Tag Archive | August Marlow

Garrett – Chapter 15 – Past and Future Collide

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Dropping the box by his feet Garrett stretched his tired muscles. It had taken two years to make the move from Starlight Shores to Aurora Skies. If it had been up to him he would have left as soon as the funeral was over. Looking down he found the top of one of the boxes had come open. He reached inside pulling out the framed picture that caught his eye. Tears pricked his eyes as he examined the smiling couple in the photo.

Coming up behind him Verity wrapped her arms around him. “They’d be so proud of you” she said leaning her head on his back.

“I miss them so much,” he sniffed trying to keep the tears at bay. Taking a deep breath he asked “where did you get this?” He had thought everything they had, all the mementos, pictures had been destroyed in the bomb.

“Your grandparent let me copy a few of their pictures,” she explained “I thought it would be a nice surprise.” Kissing the back of his neck she released him “if it hurts too much to have them displayed in the house we can put them in an album or something.”

“No I want them,” his voice a half strangled sob “thank you for this. I thought everything had been destroyed.”

Putting her hand over his heart “not everything. You’re still here.”

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He gave her a crooked grin “thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Eat a whole lot worse,” she giggled as she pulled away from him to start unpacking boxes.

“I’ll have you know I make a mean mac and cheese,” he retorted bending to open a box.

“If you like it charred on the bottom,” she said ducking the pillow he threw at her.

“That only happened once,” he ducked as she tossed the pillow back at him “as I recall you distracted me.”

Crawling over to him she pushed him to the floor “how did I distract you? Aren’t you supposed to have superb focus to rescue people?”

“So far none of the people I’ve had to rescue from near death have had your luscious lips,” he pulled her down on top of him rolling her over on the floor.

Gazing into his eyes she ran her tongue along her bottom lip, “does that mean you’d be distracted if they had my lips?”

“Never,” he brushed his lips across hers “no one would ever compare to you.”

She ran her hand up his back, into his hair pulling his head down to capture his mouth with hers. Breathing hard she pulled away gasping “that better be the way it is for always.”

Running his hand down her side to her bare midriff “you’re mine now and for always.”

“Good,” she smiled at him as her hands worked on his belt “I can handle that.”

***

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Sometime later they lay in each other’s arms among half-open boxes. Garrett mumbled “will you marry me?”

Her hands stilled their lazy meandering along his dark toned chest. The word she wanted to shout out loud stuck in her throat. She brought her lips to his soft skin kissing a trail across his chest. She heard him moan deep inside as his arms tightened around her.

“Are you trying to distract me?” he asked sitting up “I thought that’s what we both wanted.”

“It is. I do. It’s just,” she ran her hands through her hair.

“What is it?” he asked “we’ve lived together for the past two years. It can’t be my age. I may be younger than you but I am still an adult.”

Pulling her knees to her chest she shook her head “it’s not that.”

“Then what is it?” he demanded reaching out for her.

She shrunk from his touch knowing she was about to hurt him worse than she already had. “I…” she opened her mouth but couldn’t say what she knew would shatter them both.

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Dropping his hands to his side he slowly nodded. Without saying a word he pulled his pants on, slipping his feet into shoes. Moving towards the door he said “you need to let it go.”

She jumped when the door slammed shut as Garrett left the house. She knew he was right. She had to let it go. She couldn’t continue to blame herself for Ian’s death. She messed up she knew that. Did she need to continue to punish herself for it? How many times had Garrett told her he didn’t blame her? Leaning her head in her hands he had told her so many times that she had lost count.

She loved him. Didn’t want to live without him. Then why couldn’t she say yes when he asked her to marry him? What was holding her back? What was she waiting for? Kara was gone. At least for now. As much as she wanted to believe Kara wasn’t lurking somewhere on the periphery of their lives she couldn’t let it go. She wanted to hunt her down. Make her pay for what she’s done.

That in a nut shell was why she couldn’t let it go. Her sense of justice needed her to search for answers. She couldn’t let Kara think she had gotten away with her crimes. Her eyes strayed to the unopened box she had stored her research. Now while Garrett was out she could store its contents inside her file cabinets. Not that she was concerned Garrett would snoop inside her things, he knew she took her job as a detective seriously. She didn’t want to risk him finding out she was still searching for her. Somewhere she knew Kara had left a clue and she was going to find it. When she did Kara wouldn’t get away again.

***

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Several weeks passed and neither one mentioned the aborted proposal. Garrett would get up early, go to work and barring emergencies he would come home early after lunch. He would walk into the small house he shared with Verity, change clothes and go for a run. One day as he passed by the bathroom door he stopped in concern. Standing outside the door he thought he heard something “Verity are you alright?” He waited for a response. When nothing happened he opened the door to find her draped across the toilet. Kneeling beside her he repeated “are you alright?”

Glancing up she moaned, her eyes glazed over in misery. Her mouth moved to reply only to be aborted by the need to throw up. When she was done she let him pull her into his arms “I feel awful,” she mumbled into his shoulder.

Stroking her silky red hair “you’ve been sick a lot lately,” he recalled times when she had gotten up in the middle of the night or left the table in the middle of eating. “I’m sorry” as air escaped his lungs leaving him feeling somewhat hollow. He should have known she wasn’t well.

“It’s not your fault” she assured him “well not completely.” She tried to smile up at him ignoring her upset stomach and spinning head.

“What do you mean by that?” he asked looking deep into her eyes.

“Well” she bit her lip “I went to see the doctor.” She looked into his concerned eyes “I’m pregnant.”

“What? Really?” he gasped putting a hand over her stomach “how? I mean we’ve been careful and we haven’t had…” His voice faded away remembering their first day here among the boxes…

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She watched him carefully as his smile faded and his eyes became clouded “we weren’t as careful as we should have been that time.”

“How long have you known?” he asked his voice hoarse.

Scooting out of his arms saying “about a week.” Tracing the grout lines on the floor she added “you don’t have to marry me just because of the baby.”

“Damn it Verity,” he slammed his fist into the floor “I’ve been asking you to marry me for months. Now you imply I’d only marry you because of the baby?” He got to his feet and stalked from the room.

“Garrett please,” she entreated following him into the living room “I’m sorry I…”

He stood staring at her work area tugging on a locked file cabinet. “It’s because of her isn’t?” he asked as she came up alongside him. Yanking on the drawer as her silence confirmed his suspicions.

Reaching out she put a restraining hand over his “I’m sorry.” She bit her lip as he turned towards her “it’s my fault they’re dead. How can I marry you when I feel so guilty?”

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“How many times do I have to tell you it was a mistake?” he asked reaching his hand out to caress her face “my parents deaths were not your fault.”

“I know you say that,” she looked away gulping for air “but how can you look at me and not see the person responsible?”

Gently he ran his thumbs across her cheeks wiping her tears away “the person responsible isn’t in this room. Kara is the only person I blame for what happened. It wasn’t your fault. You made a mistake. I’m going to keep telling you that until you believe me.”

“I wish it were that easy” she mumbled her eyes searching his “I want to believe you. My heart keeps condemning me. I keep replaying that night over and over in my head. I see all the things I should have done.”

“Let it go,” he pleaded kissing her forehead “dad wouldn’t want you doing this to yourself. He’d be the first one to say people make mistakes. He loved mom despite all the mistakes she made. Don’t you think she blamed herself for how Kara turned out? Dad wouldn’t let her get lost in the blame game and neither will I. I love you mistakes and all. None of us are perfect…”

“You’re pretty close to perfect,” she ran her fingers through his hair “you keep putting up with me and my mistakes.”

“What mistakes?” he asked with a smirk trying to lighten the mood.

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“Besides what we’ve been discussing?” She pursed her lips “one I can think of is me telling you no” her eyes shimmered with moisture “Garrett Jefferson Bennett will you do me the honor of being my husband?”

“I’m supposed to ask you that” he protested as a grin took over his face.

“What?” she asked knitting her brows together “don’t tell me you wanted me to be your husband!”

“No silly. My wife” he leaned forward pressing his lips to hers “I want you to be my wife,” he murmured against them.

“Mrs Bennett,” she mumbled embracing him “I like the sound of that.”

“Name the date, any date and I’ll tell the family,” he told her growing excitement enlivening his voice.

“Today” she joked “it has to be fairly soon. I don’t want to be as big as a house when we say I do.”

***

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Four weeks later Gene and Aimee stood on an empty lot overlooking the ocean. Slipping her hand in his Aimee spoke softly “we don’t have to do this.”

“I know,” his voice was hoarse and shaky as his mind transported him back in time. He squeezed her hand “it’s been almost sixty years since the fire and I’ve never been back.” He pointed towards an empty pool that marked where the house once stood. “The house was there. I used to love to torment my brothers; especially Casey, he’d get so mad.” A sad pensive smile spread across his face.

Aimee shivered in the cool breeze coming in off the ocean. It was an eerie desolate place, almost as if the land still mourned the family who once lived here. “It wasn’t your fault,” she murmured turning to him stroking his weathered face “the fire wasn’t your fault.”

Looking out across the empty expanse when he spoke it was like he hadn’t heard a word she said “I wonder why no one ever built on this lot?”

“Would it make a difference if they had?” she asked trying to divert his attention to her face. Her pink eyes reflecting his melancholia as the depressive mournful tone of the place swept through her.

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“I don’t know” he mumbled “maybe it would have helped to close this chapter in my life.” He shivered as he wrapped his arms around her “I’ve tried so hard to become a better person…”

Hugging him tight despite the pain jolting through her joints “you’re the best most wonderful man I know. You’ve saved me in more than one way. We all make mistakes. Don’t look back and compare who you are with what you were. It wouldn’t be fair to the thirteen year old boy you were or the man you are now.”

Snorting he moved so that he could kiss her lips “I love you.” He had said those three little words a million times before. Each time he said them it felt like the first time.

“I love you too” she kissed him back “come on” tugging on his hand “we need to get back. You have a bride to give away.”

Smiling Gene let his gaze sweep across the yard long ago memories crashing over him. The wind seemed to carry their voices to him, calling to him. Sydney, Robert, his parents were all gone. He could feel the sands of time running out as they beckoned him to join them. Shaking his head he turned to follow Aimee to the car. The only voice he hadn’t heard was Ian’s and that hurt more than the rest.

***

Garrett stood beside August gazing down the aisle while his sister tried to smile reassuringly from the other side of the wedding arch. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He had dreamed about this day for two years. Now it was a reality. It could only be better if his parents were there to share his happiness with him. He doubted he’d ever stop missing them. Wherever they were he knew they’d be happy for him.

He felt August grip his shoulder as the music changed and Verity came into view. He smiled as he watched her walk arm in arm with his grandfather. His eyes misted over as he realized the depth of his love for this beautiful woman walking towards him.

Gene leaned in close kissing her cheek “are you reading for this?”

Nodding she gave him a tearful smile “it’s been years since I lost my parents.” She blinked back tears “I miss them today more than ever.”

Wrapping her arm around his he patted her hand “it’s only to be expected. It’s every girls dream to be walked down the aisle by her father.” He looked down the aisle where his grandson was waiting for them “you have someone very special waiting for you.”

“I know,” she said leaning up to kiss his cheek “I have someone just as special standing beside me. You and Aimee are always welcome.”

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“Thank you” Gene straightened to his full height “if you or Garrett ever need anything don’t hesitate to ask. Aimee and I will always come and help.”

“Good,” she said reaching over to fix the flower in his lapel “you’ll need to be here when the baby is born.”

“You’re pregnant?” he asked his dark eyes coming to life with a mischievous gleam.

Nodding she squeezed his arm “you’re the first person I’ve told other than Garrett.”

“We’ll be here” he told her clearing his throat “now let’s get you married.” He walked her down the aisle a genuine smile upon his face. He looked towards Aimee and winked as he made his way to her side. She leaned her head on his shoulder as he sat beside her whispering “I love you.”

Garrett missed the scene between his grandparents having eyes only for Verity as he took her hand and turned toward the minister. He couldn’t believe this beautiful woman was about to become his wife, future mother of his children. His lips repeated the vows the minister recited. His fingers trembled as he held the ring slipping it around her finger.

Verity smiled up into Garrett’s clear blue eyes. She mouthed three little words “I love you” as he finished saying his vows. They both agreed to go with the traditional vows instead of writing their own. They had so much to accomplish in the few weeks they allowed to organize their wedding. She barely knew what she was saying and yet she knew she meant every word she said. She loved this man with everything she had.

***

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As the ceremony came to a close a couple towards the back got up and hurried towards the exit. The man bent and left a wrapped package on the gift table. The woman took his hand squeezing tight as they turned to leave. At the door they stopped taking one last look of the happy couple sharing their first kiss as husband and wife. A brief secretive smile passed between them as they linked hands firm in the knowledge the couple was safe and happy.

Sometime later as Garrett and Verity sat in their living room surrounded by their closest family members they opened their wedding presents. Garrett grabbed the unmarked package that was left by the mystery couple.

Turning it over he frowned “this one doesn’t have a card.” Looking up he asked “is there a loose card anywhere?”

Everyone looked shaking their heads “maybe it’s on the inside” Verity suggested.

Garrett reached for the package, stuck his thumbs under the wrapping paper ready to tear into it. Verity put a restraining hand on his “maybe we should have it checked first.”

“You don’t think…” he began than stopped reading the answer in her eyes.

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“Better safe than sorry” Gene told them reaching for the box “Jeff do you think you could have someone check it out for us?”

Hesitating a moment Jeff shook his head “that won’t be necessary.”

Gene frowned ready to argue “I want that scanned before the kids open it.”

“Trust me it’s safe,” Jeff repeated his voice low and confident “go ahead and open it.”

Looking from his Uncle to his grandfather Garrett hesitated for only a second before taking the package from Gene’s hands. “Did dad tell you to do this before he died?” he asked looking over at his Uncle.

Jeff simply nodded somewhat relieved at the explanation that Garrett came up with on his own. He was rewarded with a huge grin as Garrett pulled out first class all expenses paid tickets to France for him and Verity. “Your dad wanted you to have a honeymoon,” Jeff explained “it’s something he and Celia never had.”

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“Thank you Uncle Jeff” Garrett muttered “dad would have appreciated you fulfilling his wish for us.”

Nodding Jeff added “they’re open-ended so when your ready to go just call that number and you’ll be all set.”

Gene gave him a knowing look motioning for his nephew to follow him outside. As soon as they were alone he demanded “what’s the real story behind that package? I saw your face when we all thought it was Kara up to her old tricks.” He let his words hang for a moment before adding “you no more left that package than I did.”

Jeff squirmed under the older mans scrutiny “it’s exactly as Garrett said.”

“Bull” Gene spat forcefully “don’t forget I know your tells and I know you’re lying.”

Jeff looked away unable to maintain eye contact with his Uncle “it’s what Garrett said. Ian wanted them to have a honeymoon. I didn’t have to do this for Katrina because Ian was able to do it himself even though they weren’t married yet.”

“Liar,” Gene said “I don’t know exactly what or why but you are.” He gave the younger man an angry glare “I have a feeling I know what it is though.”

“Please whatever you think it is please keep it to yourself,” Jeff half turned towards the house “at least for the time being.”

“Alright,” Gene agreed with a knowing smile “you more or less confirmed my suspicions.”

“I know,” Jeff nodded “I was never very good at lying.”

“At least not to me,” Gene confirmed feeling more lighthearted than he had in a long time.

Wedding Album

 Chapter 14 – It’s Over / Chapter 16 – My Son

Garrett – Chapter 10 – Back to Square One

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Jeff looked up from his desk as someone came into his office. He smiled at the blue skinned girl as she sat down in a chair opposite his desk. She was young. She was good. He knew from experience she wouldn’t speak until spoken too. He wished more of his subordinates were like that. “What have you found?” he asked steepling his hands on his desk.

“Not much,” she admitted “she bought the materials used in the bomb from the local hardware store. It’s easy enough to do with instructions readily available on the internet.”

“Unfortunately” Jeff muttered. He glanced at the framed photo of his wife and kids on his desk. He longed to go home. Not until this case was closed though. He had to see it through to the bitter end. Jeff had resigned from the police force not long after losing his long time partner Zayne Thompson in the line of duty. Zayne had saved his life by sacrificing his own. He felt responsible and it only spurred him on to do his best in solving the most difficult cases. As a private investigator Jeff was free to travel and take on cases all over the country. In most cases he worked closely with the local police department while he ran things.

“This isn’t your fault,” Verity said interrupting his thoughts “you did everything you could to keep your cousin and his family safe.”

“Are you speaking to me or yourself?” Jeff asked with a half smile “you feel as responsible as I do. We failed.” He shoved the open files onto the floor watching the papers flutter to the floor.

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Verity flinched watching him as he lowered his head to the desk. His words hung in the air stinging as if she had been slapped. “You’re right,” she mumbled “I keep going over it and over it in my head. What could I have done differently? What did I miss?”

“And” he prompted watching her closely.

Shrugging she looked up, face drawn “I don’t know. Wherever it went wrong it wasn’t on our watch.”

Nodding he rubbed his chin “that’s my conclusion as well.” He hated to admit it but there was only one explanation. “Kara had an accomplice” he said leaning back in his chair.

“Would you like me to follow the other body guard?” Verity asked. She had come to the same conclusion he did. She wanted to find the traitor among them. She wanted to find Garrett’s parents. She wanted to bring them home. Dead or alive either was better then not knowing. She caught the curt nod Jeff gave her. She stood in one swift graceful movement like a tigress on the prowl.

Jeff’s eyes followed her from the room. A girl in a million. No wonder his nephew was so taken with her. He suspected she shared his feelings but was too professional to ever let it interfere with her job.

***

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Katrina sat beside Garrett’s bed holding his hand. It wasn’t fair she wanted scream it from the highest building in Starlight Shores. He should be up enjoying life. Graduating high school. Getting ready for college. He shouldn’t be lying motionless hooked up to machines.

She blinked back tears as someone walked into the room. She didn’t look up. Whoever it was was either a doctor or a nurse. She jumped when a hand came down on her shoulder. Glancing up she found August looking down at her. Jumping to her feet she threw her arms around him.

He held her sobbing, shaking body close to his. He mumbled inane words of comfort stroking her hair. As soon as he heard Kara was dead he hopped on the earliest plane he could get. How ironic to be killed by her own bomb he thought.

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“Where’s Sarah?” she asked once she was able to talk.

“In the waiting room with a million other relatives” he told her “she’s safe.”

“Never doubted it for a minute” she said standing on her toes to kiss his nose.

His hands tightened around her waist until his mouth sought hers. “Get a room” a voice said startling both of them.

Pulling away from August she ran over to her brother’s bedside “Garrett” she cried tears streaming down her cheeks. Only this time they were tears of joy.

***

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A nurse walked into the room smiling brightly at the cute old couple holding hands. “I have good news for you two.”

Aimee and Gene exchanged excited glances before turning towards the young woman “what news?” Aimee asked squeezing her husband’s hand.

“Your grandson is awake,” she announced with obvious delight.

Gene struggled to sit up to the consternation and objections of both his wife and the nurse. “Now Mr Bennett if you want me to sneak you information you have to lie down. We don’t want the old battle ax charging in here now do we?”

Stubbornly Gene resisted their efforts to push him back to the mattress obviously wanting to risk the ogre’s ire. Aimee’s pleas reached his ears emphasizing his hate for hospitals. “Ugh” he growled relenting. He allowed them to push him back to the bed. “Fine have it your way” he mumbled turning his face away from their concern. He hated being sick and made to feel helpless when there was so much he should be doing.

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Aimee patted his shoulder in approval. She knew how much this was costing him. She knew he wanted to be out there front and center looking for his son. Instead he was practically tied to a hospital bed by tubes and machines that monitored all his bodily functions. She knew how much he hated feeling weak, helpless, mostly he dreaded the day when he wouldn’t be needed. A useless relic, good for telling tales and holding babies. She needed to find a way to make him feel relevant again. “I love you” she whispered kissing his lips.

She stood up to leave when Gene grabbed her hand “don’t leave” he requested.

“I’ll be back,” she assured him “I’m going to check on Garrett. Besides I need to give someone else the chance to visit with you.” She smiled at him hoping to reassure him. The doubt in his eyes troubled her. Didn’t he think his family wanted to spend time with him? Were his old insecurities resurfacing after so many years?

***

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Jeff sat staring at the door Verity just slipped through. Drumming his fingers on the desktop something didn’t feel right. He was missing something. Picking up his phone he punched in the number for the morgue. “This is Jeffrey Bennett. Please have my niece’s remains sent to Dr Campbell.”

He waited a moment clearing his thoughts before making another call. “Dr Campbell? Thank you for taking the time to review the remains ….Yes yes very sad…” he took a deep breath before asking his question “is there anyway someone could fake their death by falsifying dental records?” He listened for a moment ” can you check? I want to make sure that the remains are who we think they are.”

He tossed his phone onto his desk. He got up from behind his desk to pace around the room. He knew something was wrong. It was to convenient. Too good to be true. He picked up his phone as another thought occurred to him. “Dr Campbell yeah it’s me again. Can you verify the age of the remains? Yes I mean the victim.” He stifled his irritation. Dr Campbell was one of the best in her field but she lacked the ability to think outside the box without prompting.

He had a very bad feeling that he knew who was in the morgue and it wasn’t Kara. He hated to call his Uncle and make the request he had to make. His Uncle was still weak from the heart attack he didn’t want to add any more pressure and worry on his shoulders. If there was another way to get what he needed he would do it without thinking twice.

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“Hello” a tired bored voice spoke in his ear.

“Uncle Gene?” Jeff said gauging how he was doing by the sound of his voice “I need your help.”

“What can I do stuck in a hospital bed?” Gene asked.

Jeff could hear the irritation in the older man’s voice. No doubt that was exactly how Jeff sounded the few times he had been injured bad enough to be hospitalized. He had a new understanding for what he must have put Lisa through. “Are you still Celia’s power of attorney?”

“Yeah” Gene replied “why do you ask? Did you find her?”

“Err not exactly,” he cleared his throat “I think the body we found may not be Kara’s. I think she somehow made it to look like it is.” Jeff hated knowing what he was telling his Uncle was going to be added stress the older man didn’t need.

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“I’m gonna guess you want me to authorize access to Celia’s records” Gene concluded.

The slight wobble in his voice was the only sign of the stress he was under. Jeff was shocked that he had put it together without him having to go into detail. “Yes. I’m sorry. If I could find another way I …”

“Nonsense,” Gene barked at him sounding almost like his old self “bring the papers over you need me to sign. We can sort things out later.”

“You do realize if I’m right…”

“I know. It means Kara is still alive and my grandchildren are still in danger,” Gene told him “I wasn’t born yesterday.”

Jeff smiled at that “I’ll bring the papers this afternoon.”

***

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Verity sat in her car waiting for the young detective she was following to come out of the diner. The restaurant must be busier then it looks from the outside. Drumming her fingers on the steering wheel she waited. What was taking him so long? Glancing at the time, an hour had gone by since the last time she checked.

Something wasn’t right. She could feel it. Had he discovered he was being followed? He didn’t seem that bright in Verity’s estimation. How had he been able to pass himself off as an equitable detective for Jeff to hire him as a bodyguard? Jeff seemed to be an intelligent guy. Getting out of her car she ran across the street towards the restaurant with a feeling she had underestimated the guy or over estimated her own abilities.

Walking into the restaurant she was shocked to find it almost empty. Besides herself there was one or two occupied tables and a waitress at the counter. A cook in the back with one or two other workers. The detective definitely ducked in here to escape his tail. Grimly she walked up to the waitress “do you know where this guy went?” She handed her a picture of herself and him playing pool together, all smiles.

The woman scrutinized the picture before nodding “your his girlfriend?” she asked.

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“Yeah” Verity replied deciding to play along.

The waitress put a hand on her shoulder “sweetie that boyfriend of yours is no good.” The woman looked around making sure no one was nearby to over hear her. Leaning in close she whispered “he’s upstairs in one of our special rooms.”

Unconsciously Verity looked up before turning her attention back to the helpful older woman. “Thank you” she managed before turning to leave. He hadn’t after all ditched her on purpose. He obviously had no idea she was following him. If he had known he wouldn’t be upstairs. The manner of the older woman gave her the impression the guy was regular.

She ran to her car hoping he wouldn’t come out while she was exposed crossing the street. How long had he been coming here? Was this why his wife divorced him? Was this where he met Kara? Was this how she was able to bribe him into helping her? Did he know where Ian and Celia were located? Could this be where Celia was being held?

***

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Garrett blinked up at his grandma. Her pink eyes were so sad. Slowly he moved his hand towards her. Every muscle in his body hurt. Biting his tongue to keep from crying out he squeezed her hand. “Where’s mom and dad?” he asked through a throat dry and hoarse. He had seen everyone else. They all avoided his questions unable to meet his eyes “are they dead?”

“We don’t know,” she said reaching to caress his cheek.

He could feel his lips trembling as she talked. What did she mean they didn’t know? Weren’t they in the house when the bomb went off? He had thought he had seen his mom in the kitchen when he opened the door. Did she think skirting the truth would be better then telling him? “Tell me please,” he pleaded “I need to know.”

Tears beaded the corners of her eyes. Lifting his hand to kiss his fingers she said “I would if I could. We don’t know. We expected their bodies to be found in the house but they weren’t there.”

“Where are they?” he cried trying to sit up. He couldn’t imagine his parents not being home. They were always home when he got there after school. If they weren’t there then who was in the house?

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“Your Uncle Jeff will find them,” Aimee said giving him a small stiff smile hoping to impart confidence.

Garrett stared at her a moment before nodding. She was trying to keep his mind from dwelling on it. He asked “where’s grandpa?” Her eyes flickered melancholy in the sharp intake of breath.

“He had a heart attack” she finally told him “he’s going to be alright.” She reached for his hand “he was in the hospital when it happened. He’s too ornery to die.”

“Grandma” he swallowed down the anxiety he felt as he watched her eyes fill with tears “he’s going to be alright.”

“I know baby” she said “it’s just been so much.”

***

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There was little to do but wait for Dr Campbell to finish up the autopsy on the body. He drummed his fingers on the desk. He had a feeling he was missing something, something important. He grabbed his phone before it was able to ring “hello.”

“Mr Bennett” Verity’s voice was low but clear “I followed Mr Stevens to a house of ill repute.”

He smothered the inappropriate giggle that threatened to escape. The girl was too formal when she called in to give her reports. His attempts to get her to call him Jeff had failed so he resigned himself to being Mr Bennett. The address she read off to him sounded familiar. Why would he find it familiar? He typed in the address on his computer “isn’t that a restaurant?”

“It is. The upstairs has private rooms that are used by prostitutes.” She told him using the same tone she would if she were discussing the weather. “One of the waitresses identified him as a regular.”

Clicking the pen as he thought Jeff asked “do you think this is where he met Kara?”

“I think it’s a possibility” she agreed “how many married woman would want to find out their loving husband had been with prostitutes. This might be what she threatened him with in order to coerce him into helping her.”

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Curious to know what she would say Jeff asked “do you think we should bring him in for questioning?”

A lengthy pause ensued as she mauled over her answer “not yet. Let me follow him for a little longer.”

“Alright” Jeff nodded in approval “call me if he leads you anywhere interesting or if you need back up.”

Silence greeted his request. “Verity I’m serious. Call me. I don’t want to have to tell Garrett you’ve been hurt. He’s been through enough.”

“Alright I’ll call,” she agreed despite the stubborn resentful tone she used.

“See that you do,” Jeff ordered “we’ve had enough tragedy to last us for a lifetime in this family.”

 Chapter 9 – One Will Die / Chapter 11 – One Is Found

Garrett – Chapter 8 – Disaster Strikes

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Garrett hated having a bodyguard. Hated knowing someone was watching everything he did. Hated the fact that they were reporting back to someone everywhere he went. Hated being ushered out if a threat arose. He understood now what celebrity kids must feel like. The only thing that made it somewhat bearable was the new bodyguard his Uncle Jeff hired. She was young. She was pretty. Everything about her captivated Garrett’s attention.

He turned in his last ever assignment to his teacher. Walking to his locker he couldn’t believe in less than a week he would be in receipt of his diploma. He found his cousin Samantha waiting for him. She flashed him a toothy grin “can you believe we’re finally done with school?”

“Nope feels like yesterday that you were trying to convince me to take school more seriously,” he told her beginning the arduous chore of cleaning out his locker.

“Fat lot of good that did,” she grumbled “your in the top of the class and turning down scholarships.”

Shrugging “I’m not going to college.”

“Why not?” she asked for the millionth time.

“I’ve told you a million times why,” he said gathering debris from his locker that should have been thrown months ago. He walked over a to trash can and emptied the lot into it without bothering to sort through it. If he hadn’t needed it before he certainly wouldn’t need it now.

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“Tell me again,” she insisted “you have the brains to be anything you want to be. Yet you insist on becoming a lifeguard.”

“You say it like I’m throwing my life away,” Garrett frowned at her “I trained hard to be a lifeguard. I enjoy it. What’s wrong with doing something I enjoy? Why do I have to do something that others deem important?”

“You could be so much more like a doctor,” she said “we could go into practice together. You know The Bennett Family Practice. You know saving lives.”

“I will be saving lives,” Garrett informed her “just not the way you want me to.”

“Risky you neck while you’re at it,” she crossed her arms “isn’t there anything I can say to convince you to come with me to college?”

Shaking his head “can’t think of anything.” He told her “face it you just don’t want to be separated from me.”

Scowling at him “that’s definitely not it.”

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“Whatever” he grinned a her before walking towards the exit. He slowed down upon catching sight of Verity, the new bodyguard standing at attention waiting for him to outside. His breath caught in his throat as he watched her.

“Forget about it lover boy,” Samantha whispered in his ear “your too young for her.”

“Age doesn’t matter,” he mumbled “besides I don’t like her like that.”

“Yeah right like you’re not completely smitten by her blue skin and red hair,” she laughed at him as he turned to deny her observations.

Choosing instead to ignore her comment he asked “do you want a ride?”

“No I have a ride” she waved at her dad who was waiting for her “I guess this is it until graduation,” she said giving him a quick hug before running off to join her family.

Garrett shivered as a thought came to mind that this would be the last time he’d see her. He tried to dismiss the idea but it stayed lodged in the back of his mind like an unsettling premonition. “It’s just my over active imagination,” he muttered “we’ll see each other again. We’re family after all.”

***

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To distract himself from his disquieting thoughts he watched Verity as she drove carefully from the parking lot. “You’re awfully young to be a cop,” he said.

“I’m not a cop,” she said surprising him “my parent were private investigators before they died. It’s kind of in my blood.”

“How did you become a body guard?” he asked become curious about her.

“I moved and needed a job,” she glanced over at him “why? Don’t you think I’m doing a good enough job?”

“Its’ not that,” he searched for something else to say other than he thought she was hot “um huh I thought we could be friends or something.” He looked out the window hoping she didn’t notice his cheeks burning.

“That’s really nice of you to offer,” she smiled at him but he could feel her frozen reserve slip into place “but shouldn’t you be making friends with people your own age?”

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“I’m not that much younger than you,” he pointed out. Her age comment made him feel like he was a little kid. He knew he had always followed his older sister around much to her annoyance but he hoped he wasn’t doing the same with Verity. He had to admit that he did find excuses to be in the same room as her whenever opportunity arose. He thought she liked him as a friend. He knew his chances were slim to none for it to ever progress to anything else. Now he wondered if they had ever gotten to the friend zone.

“I’m twenty-one almost twenty-two and you’re what seventeen?”

“Eighteen. I turned eighteen two months ago,” he continued to face the window tuning her voice out as she went on to explain how she was too old for him. When the car came to a stop he hopped out glad to get away from her. He stomped up the steps. Opening the door he called out “mom dad I’m ho…”

A hot wave of explosive heat swept over him searing his skin and singing his hair as it knocked him from his feet. The massive wall of overheated air exploded in his face, punching into his chest and stomach as flew through the air. The back of his head smashed into something hard and immovable at the end of the driveway.

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His world went several shades darker. He lay crumpled like a discarded rag doll half on the rough driveway and half on the lawn that needed mowing. Every movement sent shards of pain shooting through him. Mom dad he cried but no sound escaped his mouth. The scream got no further then his brain. Nothing worked the way it should. His body shuddered in pain. His eyes if they were open saw only darkness. His mouth moved but no sound came out. He couldn’t breathe as his lungs screamed for oxygen. A pressure on his shoulder told him he wasn’t alone. Mom? Dad? Were they inside the house? Were they trapped? Were they even still alive?

***

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Katrina watched August splashing in the water with their two year old daughter. Her thoughts went back to her rushed departure from Starlight Shores. Her dad insisting she go to stay with her grandparents in Sunlit Tides. She had thrown a few things in bags for herself and her daughter and boarded the plane. She expected a new beginning one free from the pain of memories of having lost her one true love.

She walked from the plane, Sara tucked safely in her carrier. Her breath catching in her throat as she saw him standing there beside her grandfather. She wanted to cry. To scream. Her emotions all jumbled up she just stood frozen to the spot disrupting the flow of passengers deplaning.

His stunned expression told her more than words that he hadn’t been told about his daughter. She hadn’t had a chance to tell him before the accident that she was pregnant. Her heart beat faster as she remembered the fear as she almost lost her due to complications after the accident. Her eyes locked onto his and her feet seemed to move of their own accord. She stopped a few feet from them unsure what to say or do.

“I’m so so sorry” August said being the first to speak “I never stopped loving you.”

Her mouth moved but no sound came out. When he started to turn away she cried out “why? Why’d you leave me?”

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To her horror his shoulders started to shake. She’d never seen him cry before. She reached a tentative hand out to him. He turned anguished eyes towards her. Tears streaming down his cheeks “I did it for you.”

Her eyes grew large “you did what for me?”

“I left to keep you safe,” he took several deep breaths as the tears continued to flow “Kara threatened you. Said if I didn’t leave the next accident would fatal.” He gulped for air “she was in your hospital room describing all the things she could do before anyone could get their to stop her. I couldn’t take the chance she’d hurt you. So I left.” Katrina reached a hand up, her fingers gently wiping the wetness from his tears away. “I’d do anything for you,” he sobbed “even if it meant you’d hate me forever.”

She pulled him close. Kissing his cheek she murmured “I could never hate you. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t.”

The happy squeals coming from her daughter brought Katrina’s mind back to the present. She sat up and waved at the two most important individuals in her life. She knew she’d do whatever it took to keep them safe.

***

August looked up to find Katrina watching them. He smiled back at her. Happier then he has ever been in a long time. It was difficult to believe that two year have passed since Gene found him rummaging for food in trash cans. On that fateful day he had come out of his hovel to find food. His stomach aching from the lack of food. Gene and Aimee going to the seldom visited beach, seeing him there. More than likely that saved his life. He didn’t understand why they took him home with them. He doubted he’d ever be able to do the same if someone broke his daughter’s heart the way he had hurt Katrina.

The day Katrina stepped off the plane and he saw his daughter for the first time he knew he’d never be able to let them go. He loved his daughter without ever having met her before. What if Kara found them again? What if she demanded he leave them? He’d rather die than give them up but if it meant they’d live he’d do it. He’d do anything to keep his girls safe. He swung his little girl through the air, her squeal of delight music to his ears. It would break his heart to leave. The thought of Kara lurking around somewhere watching them kept him awake at night.

Katrina was all for getting married. A small ceremony on the beach. He was the one who said no. He couldn’t help but wonder what Kara would do once she found out. Would they be lucky a second time around? He doubted it. As hard as it was he convinced Katrina to put their wedding on hold permanently if necessary.

A part of him knew that was letting Kara win. He didn’t know what else to do. He had to keep his family safe. There were lots of couples who loved each other that never got married. It may always be an unrealized dream but one he was willing to sacrifice if it meant those he cherished most were safe.

***

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Gene was enjoying having the house to himself to spend time with Aimee. He glanced over at the woman he still saw as the beautiful awkward young girl he first met on Sim Star Idol. Her hair may be completely gray and wrinkles lined her eyes and mouth now. She would always be beautiful in his eyes. Glancing up she asked “what are you thinking?”

“That I married a beautiful woman,” he said kissing her forehead.

“Once upon a time,” she smiled at him “now I’m just a wrinkled old prune.”

“Not in my eyes,” he said putting an arm gently around her shoulders. Something he rarely did anymore. Not since her diagnosis for fear of causing her any unnecessary pain. Today was a good day as Aimee snuggled him to him instead of asking him to remove his arm.

“You need glasses” she mumbled despite being pleased that Gene still looked at her like she was his world.

The ringing of the phone disturbed their serene surroundings. Moving carefully Gene got up saying “hello?”

“Mr Gene Bennett?” a deep male authoritative voice asked.

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“Yes this is he,” Gene frowned a heavy foreboding feeling pressed against his chest.

“This is Captain Rodriguez of the Starlight Shores Police Department.” Gene put a hand to his chest as pain knifed through his pounding heart. ” I regret to inform you there has been an explosion at your son’s home ….”

“Explosion?” Gene’s voice rose causing Aimee to sit up in uneasy silence as she watched him in concern.

“We have bomb experts searching the rubble for the cause….”

“You’re assuming it was a bomb but why?” Gene felt like his head was about to burst as his heart continued it’s labored beating. He wanted to reach through the phone to expedite the information he so desperately needed and the captain was taking his sweet time in sharing.

“Yes sir,” the man sighed “you’re grandson Garrett is in surgery…”

Gene staggered to his knees as if he had been punched. He had assumed no one had been home when the explosion when off from the way the officer was concentrating on the damage “How is he?” he forced his mouth to form the words.

“He’s….” the captains voice faltered losing some of his detachment “he has severe head injuries and may not make it off the operating table. I’d suggest if you can come home….come now.”

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Tremors ran through his body as he tried to digest this horrible turn of events. He looked up as he felt a hand on his arm. He could see the worry and fear in her eyes. As he had done so often in the past he pushed his own feelings down as his need to shield her from what was happening. Taking several deep breaths he asked “what about my son and his wife?”

“I’m sorry sir,” the calm controlled voice continued “we haven’t been able to search through all the rubble yet.”

He wanted to shout at the disembodied voice to find his son. Was he even still alive? Had they been home at the time of the explosion? Were they trapped under tons of debris? Were they dead and only their bodies were left to be discovered?

The officer continued “we’re still looking for their bodies. We understand from the boys bodyguard they were usually home at this time of day.”

The phone slipped from Genes numb cold fingers. This couldn’t be happening. His mind kept screaming at him that his child, his son couldn’t be gone. He wasn’t supposed to out live his child. Forty-one wasn’t long enough. Ian deserved to see his grandchildren grow up. Gene dragged himself to his feet as Aimee tearfully asked “what’s wrong?”

Before he could pull his thoughts together the sounds of laughter filled the house as Katrina and August returned from the beach. Gene stood on wobbly legs feeling every bit of his seventy plus years. “Katrina I have some bad news to tell all of you.”

She felt August take Sara from her arms saying “I’ll put her down for her nap.” He was upstairs when he heard her anguished screams.

Chapter 7 – You Have To Trust Someone / Chapter 9 – One Will Die

Garrett – Chapter 7 – You Have to Trust Someone

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Aimee remained silent during the ride home despite all the questions whirling around her head. She kept shooting looks at Gene while he drove. Catching her worried glance he smiled at her “it’ll be ok.” His confidence quelled her fear, stalling her desire to question the boy in the backseat. Gene had always known what to do. She had no reason to start doubting him now.

“Well,” she demanded once Gene came into their room after settling August in one of the guest rooms.

Shaking his head Gene sat on the edge of the bed. “He’s refusing to talk,”he told her.

Folding her arms she glared at her husband “I want him gone.”

“Aimee,” his voice held a mild reproof “please be patient. For me.” He got up moving towards her, his dark brown eyes still held the same vitality they had forty years ago.

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“Why?” she mumbled against his shoulder “he broke our granddaughter’s heart. Left her alone and pregnant.”

“I know,” he sighed “I don’t know why but I have a feeling he didn’t want to do any of that.”

Giving him an uncertain glare she asked “what makes you think that?”

“It’s just a feeling,” he kissed her forehead “give it time, please. I’m sure I can get the truth out him.”

“Alright I’ll try,” she put her arms around his waist “but I can’t promise for how long I’ll be able to keep quiet.”

***

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“Ian I’m worried about Katrina,” Celia said turning towards her husband giving up on the pretense of pretending to sleep.

“I know,” came the ready reply telling her that he wasn’t sleeping either. “I’ve been thinking a change of scenery might do her some good.”

“Are you thinking of sending her to Sunlit Tides to stay with your parents?”

Nodding Ian sat up “everything around here holds too many memories for her. I want her some place that isn’t full of memories of the things she no longer has. Maybe it’ll help her heal. To make new memories without August.”

His voice held such conviction Celia wondered if this was something he had felt when she had run away from him all those years ago. Where would she be if he hadn’t stuck around hoping she’d come back to him? “Ian…” her voice shook with a million emotions but whatever she was going to say was lost to the ringing of the phone.

***

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“Hello? Dad?” Ian stood “Is something wrong? Mom is she…”

“Calm down Ian. We’re fine. Your mom is fine.” Genes reassuring chuckle did more to calm Ian’s frayed nerves then his words.

Looking at the time Ian glanced out the window “why are you calling so late?”

A slight pause while Gene decided on the right thing to say “well son…we ran into someone today at the beach today.”

Ian’s anxiety shot right back up imagining Kara had shown up Sunlit Tides. “Dad I want you to hire a body-guard for you and mom.”

“Whatever for?” Gene asked his attempt to sound innocent only increased Ian’s anxiety.

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“Dad this is no laughing matter. If Kara’s there you and mom are in danger.” His voice rose as he paced the bedroom floor.

“Who said anything about that girl?” Gene asked his own voice rising.

Attempting to calm himself down. Ian took a deep breath “if it wasn’t her than who?” Something told him he wasn’t going to like the answer but he had to know. “August,” Ian stared blankly over at Celia as he asked “are you sure it was him?”

“What fool question is that? Of course I know it’s him. He’s in my spare bedroom,” Gene told him “the boy was rummaging through the garbage for food.”

“Is he alright?” concern for the boy who would have married his daughter coming through in his voice.

“He’s thin, dirty and weak other than that he’s fine,” Gene informed him “he’s asleep at the moment I hope. I needs a good nights sleep.”

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“What was he doing there? Why did he leave like he did?” Ian shot one question after another at his father.

“I’ll let you know when I find out.”

“What do you mean you’ll let me know?” Ian asked “hasn’t he told you anything?”

“He was in no condition to be interrogated,” Gene shot back “I want answers as much as you do. We have to be careful or he’ll run again.”

“Ok ok thanks for letting me know,” I an told him “tell mom I love her.”

“Will do,” Gene smiled into the phone “love you son.”

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“Love you to dad,” Turning to Celia Ian sat on the bed “they found August rummaging through garbage cans at the beach.”

“Oh no” she gasped “that poor boy…”

“Poor boy” Ian cried indignantly “he left our daughter without a word of explanation. Not to mention abandoning his daughter…”

Taking his hand Celia kissed his fingers “I know you’re upset but we don’t know why he left. He could have a good reason. What if Kara was behind it?” She looked into his worried violet eyes “she did threaten that he wouldn’t see his wedding.”

Putting his arms around her Ian pulled her close “I know. We’ll find out soon enough once dad has a chance to talk to him. in the mean tie we won’t mention this to Katrina.”

“Ok” Celia agreed hoping that they’d be able to give their little girl the happy ever after ending she deserved.

***

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August woke up late the following day. Blinking he jumped out of bed unsure for a moment where he was. It had been a long time since he slept so well or so soundly. Heart beating fast he recalled how he ran into Katrina’s grandparents at the beach. Hunger had drawn him out of his hovel earlier then normal that day.

He sat down on the bed looking for his clothes. They were no where in sight. He was sure he had left them piled in a corner near the door. After his shower the night before he hadn’t wanted to put on the same dirty clothes he had been wearing for who know’s how long. For once he wanted to enjoy the feeling of being truly clean. Grabbing the towel he had taken from the bathroom he walked towards the door. He reached for the door knob, heart pounding in his ears What was he going to do when they started asking him questions? What if Kara found out? He couldn’t live knowing he caused her any harm. But would Kara really know? It’s been over a year since she demanded he leave. Would she still exact retribution after so long?

Sighing he dropped his sweaty hand to his side. He didn’t know what to do. He owed them for what they did for him. Once he walked out that door he’d have to tell them something. They wouldn’t let him go with just a thank you.

Squaring his shoulders he made sure the towel was secure before opening the door. The living room was empty much to his relief. There was a love murmur of voices coming from the kitchen. He stood uncertain until Aimee came from the kitchen her smile fading as she called for her husband.

Gene came over to his wife nodding towards August saying “pancakes are in the kitchen, help yourself.”

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Clearing his throat August asked “mmmy clothes?”

“Those rags you were wearing are worthless,” Gene said “I threw them out.”

Panic engulfed him along with icy cold anxiety “I … you…” he spluttered.

“Don’t worry I made sure there wasn’t anything left in the pockets,” Gene gave him a reassuring smile as he passed going into the kitchen.

It felt good to be in a civilized house. Eating something other than stale, moldy, spoiled scraps harvested from garbage cans. He breathed a sigh of relief as he found he meager belongings. A few wadded up dollar bills and coins. Ignoring them he picked up the most important, valuable possession he had. A faded, worn and cracked picture of him and Katrina as they posed for their engagement pictures. He didn’t know what he’d do if ever lost that picture. It was his last hold on the best thing he ever had in his life and the reason why he was living like a homeless vagrant.

***

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He kept jumping every time he thought Gene was returning to the kitchen. He felt like a trapped animal facing sure death. As he finished the last of the pancakes he heard the front door open and close . Did they both leave? Were they leaving him alone in their house? Did they expect him to stay?

His worries ceased when Gene came into the Kitchen saying “Aimee went to get groceries and to buy you some new clothes to wear. Can’t have you running around the house in just a towel now can we?” He chuckled a little his eyes held a certain glimmer of humor in them putting August at ease.

“Thank you,” August murmured standing up intent on barricading himself in his room until he had some decent clothes to wear.

Patting the chair he just vacated Gene said “why don’t you come back here and have a seat. We have some things to discuss.” There was a sternness in his voice and a somberness in his eyes that had August hanging his head in compliance.

“I know what you want to know but I” he stopped swallowing convulsively “I can’t tell you.”

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“Then I’ll tell you what I know,” Gene told him not to be thwarted as the boy resumed his seat. “Kara threatened you and Katrina. That’s a fact. She told you that you would never see your wedding day.” Gene watched the boy closely. Saw how his eyes flickered then became clouded. Sighing Gene continued “Katrina’s brakes were tampered with. The police suspect you did it…”

“They what?” he cried standing up shocked “I’d never hurt her.”

“Oh” Gene gave him a long thoughtful stare “what do you call leaving him alone in the hospital? Don’t you think that hurt her?”

“I was trying to….” he snapped his mouth shut afraid he’d already said too much.

“Trying to what?” Gene pushed “come on son I’m trying to help you. They only way I can do that is if you trust me.”

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“I do trust you” August cried “I don’t trust her.” He ran his hands through his too long hair pulling on it.

Smiling Gene knew it wouldn’t be long before the boy broke. “Who? Katrina?”

“No not her,” he mumbled “I’d trust her with my life.” He sank back into the chair head hanging low.

Grimly Gene pressed on “as I recall you spent a lot of time on your phone before you left the hospital that day.” August lifted his head staring blankly at him “I believe it was Kara. What did she tell you to do? Did she threaten Katrina’s life if you didn’t agree to leave?” He left the questions hang in the air.

Slowly August nodded his head, his shoulder’s slumping. “She said the next accident would be more successful. That Katrina wouldn’t walk away from it.” Looking up with tears in his eyes “what else could I do? I couldn’t put her in danger. I knew by leaving she’d hate me. There was nothing else I could do.”

***

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“Hello mother,” the cold disdainful voice startled Celia as she released the melon she was inspecting for ripeness. It cascaded into the others causing a melon avalanche crashing to the floor.

Whipping around eyes round with fright and hate Celia faced her second born daughter. Heart pounding in her chest she demanded “why are you doing this to us?”

“Because I can,” she crossed her arms an unrecognizable gleam in her light blue eyes. “You have what I want most in the world. As long as your here with him I’ll continue hurting everyone you love.” She took a step nearer leaning in close “one by one they’ll disappear until it’s just you and him. Then I’ll get rid of you. Make him watch so he knows for sure that you will never be coming back.”

“You’re out of your mind,” Celia pushed her away “he’s your dad…”

“No John is” Kara smirked “but I took care of that.”

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“Ian raised you like one of his own,” Celia tried to reach the girl “he’ll always love you as his daughter. Can’t you see that you don’t have to be jealous of the rest of us?”

“All I see are obstacles that need to be disposed of” Kara snapped reaching her hands out fingers curling as if she wanted to strangle her mother. “If you leave now of your own volition it’ll save me a lot of trouble.”

“Is that what you told August to do?” Celia asked before caution warned her to keep quiet.

“He told you?” Kara asked pure spite dripping from her words “he shouldn’t have done that. Now I’ll have to make good on my promise.”

“No please it was just a guess,” Celia pleaded “he left. He didn’t tell us anything.”

Rage sparked in her eyes and Kara glared at the older woman “It doesn’t matter. She has to pay the price.” She turned and walked swiftly away.

***

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Shaking Celia stumbled after her. Leaving her cart full of food abandoned and forgotten. By the time she managed to follow Kara into the parking lot she was nowhere to be seen. Stumbling to the car Celia managed to call Ian “I made a terrible mistake.”

Ian felt the phone tremble again his ear as he listened to Celia’s hysterical sobs. “Honey calm….”

“Don’t you dare tell me to calm down,” she screamed “not when that maniac is after our daughter.”

“What are you talking about?” Ian asked feeling like he was falling down the rabbit hole again.

“Katrina” she screamed “she’s in danger.” She sobbed losing control “Kara said she had to pay the price. Oh god it’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

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Heart constricting Ian ran up the stairs towards Katrina’s room. She looked up startled as he burst through the door “dad what’s wrong?”

“You have to leave now,” he told her.

“What’s happening?” she asked watching as he pulled out clothes from the closet and piled them onto her bed.

“You’re mother just received another threat against your life….”

“She what?” she cried covering her ears as her daughter picked up on the anxiety in the room and began to cry.

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“Kara made threats against you” Ian told her calming enough to pull her close “I have to keep you safe and the only way I know how to do that is to send you away. You’re going to stay with your grandparents in Sunlit Tides.”

“Why? Why is she doing this?” she demanded.

“I don’t know sweet pea. I just don’t know.” He kissed her forehead “pack what you need and buy the rest when you get there. I’ll call your grandparents and let them know your coming.”

Nodding “if you think it’s necessary,” she sighed moving to pick up Sara from her crib.

“I’m not taking any chances when it comes to Kara,” Ian told her as he moved to the door to make the arrangements.

Chapter 6 – Aftermath / Chapter 8 – Disaster Strikes

Garrett – Chapter 6 – Aftermath

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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.”

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“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.”

***

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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.

***

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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.”

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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.

***

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“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.”

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“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.

***

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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.

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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?”

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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.”

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“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.

 Chapter 5 – Second Attempt / Chapter 7 – You Have to Trust Someone

Garrett – Chapter 5 – Second Attempt

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August listened to Katrina hum to herself while she washed the supper dishes. “What makes you so happy?” he asked coming up behind and pulling her close.

Sharing at her ring finger where she had just slipped her engagement ring on after finishing the dishes she giggled, “everything ” was her happy response.

He squeezed her tight, kissing her neck “and what else?”

“We graduated less than a week ago. Dad gave us this house…”

“And,” he prompted nuzzling his nose into her ear before nibbling on her earlobe.

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Turning in his arms she leaned in close to kiss his soft red lips “and” she said slowly putting her arms around his waist “we get married in less than two months.” She squealed as he scooped her up into his arms. “Put me down” she demanded.

“I need the practice” he said carrying her from the kitchen.

“Practice for what?” she laughed in his arms relaxing confident he wouldn’t drop her.

“Carrying my bride over the threshold” he said gazing into her dark brown eyes “I love you” he said filling the silence that fell between them as they gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes.

“Naturally” she giggled impishly in his arms “now put me down.”

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Shaking his head he carried her upstairs “after we get to our destination.”

“Where are you taking me?” she asked as if she had no clue or idea where his final destination would be.

“Someplace where I can make hot passionate love to my beautiful future wife,” he kicked upon their bedroom door.

“Better be careful” Katrina advised “I don’t want to have to explain why the door is broke to my dad.”

His body shook with his deep laughter “I’m more worried about explaining it to your Grandpa.”

***

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Opening the door in response to the sharp brief knock Ian was surprised to find his parents standing there. “Dad I thought you were coming over this weekend.”

“We are,” Gene said stepping into his son’s home “but we have something important to discuss with you.”

A feeling of dread came over him as Ian watched his mom walk stiffly into the house. His frown deepened as his dad helped her into a chair “mom’s ill isn’t she?”

Gene fussed over Aimee for a few moments making sure she was comfortable before turning his attention to his son. “Rheumatoid Arthritis,” he spat the words out as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.

“Let’s go into the living room,” Ian immediately suggested “the couch is more comfortable ….”

“This is good,” Aimee interjected “I sink into the cushions and have to fight to get up. This is much better.”

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Gene patted her hand smiling fondly at her “she prefers to sit in hard chairs now. It allows her to be a little more independent that way.”

“I had a feeling something was wrong for a while…”

Gene put a hand on his son’s shoulder “we’ve been seeing doctors and experts for the past couple of years. It’s not until recently that they settled on a diagnosis.”

“What are they doing for her?” Ian asked feeling helpless that his mom was in so much pain. He knew all too well that there was no cure. Just pain management and treatment of the symptoms.

“Everything they can,” Gene smiled wryly at him “we have given this a lot of thought. A warmer climate will help ease some of the joint pain and swelling.”

“You’re telling me you’re moving aren’t you?” Ian said looking from one beloved face to another. They had been his lifeline for so long it was hard to imagine them not being there. He didn’t want to think about someone else in his childhood home. The house that his dad had bought and decorated specifically with Aimee in mind. Before he could sensor his words thoughts burst from his mouth “what about the house?”

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“We’re not selling it,” Aimee said firmly from where she sat “it means too much to us.” Gene moved to her side rubbing her shoulders.

Ian watched,noticing things he had ignored up until now. Somehow he never thought this day would come. The day his parents were old. Their hair was more gray then colored. They moved with pain and stiffness. He realized with shock they were both just a couple of years shy of seventy. With luck they would be around for another twenty years. They just lost Grandpa earlier that year and he was Ninety-two. When they lost him Ian couldn’t deny his parents were getting old. He wouldn’t have them forever. Taking a deep shuddery breath he asked “where?” he wanted to say more but couldn’t becoming choked up instead.

“Sunlit Tides,” Aimee smiled holding her hand out to him.

He stepped forward taking her hand letting her comfort him like she always would until she couldn’t. Mentally he shook his head to clear it of its melancholy thoughts.

Gene continued as if sensing the turmoil in his sons heart “as you know your cousins Alex and Drew both life there. They’ve been helping us find a suitable house that will accommodate Aimee’s needs.”

Aimee slapped his hand affectionately “and yours. It’s not only me. Your foot has been bothering you something chronic now.”

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Gene flashed her a look of annoyance, never one to admit he was in pain or needed help. “I know this is a lot but we’re not planning on moving until after Katrina’s wedding. The triplets will take over the house. Matt promised he’d make sure they wouldn’t burn it down.”

“Looks like you thought of everything,” Ian mumbled “we’re going to miss you.”

“That’s the one thing we couldn’t take care of,” Aimee said holding her arms out to him “if we could we’d bring all of our family with us.”

“There are such things as social media, email, Skype, even planes, trains and automobiles” Gene pointed out.

“It’s not the same,” both Aimee and Ian said together bringing a smile to his face.

“Not it’s not but it’s the best we’ve got,” Gene admitted.

***

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“Is it too late to elope?” August whined as Katrina slipped from the bed.

“Of course it is” she said pulling his shirt over her head “three weeks then all of this will just be a memory. Three weeks and we’ll be in France on our Honeymoon.”

“It sounds like forever” he groaned watching her gather her things from the floor before going in to shower. He laid back on his pillow drifting off to sleep again. He opened his eyes as something soft landed on his lips. He moaned as Katrina pulled away. He wrapped his arms around her waist pulling per down on top of him resuming their kiss.

“August let me go,” she demanded as his probing hands pulled her shirt up “I have to go and get my dress fitted.”

“So you’ll be a few minutes late,” he said kissing her again.

“You’re incorrigible” she giggled as she fought of his hands. Regaining her feet she adjusted her clothes running her fingers through her tangled hair.

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“It won’t do any good” August said watching her.

“What won’t?” she asked half turning towards him.

“You still look like you just got out of bed,” he tossed the blankets aside “so why don’t you come back to bed and make it worthwhile.”

Her lips twitched a few times before she gave into the growing desire to grin at him “as tempting as that is I can’t cancel another fitting.”

“Please” he begged tugging on her hand. Biting her lip she let him drag her back towards the bed.

“Wait” she cried as he pulled on her shirt “at least let me call.”

***

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A couple of hours later August watched as Katrina rushed from the house to meet her appointment to have her dress fitted. He couldn’t help but wish they could spend every minute together they could. No sooner had Katrina left then his phone began to ring “hey doll face forget something?” he asked assuming the caller was Katrina.

“No but you have” Kara’s soft voice in his ears sent shivers of apprehension down his spine.

“How did you get this number?” he asked as his muscles tensed.

“Wrong question,” she laughed in his ear “don’t you want to know why I’m calling?”

“I don’t care….”

“But you should” she said slowly taunting him “such hostility and we were about to become brother and sister.”

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“We’re not family….”

“No you’re right. We’re not and never will be” she cackled into the phone.

Growing impatient with the girl and the conversation that was going nowhere August demanded “what do you want?”

“So forceful,” her voice low and sultry “I kind of like. It gives me happy shivers all over. Too bad you rejected me,” she shouted into the phone.

Hissing August pulled the phone from his ear “I have better things to do then waste my time talking to you.”

“You don’t know how true that is,” the distinct silence in his ear that replaced her voice left goosebumps on his skin.

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As morning turned to afternoon August couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was about to happen. His growling stomach prompted him to go in the kitchen to make himself a sandwich. He glanced at the time surprised at how late it was. He resisted the urge to call Katrina. Drumming his fingers on the counter he wondered what was taking her so long. Had something gone wrong with the fitting? If she gained weight and couldn’t fit into her wedding dress she would punish both of them with hours of exercise. Had the wrong dress been delivered? His mind continued to come up different scenarios as to what was going on.

He looked out the window frowning as two police officers walked up his driveway. With a sense of impending doom he met them at the door “what can I do for you?”

The officers exchanged a look before the younger officer said “can we speak to a Mr August Marlow?”

“I’m August” he replied as his stomach churned as he glanced over their shoulders hoping to see Katrina pulling up behind them.

“I’m sorry to inform you sir that your wife ….”

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“Fiance” he corrected automatically “we’re getting married in three weeks.”

“Your fiance” the officer corrected “was in an accident earlier today at….”

Car accident. Car accident. The words echoed in his mind not making sense. The officers lips moved but he no longer heard what he was saying.

“Sir are you alright?” the other officer asked observing his glassy-eyed stare.

“Is she alright?” he asked finding forming words an effort.

“She was taken to the hospital,” they told him.

“Then she’s alive,” he watched them exchange a glance before one of them said “as far as we know sir.”

***

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The officers escorted him to the hospital answering questions as well asking them. “Why do you keep asking me about the cars brakes? I just had them serviced less than a month ago.”

“Our preliminary findings of the accident shows the brakes may have gone out. We’ll have to check if the brakes have been tampered with or faulty.”

“Why would someone want to hurt…” his voice faded recalling the call that he received. Kara’s voice telling him he would soon be worrying about more important things. Could she have tampered with Katrina’s brakes? Did she hate her sister that much?

“What is it sir?” the officer asked observing him closely.

What choice did he have? He had to tell them about Kara and her cryptic call. They wrote everything down making disconcerting and noncommittal grunts. When the officers finally left the waiting room began to fill up with family members. They all meant well but August just wanted to be alone with his thoughts as he pondered why Kara had called. What was her purpose?

His phone rang while he was staring out the window deep in thought. Absently he reached for his phone “by now you know Katrina’s accident was arranged.” Her loud obnoxious laugh grated on his raw nerves.

“What do you want?” he growled into the phone.

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“Such hostility” she said letting silence linger for a moment “what do I want you ask…well it’s really not so much.” She giggled as if what she was about to say was the funniest joke she’d ever heard “I want to ruin her. Destroy her every happiness. That’s all … for now.”

“Why are you doing this?” he demanded even though he knew he’d hate the answer.

“Because she has what I want.”

“Even if your little plan worked you still wouldn’t have me,” August told her his voice rising. Several heads turned in his direction.

“Who said I wanted you?” she asked sending shivers down his spine “your just the instrument of her demise.”

“I repeat. What. Do. You. Want.” he could feel himself unraveling, fraying at the ends.

“It’s simple really. Shouldn’t take much effort at all. After all it didn’t take much thought for you to reject me.” She paused to let him absorb her words before she continued “Are you listening?”

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“Uh yeah” he replied with a feeling of dread spreading from his stomach.

“Good listen carefully. You are to leave and never come back. You are not to get married.”

He almost dropped the phone as the room tilted on is axis “I can’t … I won’t hurt her like that.”

“If you love her you will. The next accident might not be so little and a touch more successful. Like say mixing up her blood type on her chart or say too much of the wrong med in her IV drip. I can do all kinds of things before you could stop me.” She paused letting her words sink in. The very fact that he was silent she knew she had his attention. She knew without a doubt he would do as he was told “It’s your decision. What’s more important. Her life or her happiness?”

“I hate you” he growled into the phone.

“I know” she laughed at him “and I don’t care. What’s your answer.”

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He looked around the room at all the familiar faces. People he had grown to love and care for. They were family. His family. An image of Katrina smiling as she waved goodbye to him that morning. Eyes sparkling, her golden highlights shimmering in the sunlight. He loved her with everything he had. He’d give his life if it meant she would live. There was nothing else he could do. “I’m going” he said into the phone and quickly walked towards the exit door brushing off the hands of the people who would hate him once they realized he wasn’t coming back.

Chapter 4 – First Attempt / Chapter 6 – Aftermath

Garrett – Chapter 2 – Cousins

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The stunned silence that descended upon the room was deafening. Celia stumbled into Ian’s arms “what will she do? What did she mean?”

“I don’t know” he kissed her cheek trying to give her what comfort he cold as he wrapped his arms around her squeezing her close.

“This is my fault isn’t?” Garrett asked looking around the room “if I had invited her to my party then she wouldn’t have needed to threaten us.”

“You don’t know that,” Katrina protested taking a step forward reaching out for him “this is not your fault.”

“He shook his head in disbelief If he had given in to her demand maybe she wouldn’t have been so angry. Maybe if he had shown her some forgiveness she wouldn’t have felt the need to threaten everyone. No matter what anyone said he knew this was is fault. “I should have let her come,” he muttered.

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“This is not your fault,” Katrina shook him as if she could help filter her words into his brain.

Wild-eyed he pulled away from her “it is my fault, it is.” He turned and fled from the room. Distantly they heard his bedroom door slam.

“Garrett,” Katrina called to him. “Let me go,” she cried as August pulled her close to him.

“Let him go,” he advised her “he needs time to calm down. He won’t listen otherwise. At least not in his current frame of mind.”

Relaxing in his arms Katrina let him coax her from following her brother upstairs. “He shouldn’t blame himself. Kara’s a psycho. She’s responsible for her own actions.”

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“I’ll talk to him,” Ian broke into their conversation. “What time are you leaving tomorrow?”

Looking up at August before replying Katrina waited for him to nod before answering “we’re staying for the weekend.”

“I thought you were leaving tomorrow?” Ian said ignoring the not so gentle elbow in the ribs Celia gave him.

“We were,” August said “but I know Katrina wants to stay longer. We really don’t have anything important to get back to.”

“Uh huh” Ian grunted eyeing them “as long as you’re not staying because of what happened tonight.”

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“Dad” Katrina blurted without thinking “I’d be lying if I said it had nothing to do with it.” She wrapped her arms around him “I worry about you guys.”

“I appreciate that” Ian squeezed her tight “but you need to live your own life.”

“I know and we will,” she acknowledged stepping back. Taking August’s hand in hers she looked up at him than at her parents. “I have something to tell you but you might not like it.”

“I’m going to be Grandpa,” Ian attempted to joke.

“No Daddy please….”

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“We’re moving in together,” August informed them “we found a little one bedroom house close to campus that we could rent for less than it takes to live in the dorm.”

“Plus we have added benefit of privacy and the ability to study in peace and quiet,” Katrina added.

“That’s a relief” Ian laughed.

“Aren’t you moving a little fast?” Celia fretted.

“Mom please,” Katrina rolled her eyes “we’ve known each other since high school.”

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“It’s just” Celia bit her lip before continuing “your so young.”

“So were you and Daddy,” Katrina pointed out “it’s not like August and I will make the same mistakes as you and get pregnant….”

“Katrina” Ian’s voice cut into her flow of uncensored words “that’s enough. You’re an adult and can make your own decisions. We’ll respect that. But do not throw up our past to prove your point. Yes we made mistakes and because we were so young we know a little something about the added pressures of having to grow up fast. We would hope you’d appreciate our viewpoint and hear our concerns.” He pulled Celia close to him knowing how vulnerable and hurt she was over Katrina’s thoughtless comments.

“Daddy I didn’t mean it like it sounded” she tried to make amends after observing how hurt her parents were over her thoughtlessness.

“It’s late,” Ian said as he escorted Celia towards the stairs “we’ll talk more in the morning once we’ve all calmed down.”

***

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Katrina watched her parents leave. She felt August come up behind and kiss her cheek “come on babe let’s go to bed.”

“I’m such a terrible daughter.”

“No you’re not,” he objected “you’re just not thinking straight. After a good nights rest you’ll see things differently.”

“Why do you put up with me?” she asked turning to face him.

“Because I love you,” he emphasized his words by kissing her nose.

Resting her cheek against his chest she listened to his steady heartbeat beneath his shirt. “I love you too.” She looked up to find him gazing down at her with such love and affection it brought tears to her eyes. “I don’t know how lucky I must have been to win your love but I’m glad I was.”

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“I’m the lucky one,” he contradicted kissing the top of her head.

“Yeah?” she smiled up at him. He nodded “don’t you ever forget it,” she told him.

“I won’t” he bent down and captured her lips with his. He felt her melt into him as he deepened the kiss. He pulled away just enough to say “let’s go upstairs.”

Giggling as he took her hand and led her to her childhood room. He groaned upon seeing the twin bed that awaited them. Beaming up at him she whispered in his ear “it’s never stopped us before.”

Looking into her eyes he smiled “nothing ever will.”

***

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Several weeks later Garrett was putting the finishing touches to his homework. An essay about his most recent birthday. A stupid subject if anyone asked him but his teacher assigned the subject. He could write about it, easy, no problem. Sighing he set it aside. It felt unfinished. He had omitted so many things but there was no way he was going to include the threats that had been made. That was too personal and need to know. His teacher didn’t need to know.

Worry churned inside his stomach turning it to acid that felt like it was eating him from the inside out. Outwardly he agreed with his Dad. It wasn’t his fault that Kara had threatened them. He had no control over her or what she did. Inwardly he couldn’t help but wonder if things would have been different if he had invited her. Would she still have felt the need to threaten them? Would she have felt accepted the family? Had he tipped her over the edge? It probably didn’t matter She was what she was. Her decision had probably been made before she even approached him that day. It didn’t lessen his worry or cause his stomach not to hurt any less thinking about it.

“All finished” his mom asked from the stove.

“I just have a few math problems to do then I’m done,” he told her as he gathered his things so they could eat at the table.

“I’m so proud of you,” Celia told him “you’ve really changed and putting forth the extra effort.”

“Thanks Mom,” he mumbled uncomfortable with the praise for work he should have been doing all along but hadn’t. “Need any help?” he asked once he had cleared the table.

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“Could you set the table and then find your Dad?” she asked.

“Sure can,” he moved to get the plates from the cupboard. He was shocked with he Mom pulled him into a hug.

“I love you” she told him “and appreciate the change in attitude.”

“I love you too,” he told her as his cheeks flared with heat “I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time before.”

“It wasn’t so much that,” she squeezed him once more before moving to stir the pot on the stove “we just knew you were capable of so much more.”

Setting the table he felt his parents expectations settle around his shoulders like a heavy cloak. The last thing he wanted to do was disappoint his parents again but afraid their expectations of him would increase.

***

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“Hey cut that out,” Garrett snarled ducking his cousin Leighton’s attempt to mess up his hair.

Laughing Leighton asked ” what does it matter? It’s going to get messed up anyway.”

“That’s not the point. You wouldn’t like it if I did it to you.” Garrett huffed knowing what would happen if he even tried it. He’d be on the floor with his cousin standing over him.

“Leighton leave the kid alone,” Terrence said coming along side the huddled group.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” Leighton objected.

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“Yeah we were only having a little fun,” Micah added coming to his brother’s defense.

“No you were being bullies,” Samantha said putting an arm around Garrett.

“How can we not tease the kid when he needs a girl to come to his defense?” Leighton smirked in away Samantha found irritating.

“Cool it,” Terrence commanded “he doesn’t need his own cousin’s bullying him. Think about it,” Terrence gave Leighton and his brother a stern withering glare “what would you do if someone else was bullying him?”

Shrugging Leighton looked at his feet “I wasn’t thinking of it like that. I’m sorry” he said looking up.

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“Don’t tell me” Terrence pointed to Garrett “tell him.”

“I’m sorry,” Leighton repeated “sometimes I can be a real jerk. I hope you know that I’d defend you if you needed it.”

Nodding Garrett watched his cousin warily. Sometimes he didn’t know where he stood around them. They had recently moved to Starlight Shores from Roaring Heights and they were still getting to know each other. “Apology accepted,” he took the proffered hand and shook it.

“Now that we’re all friends” Samantha hissed “we better get to the pool or Garrett won’t be able to compete.”

Glancing at the time Garrett broke into a sprint realizing he had five minutes to change for the first meet. He could hear his older cousins laughing behind him as he went. He couldn’t worry about them right now. He knew that Samantha would be giving them a tongue lashing once he was gone.

***

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“Bennett you’re late,” his coach bellowed at him as he entered the pool to the combined groans of his team mates. “You let the team down Bennett.”

“I know sir. I’m sorry sir” he replied back the way the coach liked due to his previous military history.

“I thought we were past this childish immature attitude,” the coach went on to berate his lack of discipline and teamship. He stood at attention in front of the older, larger irate man. He could feel the glares and contempt emanating from his teammates.

He sat through the entire competitions cringing each time he should have been swimming. Watching helplessly while his substitute suffered one humiliating defeat after another. The hostile glares of his teammates increased the longer he remained rooted to the bench. He wanted to leave but to do so meant quitting the team. He wasn’t ready to take the final drastic step yet.

At the end of the competition he followed the defeated team into the changing room. The coach followed behind him with his unrelenting scowl in place. As the lockers came into view his teammates glared at him. At that moment Garrett wondered if he should have quit instead of having to endure their combined hate.

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“We lost because of you” an older boy said backed by the jeers of others.

“I’m sorry….”

“Save it,” another growled slamming his locker shut.

“Boys that’s enough,” the coach admonished them “Bennett won’t be late next time, will you?” He gave the boy a piercing gaze.

Swallowing Garrett met that cold hard gaze that he no doubts had cadets everywhere running for cover “It won’t happen again sir.”

The coach nodded holding his gaze a moment longer before nodding. “Good” he said turning and walking into his office.

***

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An hour later Garrett met up with Samantha in front of the school. “What took you so long?”

Wincing he dropped his backpack to the ground “sorry” he mumbled.

She looked at him in concern “you’re moving kind of funny. Did you pull a muscle or something?”

“No I…don’t want to talk about it,” he turned away from her touch but not fast enough to prevent her from seeing the marks on his back.

“You didn’t get that swimming. What happened?” she demanded.

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He shook his head avoiding her concerned gaze “we lost…”

“So they took it out on you…” words failed her.

“It was my fault,” he moved away from “I was late and coach wouldn’t let me compete.”

“Let me see,” she coaxed approaching him. Gently she pulled his shirt up. Her horrified gasp was enough for him to know it was bad as it felt. “What did they do?”

“I don’t know” he admitted as panic welled up inside him “a bunch of the guys held me down so I couldn’t see….couldn’t move….”

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“How’d the swim meet go?” a friendly voice asked causing both of them to jump.

Whirling around Samantha snarled “this is your fault.” She pointed an accusatory finger at her cousin Leighton.

“What’s my fault?” he asked looking over Terrence’s shoulder.

She moved quick and pulled up Garrett’s shirt before he could prevent her. “That’s your fault” she indicated the marks on Garrett’s back.

“Samantha please,” Garrett complained jerking free from her grasp “I can fight my own battles.”

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“Your back says otherwise,” Terrence said a cold anger burning in his dark eyes. “Who did this?” he demanded.

“The swim team,” Samantha spoke knowing Garrett wouldn’t.

“Most of those guys are juniors and seniors,” Terrence simmered like a volcano about to erupt.

Leighton’s eyes were round with shock “they did that because you were late?” anger creeping into his voice “wait until I get my hands on them.”

“No don’t” Garrett pleaded “you’ll only make things worse.”

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“We’ve got to do something,” Terrence advised “otherwise they’ll feel free to do it again.”

“I could quit,” Garrett said “then they would have to stop.”

“No Garrett,” Samantha protested “you love swimming. You’re the youngest on the swim team and the best swimmer.”

Terrence considered her words “have they ever hurt you before?”

“No” Garrett thought of all the times he had been late in the past or couldn’t compete due to poor grades. “It just started when Coach Yarbrough took over.”

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“Where was he when this was going on?” Leighton demanded.

“In his office like always. It was his son…”

“His son’s on the team?” Micah asked speaking for the first time.

“Yeah he’s the one who…”

“Who did that to you,” Terrence finished for him anger flashing in his dark eyes, deepening his voice.

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Glumly Garrett nodded “he’s never liked me. Always had something against me since the day he moved here.”

Nodding in agreement Samantha added “he moved here about six months ago and he’s been out to get Garrett ever since.”

Rubbing his chin Terrence thought for a moment. “From now on you’re not to go anywhere without one of us.”

“That won’t work,” Samantha was quick to point out “none of you are on the swim team. What will happen to Garrett when he goes to practice or away to competitions?”

Sighing Terrence said “at least one of us will have made the team. All three of us will try out that way it’ll increase our chances.”

***

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After Terrence drove them all home Garrett stood outside his house dreading the impending conversation with his parents. Terrence was the one who insisted he tell them what happened. In Garrett’s mind he still didn’t know what good it would do. Sighing he moved at a snail’s pace up the sidewalk. For once his parents weren’t waiting to pounce on his as soon as he opened the door with a dozen questions about his day. He sat at the table organizing his homework.

An hour later, his homework done he frowned. It wasn’t like them to not at least greet him when he got home. He felt the first tingle of apprehension turning his stomach to acid. He was about to call his dad when the door opened and both of his parents walked in.

The first thing he noticed was the look of disappointment in his Dad’s eyes and the look of disapproval on his Mom’s face. Turning to his Dad about to ask a question when his Dad said “we heard what happened at school today. You know how we feel about fighting.”

Shock swept through him making him feel sick to his stomach. “What fight?” he asked confused.

“Don’t play innocent or make us out to be idiots,” Celia snapped at him “we know about the boy you punched. Just because you were too late participate in the competition is no excuse to take your frustrations out on the boy who took your place. It’s not his fault he’s not as good as you.” She crossed her arms continuing “I thought you were doing so much better. I’ve never felt so embarrassed or ashamed of you in all my life…”

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“Celia that’s more than enough,” Ian’s voice came out sharp and brittle “we haven’t heard Garrett’s side of things. I’m not convinced what we’ve been told was the entire story or the truth.” He waited expectantly for Garrett to say something to prove him right.

“I was late for the competition,” Garrett admitted “I couldn’t compete. The team was justifiably upset with me. Some were even angry.” He looked up his eyes pleading for understanding “I didn’t hit anyone. I never got the chance…”

“What do you mean you never got the chance?” Ian asked him.

Sighing Garrett pulled his shirt up and turned around displaying the raw red welts covering his back. “They grabbed me. Held me down while someone….” he gulped unable to finish his thought “I couldn’t see who was doing what or even what they were using on me.” He turned around confronting his parents pain filled eyes.

“I’m going to call the school…”

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“Mom don’t…” Garrett cried “it’ll only make things worse.”

Looking at his son Ian nodded in agreement “Celia don’t. I have a feeling they want to provoke us into some sort of action. I’m afraid all we’ll accomplish is more aggression against Garrett.”

“They want to kick him off the team,” Celia protested “if he did hit that boy is was self-defense.”

“I know but they didn’t. They only gave him a week suspension.” Ian said “Son do you want to stay on the swim team?”

“Yes Terrence said if I quit I’ll be giving them open invitation to continue coming after me,” Garrett told him.

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“What else did Terrence say?” Ian asked curious to know what plan of action his nephew would suggest.

“That I’m not to go anywhere without someone coming with me. They’re even going to try out for the team.”

“Terrence seems to have a good head on his shoulders,” Ian nodded in approval thankful that Garrett had someone he could rely on.

“Well I still don’t like it,” Celia muttered “I also know I’m out voted.” Turning to Garrett “come with me so that I can examine the damage.”

Turning to his Dad as if to ask for help Ian laughed “sorry son not even I can help you with this.”

 Chapter 1 – Together Again / Chapter 3 – Seeking Answers