Natalia felt bad for Marina. She had been through so much. What hurt most was the fact that she couldn’t help ease her friend’s pain. She couldn’t do anything.
Marina’s nightmares were not self-induced. They didn’t just go away. What had happened to her had scarred her in ways that Nattie couldn’t fathom. It remained with her no matter how hard she tried to overcome it.
She relived it every night. Natalia could hear her wake up screaming and begging for whatever to stop. Marina’s mother would wake up and comfort her. It was horrible, terrifying. Natalia wished that it would stop, that Marina would be able to find peace. But she knew that it wasn’t possible. Not yet.
She had told Natalia that she wouldn’t be happy until Tobias was no longer on the streets. Perhaps then, she would find peace. She only hoped that something would happen soon to ease her friend’s fears. She had no idea how those things really worked.
She was still innocent and naive. She had no clue how terrible boys could be. She had no clue how cruel life could be. She only wished that things could be different.
Shasta, too, heard the screams and the nightly begging coming from their new friend. Unlike Nattie, she understood the cruelties of the world. She had understood, without any explanation, what had happened to Marina. Having read countless books on all subjects, Shasta knew. She also knew that it would do no good to explain it all to her sister. Natalia would not understand.
It bothered Shasta, too, the screams and begging, but she knew there was no help for it. The trauma Marina had gone through had been horrible. Too horrible for Shasta to imagine, even with the knowledge she had. She didn’t want to imagine it either.
Valeria knew what Marina had gone through. She had seen the effects on other young ladies. She had seen it in Russia when she was a young girl. There, it had been at the hands of state officials. Even the secret police was bad at it. If your parents were declared enemies of the state, they felt they could do anything to you. That had been why Papa and Mama had fled.
Now, she was seeing it all over again. This time, it was at the hands of young prudish males who had nothing but time on their hands. What was sad was that only one had stepped forward and admitted his part in the wrong. She only hoped that the rest would do the same.
She looked at her husband. “How could kids be so cruel?”
Michael smiled sadly. “Their leader lacks any moral grounding. I am not sure about the rest. I can’t tell you if it is a genuine desire to make people miserable or whether it is more along the lines of their being coerced or blackmailed into it like Stanley. I can’t tell you how many had younger sisters they are trying to protect and how many are being threatened with the termination of their families.
“All I know is that they aren’t all willing participants. John took a big step today with Frank’s help. He sent his son where he is safe. Now, he has to keep watch over his daughter. She was the one Tobias threatened in order to keep Stanley in his group.
“Nothing makes what they did right, but Stan is doing something to make sure it won’t continue for long. He is willing to testify against Toby and the rest.”
She smiled. “I am proud of you. You are always willing to help others, even if they don’t deserve it. It makes me love you more every day.”
He smiled. “I am just trying to save our community.”
She kissed him. “And you’re doing a damn good job. Just be careful. I don’t need to lose you to anything.”
He took her in his arms. “Don’t worry, I won’t be careless enough to show my hand before it’s time to win the game.”
She nestled into his chest. “Good.”
He let her go and sat on the edge of the bed. She went to her side and sat as well. Tonight, they had a lot to think about. He had a lot to think about. He now had to worry about his two daughters. Not to mention his neighbors’ daughters.
He would have to call a small meeting with those neighbors who were close by. They needed to decide what they were going to do. Would they continue to put their daughters at risk? Or were they going to pull them out and school them at home?
If there were enough, they could form a small in home study group. But he had to pass the idea off to his friends and neighbors. He had to know what they wanted to do. How they wanted to handle it all.
He only hoped they could come to an agreement. He knew the school wouldn’t expel Tobias. Toffer had the teachers and staff buffaloed. He had to be blackmailing every educator in the county in order to keep his son in school. That meant that they would only have one viable option, if they didn’t decide to keep their kids in school and place them at risk.
Valeria snuggled against his side and he put his arm around her. He reminded himself that he was doing this for her. He was doing this for his daughters. Hell. He was doing it for the city!
Someone had to take a stand, and it might as well be him. After all, he was one of the richest men in the city. And he was ten times richer than Toffer French. He had more connections, too.
Now with Frank in his arsenal, he had even more connections. He also had a better chance of dismantling Toffer’s crusade against French family enemies. But that would all take time. Maybe years. Not to mention, millions of dollars.
He would be happy if they could chip away at Toffer’s base of support. That would be the most probable, the most realistic objective for now. A slow dismantling of Toffer’s support group. His allies.