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Song: Lay it DownLyrics by Nichole Nordeman To every son and daughterWayward and long goneThe love of a FatherWill leave the light on Josh buried his face in his hands as April shut the front door behind her. How did it get so out of hand? he pleaded. Was it something I said? Did? Didn't say; didn't do? Could I have stopped her? He felt his eyes watering and struggled against the unmanly urge to grab the tissues. His ex-wife's words echoed in his mind, rattling every corner of the world that had seemed so secure just this morning. This is your fault. There was no heated anger of an argument in her voice; it was a collected, premeditated speech. She had been waiting a long time to say those words to his face. She had even waited until their daughter was visiting the neighbors. "This is your fault," April had said calmly. Too calmly for the shocking sentence that followed. "Lacey's only 16, but she's uncontrollable. She hangs out with that boy the police looked into for drugs, and she somehow gets cigarettes into the house. She stays out late, doesn't call and comes home smashed. She's practically dropped out of high school this year. But you don't seem to notice or even care. Our daughter is going to pieces, and you can't be bothered to even look up from your stupid work schedule." He had tried to protest, to say something. But what could he say? Whenever Lacey stayed with him, she seemed so happy and innocent! They still played board games together and spent dad-daughter dates at the mall. She was his pal, his go-to friend, even if her raging hormones and sense of humor were sometimes beyond his realm of comprehension. Those precious weekends were the highlight of his life, ever since April had taken Lacey and moved an hour away. "I've done everything for her," April had continued, her neatly painted nails tapping the dining table. "Everything I could. But whatever you're doing to her here, it's changed her. I hope you're happy, Josh - you've ruined my life and now hers." He remembered the exact way she tossed her head, looking just as self-righteous as she sounded. Josh shook his head. April was a pain he had managed to forget, but to watch her sitting across the table, calmly blaming him for everything their daughter was doing, had opened an old wound. It was never good enough for her. No matter what I did, she'd think of a way to do it better. He shook his head. Stop it! Lacey is what's important right now. My baby girl... I have to save her. I can still help her, figure out what to do. I tried to throw you off trackA needle in the haystackAnd I don't know how you found meOr why you let me come back He glanced up at the mantlepiece. Several framed pictures of himself and Lacey decorated the shelf, showing various vacations or just those snapshots he had teased her into posing for. Josh was a confirmed shutterbug and he loved nothing better for a subject than his beautiful dark-haired daughter. She looks so happy, he thought sadly, standing up and touching one of the frames. A single tear rolled down his cheek. Oh, God, he thought, meaning the word as a name for the first time in years. Whatever I've done, whatever mistakes I've made in my life, please don't let Lacey repeat them. Don't let my baby be hurt. He wiped the saltwater off his chin with his sleeve. "Don't worry, Lace," he whispered. "I promise, we'll get you through this. Whatever happens." "Get me through what?" came the light-hearted response. Josh turned around to find Lacey leaning coolly again the doorway, smiling at him. "Lace, honey." He practically ran to her before hugging her tightly. He felt like he never wanted to let go. Lacey laughed. "Lay off, dad; you're gonna smother me." The calmness of her voice reminded him cruelly of his conversation with April just a few minutes before. In many ways, she was her mother's daughter, he reminded himself. He saw so much in her of what he used to love in April. This was going to be the hardest thing he would ever do. "Sorry, kiddo." He tried to smile at her as he let her go. Lacey cocked her head to one side. "Hey, your eyes are red! Was mom giving you a hard time again?" "Yeah... Sort of." He instinctively wiped his eyes on his sleeve again. If only he could get rid of this feeling that he was too weak to handle this false laughter, this facade of happiness. "She has her pain-in-neck days." Lacey snorted. "Lately, she's been all over my case. 'Why didn't you do this? Why did you get home so late? Why'd you buy this? Why didn't you clean your room?' It's getting so stupid. She thinks she owns me." "I'm sure she's just trying to help you, honey." he said, making a move for the kitchen. They usually made some sort of super-sugary snack while she stayed over, April's passion for health food being not regarded in this house. "Why are you always like that?" Lacey sounded suddenly very serious. "Like what, baby?" The teenager shrugged. "So nice to her. She was horrible to you, and you never say anything, never lay into her." Josh scratched his head. "I used to, Lace. I used to pitch into her every chance I got. But every time I did, it scared you. One time, when you were six, you came up to me after your mom and I had a fight and you asked me if I'd ever yell at you like that." He paused, getting out the marshmallow fluff from the pantry. "I guess it scared me that my baby girl could think I'd ever yell at her like that. So I stopped. Doesn't mean I stopped thinking a bunch of flowery words at April, but I swore I'd never say them again." Lacey opened the brownie mix slowly. "Hey, dad? What if I deserved it? Like, pretend I held up a Qwik-Mart, or something; would you yell at me then?" Josh swallowed hard. "I'd try not to. I'd just be scared you were hurt and wanna protect you." "Thanks." Lacey smiled naturally, cracking eggs into the bowl with the brownie mix. "You knew that; didn't you, Lace?" he asked anxiously. "If you're in trouble... If you need someone to talk to--" She laughed. "Oh, geez, dad. It was just a 'what if'. I'm doing fine." Josh stared hard at the tall girl. Never before had he been so sure that she was lying to him. "Okay, honey. Just... If you ever need someone, I'm here for you." "Sure. When I get arrested for lifting candy bars, I'll call you." she teased, licking the chocolate-covered spatula. Cuz it's a long way homeWhen all you're left to carryIs a heart of stoneAnd the weight of most the worldAnd I'd like to Lacey stared at the ceiling of her room. Her dad lived in a townhouse, so space was tight, but he always kept one bedroom ready for her on the weekends. He was so sweet, even if he did worry too much. Her cell phone vibrated quietly on the nightstand. She checked the screen and frowned. She didn't feel like answering her boyfriend's text just now. Mom told him, she thought, turning over in bed. She told him about school, the parties, Alex. He knows. How could she do that to me? It's not fair! I'm sixteen - I'm old enough to make my own choices! Somewhere, in the far corner of her mind, she wanted to cry. She hadn't wanted her dad to find out. The partying and acting out, that was all stuff she did to get her mom's attention. She had never wanted her dad to know what a different person she was away from him. He had always loved her, always tried to protect her, even through the messy divorce. And while sometimes she found that protection restricting, tonight she just wanted him to tell her forgave her and it would be okay. Lay it down a littleLay it down a lotI don't want to hold it anymoreLay it down in pieces orLay it down in wholeEverything I've carried on my ownLay it down, lay it downLay it down, lay it down As she lay in the dark, scrunching her pillow to relieve her feelings, Lacey heard a soft knock on the door of her room. "Lace? You awake?" Josh whispered. "Yeah; c'mon in, dad." she answered, sitting up. Josh opened the door quietly and sat down on the foot of her double mattress. In the dark, his deep brown skin blended in with the night, making it hard to read his expression. "Hey, baby. I thought you might be awake, so I just..." He trailed off, unsure of what to say. How could he possibly bring up what April had told him without sounding like he was accusing Lacey? The teenager frowned. "You wanna know if what mom said is true? If I do drugs, hang with gangs and hit old ladies?" "No, no, Lace." he said quickly and firmly. "I know you'd never hurt anybody." He still trusts me? Lacey wondered in amazement. He's not upset I lied to him? Josh shook his head, trying to shape his words carefully. "I don't even believe most of what your mom said. I know you, honey; whatever little thing you've done to freak her out every now and then, it's no big deal. I just... I needed you to know that. It's not a big deal." For the first time in who-knew-how long, Lacey's conscience pained her. She had never felt guilty about doing anything to show her mom how little she cared. But her dad... Even when faced with evidence to the contrary, he believed in her, took her side. She felt her eyes watering and blinked to hide it. She had lied this long; she could lie a while longer. She couldn't shatter his blind faith in her. "Thanks, daddy. That means a lot." I spent your moneyLiving on the fringesBut you threw a party for meInvited all your big friendsAnd I have learned a little bitAbout a heavy loadAll that gleams and glittersIs not worth its weight in goldAnd I know I should Josh only stayed a few minutes after that; he wanted to make sure Lacey got enough sleep. But he was too worried to get any rest himself. I'll make a quick sandwich or something, he told himself. I need to give Lacey some space. If there's anything to tell, she'll say it when she's ready. I won't force her. He walked into the kitchen and began making a quiet snack, disregarding the sickening feeling in his stomach that his daughter was hiding from him. Doesn't she trust me enough to tell me? Is she scared to say whatever she's done? he wondered. Doesn't she know I'd forgive her? He half-consciously pictured all the horrible things teenagers did on the ten o'clock news. He saw his little girl being dragged down by the slippery pit of self-damage and almost stabbed his hand with the bread knife by accident. Josh was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but that moment, he came as close to it as he ever would. "Look, God or whoever's out there," he muttered, "I just wanna save Lacey. Could you help me do that? Just save my little girl. I don't want her to be hurt." There was no light or voice that answered, no choir of singing angels or even a loud gust of wind. But Josh felt something snap in his heart, some barrier that had been closed for so long he didn't know there was anything on the other side. A new feeling, a tangible, inexplicable calm, came over him. Whatever happened, he knew it would be okay. Lacey was going to be saved. Lay it down a littleLay it down a lotI don't want to hold it anymoreLay it down in pieces orLay it down in wholeEverything I've carried on my ownLay it down, lay it downLay it down, lay it down Lacey listened to the sound of her dad in the kitchen, probably making a midnight snack. She blinked rapidly against the stubborn tears in her eyes. Why am I feeling so guilty?! This isn't my fault; it's mom's. She should have kept her big mouth shut. She shut her eyes, trying to block out the noise, the dark, her own pricking conscience. Just go to him, that annoying corner of her mind whispered. He'll forgive you; he'll understand. She gave a sharp, quiet laugh. I'm too far gone. He can't forgive me for lying to him and pretending to be someone else. He doesn't love me; he loves the kid I used to be. You don't really believe that, the other thought answered. He loves you, Lacey. He loves you and he's waiting. Just go. She shook her head. "No." she said aloud. "I can't." Go. Lacey sighed in exasperation. She wanted nothing more than to get this feeling of heavy guilt off her chest. She wanted to feel her dad's too-tight hug again and hear him call her "honey", knowing who she really was. She slipped out from under the covers, brushed her hair into some semblance of order and opened the door. To every son and daughterWayward and long gone... -HH