by Ronda Sexton
B‘Elanna stared a Tom a moment as he handed her a cup of coffee and joined her in his bed.
"Tom, you reacted strangely to Harry asking you if you were locked in closets as a child." Her eyes probed his thoughtfully. "Did that happen to you?" She knew that Tom and his father had not gotten along, but he had never mentioned such cruelty on his father‘s part.
"No, B‘Elanna, but it has to do with closets." Tom grew quiet and pensive.
"Tell me Tom," she said gently.
Tom‘s eyes got a distant look, and he began. "I was three years old. My mom‘s sister had just had a baby, and she was in Texas helping her. My dad was taking care of my sisters and me." Tom smiled at the memory of how his dad used to be.....before he discovered how talented Tom was, and before the Cardassians had taken him prisoner.
B‘Elanna waited patiently, knowing that Tom would continue in his own time.
Finally, Tom began again. "My sisters had already left for school that morning. Dad helped me get ready, he had been taking me to the office with him while Mom was gone." Tom grinned, "I thought it was cool to go to work with dad every day. Anyway, he was getting ready in his and mom‘s room. We were playing with each other while he got ready. I would pop out of the closet and scare him, and he pretended to be terrified."
B‘Elanna chuckled. "Somehow, I can‘t picture the Admiral being afraid of anything."
"Dad wasn‘t scared of much," answered Tom. "But that day.........I never saw him as scared as he was that day."
"What happened, Tom?" asked B‘Elanna gently.
"Dad was ready, and he must have thought I‘d gone to get the toys I was taking with me to the office. He pressed the button to close the door to the closet. I screamed as the door started to close. Dad slammed the button trying to stop the door from closing. When he hit it, the mechanism shorted out. I.....I was trapped in the closet. My dad was frantic.......he told me to hang on, that he was calling for help. I was crying really hard by then."
B‘Elanna shook her head. "That must have been terrifying for a three year old."
"It was," said Tom quietly. "It took them two hours to get me out. When the techs finally got the door open, my dad scooped me up into his arms. He just held me, and kept telling me how sorry he was." Tears shone in Tom‘s eyes as he recalled how kind and gentle his father had been when he was very young.
"Did he blame himself for what happened?" asked B‘Elanna.
Tom nodded. "Yes, I think he did. That night, I had nightmares about being trapped. They were so bad, that my dad finally came and took me back to sleep in the bed with him. I slept in my parents‘ room for several nights."
"What did you Mom think about all of this, Tom?" asked B‘Elanna.
"She was concerned, but Aunt Jolene had just been through a very difficult childbirth and needed my mom, so dad told her not to worry, that he‘d take care of me. She was a little surprised to find out I‘d been sleeping in their room with dad when she came home. She insisted that I sleep in my own bed."
"Were you still having nightmares?" B‘Elanna knew the answer by the expression on his face before he even began.
"Yeah, that‘s why my dad had kept me in the room with him. He wanted to be close by to comfort me. I remember he told mom that it was all his fault that I was having nightmares. She told him I was young and I‘d get over it."
"But you didn‘t," said B‘Elanna in sympathetic tone.
"No, and to this day, I still don‘t like closed in places. I woke up screaming for weeks. My dad would come in and comfort me."
"Your mother never came to offer you comfort?" asked B‘Elanna with a shocked expression on her face.
"My dad told her that since it was his fault I was having the nightmares, he would comfort me." Tom shrugged. "He insisted and left no room for discussion." Tom ran his hand through his hair. "Anyway, that‘s why I don‘t like closed in places."
B‘Elanna snuggled closer to Tom. "Well, tomorrow is going to be a busy day. Good night, Tom."
They shared a good night kiss and drifted off to sleep in each others arms.