Tia awakens to a silent house. “Jesus, I’m late for work!” Rushing to the bathroom, she strips off her clothes. After showering she throws on the brown uniform and rushes out of the house. The diner is nigh vacant when she arrives. “Only the usual culprits are hanging around this evening.”
She walks behind the bar, and one of the customers gives her a flirty smile and winks.
“Howdy, Tia. How’s it going?”
Tia flirts back and bats her eyelids. She sweeps her graying hair out of her eyes and smiles.
“Hey! Can I get you some more coffee?”
The patron nods and Tia fills his cup. The man spoons in some sugar and blows on the hot beverage.
“I saw Gina headed to Dairy Queen earlier. Is she in summer school?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
The man shrugs and sips his coffee.He lets out a satisfied sigh, and then he continues.
“Well, she had an overnight bag thrown over her shoulder. I thought she might have homework.”
“Well, thanks for letting me know.”
Tia walks to the back and takes the phone off the hook. She punches in the number and waits for an answer. She doesn’t get one. “God, what am I doing wrong with my daughter?” She continues to call during her shift to no avail. As the sun rises from its bed, a patrol car pulls into the lot. Tia watches them approach.”Good morning, officers.” They nod and walk up to the counter. “Morning, Tia. May we speak to you for a moment?” Tia nods. “What has this child done now?”
They walk to a corner booth and sit down across from one another. The senior officer looks Tia in her eyes, his mouth a singular hard line.”Tia, we have some bad news. Gina is in the hospital.” Tia stares at them dumfounded. She goes to sip her coffee, but spills it on her apron instead.”What? What happened?” The cop gives no answer to her question but continues. “Gina is at Forrest General. We can give you a lift to the hospital if you would prefer.”
“What happened to my daughter?” The senior officer pats her hand. “It would be best if the doctor tells you, okay?” Together, they walk to the car. The hospital is a short drive away, and while they are making their way to it, Tia runs scenarios through her mind. “God, please let my baby be okay. Please, please don’t take her from me. I’ll be a better mom.”
The officers usher her into the hospital and they enter the trauma wing. A doctor stands by to receive them. “You must be Gina’s mom. I’m Dr. Twain. We can talk in my office.” Dr. Twain places a steady hand on her shoulder and guides her to an office no bigger than a utility closet. Kindly, he gestures to an empty chair for her to sit in. “There is no easy way to say this, ma’am.” Dr. Twain’s Southern accent is syrupy and he speaks in a quiet, professional voice. “Gina is a victim of rape. She fought her attackers and made her way here. We found her in the parking lot. From all appearances, there were more than one rapist.”
“Oh dear God…”
“I know this is tough to hear; and I am sorry to be the one to tell you. Your daughter needs you. We will take care of her injuries, but you must decide on how we proceed.”Tia nods her head and wipes the tears from her eyes. Her hazel eyes are cloudy with fear and anguish.
“May I see her now?”
“Yes, we sedated her and she is resting, but you can sit in the room with her.” Tia follows the doctor to a room in the far corner of the hospital wing.” The room is dark, but it does nothing to mask the damage done to Gina. Large, purple bruises mark her face. Gina’s lips while still retaining their fullness show cracks. Dr. Twain pulls her shirt up to reveal the bruises on her ribs. Black bruises around Gina’s neck are turning purple.
Tia falls to her knees and begins to cry. A nurse bends down and pulls her into a hug. “It’s going to be okay,” she says. She holds her until Tia stops crying.
“I need to use a phone.”
“Come on, I’ll take you to it.” Tia nods to Dr. Twain and walks down the hall with the nurse to the phone. She thanks the nurse and punches in the number.
“Wiley? It’s Tia. Someone hurt my baby.”