How Rayford might have handled the Chloe-Buck thing if he was a human being.
"Hi Rayford," Buck Williams said. "May I speak to Chloe?"
"Yes, just-" He broke off: Chloe was frantically shaking her head and gesturing to put the phone down. "No, Buck. I don't think she wants to talk to you right now."
"Why not?" His tone was all outraged innocence, with just a hint of brattish whining. "Look, Rayford, I want to sort this out with her. But she won't even tell me what the matter is - she just drops these little hints and expects me just to intuit what she means. How am I supposed to work it out if she won't even speak to me?"
Rayford sighed. He knew young people had different moral codes to their elders, but even the brashest teenager would have been able to work out why Chloe was angry with Buck. There was no way a seasoned journalist could be so oblivious. "I don't think it's all that hard to work out."
"You mean you know? What has she told you?" The eagerness in his voice almost made Rayford doubt his previous assessment. It didn't sound feigned: maybe Buck really was desperate to know what he'd done wrong.
But Rayford wasn't about to explain it to him. The conversation would be far more messy than he had the stomach for, especially with Chloe still within earshot. "No, I'm not going to get involved. You respect Chloe, and leave her alone unless she decides she wants to speak to you. And just ... just grow up." He put the phone down before Buck could protest.
Chloe took a tentative step towards him. She looked exhausted, but also grateful. "Thanks for dealing with him."
Rayford shook his head. "I bought you some time, that's all. Eventually, you're going to need to deal with him yourself."
"I don't ever want to see him again."
"I know, but that's going to be hard, isn't it? Are you going to stop going to New Hope? Force him to stop going?"
Her composure broke. She sat down on the bottom step and let the tears start falling again. Rayford sat beside her, stroking her shoulder and feeling utterly useless.
"What would you do, Dad? If you were me?"
For the millionth time, Rayford wished Irene was there. She would have had the perfect advice for a time like this: something that would make Chloe feel better and help her find the best way forwards on her own. He'd never realised how much she did to keep the family going until she was no longer there to do it.
"I don't know, honey. But maybe ... you need to tell him how you feel, in words even he can't misunderstand. If he's got any decency at all, he'll have to..."
"That's it, isn't it? What can he do now? I'm sure he didn't mean to lead me on like this, but now the damage is done."
"It's not up to you to bear the worst of the damage, though," Rayford said firmly. "None of this is your fault. He needs to start putting things right. And ... well, from what he said just now, I don't think he's capable of doing that without you spelling it out for him."
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