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The judge had spoken. The gavel pounded. Three to five years in the state correctional facility. This wasn’t jail. This was Prison, as in real full-on big boy prison… or should I say, big girl prison. Either way, the cuffs went on, and two burly uniformed men escorted my daughter out of the courtroom. She had been charged with embezzlement, and stood convicted. The evidence was clear. She was guilty as charged.
Her mother swore she was innocent. Val had been wrongly accused. She must have been swindled, taken a fall, been framed by the real criminal. At the very least, a horrible mistake had been made. Of all the injustice, there was no way her little girl could have done something so wrong.
I knew better.
How did I know? Well, Valerie had never been what anyone would call a good kid. Her mom always claimed she just fell in with the wrong crowd and that the trouble she got into was someone else’s doing. Like any good mom, Jennifer couldn’t imagine that her own flesh and blood could actually be a criminal.
That was the furthest thing from the truth. All through grade school, Val refused to take direction from anyone other than her mom. Even as a child, it infuriated Val that she wasn’t in charge. Val fought with anyone who had even the slightest bit of authority over her. One year she even got banned from the lunch room for throwing vegetables at the lunch lady, simply because she didn’t want them on her tray.
To this day, I think Val holds the all-time record for being sent to Principal Gregory’s office. I’m betting that guy still has my phone number on speed dial. At first, he would insist we come to have a meeting with him at the school. In those meetings, her mom would always deflect Val’s responsibility and smooth things over. There were so many meetings that Principal Gregory and my wife were on a first-name basis. Somewhere around the thirtieth incident, he got tired of seeing us and stopped calling.
None of this bad behavior in her early years surprised me. I pretty much saw it coming. Val absolutely hated being told what to do. Her utter disdain for authority was evident almost from the day she was born. Even as a toddler, she could have a three-hour tantrum just because someone said the word no. To keep the peace, I actually stopped telling her no. Give her consequences instead. That’s what the experts all said. Val didn’t care. Consequences meant nothing to her.
By high school Val was regularly skipping class, getting into drugs, and stealing just about anything she could get her hands on. Just like in grade school, her mom would defend her to a tee and put the blame on everyone else. I get it. Of course, I do. No one wants to think their kid is the bad apple, but I knew Val didn’t just fall in with the wrong crowd. She was that kid parents tell their children to stay away from. She was the bad kid ring leader.
Word of Valerie’s shenanigans came our way all too often. Of course, Jennifer would hear none of it. In her mind, that just couldn’t be. Val’s older sister had been such a good kid. In fact, Shannon was almost too easy. About as perfect as a kid could get. She was pretty, got good grades, and had tons of friends. The worst thing Shannon ever did was drink from the milk carton.
Valerie was nothing like that. She wasn’t particularly pretty, had trouble making friends, and hated school. She also despised her older sister’s goody-two-shoes life, which was part of the problem. Sibling rivalry ran deep in Val’s veins. They fought constantly, and since it seemed she couldn’t be better than her sister at anything, Val was dead set on doing the kinds of things her sister wouldn’t.
It probably didn’t help that Shannon and I were close. Shannon liked her mom, but she and I shared an unusually strong father-daughter bond. When I noticed that Val was feeling left out, I went out of my way to find common ground with her, but that father-daughter bond I wanted never took.
Val did bond with her mother, at least in a way. I guess that’s pretty normal. It didn’t hurt that Jennifer couldn’t see how bad Val’s behavior really was. It was as if she had blinders on. Blinders that were installed by Val’s ability to manipulate her. In fact, Val went to great lengths to make sure her mom only saw what she wanted her to see. Val seemed to put an extraordinary effort into making sure she never disappointed her mother.
Val’s hatred for school was likely her biggest issue. All of her bad behavior, all of those meetings with the principal, were part of her master plan. She fully intended to be so bad that she got kicked out. In her mind that was the easiest way to be done with being told what to do.
Of course her plan to get kicked out didn’t work. The inept public school system just passed her on, even with her behavior problems and failing grades. She had another plan though. Val literally stopped going to school the very day she was legally old enough to drop out. When we realized what she had done, her mom and I tried to convince her she Magosa Escort needed to go back. It was like talking to a stone wall. That is until Jennifer told Val how disappointed she was in her. At that point, Val sheepishly agreed to give school another try.
To Jennifer, Val’s word was good enough. I wasn’t so trusting. To make sure Val held up her side of the bargain, I dropped her off in front of the school every morning on my way to work. Then I’d watch to make sure she went inside. This little process made me almost an hour late for work every day, which my boss wasn’t happy about. Luckily my boss had a kid about Val’s age, so she let it slide so I could help Valerie through what Jennifer simply called a tough time.
Little did we know Val wasn’t actually attending any classes. I’d drop her off, and she would go in through the school’s front doors and straight out the back. Then she would sneak off to spend the day with other kids who had lost their way.
It wasn’t until they had a teacher “in service” day that I figured out what Val was doing. I’d dropped her off like always, and I sat and watched as she happily waltzed in through the front doors. At dinner that night, she told some barely believable story about what happened in English class that day, but I knew it was all a big fat lie.
Earlier that day, my boss asked me if Val and I wanted to join her and her kids for lunch. Taking your kids to lunch on those odd days when they didn’t have school had become a tradition at my company. It didn’t take me long to figure out there was no school that day. I also knew that Val was full of shit.
I waited until later to call Val out about her bullshit story. That’s when she admitted that she had dropped out, citing the very law that said she was old enough to quit. On registration day she didn’t sign up for a single class. Instead, she forged and filed a form from the district stating that we were moving out of state. She knew that would stop the truancy calls. It was strange how proud she was of the way she had weaseled out of having to go to school.
Throughout our conversation about her quitting school, one thing stayed constant. Every time Val had something new to say, with each additional confession. She made me promise not to tell her mother. Even though she thought she was old enough to make that kind of decision, it seems Val’s still deeply cared about not disappointing her mom.
I left it up to Val to break the news to her mom about dropping out, but I told her she would have to do it sooner rather than later as her er mom was going to figure it out anyway. There was no way I was going to be late for work every day it she wasn’t going to school. Val begged me to pretend to still drive her, but I didn’t give in. For the first time in years, I flat-out told her no.
It took a week, but Val finally fessed up. She told her mother point blank that she had dropped out. But according to Val, dropping out wasn’t going to be a problem. She was all set to work on this graduation certificate that was supposedly just as good as a GED.
Of course, we never saw her attend any classes or, for that matter, study in any way. When we challenged Val about this program, she showed us the paperwork, complete with brochures and application forms. I knew it was all fake. It looked good at a glance, but it was full of errors. Errors that someone with a high school diploma just wouldn’t make.
I called Val out on it, and as usual, she made me promise not to tell her mom before she agreed to talk about it. When I pointed out the problems with the documents she had, She tried to tell me some other kid must have pulled a fast one on her, but I knew better. She had no problem forging the document that said we were moving. This phony certificate program crap was likely her idea too.
I just shook my head and wondered. I mean, she was a smart kid. If she would just put half the effort it takes to come up with this bullshit into her schoolwork, she would probably graduate at the top of her class.
Indeed I had promised not to rat Val out to her mom, and I wanted her to be able to come to me if she was ever in real trouble. So I let the whole fake GED thing slide on one condition. It was then Val and I had what turned out to be the first of many long father daughter talks about life.
It was during this very talk that I decided to remind Val of the house rules. To live in our house you had to either be in school or working. She nowhere else to go but still refused to go back to school. So I made her promise she would get a job. I figured having to do something horrible for minimum wage might make school look like the better choice. That is… If a dropout like her could even get a job.
Much to my amazement, she actually found work. She found a job at a motel as a maid. I don’t think cleaning rooms for a living was what she had in mind when she dropped out. But there she was, doing a job that only paid for each room cleaned. She was Kıbrıs Escort making even less than minimum wage at a job she hated. My plan seemed to be working. I started prepping her for a return to school, or at the very least, to get into a real GED program.
I had to hand it to her. She actually stuck it out. She went to work every day and came home too exhausted to do much of anything. The thought crossed my mind that she was smoking pot at this job and was coming home stoned. But who was I to say? I’d never done any of that stuff. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a pot smoker and someone with hay fever, but she had become as lazy as a sloth. No wonder she couldn’t clean enough rooms to make much money.
Time flew by. Just six months into her maid gig, she managed to land a better job with a regular paycheck. My best guess is she lied through her teeth about how old she was. Turned out some guy who was staying at the motel got her set up for an interview. She said that he coached her on what to say as well.
Listening to her story, it seemed to me there was a lot more to this job opportunity than meeting some random guy at a motel. The whole thing smelled like a scam to me. I don’t know if sexual favors were involved, but I’m pretty sure this was when Val figured out that being a girl has certain advantages in the con game.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ll be the first to admit that we all have different paths to walk on. Maybe we don’t all have to get good grades and attend a big-name college to make it in life. Maybe Val was one of those that had a different way. I suppose it’s possible the guy from the motel was on the up and up. After all, this new job she had was with a reputable company. The whole thing seemed kind of fishy though.
I kept all of my thoughts about how she got this job to myself. Val seemed happy, and she even bought her first car. She also started coming home with work stories that were actually believable. With a bit of my good old dad prodding, she even started studying for that GED we kept talking about. Well, at least she had gotten hold of the books.
Of course it wasn’t long before the wheels came off. It was just a few days after her eighteenth birthday. I came home from work early to find Val hiding in the corner of the basement watching this old TV that barely worked. I knew damn well she should have been at work. When I asked what was up, she tried to convince me she had a sick day coming that she was required to use. Another lie, of course. I pushed her a bit, and in an angry outburst she yelled out that she had gotten fired… Then she mumbled something about not being a drug dealer.
Well, that explained everything. I never said a word about her getting fired, let alone anything about drugs. At that point, I knew Val had most likely gotten fired for doing exactly what she had just claimed she didn’t do. Now she was in the basement hiding. The police would be along to arrest her on those drug charges at any minute. She was in serious trouble this time, and I knew it.
It took some coaxing, but I finally got her to open up and talk about it. She told me a story about how she and a coworker had been talking about TV shows. One show she watched had a character who acted like a good kid but was secretly the school’s pot dealer. She said she was repeating that character’s lines from the show. Her boss thought she was trying to sell drugs and fired her.
There was no way something that far-fetched could be anything but another line of shit, but she had been doing so well lately. I felt I had to give her the benefit of the doubt. So I let it slide on the off chance it was true. In the end, the company couldn’t prove that she wasn’t just talking about a TV show. They didn’t end up pressing charges, but they still fired her.
A few days after the drug dealer incident, my neighbor came to the door asking what Val’s car was doing in his garage. Now that was about as weird of a thing as I could imagine.
I dug up the spare keys and parked the car in front of the house where it belonged. When Val saw it there, she freaked out. Then we had yet another one of those secret conversations we seemed to be having a lot of lately, but this one she initiated.
“Promise you won’t tell mom?” She started.
“What am I not telling her?” I prodded, feeling like a trap was being set.
“You have to promise… please!”
Well, that was a first. I couldn’t remember Val ever saying please for anything. With the utterance of that one word, I knew this was pretty important to her.
“Okay, I won’t tell your mom. What gives?”
“Promise you won’t get mad?” Her typical layering of conditions had begun.
“I can’t make a promise like that. It would be like you making a promise to stop liking pizza. Promise or not, deep down, you will still like pizza. If I get mad, I get mad. That’s just the way it is, but I promise I won’t yell and scream at you. You’re a little old for that anyway.”
“Okay,” Lefkoşa Escort she went on. “Remember the other day when I got fired?”
I just looked at her, slowly shaking my head in disbelief. Assuming another lie was on its way out of her mouth.
“Well, they didn’t send me my final paycheck, and that’s the problem. I needed that money to make a car payment. So I hid my car at the Johnson’s, so the dealer can’t repossess it while I straightened out this paycheck problem. I mean, they owe me like….”
“Stop!” I put my hand out to stop her from talking. “Stop right there. What you are saying makes no sense. Your car isn’t going to get repossessed because you missed one payment.”
“Yes it is. That’s what they told me at the dealership.”
“It doesn’t matter what they said. What’s said by a car salesman means nothing. Everything has to be written down. That’s the law. Now let’s take a look at your contract and see what that says.”
I figured this was going to be an easy fix. In my line of work, I regularly assessed the details of contracts far more complex than the typical car dealer’s boilerplate. Unraveling this pack of crap was going to be a cinch.
“Um, I don’t have it.” She was way too quick to answer. “They didn’t give me one because there was no payment for the first six months.”
Well, I had the paperwork she claimed she didn’t have. I’d pulled it from the glove box when I got her car from the neighbor’s garage. When she first brought home the car, she said she bought it on one of those sign-and-drive deals. One of those things where you don’t have to make a payment for a year. Now she was claiming she had missed her sixth-month payment. I looked at her paperwork for a few minutes and again found myself slowly shaking my head at the mess she was in.
“Who is Megan Brown? I asked her, even though I had a pretty good idea.
“Oh, that’s me.” she slowly answered. “You get a better deal if you have a husband with you, so I took my friend with me….”
“Stop! Again, stop! Look, kid. You are in a bit of a pickle here, and I’m trying to help you. If you want that help, you are going to have to stop telling me the line of crap you’ve been using on everyone else. I promised not to tell your mom about this, and I won’t. Now I need a promise from you. No more lies, okay?”
“Okay, I promise.” She rolled her eyes in that condescending way teenage girls do.
“Keep those rolling eyes still, kiddo. The way I see things, you are looking at being charged with at least one felony. Rolling your eyes and being indignant isn’t helping. Keep that up and this will not end well for you.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I just…” For what may have been the first time in her life, she stopped herself before telling yet another lie.
“So, looking through your paperwork, I see that you claimed to be someone you aren’t. Didn’t the dealership make you show an ID?”
“Yeah, I used Doug’s sister’s ID.”
“Who is Doug,” I asked.
“Doug Brown. He has a sister who looks kind of like me.”
“Oh, so that’s Megan. I think I know her. She’s what, sixteen tops?”
“Well, she’s seventeen, and yeah, we kind of altered the ID. We changed the year to make me, um… her look older.”
“Who is we?” I asked.
“Billy Jensen. He said it would work and no one would get hurt if I made all the payments on time. That’s how he bought his first car.”
“So this car wasn’t a sign-and-drive deal, right?”
“That’s what they said.”
“Come on, Val. Out with it.” I gave her that dad-look, letting her know I could see right through her.
“Okay, okay. It wasn’t a sign-and-drive.”
“So you are only one payment behind then?”
“Well, kind of.”
“What do you mean, kind of?”
“They are saying that I owe them like thirty-five hundred dollars.”
“So you haven’t made any payments?”
“Yeah, I have. Just not the last one.”
“Then what’s all this about thirty-five hundred dollars.”
“They say the check I wrote for the down payment bounced. But there’s no way. They are lying. The money was supposed to be there, I swear.”
“So you had the money, and it disappeared? How could that much money just disappear?”
“Well, dad… That’s kind of how I got fired.”
“Let me guess,” I started putting two and two together. “That drug thing wasn’t just some nonsense from a TV show, and the deal was supposed to net enough money to cover the bad check.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Again, I shook my head, almost in disbelief. “You know that this is bad, right? You understand that you are driving a stolen car, and if you want to stay out of jail, you’ll have to give it back.”
“I tried to take it back, or at least I called them about it. I told them I lost my job, and they said I could bring the car back any time. Then they said I would still owe them for the down payment and that I would have to pay for mileage or something like that.”
“How much mileage?”
“Another three thousand.”
I thought for a moment, looked at the contract for the mileage clause. Then I noticed something. “I’m assuming that Doug didn’t really go with you, and he didn’t give you Megan’s ID either. I’m guessing you and Billy stole that license. Am I right?”
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