Monday, 25 September 2017

F Fic, Non-fic

Presumed Guilty

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By Laura Capasso

First appeared in Quail Bell Magazine


 PresumedGuilty

A light breeze carried the perfume of chlorine and lavender in the humid South Carolina air. A ladybug bumbled toward the shadowy refuge under Piper’s deck chair.

Piper pounded the sunscreen bottle several times against her palm, flipped the lid and squeezed. Fthhhpt. An anemic amount splattered onto her hand. She smoothed it onto her leg, barely coating her shin.

Piper’s mother opened one eye a fraction. “There’s more lotion in the mudroom.” Naomi snuggled deeper into her lounge chair under the caress of the Labor Day sun.

“Great.” Piper sighed and swung her legs to the floor. “Can I get you anything while I’m up?”

Naomi jangled the ice in her glass. “A bit more tea would be lovely, Pipes. Thanks.”

Piper took their tumblers and walked around the aboveground pool. Her cell phone buzzed. Several seconds later, the home phone rang. She juggled glasses and sunscreen and reached into her shorts pocket. The phone displayed ‘Stacie’.

As the bottle of sunscreen slid from under Piper’s arm, she tried to catch it. Her phone slipped from her grasp, rebounded twice off her fingers, and dropped with a plunk into the pool. “Scheisse.” She spun around to see if her mother was listening. The last time Piper cursed in German, she was grounded for a week.

Naomi sat up, the home phone clutched to her ear. “This is Naomi Saunders.” She listened and replied, “I am.” Her face paled. “Can’t we discuss this over the phone? All right. We’ll be there shortly.” She put down the phone with a trembling hand. “Get dressed, Piper.”

“But I have to get my phone.” Piper pointed at the bottom of the pool.

“I don’t care about that.” Naomi frowned for a moment before lifting worried eyes. “Go put on some clothes, please. Quickly.”

A few minutes later, Piper emerged from her bedroom in shorts and a cotton shirt, her dark hair in a ponytail. From the hallway, she heard her father and mother talking.

“You don’t know what it’s about, Naomi,” he said. “Don’t fret until you’ve talked to them.”

Naomi’s voice was a whisper that Piper couldn’t make out.

Piper heard a rustle of paper—likely her father’s sermon for Sunday—and a deep sigh. “Naomi, we’re in Lashing. Nothing happens here. It can’t be that bad.”

“Where is she?” Naomi said with a trace of impatience.

Piper stepped into the living room, twisting the hem of her blouse. “I’m ready. Mom, what’s going on?”

“I’m not sure. The Lashing police would like you to come to the station to answer some questions.”

“Me?” Her voice rose. “About what?”

“I don’t know,” Naomi said. “But, like your father says, it can’t be that bad. If it were, they’d be here. Not asking us to go there.”

 

~~~

 

Piper shivered under the air-conditioning vent and adjusted in the metal chair. She glanced at the watch on her mother’s wrist; it’d been half an hour. The waiting area smelled of cleanser and stale sweat. There were no magazines, only the hum of long fluorescent lights. Steel doors, painted battleship gray with plastic wood-grain plaques specifying ‘Interrogation 1’, ‘Interrogation 2’, and ‘Storage’ led from the waiting area. The wall posters read ‘Fighting Crime’, ‘Safety and Justice’ and ‘We Make Lashing Safe’. Under different circumstances, Piper might’ve called it ‘Cop Chic’ and gotten a chuckle out of it. Not now.

From the door labeled ‘Interrogation 1’, a twenty-something girl emerged with her head hanging low. Piper straightened, recognizing her babysitter from years ago. What was her name? Tammie.

“Mom,” Piper whispered. But Naomi had sprung from her chair.

Tears streaked Tammie’s makeup. Naomi patted the girl’s back and whispered in her ear. Tammie sniffled noisily, wiped her nose with the back of her hand and stumbled out the glass door.

An officer leaned his buzz-cut head around the ‘Interrogation 1’ door and summoned them with two fingers.

Piper rose on trembling legs and followed Naomi into the room. Four metal chairs surrounded a steel table with handcuff bars on the surface. Piper’s stricken expression reflected in the mirror on the far wall. Probably double-sided like on television police dramas. Surreal. She swallowed, the air thick in her throat. Her mother didn’t help to calm her nerves. Naomi’s eyes darted like a cornered rabbit.

The police officer’s nametag read ‘Livingston’. His starched blue uniform had creases that could cut paper and stretched across broad shoulders to a narrow waist. Not a friend of the donut. His eyes slid over Piper’s face as he motioned to two chairs across the table.

Piper pulled out the chair with a long scrape against the tile floor. She flinched and took her seat next to Naomi.

Officer Livingston sat opposite. He placed a folder on the table and leaned forward on his forearms. “Thank you for coming in so quickly, Mrs. Saunders.”

“It’s not a problem. You didn’t want to get into specifics on the phone. Can you tell us what this is about?”

Livingston glanced down at the folder under his arms. He flipped it open and gazed at Naomi from lowered brows. “Your daughter…”

“Piper,” Naomi said.

“Uh yes, Piper. She associates with Lazaro Henderson, is that correct?”

Piper frowned. He knew the answer to his question. Why ask it? In Lashing, everyone knew each other. Probably a little too well. What they did on the weekends, sports they played, and who dated who were all common knowledge. Nothing here was private. Nothing.

Worry settled in her stomach. What could Lazaro have gotten into? He was a good guy. Everyone loved him. He’d made the winning touchdown on Friday’s season opener. That alone secured his legendary status in town.

“Yes,” Naomi said. “Lazaro is her boyfriend.”

Livingston made a note with his pen. “Piper,” he said, eyes drilling into hers. “Have you ever gone to Lazaro Henderson’s house?”

Piper went cold. Busted. She nodded.

Livingston’s pen worked again. He squinted at her. “When?”

Heat spread over her cheeks. She’d broken one of her father’s cardinal rules by going to Lazaro’s house. When she’d stayed there overnight, it was more like fracturing and grinding the rules into dust. She glanced at her mother, who’d gone unnaturally still. “Um, a couple of weeks ago.” She’d stick with that one.

“What was the purpose of your visit?” Livingston’s voice was clipped.

“Lazaro forgot his workout gear.”

“Who was there?”

“I don’t know.”

He drew back. “What do you mean, you ‘don’t know’?”

“I didn’t go in. I sat in the car.” Truth. For that visit.

Livingston made another note. His eyes narrowed. “So, is that the only time that you’ve been to the Henderson residence?”

Piper nodded. Okay, that lie was a whopper. She wiped her sweaty palms on her shorts. Her mother sat like a statue, face tight, staring at the table. Piper knew she would hear about this later.

“At no other time have you been inside the Henderson residence?”

Piper watched his thumb pound against the folder. Apprehension climbed hot up her neck. How many ways could he ask the same question? “I’ve never been inside the Henderson residence.” Stick with the story.

“Miss Saunders, I find that hard to believe,” Livingston said. “You’ve never been in your boyfriend’s house?”

From the two-way mirror, fear reflected back at her. “My dad is a pastor. I’m not allowed in my boyfriend’s house.”

“Let me try this a different way. Have you ever been alone with Lazaro’s father?”

“No.”

Livingston slammed the folder shut and leaned back. Was he going to call her a liar? “Piper, thank you for answering my questions.” He gave a thin smile. Maybe not. “I wonder if you’d be so kind to wait outside for a moment while I speak to your mother?” Uh oh, that was worse. He obviously knew the truth. While she waited outside, Livingston was going to tell her mother everything.

Naomi’s face appeared stark white under her tan.

Piper rose cradling her arms across her stomach and returned to the waiting area.

Minutes later, Naomi opened the door, grasping it like it held her up. Her troubled eyes met Piper’s.

“Mom?” Piper launched from her seat. “Are you okay?” Crap! How much trouble was she really in?

A muscle twitched in Naomi’s jaw as she shepherded Piper out the glass door. At the car, she yanked Piper into a trembling hug. After a moment, she thrust Piper to arms length. “Were you ever alone with his father?”

“Never.” It was the truth. She hadn’t intended on sleeping over. She’d gone to Lazaro’s to binge-watch The Walking Dead because her dad would never let her watch it. Her parents had thought she was spending the night at Elia’s. Which had been serendipitous. Piper had fallen asleep after having a fit of hiccups during the third episode of season two. Mr. Henderson had cured her by giving her ginger ale. The next morning she’d woken in the Henderson’s den next to Lazaro. She’d been more concerned about her rancid breath and smudged mascara than anything else. “Mom, is Lazaro alright? What happened?”

Naomi shook her head. “Not here.”

They got in the car. Naomi started the engine and turned the air conditioning high to combat the September heat. “Lazaro is fine, I think. As well as can be expected.” Naomi rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know how to tell you this.”

“Just tell me. What?”

“His father. The police raided their home and found years of recordings of him and young girls.”

Piper’s hands flew to her mouth. Scheisse.

 

~~~

 

Waiting for the bus felt a lot like standing in a steam bath. Combined with Piper’s lack of sleep last night, irritation bubbled up in her. The accidental sleepover at Lazaro’s had played in her mind like a looped recording. His dad had joked that it was a “need to know situation”. Having an overnight Walking Dead marathon wouldn’t kill anyone, Mr. Henderson had said.

A bead of sweat trickled between Piper’s shoulders to her lower back. She hoisted her book bag higher and rolled a round rock under her flip-flop. What had happened after she’d drunk the ginger ale?

The bus approached from down the street, laboring under its load. She loathed it. Loud. Smelly. The kids behaved like they were hyenas on the Serengeti. As it drew closer, the chaos within assaulted the morning calm.

With a screech and sigh, the bus stopped in front of her. The doors swung open. Piper drew a heavy breath and climbed the steps. She paused. Elia wasn’t at their usual spot. She wasn’t onboard. Silence. A first. As she walked down the aisle, the slap of her flip-flops against her heels and the rumbling engine were the only sounds.

Curious eyes met hers as she looked around. Two girls whispered conspiratorially and giggled. One had the manners to look away, but the other, a straggly-haired, busty bully, ironically named Sunshine Willoughby, smirked and arched a brow at Piper.

Piper took her usual seat. Her skin prickled as she felt the stares of those around her. Placing her bag on the seat, she scooted close to the window. From its reflection she saw the kids whisper behind their hands. They knew about Lazaro’s dad. Shame whirled in her stomach.

When they arrived at school, everyone rose and shuffled to the exit. Piper waited. She stared out the window until only she remained. She walked to the front of the bus.

The driver watched Piper’s approach in her mirror. “Hey,” she said in a molasses voice. “Don’t let them get to you.” Gum snapped in her slow-working jaw. “Keep your head up, Piper. It’ll be all right, you’ll see.”

“Thanks, Miss Anita.”

“Anytime, Sugar.” Anita winked and popped her gum.

 

~~~

 

By the time Piper arrived at her locker, she had only a few minutes before class. Stacie’s foot tapping indicated that she’d been waiting a while. Stacie checked her cell phone. “Where have you been? I’ve been texting.”

Piper twisted her locker dial. “Sorry. My craptastic phone is at the bottom of the pool.”

“What?” Stacie said. “Never mind. Yesterday, Pipes. The cops were at Lazaro’s house all morning. They led his dad out of the house in handcuffs.”

Piper exchanged notebooks and books. She imagined Stacie watching the scene unfold from her house across the street from Lazaro. Not good. She lived on one of the busiest streets in town. If she saw it, so did everyone.

“Have you talked to Lazaro? Do you know what happened?”

Piper closed her locker with a rattle of metal. “No, not all the details. I’m grounded and Dad told me I can’t talk to Lazaro, look at him, come within fifty yards of him. I’m not even supposed to think about him.”

“Huh?”

The bell pealed.

Piper shrugged. “In addition to the other atrocity, two weeks ago I went to his house.”

“No,” Stacie breathed. “Did your dad wig?”

They walked toward their class.

“Seriously,” Piper said. “That also means I can’t go with you and Elia to the mall tonight.”

 

~~~

 

The lunch line had a large gap in it. Piper stood at the center of it like a bull’s-eye, head down, picking at a hangnail. She heard Sunshine Willoughby snicker from a couple yards behind her.

Piper let her hair cover her face in a silky brown curtain. She peeked from under her brow at the clock behind a cage on the wall. Twelve. Two more hours.

Stacie entered the cafeteria and headed straight for Piper. A paper wad flew past her face. “Hey. What’s going on?”

“Oh nothing,” Piper said. “Just enduring Sunshine.”

“Let it go.” Stacie glanced over her shoulder. “It’s gotta be hard heaving around those hypermammiferous boobs of hers. That’d be enough to put anyone in a perpetually bad mood.”

They shuffled forward, grabbed trays and loaded up. After paying the cashier they sat at their regular table.

Stacie bit into a red apple with a crisp crunch. She sucked apple juice from her lip. “Where’s Elia?”

Piper shook her head. “I was gonna ask you the same thing. She wasn’t on the bus this morning.” She peeled apart her milk carton’s spout and took a sip.

“I wonder if she can go tonight,” Stacie said. “We should postpone until you’re not grounded.”

Piper snorted. “That’ll be never.”

“She didn’t answer my texts either.” Stacie waved her apple. “I thought you two were avoiding me.”

“Never. You’re the only one, besides my bus driver, who’s spoken to me all day.”

Two tables away, loud snickers erupted as a paper airplane landed beside Piper’s tray. The words, “I DO OLD FARTS!” were scrawled across the wings.

Stacie’s face was aghast. “What’s this crap?” She picked up the airplane, scanning the words.

Piper swallowed hard and turned in her seat. The stoner boys grinned at her. Beyond them Sunshine Willoughby, in all her dishwater-haired, boobiferous peskiness, nodded at Piper.

“The herd follows Sunshine because they’re afraid of her.” Stacie seethed. “You’re sick,” she called at them.

“Forget it,” Piper said. “It’s been like this all day.” She pushed her mashed potatoes with her fork. Her stomach churned.

Stacie pulled out her phone. “I know you’re not supposed to talk to Lazaro—he wasn’t in class, by the way—but I still can.”

“What are you doing?”

“Texting him,” Stacie said. Her fingers flew over the phone. “Obviously, he doesn’t know that your piece of crap phone died in a watery grave. So, he probably thinks, like I did, that you’re ignoring him.”

Piper lifted her fork, noting the indentation of the tines in the mound of potatoes. “Stacie, do you think he knew?”

“Of course not.” She scrutinized Piper. “You think he did, don’t you?”

“The Lazaro I know wouldn’t have any part of this.” She shook her head. “But it happened in his house. How could he not know?”

Stacie’s eyes were wide.

“I mean,” Piper whispered. “I keep coming back to that. How could he not know? Suspect something.”

Stacie set down her phone. “You really don’t think he turned a blind eye to it?”

Piper felt a burning tingle in her sinuses. She clenched her jaw to stop the gathering tears. “I’m not sure. I don’t know anything anymore.”

 

~~~

 

“LASHING MAN INDICTED ON 27 COUNTS STATUTORY RAPE”. The above-the-fold headline appeared extra bold from where it lay on the porch slab. She rolled her eyes. Lashing News was the go-to source of scintillating stories about the local 4-H chapter or fender benders on the town square.

Her dad would go over the edge with this one. She debated. If she threw it away, he’d figure it out. From down the street, she heard the bus approaching. She scooped up the paper and tossed it into the house.

When she stepped onto the bus, Miss Anita gave her a wink and pulled the door closed. Piper walked down the aisle. Still no Elia.

“Seen your boyfriend lately?” a redheaded boy jeered.

“What about his dad?” another added. He elbowed his neighbor so they both could rejoice in his cleverness.

“So, was it good for you?” a pimply, longhaired boy called. Idiot.

At the front of the bus, Anita’s eyes flew to her mirror. “That’s enough. If I hear one more word,” her voice boomed, “all y’all are gonna answer to me.”

The students nearest Anita hushed. Everyone else carried on undaunted. Piper sat in her usual seat by the window. She closed her eyes as those around her snickered. Scrawled in cheery, pink lipstick on her window were the words, “HOT FOR GEEZERS”.

She would not cry. Not in front of these morons. She stifled a shudder. Why couldn’t she remember what happened that night? Would she have known if she lost her virginity? She had no idea. Had Lazaro slept through it? Had he been a part of it? Her stomach lurched and she swallowed back bile.

At school, Stacie waited at Piper’s locker. “Elia?” she asked, looking past Piper.

“No. Have you talked to her?”

Stacie shook her head. “We drove by her house after school yesterday. Piper, it had a moving van in front of it.”

“What?” Piper blinked. “Did you talk to anyone?”

“No. The only people there were the movers. She hasn’t answered her phone. Piper, I’m afraid.”

“Do you think?” she whispered as her stomach fell.

Stacie nodded.

 

~~~

 

The cafeteria buzzed with activity. Piper and Stacie sat in silence. Piper extended her hand across the table. “Loan me your phone, please.”

Stacie fished through her bag and produced her phone. “You’re gonna call him?”

“Yeah.” Piper dialed. “Voicemail.” She thought for a moment. Her fingers flew over the keys.

Sunshine Willoughby slid next to her and ripped the phone from her hands. “Oh Lazaro, I love you. I just want to be with you. And your dad, too.”

“Give it back, Sunshine.” Piper lunged for the phone.

Sunshine pulled it away. “No. I don’t think so.” She flipped her lank hair off her round face.

Stacie jumped to her feet. “Give back the phone, now.”

Sunshine scowled. “What are you gonna do?”

“I’m tired of this,” Piper said. “Give it back.”

Sunshine’s lip curled, her eyes flashing with hatred. “You know what I’m tired of? You walking around here like you’re Little Miss Perfect. Now, everyone knows that you’re a slut who sleeps around. Young, old, doesn’t matter. Does it?”

Piper didn’t think. She swung and felt a crunch under her fist as it made contact with Sunshine’s nose. Sunshine launched herself on Piper and grabbed a handful of hair. Fury skipped across Piper’s skin as she twisted for another punch. She wasn’t sure what made her angrier, Sunshine’s taunts or the possibility that she could be right.

Students gathered around chanting, “Fight. Fight. Fight.” The on-duty teachers rushed in and pulled them apart. Sunshine struggled against her teacher and kicked at Piper.

Later, Piper sat outside the principal’s office awaiting the arrival of her father. He pushed open the glass door and walked in with the early September heat.

Mrs. Kotwicki emerged from her office, came into the waiting area and extended her hand. “Pastor Saunders.”

“I’m sorry you had to wait, Deloris. I came as fast as I could.”

“I’ve explained to Piper that in her position, she doesn’t need any negatives on her record.” Kotwicki folded her arms and rocked forward on her toes.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean. Exactly what ‘position’ has she found herself in?”

Mrs. Kotwicki pursed her lips and shifted her feet. “Surely Brent, you know what I’m referring to.”

“No, Deloris. Why don’t you enlighten me?” Brent’s voice was barely above a whisper.

Piper held her breath. She knew this aspect of her father. The murmur of death. Usually reserved for maximum and chilling effect.

“Careful, Deloris. Stoking the fires of scandal is dark territory.”

Uh oh. Flowery language. Piper shivered. Her dad was escalating toward a first-class verbal smack down now.

Kotwicki’s hand floated to her chest. “But I—”

“As I understand it, Deloris, the Willoughby child has been troubled since she started here. Piper is a straight-A student. What ‘negatives’ has she had?”

“I can’t discuss Miss Willoughby’s suspension. As for Piper, Lashing High School is,” Kotwicki’s mouth worked to find words, “a small school. Everyone knows—”

“That she’s guilty by association?” Brent’s voice was a low thunder. “Shame on you. She’s sixteen and has nothing to do with this.”

“Brent, you have to understand.” She held up sagging palms.

“I expected better of you. Good day, Mrs. Kotwicki.” He guided Piper out the door.

 

~~~

 

After a tension-filled dinner, where her father brooded at his peas, Piper trudged into her bedroom and fell onto her bed. Within minutes she was asleep. A tap on the window woke her. The clock showed 10:30. Bleary eyed, she sat up and pushed her hair out of her face.

Another knock. She swung her legs out of bed and cautiously looked outside. In the moonlight, Lazaro shifted on his feet, checking his surroundings.

Piper’s breath caught. It felt like she hadn’t seen him in years; he was beautiful. His brown close-cut hair stuck out like he hadn’t combed it in days. He stood shoulders slumped, hands shoved deep into his pockets.

She could feel her blood pumping in her ears. Would he tell her what happened? Did he even know? Worse, was he a part of it? Piper raised the window, stuck her leg over the hedge and jumped out. He caught her at the waist to steady her landing.

“You’re here,” Piper breathed. “I was so worried.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why didn’t you contact me? I texted you.” She searched his face.

“You haven’t called me.” He frowned. “I thought you didn’t want to talk to me. Besides, I’m not supposed to speak to you.”

“I called you from Stacie’s phone. Mine’s in the pool.”

“What?” Lazaro ran his hand over his hair, which made it stick up even more. “The attorneys told us we couldn’t talk to anyone. Screw it.” His fists ground into his temples. “I don’t care. He’s a monster.”

Piper pulled him to the deck steps and sat next to him. “Tell me you knew nothing about this,” she begged in a fierce whisper.

“Of course I didn’t,” he said. “When I found out, I made him tell me who,” he took a ragged breath, “that if he had any humanity left, you weren’t one of them. There were so many.”

“Am I?” she whispered. “I don’t remember what happened at the sleepover.”

“He told me you weren’t one of them. But I don’t trust a word he says anymore.”

Her breath hitched and her body grew cold. That wasn’t an answer. “Lazaro, I need to know.”

“When my mom came back from talking to the attorneys, she left a list on the kitchen table. Your name wasn’t on it.” A tear spilled down his cheek.

She took quick, deep breaths as her whole body shook with relief.

“People have thrown rocks through our windows. Egged our house. Painted graffiti on our garage.” His voice caught. “The cops guard our house. They’re only doing it because they’re under orders.”

Piper couldn’t say anything. What would she have done if she’d been on the list?

“It’ll never be the same, Piper. Elia. He was with Elia.” Lazaro laced his hands behind his head and rocked into a fetal position. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Why didn’t I see?”

“No,” she whispered, tears pooling in her eyes. She’d been so relieved that her name wasn’t on the list, she hadn’t thought about her best friend. “Not Elia.”

The house floodlights lit the pool. Her father opened the sliding glass door. “Piper, come here, now.”

She rose with a long glance at Lazaro. His bloodshot eyes pleaded for mercy from Brent.

As Piper walked into the house, her chest felt heavy. Elia. When? Why hadn’t Elia said something? Had she tried and Piper didn’t listen? Where was she?

“What is he doing here, Piper?” Brent’s voice was clipped. “How dare you see him when I’ve expressly forbidden it?”

Her stomach roiled. Elia. Sweet, free-spirited Elia. And Lazaro is what her father’s mad about? “Really?” Piper seethed, her body shook with anger. “Really, Dad?”

Brent’s face contorted with rage. “Watch your tone.”

“Why?” She jabbed an accusing finger at him as a tear spilled down her cheek. “All you do is rant over whether I’m seeing a boy and you haven’t once asked me what’s going on. If I were a member of your congregation, that would be the first thing out of your mouth.”

“I’m well aware of what’s going on. Are you? You don’t seem to be. You’re throwing my rules in my face. I raised you better than that.”

Piper crossed her trembling arms over her chest. “I didn’t call him, if that’s what you think.”

Brent paced. “I don’t know what to think. I do know no daughter of mine is going to date a—”

“A what, Dad?” Piper clutched herself tighter. “A boy whose life has been shattered? A boy who’s done nothing wrong?”

“You don’t understand what’s going on here, Piper.”

“No, Dad. You don’t,” Piper growled.

“Now you listen to me—”

“You’re such a hypocrite. You doing exactly what Ms. Kotwicki did.”

“This isn’t some teen soap opera, Piper,” Brent spat. “This is the real world, where there are real problems and real monsters.”

“I know that. What about giving someone the benefit of the doubt, Dad? Hmm?”

Brent’s mouth opened with a swift intake of air. “I’ve been counseling victims and their families since this happened, Piper. I’ve seen the damage his father’s done.”

“Damage? You don’t think Lazaro’s been damaged by this? What about showing compassion? He is a victim too. Or isn’t his victimization the right kind for you?”

“What a terrible thing to say. Is that what you think?” His eyebrows lifted as he regarded Piper for a moment. He closed his eyes. His face reddened as his shoulders sagged.

Piper wiped tears from her cheeks.

“You’re right.” He dragged his hands through his hair and then pulled her into a tight hug. “You know, it’s too close, don’t you? The idea that I can’t protect you.”

Piper sniffed.

“I’ll give Lazaro the benefit of the doubt that he had nothing to do with what happened.” He met her gaze. “You can go to him. You’re still grounded though.”

Piper’s mouth trembled. “Daddy. Elia.”

Brent’s eyes widened with shock. “Okay, I’ll see if there’s anything I can do.”

Piper walked out of the house to find Lazaro leaving. “Where are you going?”

He shook his head. “I’m so sorry, Piper. I’m no good and your dad knows it. Nobody wants his daughter to date a rapist’s son.”

“Wait.” Piper grabbed Lazaro’s forearm, pulling him back. “I don’t want to hear that. And neither does my dad.”

“I saw how mad he was.”

“He’s not now.” Piper swept her arm toward the house, where Brent paced with the phone at his ear.

“You were yelling,” Lazaro said.

“I’m sorry you heard that.” Piper guided him to the deck stairs and whispered, “It’s not your fault. You didn’t do it.” She stroked his hair.

Lazaro crumpled. He covered his face and wept large gulping sobs. He’d never be the same. Neither would she. Trust would never again be a gift.

In the darkness, Piper held Lazaro until his tears subsided.

 

~~~

 

Under the bright lights of Lashing Courthouse, Piper sat with Lazaro in the back row. His fingers shook as he gave Piper’s hand a squeeze.

“Are you sure you want to stay?” she whispered. He hadn’t attended the trial.

He nodded and swallowed hard. “Yeah. I think so. I need to see him pay for what he did to those girls. My mother. To me.”

His father’s bald scalp reflected the fluorescent lights as the judge read the thirty-year sentence. Mr. Henderson hung his head and cast tortured eyes toward Lazaro. But his son didn’t look back as he and Piper exited the courtroom’s double doors.

The End

Laura Capasso grew up in Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains, the land of big rigs, chicken, and world-conquering five and dimes. She now lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and a Rottweiler-wannabe dachshund that should wear corrective lenses and use a walker.

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