A military dad comes home unexpectedly from overseas duty to find his daughter sleeping on the floor while his wife and stepsons are away on a luxury vacation.

Peter couldn’t wait to get home. He’d been away for eight long months and he missed his family terribly. He was lucky to get an early discharge from his current tour, and he was coming home a whole two months early!

He’d said nothing to his wife, Linda, or his daughter Melissa. He wanted to surprise them. He walked towards his front door with a spring in his step and a big smile on his face. He had no idea what he was about to discover.

Peter opened the door and called out: “Linda, Melissa? Where are you? Jay and Kyle! I’m home!”

But his wife and his stepsons didn’t answer. The house was empty! It was a Saturday morning and they should all be home… “Melissa?” Peter called out one last time.

Our first priority should be our children, not our personal happiness.

“Daddy!” cried a faint voice. “I’m here, in the kitchen!”

Peter ran to the kitchen door and was surprised to see that it was locked. He turned the key and opened the door. Melissa was standing there with tears in her eyes. “Daddy,” she sobbed. “I’ve missed you so much!”

Peter hugged his daughter tightly, then over her shoulder he saw a mattress! “Melissa!” he gasped. “Were you sleeping here? WHY? Where are Linda and the boys?”

Melissa looked frightened. “Please, daddy,” she said. “Please, it’s alright…”

“Tell me!” Peter said in a stern voice. “Were you locked up and sleeping in this kitchen?”

Melissa started sobbing. “I can’t tell you!” she cried. “Don’t you see, daddy? You’ll go away again and I’ll be all alone with THEM again!”

Peter put his arms around his daughter. “I promise you, Melissa, you have nothing to be afraid of, ever again. Now tell me what’s going on.”

“Six months ago, Linda said Jay and Kyle were too big to be sharing a bedroom,” she explained. “So she moved me out of my bedroom and Kyle moved in. I sleep in the kitchen on this mattress.”

Peter was furious! When he married Linda, he treated her two sons from a previous relationship as his own. He believed she’d done the same for his little orphaned daughter!

“Where are they now?” Peter asked. “And why were you locked in?”

“Linda took the boys to Florida for the weekend to celebrate Kyle’s birthday,” Melissa said. “So she left me some sandwiches and locked me in here because she thinks I’d steal her things…”

Just then, someone knocked on the kitchen door. Peter looked through the window and saw a slim, sweet-faced woman with a covered plate in her hand. “Melissa? It’s Karen…” she said.

“Who is Karen?” Peter asked Melissa.

“She’s a new neighbor,” Melissa said. “She’s really sweet and kind. I think she suspects something because she always brings me treats.”

Peter fished out his keys and unlocked the kitchen door. “Hello,” he said to Karen. “I’m Melissa’s father.”

Karen looked embarrassed. “Hi!” she said. “I hope you won’t take it the wrong way, but I brought Melissa some hot food…”

“Of course not,” Peter said. “Thank you for your kindness to my daughter. I’ve just realized what you’ve probably known for some time — but I’m putting things right!”

“I knew Melissa was left alone…” Karen said. “She’d always say she couldn’t open the door to anyone, but I knew something was very wrong. I was going to call Social Services, but I was afraid I’d just make things worse!”

Peter assured Karen that everything would be put to rights and thanked her again for her kindness to Melissa. Then he started thinking about how he was going to solve the problem of Linda and her sons.

On Sunday afternoon, Linda and the boys arrived home to find three mattresses on the lawn, and on top of them were piled all their belongings. Linda was furious. “Melissa!” she screamed. “You brat! I’ll get you for this!”

But when the door opened, it wasn’t Melissa standing there — it was her husband, Peter, and he didn’t look the least bit friendly. “Hello Linda,” he said calmly.

“Peter!” Linda gushed. “Baby, what a wonderful surprise…”

“I think I was the one who had the biggest surprise, Linda,” Peter said. “But just so you know, Melissa is back in her bedroom. You and the boys can move those mattresses into the garage which is where you will be living from now on…

Linda saw the flinty look in Peter’s eyes and knew the game was up. “I’ll take you for every penny you have, Peter!” she screeched.

“No, you won’t, Linda,” Peter said calmly. “I called the police and they saw how Melissa was living and the conditions I found her in. You try anything and you go to jail for child abuse.”

Linda and her sons took their things and ran, and the last Peter heard from her was when she signed the divorce papers. A few months later, he started dating Karen, and Melissa knows that very soon she’ll have a new and loving mom in her life.

What can we learn from this story?

Children should not suffer because of their parents’ mistakes — or at the hands of their new partners. Peter thought Linda was a loving stepmom, but she was a monster who abused his daughter.

Our first priority should be our children, not our personal happiness. Peter fell in love with Linda, but he never thought about what kind of a mother she’d be to Melissa.

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