Tapping his pencil on his desk Garrett kept thinking about the birthday party his parents were planning for him. He was going to be thirteen years old, a teenager. Katrina would be home from college just in time for the party. He couldn’t wait to see her and August again. He looked up to find the teacher glaring at him. He stilled his pencil slouching in his chair.
He hated school. The teachers. The students. Everything about it. He couldn’t wait for it to be done. Not only for the summer but forever. “Mr Bennett I’m waiting,” she announced tapping her foot glaring at him.
“Err,” he sat up looking around the classroom. Everyone was staring at him including his cousin Samantha.”
“Day dreaming again Mr Bennett,” she announce followed by snickers by this fellow classmates.
“Guess so,” he mumbled looking down at his desk. Blocking out the sounds of laughter.
Mrs Geist nodded her face scrunching up in distaste. “You’re doing yourself no favors by disrupting the class Mr. Bennett.”
“I think you’ve got that covered Mrs Geist,” he retorted followed by more laughter.
“Enough” she bellowed at the students. An uneasy silence fell over the room “you have detention Mr Bennett.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” he protested.
“Precisely my point,” she screamed “detention and not another word about it.”
Slamming his locker shut he jumped coming face to face with Samantha. “What are you doing here?”
“My locker is there” she pointed towards the one next to his “you really should get your head out of the clouds if you hope to ever graduate.”
Shrugging he stepped aside letting her get to her locker. “I don’t see why.”
“You have so much potential Garrett. It’s a shame to let it all go to waste.” She told him using the tone she reserved just for him. The tone he knew meant he had disappointed her.
“I hate school and I hate that stupid teacher…”
“That’s still no excuse for not doing your best,” she tutted closing her locker.
“Cut the mothering act,” he grumbled “I have a mother and a big sister. If I wanted a lecture I’d listen to them.”
Sighing she leaned against her locker “you don’t listen to them either.”
“I’m more the hands on type of guy. I’d rather be outside doing then cooped up in here learning shit I’ll never use.” He crossed his arms daring her to say something.
“Maybe you could lay off antagonizing the teacher….”
“Mrs Geist is a crazy old bat. I didn’t do anything and I have detention for disrupting the class. She’s the one antagonizing me,” he grumbled turning towards Samantha when she put a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Garrett she see’s what I see. A boy with a lot of potential letting it all go to waste,” She sighed “if you’d only put an ounce of effort into your school work she’d leave you alone.”
“I think your wrong,” he grumbled “but I’ll try,” he said over his shoulder as he walked back towards Mrs Geist’s room for detention.
Walking outside Garrett sat on the sidewalk waiting for his Mom to pick him up. She hadn’t been happy when he told her about having to stay late for detention again. Looking up as a shadow fell across him he swallowed his shock as he recognized the person standing there. “Well well well if it isn’t the birthday boy himself,” a familiar voice said.
He scrambled to his feet feeling too vulnerable on the ground while she stood above him. “Why are you here?”
Her laughter was devoid of genuine amusement as she stepped closer. “Is that anyway to greet your sister?”
“You’re not me sister” he declared.
“We have the same mother,” she tossed the fact out to him like she’d toss a bone to a dog.
“That doesn’t make you my sister,” he growled “or have you forgotten what you did to me. To the family.”
“All water under the bridge baby brother” she smiled taking a step closer “you were always the favorite. The only boy. The baby. I used to think my biggest competition to Daddy’s affection was Katrina. I was wrong. It was you. Always you.”
He took a step back fear tickling his spine “what do you want?” he asked looking around for anyone. Hoping that his Mom would drive up any second and take him home.
“Simple,” she smiled sweetly at him “I want to be invited to your birthday party.”
“No,” he shook his head” you’ve done enough harm.”
Snarling Kara stepped closer to him shoving him backwards into the wall of the brick school building. “If you don’t you’ll regret it.”
He pushed her hands away from him while he tried to get his breathing under control. Tremors assaulted his body cringing from her touch. “No! Mom and Dad offered to let you come home. You refused. Everything they tried to do you threw back at them. You didn’t have to watch them suffer from your rejection but I did.” He tried to move away from her only to find himself pinned to the wall, her hand gripping his shirt pressing into his chest. “Why do you want to come anyway? You don’t even like me.”
“I want to see their faces. I want to see their surprise. Their fear. Their dislike. I want to experience it all. Then I’ll decide.” She released her grip on him and walked away.
Rubbing his chest where her fist had felt like a two ton brick he called after her “decide what?” She kept walking as if she hadn’t heard him. The honking of a car horn made him jump losing sight of her.
“Come on Garrett I don’t have all night” Celia called from the car.
He glanced back to where he had last seen Kara wondering what he should do. Slowly he gathered his things and walked towards his Mom. Tossing his backpack into the backseat before slouching in the front seat “Mom…”
“Garrett this has got to stop,” Celia interrupted him “you have got to do better in school.”
“But Mom” he protested wanting to tell her about Kara and her veiled threat “I saw…”
“You’re a bright, intelligent young man. Why can’t you buckle down and apply yourself?” Celia plowed ahead oblivious to what Garrett was trying to tell her.
Groaning Garrett looked at the window zoning her voice and words out. She never listens he complained to himself wishing he had been able to get through to his dad earlier.
“Garrett are you listening to me?” Celia’s voice cut into his thoughts.
“Um yeah” Garrett nodded “I’ll do better.” He got out of the car walking towards the house “I promise” he told her knowing what he needed to say to appease her. He didn’t need to know what she had been saying for the last ten minutes to know what she wanted hear.
“If you were doing your best it’d be a different story” she said following him inside the house “but we both know you can do better.”
“Yes Mom. I know Mom,” he sighed sitting at the table taking out his homework.
Sitting beside him she continued “is the work too difficult? Would a tutor help?”
“No Mom” he grumbled annoyed that she kept peppering him with questions. Staring at his books “schools too easy. It’s the same old stuff over and over again. It’s boring.”
“Celia honey give the boy some space,” Ian said coming into the kitchen “he’s not going to be another Einstein.”
“But he has the potential…”
“He does. He lacks the motivation and no amount of us nagging him is going to give it to him.” He walked behind Garrett putting a hand on his shoulder “all I ask is that you do your best. If your satisfied that this is your best then I’ll be satisfied. Son only you can decide if you’re putting your all into your work. I can’t decide that for you.”
Garrett looked down at his books scattered on the table “I’ll do better. I can do better,” he muttered.
“If you need help let me know,” Ian squeezed his shoulder “we can arrange for a tutor if you need it.”
“That won’t be necessary” he mumbled feeling the sting to his pride. His Dad knew what buttons to push to motivate him to want to do better. It was a matter of not losing focus once the sting to his pride wore off. He wanted his Dad’s approval and he knew his sub par performance in school wasn’t cutting it. “I’ll do better,” he repeated.
“That’s all we ask,” Ian patted his shoulder before taking Celia’s hand and leaving the room.
Later that night Garrett sat along the edge of the pool. He loved to swim more than anything. He was on the swim team but his poor grades were threatening his eligibility to compete. It was time to buckle down and just do the work. It wasn’t like he couldn’t do it. He just didn’t want to.
He looked up as his Dad came outside and joined him. “Homework all done?”
“Yeah it’s done,” he splashed the water with his foot “Dad…something happened at school today.” He watched his foot swish around the water.
“Want to talk about it?” Ian asked knowing his son wouldn’t have brought it up if he didn’t feel the need to talk.
“Not really but I think I should” he sighed knowing what he was about to say would hurt his Dad. “Kara…” He watched as his Dad’s face fell and unbelievable pain replaced the peaceful contentment that had been there a few moments before.
“She was there?” he asked keeping his voice low.
Looking up into the night sky Garrett nodded “she wants to come to my birthday party.”
“What do you want?” Ian asked looking at his son intently.
“I…” he hesitated despite knowing how much his parents wanted to see her again. “I don’t trust her. I don’t want her here. I know you and Mom….”
“Son this isn’t about us,” Ian said firmly “it’s about you. This is your birthday not mine. Not your Mothers. Not your sisters…”
“She’s not my sister” he almost shouted.
“I know she’s hurt you but it doesn’t change the fact she’s still your sister. Nothing will ever change that.” Ian told him talking in a calm firm voice. Garrett stared at him for a moment before getting to his feet.
“I know you mean well but there’s more to being a family then sharing the same blood. She broke those ties a long time ago.” He crossed his arms over his chest breathing deeply of the cool night air.
“Garrett I can’t tell you your wrong,” Ian got up and walked towards him “your mother and I keep hoping she’ll change and want to be a part of the family again. This might be it but I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. It’s your day. You decide who you want to share it with.”
“What do you want?” Garrett asked.
“It doesn’t matter what I want,” Ian told him “she shouldn’t have put you in this position. If she wanted to come she should have come to us not you.” He hesitated before continuing ” I hate to say it but if it helps you with your decision then I’ll say what I think.”
“Please Dad I need to know,” Garrett was loath to say she had threatened him it would only make his Dad’s pain that much worse.
“Well I think you’re not telling me everything. Which worries me. Two if she wanted to be part of the family she would have come home after graduation. Since she hasn’t she has something on her agenda that isn’t being a loving big sister.” He watched Garrett nodded in agreement “will you tell me what happened?”
Looking into his Dad’s concerned violet eyes Garrett sighed “she threatened me. She told me if I didn’t invite her I’d regret it.” He watched as his Dad’s eyes became cold and distant. “She pushed me against the wall and ….”
“She didn’t hurt you did she?” Ian’s voice barely more than a growl.
“No Dad she didn’t. Just scared me a little.” He knew his Dad would get upset when he found out Kara had put her hands on him. “That’s not what’s troubling me. She said something I didn’t understand. She walked away before I could ask what she meant.”
“What did she say?” Ian asked visibly shaking from trying to keep a tight rein on his anger.
“She said something about making a decision after she saw everyone. She started to walk away right after she said then I’ll decide.” He looked up at his Dad “what do you think she meant by that?”
“I don’t know son,” he shook his head looking up into the night sky wishing it had the answers he was looking for “I’m afraid we have reason to be concerned.”
“I was afraid of that,” Garrett sighed “what should I do? Should I let her come?”
“Son I standby what I said earlier. It’s your birthday. If you don’t want her here don’t feel like you have to let her come. We’ll figure it out.”
“Thanks Dad,” he turned and gave him hug “I love you.”
Two weeks later Garrett was pacing the kitchen floor. His birthday party was about to start. Guests would start to arrive any minute but none of that mattered if Katrina couldn’t make it. She had called earlier that week that August had to retake a test because the teacher had issued the wrong one. Then their car broke down. They were supposed to have arrived last night but due to bad weather they had to stay the night in a hotel somewhere.
Glancing at the clock he couldn’t help but wonder what was taking them so long. They should have been here hours ago. “Calm down,” his Mom advised him “they’ll be here.”
“What if they’re not?” he demanded.
“Then no amount of pacing will change it,” she told him kissing his cheek “she’ll be here.”
The door opened and Katrina stuck her head inside “let’s get this party started” she yelled.
“Katrina” Garrett cried running to her “you made it.”
“Of course I did,” she gave him a tight squeeze “I wouldn’t miss my baby brother’s thirteenth birthday.”
To deflect attention from himself he asked”so are you two engaged yet?” He watched as her cheeks reddened. Turning to August “you asked her didn’t you?”
“We weren’t going to say anything until after party.”
“We didn’t want to detract from your big day,” Katrina added.
“Forget about that” Garrett smiled at her “this is stupendous news. I’ll have another birthday next year.”
“But only one thirteenth birthday,” Katrina told him keeping her voice low hoping to keep it a secret a little while longer. She knew once her parents found out the focus would be on her and not on the birthday boy. “Please Garrett keep it quiet at least for today.”
“Ok but only because you asked so nice” he gave her another hug. Turning to August he grinned asking “so does this mean I’ll be an Uncle soon?”
“What? No we haven’t….I mean…that’s none of your business,” August stammered turning a brilliant shade of red.
“Well that’s a relief,” Ian said coming into the kitchen “I’m not ready to be a grandpa just yet.”
“Daddy you heard?” Katrina cried covering her face with her hands.
“I’m sure your hand will look real pretty with your ring on it” Celia added moving in to give her daughter a hug “congratulations sweet pea.”
“When do we get to see the ring?” Garrett asked after everyone was done congratulating the happy couple.
Looking at his feet August said “about that we um don’t have a ….”
Katrina took his hand in hers “we don’t have a ring yet. Once we’re done with college we’ll get one.”
“Don’t be silly. We’ll go to the jewelers right now and …”
“Celia let the kids be,” Ian told her “they’ve obviously discussed this. If this is what they want we should respect their wishes.”
“But every girl wants a diamond” Celia protested “if it’s a matter of money. We have plenty…”
“Mom please” Katrina tried to curb what she knew was going to be a long argument.
“Honey now is not the time to discuss this,” Ian told her firmly “we have guests coming for our son’s birthday. Tomorrow if August and Katrina want we can discuss rings.” Taking Celia’s face in his hands he added “but we’ll abide by their wishes, right?”
“Ok,” Celia agreed turning her face and kissing his palm.
As the party was winding down and the last of the guests were leaving the glass door in the kitchen opened and Kara stood glaring at them. “Well well well isn’t this cozy. The entire family together again.” Turning toward Garrett “thanks for the invite baby bro. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness.”
Bristling at her words Garrett demanded “why are you here?” He wanted to lunge at her but a hand coming down upon his shoulder squeezing firmly kept him from leaping. His Dad’s voice in his ear telling him to calm down kept him rooted to the floor.
“Such a warm welcome” she hugged herself tightly “makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”
“You’re not welcome here,” Katrina said stepping forward.
“Katrina hush,” Celia reached for her pulling her back.
Eyes snapping with anger “don’t worry sister dearest I haven’t come to take what’s mine yet.” Her eyes turned to August “enjoy your engagement because you won’t see the wedding day.”
Stepping in front of his family Ian asked “what do you want Kara?”
“Daddy” her eyes softened for just a moment “I’ll take care of you when the rest are gone.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Celia protested.
“We’ll see,” Kara smirked “until then enjoy your lives.”