“We better win this time,” Chris said pushing Garrett hard against the lockers. It had been two weeks since their humiliating defeat where Garrett couldn’t compete. He had hoped things would cool off between him and the rest of the team. It might have if it weren’t for Chris. He kept finding ways to stir the team up.
Coach Yarbrough cleared his throat loudly behind them. “Do we have a problem gentlemen?”
“No sir” Chris said stepping back “just emphasizing to Bennett that we better not lose this time.”
Rubbing his chest where it felt Chris had tried to permanently imprint his fist Garrett nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all we can ask for,” the coach conceded giving him a flinty stare before continuing “I want everyone to give a warm welcome to our newest team members. Terrence Moody and Leighton Gold.”
Garrett looked up then away. They had agreed that Garrett was to act like he didn’t know them. They were the new kids in the school. No reason for anyone to suspect they were related. This way they hoped to catch Chris in the act.
“Better watch your back,” Chris whispered in his ear “we may not need you on the team any more.” The boy smirked as he walked away to greet the new members.
While everyone was busy greeting the new kids the coach made his way to Garrett’s side. Placing a heavy hand on the boy’s shoulder the coach squeezed “I’m giving you fair warning. One slip up your off the team. I don’t care if you fall and break your neck you better not be late.” He squeezed until Garrett winced in pain “do we understand each other?”
Grimacing Garrett nodded “yes sir.”
Nodding the coach released his grip on Garrett’s shoulder and walked back to his office. Garrett leaned against his locker rubbing his shoulder where the coach’s fingers had dug into him.
While everyone was occupied, Garrett slipped from the locker room unnoticed. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Closing his eyes Garrett swallowed afraid to turn around. Afraid to see who had followed him from the locker room. Taking a firm grip on his fear he turned “I’m going home if it’s any of your business.”
“As a matter of fact it is,” Micah smiled at the younger boy “Jeez relax I’m not going to hurt you.”
A sigh of relief escaped his lips “Mmmicah you scared me.”
“Serves you right sneaking out without someone with you. Remember what Terrence said.” Micah took a step forward “you go no where without me tagging along.”
“Sooner or later they’ll figure out that you’re my cousin and you’ll have the same target on your back as I do. Then what?”
“We’ll deal with that when it happens,” Micah told him “for now let’s get you home.” He grabbed his cousin’s arm and half dragged him down the hall.
“What’s the hurry?” Garrett asked.
“I left Samantha by herself” Micah said releasing his arm.
“They wouldn’t hurt her,” Garrett was appalled at the very thought.
“I’m not taking in chances. They know she’s your cousin. Once they can’t get to you she’s the next best target.”
Stopping in his tracks Garret said “I never thought of that.”
“Then stop wasting time,” Micah urged tugging on his arm “she’s a tough cookie but I don’t think she’ll be able to take on the entire swim team by herself.”
Samantha turned when the door behind her opened “what took you guys so long?”
“I left before everyone else did,” Garrett told her slightly offended.
“I was worried about you,” Samantha said her hands on her hips.
“Yeah yeah the mothering can wait until we get to the car,” Micah told them as he herded them towards Leighton’s car across the parking lot “you guys lay low while we wait. Don’t let anyone see you.”
“Why am I hiding?” Samantha demanded sitting up.
Reaching for her Garrett pushed her head down “everyone knows you’re my cousin. Who do you think they’ll go after when they can’t get to me?”
“Me?” she asked astounded “I’m a girl. They wouldn’t hurt….”
“Wanna bet?” Garrett asked her “they selected Jerry to receive the black eye to make it look like I did it. He went along with it. Does that sound like people concerned with what gender you are?”
“Well…” she wanted to argue her point but decided now wasn’t the time. She got on the floor of the backseat beside him.
The doors opened and closed “well I think they bought it” Leighton announced getting into the car.
“That’s good then” Samantha said moving to sit up.
“Wait until I get out of the parking lot,” Leighton told her looking into the rear view mirror.
“Ok” she rolled her eyes and remained on the floor “hurry up though my knees are starting to kill me.”
“You’ll just have get used to it,” Leighton told her “this is the way it’s going to be for a while. Garrett you’ll have to try to sneak out as soon as possible after practice. Micah will be waiting for you. Sam you’ll need to come straight to the car instead of waiting by the door.” He looked around as he exited the parking lot “ok guys you can sit up now.”
“Do you think this really necessary?” Samantha asked sitting up.
Leighton looked back at then straight ahead, hands tightening around the steering wheel.”Well is it?” Micah asked looking at his brother.
Sighing he nodded “it’s worse than I imagined. Chris really doesn’t like you Garrett. It feels personal and beyond simply losing a competition. Who is this guy to you?”
“I don’t know” Garrett shook his head frustrated “I never met him before he moved here.” Pulling on his hair he continued “I just don’t get it. Why would they hate me so much before they even met me?”
Samantha reached across the seat, resting her hand on his shoulder. Garrett flinched as her hand connected with the bruises the coach left. “What’s wrong?” she asked pulling at his shirt to reveal the darkening bruises along his collar-bone and shoulder. “What happened?” she demanded her voice rising.
“It’s nothing,” Garrett shrugged her hand off.
Leighton pulled the car into a nearby parking lot. Turning around he demanded “let’s see.” His lips thinned into a slim hard-line “when did this happen?”
Looking down picking at a loose thread Garrett mumbled “today in the locker room.”
“Did Chris do this?” Leighton asked his voice deepening in anger.
Shaking his head Garrett sighed “the coach did it after he introduced you and Terrence to the team.” He looked up eyes pleading “I didn’t do anything to provoke him. I was just standing there and he starts squeezing my shoulder. Making threats.”
“He threatened you” Micah repeated “the coach?”
“Yeah. Why is that so surprising?” Garrett asked “the coach is Chris’s dad.”
“Oh yeah I forgot,” Micah replied sheepishly.
“We need to figure out who they are and why they don’t like you.” Leighton said putting the car into gear “I’m going to work on getting close to Chris. Don’t be surprised if that entails me bullying you to achieve that result. I’m giving you fair warning. It won’t be personal but it’s necessary to get the guy to trust me.”
“Ok,” Garrett mumbled.
Samantha looked from one boy to the next “am I the only one here who doesn’t like this?”
“No,” came the simultaneous answer.
“Maybe we should ask our parents if they know the coach….”
“I did and dad’s never heard of him before,” Garrett said “that’s why he’s willing to let us do this but if the harassment continues or get’s worse he’ll have no choice but to get involved.”
“Good,” Samantha said as they stopped in front of her house “what about his wife?” she asked sticking her back into the car.
“Whose wife?” Micah asked confused.
Ignoring him Samantha continued “maybe it’s not the coach but his wife that Uncle Ian knows.”
“I’ll ask,” Garrett told her “anyone know who the coach’s wife is?” Silence greeted his question.
Once he was finished with his homework Garrett went upstairs. Laying on his bed tossing a ball into the air. He wondered how he could find out who the coach was married to. Could his dad know the guy’s wife? Did they have a thing at some point? He doubted that, his parents had been together forever.
He sat up mind still gnawing away on how he could find the answers he needed. How did someone find information about others? He could google it. Going downstairs to the family computer he sat for a moment before typing in the coach’s name. He had a stellar military record. He had been wounded in battle and was basically a hero. He didn’t seem like the kind of guy to be threatening a skinny thirteen year old kid for no reason.
The only really interesting tidbit he found was in his work history. He had been an athletics coach in the same military school that Kara attended. Could that be the connection they were looking for? Was all of this due to something Kara had done? It still didn’t make sense. Why would they want to hurt him for what she did? Was she blackmailing him? Was he sleeping with her? Shaking his head Garrett knew this was beyond his capability. What he needed was someone trained in the art of investigation.
Getting up he went upstairs to his room. He knew someone he could ask. “Uncle Jeff” he said into the phone as soon as it was answered.
“Hold on I’ll get him,” his cousin Patrick’s voice said “Dad the phone’s for you” he called in the background.
“Sorry I forgot I left my phone inside” his Uncle said as he picked of the phone.
“Uncle Jeff this is Garrett.”
“Hey how’s it going,” Jeff asked with a smile.
“Um….not so great,” Garrett told him ” I could really use some help.”
“Does your dad know you’re calling?” Jeff asked him his tone all business.
“No but he know’s I’ve been having some trouble,” Garrett outlined for him what had been happening.
After a long pause Jeff asked “so what is it you want me to do?”
“I was wondering if you could find out who the coach is married to. Maybe that’s the connection we’re looking for.”
“If I do this, what are you planning to do with the information?”
“I’m not sure,” Garrett told him “to be honest I don’t know if it’s even relevant. I guess I’m grasping at straws. I keep trying to find a reason why a decorated military officer would be out to get me. It doesn’t make sense. I mean I’m just a kid.”
“Ok I’ll do some checking.”
“Great thank you…”
“But I will be calling your dad…”
“Yeah ok,” Garrett sighed “I kind of figured you would.”
Jeff chuckled into the phone “kid you passed the test. If Ian didn’t know what was going on I’d have known it the second you tried to convince me not to talk to him.” He sighed “I’ll let you know what I find out. Give me a few days, alright?”
Garrett felt better once he ended the call with his Uncle. Jeff was the best detective in the Bridgeport Police Department. If there was anything to find he’d find it. Feeling encouraged for the first time since Kara appeared at his school six months before he felt the tension in his muscles loosening its grip.
Going downstairs he found his parents in the living room watching a movie. “Dad I need to tell you something.”
Ian picked up the remote and turned the TV off. “Did something happen at school today?”
“Uncle Matt called didn’t he?”
“He did,” Ian confirmed “Samantha told him about the coach hurting you…”
“She shouldn’t have told him…”
“Garrett we’re you’re parents” Celia interrupted “we need to know if someone is hurting you.”
“I know mom it’s just…” he hesitated looking away “I feel so weak and helpless when you fuss over me.”
Ian laughed “son I’m going to tell you something mother’s never stop fussing over you.”
“Does Grandma do the same thing to you?” Garrett asked curious.
“Yes she does. It’s how she shows she loves me. It does, I have to agree, make you feel weak and helpless.” Patting Celia’s hand Ian continued “your mother loves you, let her show it.”
“Ok but it’s really not much. Just some bruises…” He pulled his shirt collar down revealing the darkening bruises. Celia got up to look. Gently fingering the sensitive area listening as Garrett hissed in pain before removing her hand. “See just bruises.”
Celia nodded sitting down beside her husband “I don’t like it. An adult shouldn’t be able to put their hands on my child or any child for that matter. This needs to stop.”
“It will but we need to know why” Ian told her “Is this what you wanted to tell us?”
“Not exactly,” Garrett said sitting on the opposite couch “Samantha suggested that maybe it’s not the coach but his wife that’s the key to this mess.”
Ian and Celia looked at each other “I guess it’s possible but we don’t know who that might be.”
“Well I asked Uncle Jeff to find out,” Garrett told them “that’s what I wanted to tell you. I tried to google it but I couldn’t find any mention of a wife…”
“He could be divorced” Celia said.
“It’s possible but why take his anger out on me?” Garrett asked “it doesn’t make sense.” He got up to leave then stopped as a thought struck him “did you know that the coach also taught at Kara’s school?”
“No we didn’t know that,” Ian said standing up and going to his son “I appreciate you telling us. I’ll be in touch with Jeff too.”
Smiling Garrett gave him an impulsive hug “you sound just like him. Uncle Jeff said he’d be calling you too.” He turned and gave his mom a hug too “you’d think if I was going to hide something from you I’d ask someone who isn’t related. Everyone knows everything in this family. It’d be pointless to try to hide something.”
“We love you too Garrett,” Ian told said as he watched his go upstairs to his room.
Turning to her husband Celia asked “what are we going to do?”
“Exactly what we have been doing,” Ian told her “gathering information, building a case, informing the school. It’s not like we’re doing nothing.”
“Is that enough though?” Celia asked.
Pulling her close “I hope so…”
“I don’t want to hear I hope so. I hate feeling like I’m letting my son down. We’re letting a bunch of kids take control. We should be able to prevent out son from getting bullied.” She sniffed on his shoulder.
“I feel the same way but we can’t be at the school for every minute of the day. Those kids can. I’m glad his cousins are here and willing to help. I’m confident this will end soon. We just need to be patient.”
“And in the mean time our child suffers,” she cried.
There wasn’t much Ian could say that would be of any comfort. He didn’t like knowing his son was being bullied by his coach and team. Bullied like his little brother had been in school. His arms tightened around Celia, she remembered what happened to Matty back then. He didn’t want to see his son lying motionless on a hospital bed. Kissing Celia’s forehead he stepped back “I have a call to make to Mr Fernandez. He needs to know what happened today.”
Nodding she watched him go before crumpling to the floor. Why was this happening? Was she letting her son down? Were they doing enough? It felt like history was repeating itself and she didn’t know why?