“Ian this is Jeff,” the voice on the phone said.
Ian could hear in his cousins voice that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant let’s get caught up kind of call. “I have the feeling I’m not going to like what you’re going to tell me.”
Laughing somewhat self-consciously Jeff agreed. “Garrett asked me to look into his coach…”
“Yeah he told me,” Ian agreed wishing he could get his cousin to speed up and tell him the bad news.
Sighing Jeff paused letting the silence build to an uncomfortable level “it’s not good. He’s married to Beth…”
An image of a pretty young woman a few years older than himself. Long pink hair the same color as the boy on Garrett’s swim team. Why hadn’t he connected the dots before “Coach Yarbrough is Beth’s husband,” he didn’t question it just accepted it as fact.
“I’m afraid so” Jeff paused “Coach Yarbrough was the athletics coach at the military school that Kara attended.”
“I know Garrett told us,” Ian muttered mind still trying to figure out how all this connected to his son’s current problems. Surely if Beth had gotten married her obsession with him was a thing of the past. He couldn’t ignore how her husband and son seemed to have it out for his son. But why? Surely they wouldn’t help her with her delusions.
“I did some more digging,” Jeff continued “it didn’t sit well. I needed to know why a decorated upstanding military officer would suddenly develop an obsession with a thirteen year old kid. Why his son would become a bully when all his transcripts shows him as never having caused any trouble before.”
“What did you find out?” Ian asked growing tired of Jeff’s hedging around.
“Kara,” he said into the phone taking Ian’s breath away.
It was … expected. Ian wanted to deny the possibility but he couldn’t. He had suspected Kara being involved all along. It was too much of a coincidence otherwise. “She met her Aunt while she was away at school” He sighed. It made so much sense now. The reason why she didn’t want to come home for holidays or for summer vacation. Always begging to stay with friends. He knew now he should have questioned it more. At the time he was just happy she seemed to be adjusting to her new circumstances. Instead Beth was filling her head with all kinds of things.
“You guessed it,” Jeff rustled through some papers before continuing “It seems that after the first year Kara lived with them instead of on campus…”
“What!” Ian exclaimed “I paid for housing and…”
“I know. We can make a case for fraud and I presume you didn’t give permission for Kara to live with them.”
“No I absolutely did not,” Ian could feel his anger rising and the recriminations as well. He should have known something was wrong. Should have been more alert. Should have been able to prevent this.
“This isn’t your fault,” Jeff told him.
Ian snorted in derision “if it’s not my fault then whose? I’m her dad I should have known.”
“How?” Jeff asked ever the voice of reason “You had no reason to question her where abouts. The school kept sending you bills for her housing. How were you to know she wasn’t where she was supposed to be?”
“I know but I feel so damned responsible,” Ian said into the phone.
“I know. I’d feel the same if I were you,” Jeff commiserated with him. “I am starting legal proceedings against both the coach and Beth. I can’t let it go now that I uncovered the fraud.”
“Ok thanks for letting me know,” Ian felt things were slipping from his control. “I’ll need to advise the school of what’s happening.”
“Ian there’s something else I need to make you aware of,” just by Jeff’s tone Ian knew it was going to be bad. “Kara left an old diary behind in her old room. It’s disturbing at the least.”
“You’re hedging again” Ian told him irritated.
“Sorry” Jeff muttered “Kara, to put it bluntly is obsessed with you.”
“With me?” Ian stammered in shock “I’m her father that’s just…”
“I know but she’s written several times of how much she hates having to share your attention with her siblings and mom. She wrote over and over how she wished they’d all die.” He sighed letting the shock sink in “I’ll read an excerpt from her diary.”
“Mommy was sitting in my spot beside daddy this evening. I wanted to shout at her to move instead I consoled myself with images of wrapping my fingers around her neck, squeezing until she choked and her eyes popped out. That’s my seat. I sit next to daddy. He’s mine. Mine. Mine. One day they will all be gone. I’ll be the only one left. They’ll be dead and I’ll remain to be daddy’s one and only.”
Chills ran through Ian as he listened to the sinister words so reminiscent to the threat she had made six months before at Garrett’s birthday party. “Oh god,” he muttered as he stared unseeing out the window.
“You need to know that your family is in a lot of danger,” Jeff told him “I had my department criminologist read the entire diary and Kara is exhibiting classic symptoms of being an obsessive personality. Don’t take any threats from her lightly.”
“We haven’t,” Ian said telling him about what happened at Garrett’s party.
“Right now we don’t have anything to arrest her for. The only thing we’ll be able to do is take away her accomplices.” Jeff told him “be aware that once we arrest them the son may lash out at the nearest target.”
“My son,” Ian said his tone flat.
“I’m afraid so,” Jeff said “be careful.”
“It’s your fault,” a low angry voice said coming along side him as Garrett prepared for his dive.
Eyeing the pink haired boy “don’t blame me that your parents got arrested “it’s their own stupid fault.”
The boy looked down cheeks burning “I’m in a foster home…”
“I’m sorry,” Garrett said not sure what response they boy was seeking. He didn’t want to feel sorry for him but he did. He wanted to hold onto his anger but he couldn’t. “Can’t we put this behind us?”
“I’d like to,” Chris said taking Garrett’s hand “I…”
“Garrett you’re up,” the substitute coach said slapping him on the back.
“Wait I don’t think you should…” Chris called trying to get Garrett’s attention.
Garrett climbed the ladder stopping half way up to catch his breath. Looking down his vision blurred. Closing his eyes he waited for the vertigo to pass. Making it to the top his chest felt heavy and he was fighting for every breath he took. He made unsteady progress to the edge of the diving podium. He meant to line up his dive. He had practiced it hundreds of times. He fell like an anchor from a ship. Not even the fall could take his breath away. He was already not breathing by the time his body plummeted into the depths of the pool.
Ian was running down the bleachers before his son’s body hit the water. Celia wasn’t far behind. A boy with pink hair come running up to him “I didn’t know. I didn’t know,” he blubbered.
Grabbing the boys slim shoulders Ian demanded “you didn’t know what?”
“She told me to switch water bottles. She said it would slow him down. I didn’t know…”
“Slow down and tell me what you did” Ian demanded pulling the boy aside. Celia hardly noticed as she ran past in her urgent desire to get to her baby boy.
“Kara didn’t say anything about hurting him. Just slow him down. I was so angry I didn’t think… I’m sorry,” he turned pleading eyes towards Ian “what do I do?”
“Can you get the bottle? We’ll need that to know what she gave him” Ian told him hoping that there was enough left of whatever Kara had put into his son’s drink to analyze.
“I’ll get it. Kara told me to collect it before anyone else did.”
While he waited for the boy to return Ian looked across the pool where someone was performing CPR. It felt like someone was squeezing his heart. He put a hand to his chest to ease the strain. “Sir here it is,” the boy handed him a bottle of water about 3/4’s empty. “Will he be alright?” he asked staring across the pool.
Tearing his eyes from the horrifying scene he turned a grim face towards the boy “I hope so” he waved the bottle “this might help.”
“What about me?” the boy asked “I deserve to be in jail for what I did.”
“Chris I don’t mean to sound harsh but right now all I care about is saving my son’s life. I hope you never do anything like this again. If you see Kara again either run or call the police.”
“Understood sir,” Chris said stepping back and melting into the crowd.
Ian joined the paramedics “how is he?”
“Breathing. Shallow but breathing” one of the paramedics said “we had to intubate him to keep his airway from collapsing. Was he on any drugs?”
Ian held up the water bottle “I was told someone put something in his water to slow him down.”
The paramedic took it from him “we’ll get it analyzed.”
They loaded him up into the ambulance when a tearful Celia tried to climb in with them. “Ma’am it would be best if you follow us to the hospital.”
Shaking her head she cried “no I’m coming with him. If he…if he…he needs me.”
They turned to Ian who nodded. They helped Celia into the ambulance then closed the doors. Ian watched the ambulance as it sped off lights and sirens blasting.
By the time Ian made it to the hospital he found Celia weeping in a waiting room chair. His heart dropped to his stomach upon seeing her. He couldn’t feel his feet as he approached her. Dread filled him as he feared finding out his son had slipped away while he wasted time talking to investigators. He should have called his dad to meet Celia at the hospital. At least she wouldn’t have been alone.
“Son” a familiar warm voice spoke from behind him.
“Dad I should have known you’d be here,” Ian said turning around to find himself facing his father holding several cups of coffee.
“We came as soon as Celia called,” Gene explained.
“Have you heard anything from doctors yet?” Ian asked following his dad into the waiting area.
“Not yet dear,” his mom’s voice startled him. He hadn’t recognized her. In his mind his parents were still vital individuals not these grayer, frailer versions they had become since the triplets had let for college.
Gene sat beside Aimee handing her a cup of steaming hot coffee “careful it’s hot.”
“I can see it’s hot,” she grumbled frowning at him.
Not for the first time Ian wondered if something was wrong. Before he could pursue that thought a man in a white coat approached them. “Mr Bennett?” he queried.
Ian stood up after a squeezing Celia’s hand “I’m Mr Bennett.”
“I’m Doctor Rodriguez. You’re son is in critical condition but stable. He’s breathing on his own.”
“I’m assuming you figured out what he ingested,” Ian inquired.
“Our lab did analyze it. It was an obscure poison that depresses breathing. It’s fast acting so your son would have had to of consumed a large quantity just minutes before his collapse.” The doctor looked up and around at the worried faces staring up at him. “He was extremely lucky that his lungs had ceased functioning before he hit the water. It kept him from ingesting large quantities of pool water. Thanks to that there’s very little concern that he’ll develop pneumonia.”
“What about oxygen deprivation?” Ian asked his firemen training kicking into gear.
The doctor spoke slowly “there is the possibility of brain damage. We won’t know to what extent until he wakes up.”
“Are you saying he’s in a coma?” Gene asked coming up along side Ian.
There was the tiniest shift in the doctor’s eyes as he glanced towards the older man before answering “yes. We’re confident that he’ll wake up in the next several hours though.”
“If he doesn’t?” Celia demanded.
“Let’s hope he does,” the doctor said in response.
Celia collapsed into Ian’s arms as they doctor walked away. Ian let his dad chase after the man while he comforted his wife. It felt surreal that this was happening all because of Kara. His beautiful little girl wanted to destroy everything he loved. She wanted to be the only one he had left so he’d have to lean upon her.
“Why is this happening? Why?” Celia cried wrapping her in his shirt straining the buttons.
“I…don’t know,” he hoped his hesitation didn’t register on her. He looked up in time to catch the concerned looked from his mom and knew she had noticed. Shaking his head he mouthed ‘not now’. Grimly Aimee turned towards Gene who was coming backing from talking with the doctor.
“We can see him. Two at a time” Gene pulled Aimee close before saying “why don’t you take Celia in first?”
Nodding Ian took a step before stopping “I haven’t called Katrina…”
“I’ll take care of,” Gene assured him.
“Hey Katrina” Garrett smiled from his bed holding his arms out to her.
“You goof ball,” she laughed as she stooped to give him a hug “you used to do that all the time when you were a baby and wanted my attention.”
“It still works too” he laughed as she gave him a hug and a playful punch on the shoulder. “Seriously though I’m glad your here. Your like the only who doesn’t treat me like I’m made of glass.”
“They love you Garrett,” she said sitting on the edge of the bed beside him.
“I know but I’m alright,” he protested.
“Give them time,” she advised “you did almost die.”
“Correction I did die,” he gave her a lopsided grin “remember not breathing and all that jazz.”
“How could I forget baby bro?” she reached over and ruffled his hair “don’t ever do that again.”
“I won’t if I have a choice,” he told her. He looked down picking at his blanket “if I don’t joke about it I’ll go crazy thinking about it. Have they caught her yet?”
Taking his hand Katrina shook her head “I’m not supposed to tell you anything about what’s going on…”
“I’m not a baby or made of glass,” Garrett rolled his eyes “I need to know what’s going on.”
Sighing Katrina nodded in response “they don’t want you worrying.”
“I will anyway whether I know what’s happening or not,” he grumbled looking up as his bedroom door opened and their dad walked in.
Ian sat opposite Katrina on the bed “It was a concession I made with your mom. She didn’t want you to know anything until you were better. But I think it’s time you know though.”
Katrina listened for a moment “dad why is she doing this to us? Why does she hate us so much?”
“Me” Ian told her “that’s the short answer. It’s a lot more complicated then that. Jeff found an old diary that Kara wrote when she was little. She’s developed an obsession with being my only child.”
“Which means she wants to see us dead,” Garrett didn’t bother to keep his anger and bitterness from his voice.
“And making you suffer in the process,” Katrina added taking her dad’s hand.
“I’m afraid so,” Ian sighed he hated feeling he put his children in danger by just being their dad “she’s obsessed with the idea. Which makes her extremely unstable and dangerous.” He looked up sadness in his eyes “I’m sorry you two are in danger because of me.”
“It’s not your fault,” Garrett and Katrina were quick to say. Garrett continued “I don’t understand why though. She’s not even your biological child. Why is she obsessed with being your only child?”
“I wish I knew but I have a feeling it may have something to do with the time she spent alone with John when she was little or it could be hereditary. Both Beth and John are obsessive personalities. Regardless Kara needs help…”
“I hope she goes to prison,” Katrina said harshly.
“You’re entitled to your opinion” Ian told her “I just want to keep you and your mom safe. I’m thinking about hiring body guards…”
“Dad no,” Garrett protested and Katrina nodded her head in agreement.
Ian smiled at them “I knew you’d feel that way but I want you to be safe. I can’t bear the thought of either of you or your mother getting hurt because of me.” Ian stood up and walked towards the door “think about it and if you have any ideas I’m willing to consider them.”
After her dad left the room Katrina said “I don’t like this.”
“Neither do I,” Garrett agreed turning to her “I think dad is wanting to set himself up in the hope that Kara will come after him.”
Nodding “yeah I got that feeling too.”