tiana’s statement. I just need his last name and address.”
“How did you take her statement without my permission?” Tonia demanded.
Camille answered for him, “Tonia, we couldn’t find you. Tiana and her baby were in dire circumstances so we called Tim and he faxed the permission in. I know the two of you don’t get along but I didn’t have a choice. Tiana needed urgent medical care and he gave Sheriff Tanner permission to talk to her when he learned how she got pregnant. He loves her very much.”
Tonia hid her anger, and whispered, “Thank you for taking care of my daughter, Camille.” She wondered how much Tiana had said. She had to talk to her ‘friend’ before law enforcement.
“The name, Antonia,” Tank insisted firmly.
“Oh ummm, his name was Donnie something, ummm, Donnie Brasco or Basco, from Brighton, I think.”
“Do you have an address or a phone number?”
Tonia shook her head, “We met online. I swear, Sheriff, I’m not the kind of woman that brings home strangers, I really thought I knew him better.” She seemed to slump, “Can... can I go back in with Tiana now? I need to tell her I’m sorry, it was just such a shock. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve never slapped her before. Please believe me, I’m not that kind of mother. I only want the best for her.” Tonia pled, clinging to Camille whose shoulder was smeared with mascara and tears.
“Of course, Antonia.” Tank responded, “I need anything else you can remember, call me tomorrow.”
Camille led her back into the room but she didn’t miss the hard look on Tank’s face when she glanced back over her shoulder. She wondered what had him so angry.
Tank turned and walked out of the Medical Center and called the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Antonia Ballard had lied about the name of the man who raped her daughter, and he didn’t know why.
Hours later, Tonia was making a cup of tea for the last person in the world she wanted in her house, Coach Camille Wallace. Tiana was upstairs getting clothes for the weekend and next week. She would be living with her coach until the National High School Swim and Dive competition was over.
“Thank you so much for taking care of Tiana, Camille. I don’t know how I will ever repay you,” Tonia tried her best to sound sincere.
“It’s no trouble, Tonia. Tiana is a good diver and student. She is a hard working and intelligent young woman; she will get through this with love and support. Giving Sheriff Tanner that man’s name puts her one step closer to healing,” Camille tried to sound reassuring when all she wanted to do was chew on this woman’s heart, if she had one.
Tonia put her cup down, “Look Camille, I know you and I haven’t always seen eye to eye on thing. Sometimes I come off as harsh and demanding of my daughter, but I truly only want the best for Tiana. I don’t want her to struggle like I did. I don’t want her to fall in love with men who will treat her like a trinket.” She laughed bitterly, “I always fall for the worst kind of men. You are so lucky you have Tank but... but I need to tell you something.” She bit her lip and Camille looked at her confused.
“Tell me what?”
“It’s about that developer, the one who tried to kiss on you at the Valentine’s Day dance. Before I headed to Black Bear, I went to see him.” Tonia admitted.
“Why?” The tone of Camille’s one word question told Tonia all she needed to know, Ice Cold Coach Wallace was afraid of the answer.
“He’s been asking a lot of questions about you and your girls, it is making people nervous. With Nationals coming, I knew you would be too busy to deal with him stalking you,” Tonia confessed.
“You think he is stalking me?” Camille asked.
“Well, he is doing a lot of things to get close to you, expensive things. Things men expect something back for doing. Before I went out there, I did some online research on him and I figured out he is Gracie’s father and his brother who died was Willow’s. I don’t know what he did to make you walk away after that terrible accident, but I am glad you did. He is a terribly vulgar man.”
“What happened?” Camille inquired calmly.
Tonia frowned as if upset, and then took a deep dramatic sigh, “First he hit on me, when I refused he basically called me a prostitute. When I told him to stay away from you and the team, he laughed and said he was going to get you back, take you away from Tank, so I told him to build his resort somewhere else. He said some very rude and threatening things. I left as quickly as I could, but afterwards, while I was at my friend’s house waiting on my car to be repaired, I used her computer. He has kept himself out of the media expert for the PR for the resorts he builds, but I did find out that he is engaged to some supermodel named Sophia Varda, a real party girl. She’s had a different guy every few months or years but she always goes back to Kyle. Whatever their relationship is, it has been on and off for over a decade, maybe longer.”
She almost smiled at the rigid expression Camille’s face took at the mention of the other woman’s name. But instead, she continued on like a concerned friend, a role she had pretended too many times to count, good people were easy to sway, they wanted to believe that lie that everyone was just like them, being a broken person herself once, Antonia knew exactly how to present herself to draw even the cold and suspicious Coach Wallace into her web.
“I think you did the right thing taking the girls and moving as far from him and his party slut as you could. Believe me; it’s better for them to grow up around decent men like your grandfather and Tank, men who respect women. I only met my father once, he was a drunken jerk who chose a younger, prettier model as soon as my mum had a girl instead of a boy. I wish I had never met him. I was about the age Gracie and Willow are now. First he hit on me, and then he mocked me. But he was right, I had daddy issues, I just wanted someone to love and take care of me.”
Camille said nothing as they sipped their tea, so Tonia started talking again.
“Look, I know I should be the last person to give advice on men with my divorce record, but I think you need to be careful of him and keep the girls away from him. He’s obsessive, possessive, and dangerous. Men like him don’t take no for an answer. Men like him seem charming and sincere up front, then you find out they hurt your daughter.” Tonia’s last words were almost whispered as she sniffed and slumped in shame. From the corner of her eye, she could see Camille blinking rapidly, and then Camille came around the table and put her hand on Tonia’s back. A gesture meant to comfort. Suddenly Camille saw Antonia, not as the vain gold digger she had been painted by the gossip vine to be, but as a broken woman who just wanted love and didn’t know any other way to get it.
“It’s not your fault, Tonia. Donnie tricked you and left you to pick up the piece of your daughter’s innocence. I know what that’s like. I was tricked 15 years ago. Love makes women do foolish things, believe in fairy tales. Men break our hearts, damage everything we love, destroy our world, and then leave it for us to pick up the pieces. All we can do is keep moving on.” Camille was sincere, but she didn’t realize the insincerity of the woman she was trying to encourage.
“You’re such a strong person Camille; you’ve been on your own for so long. How do you do it?” Tonia asked in a tiny voice.
But Camille didn’t have an answer she thought Antonia would understand, so she answered as honestly as she could.
“I am just too stubborn to quit fighting for those I love and myself. I put the love and needs of my family before everything else in my life, that way I’ll always have the strength to fight for the important things. All the stuff in the world doesn’t matter as long as I have my family,” Camille explained. “That’s how I do it. It’s lonely but the reward of seeing my girls growing up to be strong women makes every sacrifice I have ever made worth it.”
Tiana came into the kitchen, looking sad and announced, “I’m ready, mum. I’m so sorry.”
Tonia hugged her, “It’s okay. You’ll have 24/7 access to your coach, most athletes your age would kill for this opportunity. Look at the positive, I can get the whole house painted while you’re there, the fumes would be bad for you and my grandbaby. I think I’ll paint the guest room green like your eyes and we’ll make it a nursery filled with frogs, for my little tadpole. Would you like that?”
“Yes please, you and dad used to call me tadpole” Tiana cried a little bit as they walked out to the car.
“Soon we’ll have our own little frog prince or princess. Train hard and make me proud. I’ll see you at school on Monday. I love you, darling.”
“I love you, Mummy.”
Camille carried her bags out to her car, thinking maybe there was hope for someone like Antonia, as the woman who had been annoying her for years put her only child into the passenger side of the car. Camille decided they were paying a terrible price for Antonia’s need for love.
As they drove away, Tonia smirked in the darkness. As soon as Nationals was over, Tiana would have an unfortunate miscarriage and it would be easy to claim the cause was the stress and strain from the competition and that Coach Camille had filled Tiana’s head with the delusional belief that diving was safe for her baby. The settlement money that would garner would be a nice way to end this unfortunate episode. Inside she sat down at her computer and opened a new document, transcribing what she had told Camille, what she had learned, and the plans she had to destroy the former Olympian.
All the way back to Camille’s home, she thought about what Tonia had said about Kyle being engaged to Sophia again. Camille knew very little about the model. Willamina had told her that Kent hated Sophia because she was just like their mother and had used her beauty to convince Kyle he was in love with her.
A month before the death of the Hightower patriarch, Sophia had done something to make Kyle break their engagement, and then she immediately moved on to another handsome, wealthy man. Kyle had only told Camille that Sophia was the greatest mistake of his life and she had made him pay for it by throwing away the thing he wanted most. Camille didn’t know what that was. As she parked, she nudged Tiana awake and helped the exhausted girl into the house, putting her in the guest room.
Camille stood in her grandpa’s office, holding a cup of tea and trying not to log into her laptop. She had never once looked up Kyle Hightower after she walked away the day she had canceled Willamina and Kent’s wedding. Not once. She ran her fingers along the edge of the key board. If Kyle wanted to tell her about his life and his fiancée, he would. It was no concern of hers unless it affected Gracie and Willow.
Angry at herself, she turned away then back. She did not want to be one of those women who stalked their ex via the internet. He had his life now and she had hers, she reminded herself for the hundredth time in two minutes. But years of repressed feelings and her own insecurity had her googling the two names.
The very first image was of him carrying her down a beach of the bluest waters and whitest sand. Her arms were draped around his neck, her face silhouetted against his pale shirt, his head tilted down toward her. The image had been shared over a million times with things like #perfectcouple, #soromantic, and #truelove. Other images of them at street cafes and restaurants, and many of Sophia at resorts that were obviously under construction or just completed filled pages. Kyle must take Sophia everywhere he worked, Camille realized it bothered her. She didn’t read the captions, a picture was worth a thousand words, and these spoke volumes. Camille didn’t know why the images made her heart hurt but they did. She closed the computer and went to bed. Lying in the darkness she watched the stars moving toward the horizon until morning. Then she got up to roust the girls and head to the pool, she needed the calm and clarity diving brought her. She needed to fall.