My guest today is author and good friend Cody Kennedy, whose novella, Safe, was just published by Dreamspinner Press’s young adult imprint, Harmony Ink. Want a chance to win a copy of Safe? Comment on this post, and Cody will chose a winner at random.
Safe is about love. It’s a beautiful story, but it’s also a painful one. Because, like life, things aren’t always perfect. Love can’t always protect you from pain. But love can give you strength to move on. And love can keep you safe.
One of the main themes of Safe is child abuse. Some might call it “tough love parenting.” They’d be lying to themselves. Cody and I call it what it is: child abuse. No parent should ever hit their child. No child should ever have to go without the necessities of life. Child abuse and neglect like to hide behind closed doors. We look the other way because we’re afraid to confront an abusive or neglectful parent. But we have a responsibility to speak out. Every last one of us. A child’s life could be at risk. Don’t hesitate. Let your voice be heard, because the abused or neglected child might not be able to speak for him or herself.
Many of you know that in “real life” I’m a public sector attorney. I’ve spent the last 10 years working to make sure children are safe. I’ve volunteered as a citizen “guardian ad litem” in my state, and I’ve advocated for the best interests of abused and neglected children. As a lawyer, I’ve tried horrible cases involving child abuse and neglect, and I’ve worked on appeals of child sex crimes that would make you sick to read about.
Why do I do it? Because I know what it’s like to be abused. And I was one of the lucky ones–my parents stepped in and kept me safe from my abuser. But it took me more than a year to tell my parents the truth of what had happened to me. I was eight years old.
In my state, every adult, regardless of what they do for a living, has a legal responsibility to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Every. Single. One. Does everyone follow the law? I know from my work that they don’t. But that doesn’t mean YOU shouldn’t. Don’t hesitate. Your voice could mean that a child stays “safe.”
Thanks, Cody, for your wonderful writing, and for your tireless advocacy and mentorship on behalf of abused children. You’re making a difference for all of us, and we love you for it! -Shira
The most commonly asked question of me about Safe is: Why didn’t Caleb’s dad do something about Nico’s abuse if he was a District Attorney?
I asked Shira to co-write this post with me today because she is an attorney who is extraordinarily knowledgeable and experienced in the prosecution of cases involving the abuse of minors. I volunteer to work with abused minors. Though our perspectives are different because we come at the issue of abuse from different angles, we agree on how the system should work.
To understand how the system should work, I have to back into it a little. An attorney, no matter the entity s/he works for (city, county, state, federal government), cannot prosecute an abuse case without adequate evidence of abuse. In order to obtain evidence, an investigation is performed by an appropriate agency or law enforcement authority. Investigations begin upon the reporting of abuse, or of suspected abuse, which can be made by almost anyone, but is usually made by a parent, educator, medical professional, or the victim.
Each state has mandatory reporting requirements and people who are deemed to be mandatory reporters. People who are required to report under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) are: clergy and any custodian of records for a clergy, child care providers, educators, law enforcement personnel, medical professionals, mental health professionals, and commercial film and photogenic print processors. A reporting must be submitted to the Department of Justice AND a local law enforcement agency AND any other agency designated by that state. In California, it must also be reported to the county child welfare department. As Shira said in her intro, some states require ALL citizens to report suspected abuse and neglect.
Once a report has been made an investigation is commenced and the agencies work together to determine what should be done. Once the investigation is complete, the evidence is presented to a prosecuting attorney to review and determine whether charges should be laid, warrants issued, and the case prosecuted.
During the investigation, a child can be removed from his/her home if there is a reasonable belief that the home is an abusive environment and endangers the child. Shira and I both share the opinion that removing a child from his/her home isn’t a great solution, but it can save lives. Also, many children, when given a choice as to whether he/she would prefer to leave, will prefer stay even if the environment is abusive. This can occur for a variety of reasons.
The degree to which cases are investigated ranges from a cursory review of a report to a modern day Spanish inquisition. How many of the investigations result in prosecutions? Nationally, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates less than 10%.
The sad reality is, reporting abuse does not equate to something being done about it and abuse is severely underreported. Some statistics estimate by nearly 50%. If you suspect abuse, know of abuse, or are a victim of abuse, TELL SOMEONE. Cases are always investigated, so please report. If you know of a friend who is being abused, TELL SOMEONE. Reach out and help a friend http://harmonyinkpress.com/reach-out-and-help-a-friend/
In my novella, Safe, the system has already failed Nico in either one of two ways. Both school and emergency room personnel, and anyone else who may have known about his abuse—including his mother—have reported it and no one acted on it; or no one reported it. Caleb’s father is a District Attorney and can surmise this, if he doesn’t already know it to be fact. Also, as a District Attorney, he is powerless to act until the matter is fully investigated and documented. He does offer to contact authorities (again), but he also wants Caleb to understand that Nico could be removed from his home. On Caleb’s part, he does not want to lose Nico, and he’s certain Nico does not want to be removed from his home. Nico also feels compelled to protect his mother. In this story, I allow system failures to be seen for what they are and allow the human factor to intervene.
In sum, and while I will not excuse our system, the sad fact is that unless a youth suffers grievous, life-threatening injury, there is often little that is done to protect abused youth. It is why it is so important for all of us to band together and act to protect our youth. – Cody
They met at ten, they kissed at twelve, and were madly in love by eighteen.
Caleb Deering is the captain of the swim team and the hottest senior in school. He comes from a loving home with a kind father and a caring, but strict, mother who is battling breast cancer. Nico Caro is small and beautiful, and has a father who rules with an iron fist–literally.
One morning Caleb forgets himself, and he pecks Nico on the lips at school. A teacher sees them and tattles to the Headmaster. The accidental outing at school might be the least of their problems, because the ball set in motion by the school’s calls to their parents could get Nico killed. In the face of that very real danger, Caleb knows he has only one mission in life: to keep Nico safe.
Buy Safe from Harmony Ink Press
SIX CHANCES TO WIN SAFE!
October 21st – The Novel Approach – Halloween Bonus Scene and a chance to win an ecopy of Safe!
October 24th – Release Day Giveaway with Author Shira Anthony! and a discussion about Reporting, Investigating and Prosecuting Child Abuse
October 26th – Harmony Ink Press on Facebook – Meet Cody Kennedy and a chance to win an ecopy Safe!
November 1st – Sid Love Blog – An Interview with Cody and a chance to win an ecopy of Safe!
November 2nd – Queer Town Abbey – Cody talks about Str8washing and a chance to win an ecopy of Safe!
November 8th – Joyfully Jay – Excerpt Day and a final chance to win an ecopy of Safe!
Raised on the mean streets and back lots of Hollywood by a Yoda-look-alike grandfather, Cody Kennedy doesn’t conform, doesn’t fit in, is epic awkward and lives to perfect a deep-seated oppositional defiance disorder. In a constant state of fascination with the trivial, Cody contemplates such weighty questions as: If time and space are curved, then where do all the straight people come from? When not writing, Cody can be found taming waves on western shores, pondering the nutritional value of sunsets, appreciating the much maligned dandelion, unhooking guide ropes from stanchions, and marveling at all things ordinary.
Cody’s Blog – http://www.ckennedyauthor.blogspot.com/
Cody’s Free Serial Story, Fairy – http://www.fairybycodykennedy.blogspot.com/p/about-fairy.html
CHAPTER 1: A FREAKIN’ DISASTER
THE lunch bell rings, and Caleb bolts from his seat. Once in the hall, he pulls his cell phone from his pocket and rereads the text message from his dad. Man, I’m in so much shit. He speeds his steps to his locker and prays Nico is there waiting for him. He rounds the corner and searches through the bustling, milling students. Nico isn’t there. Crap. He needs to find him, and quick. He jogs to his locker, spins the combination lock, and curses under his breath when it won’t open. He stresses and has to do it three times before he gets the damn locker open. Be easy, Caleb. It isn’t the end of the world. Who is he kidding? This is a freakin’ disaster.
The students who pass give him looks. By now, they know. Shit, where in hell is Nico?
“Hey,” Liam says casually as he finds Caleb at his locker.
Caleb returns a soft “Hey.”
“What’s going on, man?” he whispers.
Caleb doesn’t know what to say as he slams the locker door and turns to him. “What’d you hear?”
“They’re saying you kissed Nico.”
Caleb meets Liam’s questioning gaze. Short of Nico, Liam is his BFF. There’s no sense in lying to him. Thanks to Mr. Higgins, the word is already out. He nods once.
“Yeah? It’s true? You’re gay?”
Caleb takes a deep breath and releases a shuddering sigh. “Yeah.”
Caleb runs a nervous hand through his blond curls. “Yeah.”
Liam claps him on the back. “No shit. You could have told me, man.”
Caleb sighs again, a tremble on the air. “Sorry, man. I’ve never known how to tell anyone.”
Liam gives him a warm smile. “Yeah, you gotta feel totally awkward, bro. You gonna make practice today?”
This surprises Caleb. “You’re okay with it?”
“Fine, bro. To each his own, you know. And Nico’s a great guy.”
Caleb breathes a giant sigh of relief. “Thanks, man.”
“No problem. You gonna make practice today?” Liam asks again.
“Doubt it. The school called my dad. He’s picking me up after school.”
“That going to be a hassle? We got state finals on Saturday, and you’re our captain. We depend on you, Caleb.”
Caleb smiles a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. It’s going to be a serious hassle. “I’ll be okay for Saturday. Can you lead practice for me today?”
“No problem. Text me tonight when the sentencing is over. See you at our table at lunch?”
“Doubt it. I gotta find Nico.”
“Yeah, okay. Keep me posted.”
“Yeah, okay. Liam?”
Liam waves him off as he walks away.
That definitely went better than expected. Liam is always cool, though, and a good friend. The rest of the world? They usually suck.
Caleb worries about Nico. Nico isn’t good with confrontation. He is afraid most of the time. He is only safe when he’s with Caleb. He has to find Nico. Now. He jogs down the hall, making his way through the throng of students. A girl giggles and puts a hand over her mouth, then points at him. The girl next to her bursts out laughing. They know. This is a freakin’ disaster.
Caleb rounds another corner and doesn’t see Nico at his locker. Shit. Nico has phys ed right before lunch. He exits the building and makes his way to the gym. He checks down each row of lockers in the locker room and doesn’t see Nico. Damn it, where in hell is he!
“Nico, you in here?” he calls as he heads to the bathroom and shoves through the door.
There, squatted with his face buried in his arms, is Nico, in tears.
“Ah, shit,” Caleb says under his breath as he pulls Nico into his arms.
A strangled sob escapes Nico as he wraps his arms tightly around Caleb’s waist. “The school called my dad. He’s coming to get me after school.”
“I know. They called mine too.”
“My dad’s going to kill me, Caleb.”
Caleb winces at Nico’s words as he pets the curls he loves so much. Nico’s dad is dangerous. Nico’s dad is someone to be terrified of. “My dad will talk to him.”
“What’s going to happen to us?”
“The worst the school can do is suspend us.”
“No, I mean, what about us?”
Caleb lifts Nico’s chin with gentle fingertips. “What do you mean, what about us? We’re fine. Nothing’s going to happen to you and me.”
“You’re not going to break up with me?”
Pain sears Caleb’s heart. How could Nico even think such a thing? “Nicolò, baby, don’t even go there. I love you. Always have, always will. In a few months we’ll be off to college, and this will all be behind us.” He places a chaste kiss on Nico’s lips.
“’Kay.” Nico releases a long, shuddering sigh and squeezes Caleb’s waist before he pulls away. He rubs the tears from his eyes with the heels of his hands, then goes to a sink and rinses his face with cool water. “I’d die if I lost you, Caleb.”
Caleb cards his fingers through Nico’s curls. “Hush, nothing like that is ever going to happen. Everything will be okay.”
Nico turns the water off and reaches for a paper towel. “What’s your dad going to say?”
“He’ll think it’s bad news, but he’s easier than Mom is. Let’s get to lunch. You need something to eat.”
“’Kay. People are already talking.”
“I know. Mr. Higgins obviously couldn’t keep his big mouth shut. Liam asked me about it, and I told him the truth. He’s okay with it.”
Nico looks up at Caleb as Caleb leads him by the elbow from the bathroom. “He is?”
“Yeah, he’s fine with it.”
CALEB reads his dad’s text message one last time before the bell rings, ending his last period class. THE SCHOOL CALLED. BE ON THE FRONT STEPS AT 3. He doesn’t know what the school told his dad, and he doesn’t want to be the one to tell him. God, how could he be so stupid as to kiss Nico at school?
It just happened. They’re always so careful at school, but he’d been kissing Nico for almost six years and wasn’t thinking. It just seems natural to kiss him when they part to go their separate ways to class. Of all people, Mr. Higgins, the peevish algebra teacher, had to be the one to see them. All they did was peck lips. It wasn’t even a full-on snog. Mr. Higgins acted as if they were caught in flagrante delicto. He scolded them heartily, then rushed off to the headmaster’s office. Caleb isn’t sure whom he’s angrier with, himself or Mr. Higgins. Shit, what a freakin’ disaster.
This is the first time in his near-eighteen-year existence he’s ever been in trouble. He suddenly has a horrible thought. A suspension would get him kicked off the swim team. He’s worked hard to become captain of the team, swimming every afternoon after school for three hours. Three hours every day that he could have spent alone with Nico. Three more hours each day that Nico could have been safe. Fear and anxiety claw at his heart, and his mind reels with rising fear. This is a freakin’ disaster.
The bell rings, and he flies from his seat. He finds Nico at his locker this time. He’s pale, and his eyes are swollen from crying. “You okay?”
Nico nods. “Nasty comments, but nothing else.”
Students stare at them as they pass. Some make snide remarks.
“Come on, let’s get this over with,” Caleb says softly.
Caleb emerges on the front steps of the school first and looks for his dad’s car. He doesn’t see it, but he does see Mr. Caro striding toward the school, his fury large in the air around him. Students automatically move out of his way as he passes them. Caleb slinks back through the double doors. “Your dad’s coming up the walk.”
Nico nods once and straightens up. Caleb admires him. As terrified as Nico is of his dad, he refuses to show his fear. Nico begins to push through the double doors, and Mr. Caro opens them first. Nico is face-to-face with his dad. Mr. Caro shoots Caleb a scathing look, then turns to Nico and says something in Italian that sounds vicious. He grabs little Nico by the upper arm and all but drags him down the hall toward the headmaster’s office. Caleb wants to run after him. His heart tears in two as he turns back to the double doors. What a freakin’ disaster.
Caleb’s dad frowns at him through the window as he reaches the building, and Caleb steps through the double doors. Mr. Deering acknowledges Caleb with a curt nod and gestures to a cement bench beneath the trees across the lawn. The air between them is uncomfortably thick with tension as they sit, and all Caleb wants to do is crawl into a hole and die. His heart aches. His dad is rarely disappointed in him and hardly ever angry with him. Like, never. He nails Caleb with a determined look before asking what happened.
Caleb doesn’t know what to say. He’s thought about this conversation a million times since he was twelve and could never work it out in his mind. He can’t say it. He just can’t. He can’t bear to disappoint the father he loves more than anything in the world. He wipes his sweaty palms on his jeaned thighs and looks away, mortified.
Mr. Deering leans toward him. “Caleb? They called me and said you were in trouble for… for messing around with another boy. Were you? Messing around with another boy?”
Caleb clears his throat before answering with a nearly inaudible, “Yes.”
His dad sighs deeply.
To Caleb it sounds like all the disappointment in the world is in that sigh. A traitorous tear escapes Caleb’s eye, and he wipes it away with a vicious hand. “Did you tell Mom?”
“I wanted to speak to you first.”
After surgery and a year of chemotherapy, his mom was now officially cancer-free. It had been a year from hell for her. For all of them. Now is not the time to find out her nearly perfect, straight-A son is going more than steady with his best friend. “Yeah, okay.” He doesn’t know what else to say.
Mr. Deering leans forward, elbows on his knees, and scrubs his face with his hands. “You kissed another boy?”
“Yes.” The word is unequivocal.
“You weren’t just screwing around? I used to do crazy shit when I was a kid, so I understand.” Mr. Deering’s voice holds the gravity of the district attorney he is.
Caleb can’t look at the anger in his dad’s eyes as he wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans again. “No.” He swallows hard. I’m not ready to tell him, he thinks painfully. I’m just not ready.
The double doors open, and Caleb looks across the lawn. Nico walks unsteadily down the steps as Mr. Caro glowers at him.
Caleb sees the ugly, blossoming bruise on Nico’s cheek, and his anger soars. Caleb knows Nico’s dad has hit him. Again. He looks at the giant, brooding man who towers over Nico as they pass, and he wants to punch Mr. Caro.
A flicker of a smile crosses Nico’s lips before he mouths “I’m okay.” Mr. Caro catches him and slaps the back of his head, then pushes him toward the car.
Caleb sees the fleeting surprise that crosses his dad’s face at the sight of Nico’s dad just before knowledge and understanding fill his eyes.
Mr. Caro stops walking when he sees Caleb’s dad rise from the bench. Mr. Deering walks up to him and extends a hand. “Angelo, good to see you.”
Mr. Caro shakes his hand. “The same, Michael. I’m sorry for my Nico’s trouble. I will teach him a lesson.”
Empathy fills Mr. Deering’s eyes when he sees Nico’s cheek. He places a comforting hand on Nico’s shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Don’t, Angelo. He did nothing wrong.”
This comment surprises Caleb, but he has no time to think about it because Mr. Caro says, “You take care of your Caleb. I will take care of my Nico.” It sounds like an order. He shoves Nico toward the car and follows him down the walk.
Mr. Deering holds a hand out to Caleb, an uncharacteristic move for his professionally stolid father. Caleb rises from the bench quickly, and his dad puts a comforting hand on the nape of his neck and guides him to the car.
Caleb glances at Nico and sees the ancient fear on his face. He wants to run to him, to save him from what is surely in store for him.