Ian shivered as he watched his son plunge into the depths of the pool. He felt Celia wrap her hands around his arm and lean into him. She of all people understood his fear. An occupational hazard before Garrett was born. During the days while he was still a fireman. It was a warehouse fire raging out of control. An explosion sent several men flying. He landed in an elevator shaft that was filling with water rapidly. His heavy gear was dragging him under. He still remembered the desperation he felt as his face was dragged under the water as his boots filled with water making it impossible to surface. He had barely enough air in his lungs to rid himself of his water-logged boots and heavy fireproof coat. He could still recall how his lungs burned and how he had to fight the urge to breathe in lungful of water. When he had shred the last remnants of his gear and kicked himself to the surface he could have wept with relief as he gulped in air.
Visibly shaking his head Ian eyed the pool holding his breath until Garrett’s head broke the surface. He released his pent-up breath turning to Celia “I never realized until this moment what my dad went through each time I went out on call. He must have worried the entire time I was out.”
“I know” she kissed his cheek “he didn’t want his fears holding you back from what you wanted to do.”
Nodding Ian watched the score board proud of his son. “Which is why I’ve never told Garrett about my fear of water. I don’t want that to dampen his enjoyment.”
“You do know that it’s more than a sport to him,” she asked turning worried eyes upon him.
Nodding “he told me he signed up for the junior search and rescue squad for the summer,” Ian acknowledged dreading the thought that one day his son would be called out to rescue some hapless person caught out on the ocean in the middle of a storm or hurricane.
Celia smiled wanting to encourage him “he’s only sixteen. He won’t be sent out on any dangerous rescues yet. Probably be assigned life guard duty at the pool.”
“I know. It’s the future that worries me,” Ian said trying to smile “our son know’s what he wants to do. He’ll be out there risking his life sooner than we like.”
Katrina lay curled into a ball facing the wall. It had been a year since the accident. A year since August walked out of her life without a word or a note as to why he left. Tears trickled down her nose as she recalled the hollow feeling she had as she walked into the house she had shared with August. Everything was exactly the way she had left it that far away day. His clothes were still in the closet and the dresser. His wallet was still on the nightstand. Why had he left without taking anything; especially his wallet? She kept expecting him to come back. To throw open the door and pick her up his strong arms and kiss her the way that would leave her breathless.
Wiping a her eyes she glanced at the calendar. They should have been planning their first anniversary celebration. Instead she was mourning him. Where was he? Why had he left? She bit down on her hand to keep from crying out. The last thing she was to alert her parents that she was crying again. They meant well but their worried concerned faces only made her feel worse. At those times she regretted selling her house and moving back home. Most of the time she was grateful they were here for her. She couldn’t have lived in that house where August and her had planned to remodel it so they could raise the family they planned on having.
It was all a pointless pipe dream. She wasn’t married. She didn’t know where he was. Being surrounded by people who loved each other only emphasized what she was missing. Nothing could assuage the pain she felt. The emptiness she felt each night without him by her side. Nights were the worst part of the day. The time she let the tears flow.
The tiny cry from the nearby crib had her dragging herself to her feet. “It’s alright. Mama’s here” she cooed to the small four-month old baby. A daily reminder of the void August left in her life.
Garrett was standing at attention while the captain instructed them on the best procedure to handle multiple rescues at once. Garrett wondered if he’d be able to make the decision that might potentially cost someone their life. Would he be able to choose one person over another to rescue? While he meditated on that questions the door opened and a cadet with pink hair walked in followed by several others.
Garrett’s eyes followed the pink haired cadet barely suppressing the groan of dismay he felt building within him as he recognized his arch nemesis from school. Chris had graduated a couple of years ago and Garrett had wondered what happened to him. Now he guessed he had his answer. Chris had joined the coast guard. Garrett’s dismay grew even more as he realized that Chris was among the cadets chosen to mentor them in their training.
“Bennett” the pink haired male’s gruff unfriendly voice called him. Garrett nodded not trusting his voice to not give away his apprehension. Of all the luck his coach would be the one he most wanted to avoid. Silently he debated on the pros and cons of requesting a reassignment but ultimately he dropped the idea realizing if he pursued this as his career he would have to work with Chris eventually. He would have to trust the guy to have his back. He may as well start now.
Once the class was done Garrett gathered his things from his locker. He cringed when he heard Chris all his name. Slowly he turned to face the older boy “sir?” his voice a question wondering if he was about to treated to a resumption of abuse he had endured in school.
“Come with me” Chris commanded turning and leaving the locker room.
Cheeks flaming red as the others in his class laughed at him for being in trouble already. He ignored their comments best he could as he left the locker room. He found Chris waiting for him near the exit door. As soon as he approached Chris motioned for him to go through the door ahead of him. Sighing Garrett did as he was told. Once they were outside he expected some kind of physical altercation. He looked up and met the other boy’s eyes. He expected to find them cold full of disdain instead he found worry and a hint of fear in them.
“Bennett…I mean Garrett,” he swallowed breathing hard “I wanted to apologize for my actions in the past. I hope that we can put it in the past so that we can work together.”
Garrett stared at the hand Chris extended out to him. Looking up Garrett noted the look of uncertainty upon the other’s face. There was a look of sincerity in his eyes that had never been there before. Garrett knew that Chris was as much of a victim of Kara’s manipulations as he had been. It didn’t make up for the things Chris did in the past but it did help him not to view him as a hard-hearted monster. Garrett took the extended hand and shook it. “I’d like that.”
A genuine smile spread across the boys face full of relief. “I was afraid you’d still be holding a grudge against me. I wanted you to know that I wouldn’t be resuming anything with you. It’s all in the past and I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Garrett told him “it’s not your fault. You believed what Kara told you.”
Nodding Chris had a far away haunted look on his face as he thought about the past. “I should have known she was lying. You didn’t act anything like how she described you.” His hands curled into fist “I hate her. Thanks to her my family fell apart. My parents are in jail. Dad really believed she was a victim of abuse. The things she said your parents did to her…”
“I suppose your mom just went along with it because…”
“She wanted to revenge on your dad for jilting her or something,” Chris shrugged “it doesn’t make sense to me now. I thought she loved my dad but the way she talked about your dad you would have thought he was the love of her life. I hated you for that.” He glanced behind him as the door opened and several people walked past on their way to the parking lot. “Your dad was really nice to me after what happened. He helped me get accepted into the military school my dad attended. He even paid for it too otherwise I would never have been able to afford it.”
“It sounds like something my dad would do,” Garrett smiled “My dad did everything he could to help Kara. It breaks his heart that she’s doing all of this to us.”
“She really hates your family” Chris stopped thinking “you should take any threats she makes seriously. She’s dangerous.”
“We know and we do but she still finds a way around our best defenses.” Garrett thought of what happened to Katrina. Her accident could very well have been fatal. A small part of him wondered if she was responsible for August’s disappearance too.
“Mom,” Katrina called out before the older woman could leave the room.
Turning Celia waited for her daughter to continue. Twenty-one years old and it seemed like yesterday Celia was a scared sixteen year old teen girl telling her boyfriend she was pregnant. Seventeen years old by the time Katrina was born. Celia couldn’t help but wonder how much of her daughters current problems were the result of the poor decisions she had made so long ago. If she hadn’t gotten scared, broke up with Ian and gotten involved with John. Kara would never have been born. None of the terrible things she had done to them would have happened. It took all Celia had in her to meet her daughter’s eyes.
“Mom” Katrina wrung her hands “will it ever get better?” She tried not to give into the desire to cry but as soon as the words came out she burst into tears “I’m sorry. You must be so tired of hearing me cry. I keep expecting things to change. To get better. It never does. I don’t know what to do.”
Celia moved and gathered her daughter into her arms. She wished Ian was there. He’d know what to do. What to say. She wasn’t good with dealing with emotions. Her first instinct had always been to run. When she was younger she had been able to put up a brave front and appear like things didn’t bother her. Inside she still wanted to run. Even now holding her daughter she wanted to run. She wouldn’t give in to that desire. She refused to abandon her daughter. She had done to much of that already.
“Why did he leave?” Katrina cried “why wasn’t I good enough for him to stay? I loved him so much and he just left. Left me with nothing but this void in my heart. I’m falling apart and I don’t know how to put myself together again.”
“I know sweet pea, I know,” Celia soothed letting the girl ramble. She sensed that Katrina needed talk to get out all the pointless thoughts and emotions rolling around inside her head. Celia wished there was something more she could do. Something concrete like hunt down the boy her broke her daughter like no one else could. She wanted nothing more than to ask the boy why he left. Why he abandoned her and his unborn child. Celia knew as she condemned him she was guilty of doing something similar to Ian and Katrina in the past. Maybe this was retribution for her past mistakes. She started all of this madness. If only she had never met John none of this would be happening now. Everything was her fault. She squeezed Katrina tighter murmuring “I’m so so sorry.”
Sniffling Katrina looked up “for what?” she asked temporarily distracted from her own pain.
Celia looked into her daughter’s sad brown eyes. “I’m sorry that this happened to you. If I could go back in time and change things I would.”
“I know mom,” she looked over the crib where here baby slept peacefully unaware “I just don’t understand why he left. If I only had some answers. A reason why. I know this would all make sense. August loved me…I know he did.” She shrugged “then all the doubts seep in and I’m left wondering what I did wrong to make him want to leave. It’s a never-ending carousel.” She wiped her eyes moving towards the baby “it’s time I pull myself together. Accept I may never know why.” Picking up the baby she continued “I was given a gift. I need to put this behind me. Not for me but for her.”
Celia watched Katrina in stunned silence. Her daughter was so much stronger than she ever was. Even now Celia wouldn’t know what to do if Ian left her. “I’m so proud of you” she said causing Katrina to smile sadly at her.
Aimee clutched Gene’s hand. Looking down at her hand where it clutched his he asked “is something wrong?” He sat up attentive to her needs “are you in pain? Do you need help?”
“Shush” she commended not bothering to hide her irritation. She raised her hand and pointed towards a figure of a young man rummaging through the trash cans. “Is that….”
Frowning Gene peered intently at the boy who had caught Aimee’s attention. There was something familiar about him “it can’t be…”
“I think it is” Aimee turned to look at her husband “my eyes may not be what they used to be but I’d recognize that boy anywhere.”
Nodding Gene stood up “I’m going to have a little chat with…”
Tugging on his hand Aimee turned a pleading look on him “don’t start a fight.”
“I won’t” he grumbled. He hated to admit it but his fighting days were over. Sixty-nine years old seventy looming on the horizon. He was old, obsolete. He never expected to live this long or have the kids he had. He had done the best he could. He hoped it was good enough.
As he neared the young man rummaging through the garbage he could tell his clothes had seen better days. His normally short hair was long and straggly. He appeared to be thinner and he looked like he may be ill. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes he wouldn’t believe this was the same kid who had been engaged to his granddaughter. “August?”
The boy looked up frightened, ready to run. His mouth moved but no sound came out. He stared at Gene as if he were seeing a ghost.
“August” Gene repeated unsure if the boy could hear him or not.
“Mr Bennett” he stammered “where? How?” his eyes darted around fear etched on his face.
“Calm down” Gene commanded taking the boy’s arm and dragging him toward a bench.
“What are you doing here?”
“I” he licked his parched lips “I have to go,” he tried to stand up but stumbled and fell to his knees in the loose sand.
Moving quickly for a man of his age Gene helped the younger man up “are you alright?”
Shaking August let the older man help him up. He leaned over holding his head in his hands he muttered “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Gene appraised the boy in front of him “you feel warm.” He removed his hand from the boy’s forehead adding “I’m taking you home.”
“I’m fine” August repeated jerking away from Gene as he stooped to help him up “I don’t need your help.”
Gene glowered down at the boy “where do you live?” he asked as if the boy hadn’t even spoken.
August’s eyes shifted toward a make shift shelter “I don’t need your help” he mumbled.
“Son” Gene put a restraining hand on the boy’s shoulder “if that hovel is your home I can’t let you go. You need help whether you want it or not.” He looked up to see Aimee making her slow progress towards them “if your worried about seeing Katrina don’t worry she’s not here.”
A moan escaped August’s lips at the mention of her name “she must hate me.”
“With reason. You owe her an explanation,” Gene squeezed the boy’s arm eliciting a hiss of pain “she loved you and you left her less than a month before you were to be married. Left her lying in a hospital bed alone and scared. She needed you and you left.”
“I know” he muttered “I had no choice.” He stared at the ground unable to meet Gene’s eyes.
Gene mused over what the boy said “what do you mean you had no choice?” A shrug of the shoulders was the only response he received.
“I knew it was him” Aimee said when she came along side them “why did you leave?” she demanded “that girl loved you.”
“Aimee” Gene interrupted her “he isn’t well.” Her expression clearly showed she didn’t care what condition August was in. “He’s coming home with us” he paused thinking “when he’s better he has a lot of questions to answer.” He gave the boy a pointed look that showed he meant what he said.
Lacking the energy or will to disagree August nodded acceptance. The year of living on the streets had taken a lot out of him. He had hoped coming all the way out to Sunlit Tides would be far enough away from the family he wanted to avoid but it seemed the Bennett’s were everywhere.