If you had a child who had done something very wrong, such as stealing, how would you punish them?
There are three phone calls a parent dreads. “Your child has been arrested.” “Your child has been taken to the hospital.” “Your child has died.” Ryan counted his blessings that of the three possible worst phone calls of his life, it was not the last of those. Unfortunately, he was two for three.
Lexi sulked in a chair in the ER waiting room, a pair of officers in the seats to either side of her. Her dirty blonde braids were a shambles on her shoulders and she was nursing a swelling cheek with a bandaged hand but otherwise she looked no worse for wear. Her eyes welled with tears when she saw him. She avoided his gaze and tried to sink into the chair.
Ryan swallowed his relief as his anger bubbled up. “You wanna tell me why I’m picking you up from the hospital instead of school?”
“Mr. Jones?” One of the officers got to his feet and approached him.
He sighed. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“Officer Harris.” The graying man extended a hand. He looked to be about a few months shy of retirement. Ryan shook it as the older man nodded back to Lexi. “Your daughter?”
“Yes sir,” he said. The younger officer remained seated next to Lexi, not taking his eyes off of her. “Forgive me for asking, but does a 15 year old girl really need an armed guard?”
Harris chuckled. “She’s lucky we were kind enough to bring her here instead of right to the station.” Lexi flinched in her seat, looking very intently at the alternating floor tiles. “The boy’s family is not going to press charges, so you’re free to take her home. We just need you to sign a few release forms.”
“Of course.” Charges? Ryan frowned at his daughter. What on earth had she done? Her temper had gotten worse since Dale died, but she knew better than to take out her anger on other people. That’s what the heavy bag at the studio was for. After signing forms for what felt like hours before they were finally allowed to leave the hospital, he was ready for a few rounds on the bag himself.
The silence in the car as they drove home was as swollen as her face. She stared out the window. She still hadn’t spoken to him. He was angry with her, but he didn’t want to start yelling at her without knowing the full story. That was a surefire way to make sure she stayed clammed up.
He took a deep breath and tried to make his face nonthreatening. “So.” He let the word hang in the air for a moment. The streetlights illuminated her reflection in the window at steady intervals. Her eyes were still wet with tears. “Lex, why did you have a police escort to the hospital?”
Lexi shrugged her shoulders. “Because I dislocated Harry Wilson’s jaw and cracked a few of his ribs.”
Ryan slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the shoulder, putting his four-way flashers on. “You did what?! Why?”
She stuck out her chin. “He stole Ben’s clothes during gym and put them on a mannequin with a vulgar sign that deadnamed him and called him a slur!”
“Lex, why didn’t you just go to one of your teachers?” Ryan dragged his hand down his face. “You can’t just beat people up like that, bullies or not.”
“I did go to the teacher! He said it was a harmless prank and there was no need to be so upset about it. The clothes were fine and Ben had plenty of time to change between class.” The tears were streaming down her face. “So I went to the principal after class. She was not as amused as the gym teacher, said she would take care of it.
“After lunch, Harry cornered Ben, accused him of being a snitch and threatened to find him after school. I promised to walk with Ben and set Harry straight if he came within spitting distance. Harry lit into me when he found us, but my skin is thick so I didn’t let him get under it. Ben tried to defuse the situation but Harry threw a hook at him. I pushed Ben out of the way and got this lovely bruise on my cheek before breaking his ribs. Someone had called the cops while we were shouting at each other and they arrived just in time to see me hit him.”
She gingerly held her wrist and scowled at the truck’s dashboard. Ryan watched her for a minute. He knew how much she was hurting, but this wasn’t the way. Even if she felt justified, and even if he was proud of her, she would still have to face the consequences of her actions. He signaled and returned to the flow of traffic, light as it was.
“Harry’s the one who always gave you a hard time about having two dads, isn’t he?” Ryan knew that name was familiar. Lexi nodded and choked back a sob. She had always wanted to teach Harry a lesson, but Dale had been as great a mentor as he was a father and he had taught her never to fight someone when you could still speak to them.
“I miss Pop,” Lexi whispered.
Ryan reached over and grasped her free hand. “Me too, Lex. Me too.” He sighed. How would Dale have handled this? “He wouldn’t want you fighting like this.”
“I know.” She sobbed.
“And as proud as I am of you for standing up for and protecting your friend, you put a kid in the hospital. The cops might have let you go, but there will still be consequences.” He squeezed her hand. “We’ll sort those out tomorrow though. You’ve had a rough night.”
She squeezed his hand back and sniffed. “Thanks Dad. And, I’m sorry.”
“I know you are kiddo. And I know you won’t do it again.” He gave her a stern glance and she nodded. “Good. Now let’s go home and get you cleaned up.”
Notes: I keep struggling with ending these lately, though I’ve been rather pleased with my output after the fact. Most nights I get to an ending point and just think “screw it, time for bed, this dumpster fire can burn all night.” But then I go back a few days later and read them and think “oh, that wasn’t actually as awful as I thought.” Honestly I’m a little worried about the opposite with this one. Aside from the “ending” I actually feel pretty good about this one. Hope I don’t come back to it in a few days and hate it.
This was a fun prompt though. I didn’t want to go with the “stealing” example in it though so I tried to come up with a few different “very wrong” scenarios and somehow settled on “put a kid in the hospital.” But of course I couldn’t just let my fictional kid be a wholly bad kid, she’s just a bit emotional and very passionate about her friends. I honestly don’t know how I would handle such a situation, given I don’t really imagine myself ever having kids to wind up in such a situation in the first place. That’s part of writing though, putting yourself in the shoes of people different from you. I’m starting to ramble.
That does it for me tonight! Have a great Tuesday! I’ll see you in the evening with a new prompt!
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