A Deep Dark Secret
Release Date, September 29, 2009
Sample Excerpt Discussion Questions
On the outside, twelve-year-old Jillian Maxwell is the perfect child. She’s helpful with chores around the house, gets straight As in school, has plans for college, and stays out of trouble. She seems to have everything a girl could want: a big, beautiful new home, a mother who adores her, and an attentive stepfather. But inside, Jillian harbors a terrible secret.
Terrified to tell, convinced that her friends and loved ones, especially her mother, won’t understand—and worse, will blame her—Jillian endures her pain in silence, believing she’s got everything under control. But as time passes, the bright, hardworking girl transforms into a sullen, disinterested student with failing grades. But just when it seems she’s on the verge of losing everything, Jillian discovers she has more strength than she ever imagined . . . and the power to save herself and her family.
Jillian Maxwell finished her nightly talk with God, climbed into bed, and knew for sure that she was the luckiest seven-year-old in the world. It was the reason that, even though her eyes were now closed and she was snuggling into a very comfortable sleeping position, she couldn’t stop smiling. She’d never been happier, and just the thought of how her life had changed so miraculously over the last two years made her excited. She was excited because she finally had the one thing she’d always wanted. She finally had the best thing any girl could hope for. She finally had a father.
And what a truly wonderful and very loving man he was. He loved her mommy, he loved her, and he went out of his way to make sure they had everything they needed. As a matter of fact, ever since he’d come into their lives, not once had she heard her mommy talking about bills, money, or the idea that she needed to find a better job. Not once had Jillian had to wait until payday to get new clothes, shoes, or any of the other things she sometimes needed, or even certain things she occasionally wanted. Her father took care of them completely and had made it clear from the very start that he didn’t want Jillian thinking of him as just some stepfather. He’d told her that while sadly he wasn’t her biological father, he already loved her like she was his own and would be honored if she would call him Daddy. Jillian still remembered the warm feeling she’d felt the day he’d sat her down to have this particular conversation and how pleased her mommy had been as well. Her mommy had even shed a few tears of joy, and there had been no question in either of their minds that Byron James was the answer to both their prayers.
Then, believe it or not, today, life had gotten even better for them, because as of 6:40 this morning, Jillian now had a beautiful little baby sister named Layla. Layla was by far the cutest thing Jillian had ever seen, and she couldn’t wait for Layla and her mommy to come home from the hospital. Jillian and her father had spent pretty much the entire day in her mommy’s room but had finally come home a couple of hours ago to get some rest. Jillian hadn’t wanted to leave; however, now that she was in bed and preparing to drop off to sleep, she was sort of glad they had. Plus, she was dying to get back to school tomorrow, so she could tell everyone about the amazing new addition to their family.
Jillian breathed deeply and felt herself becoming drowsier by the second. Which was why when her father knocked on her door and walked in, he sort of startled her.
“Did you say your prayers?” he asked, sitting down next to her and turning on the lamp on her nightstand.
“Did you thank God for your new baby sister?”
“Yes. And I thanked him for you, too. I thanked him for Mommy and for taking care of all of us.”
“Good. Now, give Daddy a big hug.”
Jillian smiled and then raised her body up. Her father held her closely, and she felt safe. So much so that she silently thanked God again for blessing her with such a caring father.
But when he released her, he looked at her strangely. He looked at her in a way she’d never seen anyone look at her before . . . and it was at that very moment that her sweet little life changed forever.
Five Years Later
After finishing his Sunday morning sermon, Jillian’s pastor took a seat in the pulpit and the choir sang a song she hadn’t heard before. It was a nice song, though, and the words made her think about the one thing she thought about every day of her life: If God loved her so much, why hadn’t he saved her from her father? Especially since she always tried her best to be a good girl and was. Everyone said so: her mother, her grandparents, her teachers—everyone. So what she was going through didn’t make any sense.
It was true that seven years ago, when her father had first come into their lives, she couldn’t have been happier. He’d been so wonderful to her and it had only been a matter of months before her mom and he had fallen in love and gotten married. They’d wasted no time, and Jillian had been thrilled to finally have her own dad, the same as her cousins, friends, and schoolmates. Of course, not everyone had a dad living in the house with them. For one, her best friend, Nikki, didn’t, but for the most part everyone else around her did.
She’d been excited because with the exception of a few old photos, she’d never seen her biological father or even spoken to him by phone. To this very day, he’d never tried contacting her, not in all of her twelve years, and she couldn’t help wondering why he didn’t want her. She also couldn’t help thinking about the conversation she and her mother had had only one month ago.
“Mom, can I ask you something?” Jillian had said one day when the two of them were in the car, heading to a pizza place.
“Sure, sweetie, what is it?”
“Do you think I’ll ever see my real father?”
At first, her mother hadn’t said anything, obviously shocked about the question. But finally, she responded.
“I really don’t know.”
“Do you think it would be okay if I looked for him?”
There had been more silence, and this time her mother’s pause had been longer than it was before.
“Is there something wrong, honey?”
“And what about the father you have now? Isn’t he all that you could have ever hoped for?”
Over the last five years, Jillian had mastered the art of acting and to prove it, she said, “Oh yes, Mom, he’s the best daddy in the world, and I’ve loved him since the very beginning.”
“Then why are you asking about your biological father?”
“I don’t know. For some reason, I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately.”
Her mother had driven into the parking lot of the store, found a spot to park in, turned off the ignition, and then turned slightly toward Jillian.
“Sweetie, I know I’ve never said much about your father but now that you’re a lot more curious about him, and rightfully so, I think it’s time I tell you everything.”
“Well, first of all, he didn’t just leave us. No, TC Maxwell left us while I was still carrying you. I was six months pregnant, and all I know is that one morning I got up and went to work but when I came home, he was gone. He never even had the decency to say good-bye, and he took all the bit of money we had to our names. He left me with nothing, and I was devastated.”
Jillian was stunned. “Why did he do that? I mean, didn’t he even want to see what I looked like?”
“I don’t know, honey. I don’t know what was going through his head back then but a few weeks before he left, all he talked about was how he wanted to move back to Chicago. That was where he lived before I met him, and he never really liked living here in Mitchell. Said it was too slow and not at all like the life he’d become accustomed to. For a number of years, I guess he used to sing in a band and perform at various Chicago nightclubs.”
“Well, why didn’t you want to go with him?”
“Because he wasn’t the most stable person when it came to keeping a job. We only dated for six months and during that time, he quit two different jobs. Then, once we were married, he quit another two jobs during that six-month period. And it was right after that that he walked out.”
“And you’ve never once heard from him since then?”
“No. He called your grandparents a couple of times right before you turned one, but when Mom told him that he needed to come see you, he kept telling her that he was down on his luck and didn’t have anything to give you. Mom then told him that you were being well taken care of and that he shouldn’t worry about that. She told him that he should come so you could know who your father was.”
Jillian had looked away, tears filling her eyes.
“I know it’s not the easiest thing to hear, but I really feel like it’s time you knew the whole story. And if it wasn’t for Mom and Dad, I’m not sure what would have happened to you or me, because the very next week after your father left, they came to help me pack up all my things and then moved me in with them. I’ll never forget Mom and how she told me everything was going to be all right and that she and Dad were going to be there for you and me for as long as we needed them to be. They even picked you and me up from the hospital when you were born, and that’s why they’ve always treated you more like a daughter than a granddaughter.”
“I know, and I love them like parents, too. But I still don’t understand why my real father hasn’t tried to find me—why he doesn’t want to see me.”
“I don’t understand it either, but what I do know is that you are the best thing that came from my marriage to him. You immediately became my greatest joy, and that’s why I went to work in a factory only seventeen days after you were born, making sure you didn’t go without the things every child needs. We didn’t have a lot but with Mom babysitting you, I was able to go to work and pay her for taking care of you. Actually, you never wanted for anything, because when we were staying with Mom and Dad, I paid them rent, but it wasn’t nearly as much as I would have had to pay at my own apartment. Plus, they spoiled you pretty good as well.”
“Then why didn’t we just keep living with them?”
“Because after you turned three and I turned twenty-four a few days later, I decided that Mom and Dad deserved to have their house to themselves. They’d been kind enough to take us in, and I will always be thankful for that, but it was time we got our own place. They didn’t want to see us go, but I didn’t want them feeling as though they were obligated to take care of their grown daughter and a grandchild when it clearly wasn’t their responsibility. It made things a lot harder for us financially, but it was definitely the right thing to do.”
“I’m sorry my father left you. Especially since I hadn’t even been born yet.”
“There’s no need for you to apologize at all. None of this was your fault, and if anything, I’m sorry for choosing to marry the kind of man he turned out to be. And that’s also the reason I’ve always been so happy about Byron coming into our lives when he did, because he’s such a good man. So much better than my first husband. So kind and so much more compassionate. Byron is truly our gift from God, no doubt about it.”
When the congregation applauded, Jillian left her daydream and looked at her mom. The choir had finished singing and now the announcement clerk was strolling toward one of the side podiums. Jillian was sort of getting restless and couldn’t wait for service to be dismissed. Not to mention she couldn’t wait to get home to her new cherry wood bedroom set. She’d just gotten it last week, thanks to her father, who had said he wanted them to have all new furniture in the new home they’d just purchased and moved into a few months ago—a home her mother had said they never would have been able to afford had it not been for her father. Which was true, and Jillian was definitely thankful to him for all he did, but the only thing was, she didn’t know why he had to keep touching her between her legs.
She didn’t know why he wouldn’t simply keep his hands to himself or find someone else to have his “special times” with. He’d been touching her for five straight years now, and with the way things were going, she didn’t see where he was going to be stopping any time soon. She’d even looked the whole thing up on the Internet, right after she’d started her sex education class one year ago, and learned that what he was doing to her had a name. Fondling. That’s what the website she’d gone to had called it. She’d also found some other information regarding childhood sexual abuse, but she still wasn’t sure she was being “abused,” because mostly what she read online were articles about young girls who had been raped. She remembered how she hadn’t even known what rape really was, but then she’d looked up the definition of that word, too, and had quickly realized her father hadn’t done anything like that to her. Mainly, all he did was caress her private area, or as he called it, her “kitty,” and he would kiss her. Although, as of two years ago, he’d changed the way he’d been kissing her, because now he always stuck his tongue inside her mouth in a wild and gross sort of way and then made her rub his thing until it became hard. She’d never seen it, but he still made her rub it through whatever pants he was wearing.
It was interesting, though, how he only made her do these horrid things when her mother wasn’t home. Jillian wanted so badly to tell her, but her father always reminded her that her mother would blame her for everything and would kick her out of the house for good. He’d also insisted that if she told her grandparents, her little friends, or anyone else, none of those people would understand and they probably wouldn’t have anything else to do with her. So it hadn’t been long before she’d completely given up on the idea of confiding her secret and had decided this wouldn’t last forever. She decided that in six years, she’d be off to college and wouldn’t have to worry about any of this again. Plus, she kept telling herself that it was only “fondling” and that maybe it wasn’t all that bad.
Jillian snapped back to the present moment when she heard her father’s voice. He was speaking before the congregation and had everyone’s undivided attention. They’d only been members of True Vine Christian Center for about a year now, but her father had already been appointed a deacon. Partly because he’d known the senior pastor for a number of years, and partly because he’d been ordained as a deacon at the last church they’d joined—which had actually been the second church they’d been members of since her mother and father had gotten married seven years ago, and True Vine was the third. Jillian wasn’t sure why they had to keep changing churches; all she knew was that her father would suddenly become tired of “the same old, same old” and out of nowhere, they would move on.
Now he was filling in the congregation on the conversation he’d had earlier in the week with the Sunday school superintendent, regarding the noticeable lack of attendance—something Jillian was shocked about, because with the exception of when he was home or around people he’d known for years, he didn’t talk a whole lot. He was pretty much the quiet type and the kind of person who had a hard time making direct eye contact with anyone for longer than a few seconds. Actually, the more Jillian thought about it, there was a slight sneakiness about him, too.
But maybe since he knew this group of people, he was completely comfortable when it came to speaking to them.
“I know some of us tend to slack off a bit when it gets hot outside and that there are so many other summer activities going on. But I just want to encourage you to work a little harder at getting here for Sunday school and here for Wednesday-night Bible study. It’ll continue to be pretty warm for at least another month or so, but I still hope you’ll start coming back to both sessions a lot more regularly.”
Some of the members said, “Amen.”
“It is so important for us adults to attend our classes, and it is extremely crucial for us to bring our children as well. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure where I’d be or what kind of terrible person I would have become had my grandparents not brought me to Sunday school every single Sunday morning. Sunday school helped teach me right from wrong, and I know for sure that studying the Bible and learning hundreds and hundreds of life-altering scriptures is the reason I am a true man of God. It is the reason my moral values and family values are so exceptionally strong and why I am able to be a good husband to my wife, Roxanne, and a good father to our daughters.”
Jillian wanted to scream. She wanted to stand on her feet and yell out loud what a lying hypocrite her father really was. She wanted to tell all of them that the man they praised and loved wasn’t who they thought he was. She wanted desperately to tell them that he was nothing like the wonderful Christian he successfully pretended to be.
But instead, she looked at her mother, who was smiling brightly and looking prouder than the parents of an Olympic gold medalist, and said nothing.
Jillian did smile back at her, though, feigning her adoration and agreement, and then looked back at her father.
“So, church, all I’m asking is that we please take Sunday school and Bible study a little more serious than we have been. Do what you know God wants you to do. For yourselves and also for our children. Thank you.”
The congregation applauded again, and her father took his seat on one of the front pews.
Jillian applauded, too, and acted as though life with her loving father just couldn’t be better.
1. Were you surprised that a man such as Byron (an upstanding and beloved deacon of a church) would even consider abusing his own stepdaughter or any child for that matter? Why or why not?
2. Do you believe Jillian is an example of most children who are sexually abused in terms of not having enough courage to tell? Why do you think this is the case?
3. Why do you think Jillian’s mother never realized what was going on? Then, even though she didn’t, how much responsibility does she bear?
4. Why do you think Jillian found it difficult to kiss Kyle? Do you think she will eventually be able to overcome her fear of intimacy?
5. Why do you believe Jillian and Nikki reacted so differently when it came to boys, even though they were best friends and had more in common than they realized?
6. If given the chance and a few more years had passed, do you believe Byron’s “attention” would have eventually turned to little Layla? If so, what do you think Jillian would have done? Would she then have told her mother?
7. As you continued reading A DEEP DARK SECRET, what outcome were you hoping for?
8. If you learned today that someone had sexually abused the child of one of your relatives or the child of one of your close friends, what actions would you take? How would you react if it was your own son or daughter?
9. Do you know of any real-life childhood sexual abuse situations, those that involved family members or close friends? If so, what was done about it?
10. What do you think each of us can do to help prevent this sort of thing from happening to any child?