Authors: S. B. Alexander
What the heck was Aikido? Sounded like the name of a wolf out of the Alaskan wilderness.
As if Mr. Jackson read my mind he said, “Coach Welles will go through the history of Aikido.”
“But, Mr. Jackson?” I protested.
My body was healing and it didn’t hurt to breathe, but it was still bruised. There was no way I could do anything physical today.
“No buts, Jo. I know you haven’t healed yet. Coach will go easy on you.”
Sam and Ben started laughing. I glared daggers at them.
“Boys, no need to laugh or else I will add chores to your list.”
“Dad,” Ben protested.
“Ben, I don’t want to hear it,” Mr. Jackson intoned. Then he looked at me. “Jo, are we clear?”
“Good. I need to run. I have to be in early. I want all of you to go directly to school. No sidetracking. Chief Garrett hasn’t caught that man yet. Ben, report to me when you get to school. I want to make sure you kids get in safely.”
“We’ll be fine, Dad,” Ben said.
“I know, son. That’s why the officer outside will make sure you get to school.” He patted Ben on the shoulder before he walked out.
Ben’s face turned crimson. Sam and I looked at each other, Sam’s mouth agape.
“Your dad is paranoid,” Sam said.
Now my mouth fell open. I can’t believe
just said that.” I shook my head.
“Let’s go, Sam. Jo. The cruiser leaves in fifteen,” Ben said with a hint of anger in his voice.
Why was Ben angry? His face looked as red as the school colors. Maybe he was embarrassed. I didn’t know what the big deal was. At least, we would get there safely. Besides, if Ben saw that dude who was chasing us, he would take a step back and run too.
Sam and Ben dumped their dishes into the sink and scattered to gather their baseball gear. I sat alone in the kitchen contemplating what Coach Welles was going to make me do after school. What a way to start my day.
I was anxious to get to school. Prior to spring break, Darcy and I had planned to meet at our usual spot in the school’s courtyard on our first day back. I wanted to spend a few minutes catching up with her and hearing all about her cruise vacation.
As we walked out the door, I wondered if Sam had thought about what he was going to say to Neil if he saw him at school. We hadn’t heard from Neil, not that I was expecting to.
Durfee High School, located in the Highlands area of Fall River boasted about its academic and sports programs. Three thousand students from all over the city attended the school.
When we arrived, the parking lot bustled with cars while kids hung about talking to one another. The cop car that followed us was far enough back so no one really noticed, which was good. On the ride over Ben kept saying something about getting laughed at if anyone were to see us pulling into the school lot with a cop on our tail. I thought he was being a bit dramatic. But some kids could be mean.
I opened the door and muttered to myself, “Here goes nothing.” I jumped out of the car, lifted my backpack over my shoulder and began walking.
“Jo?” Sam called out.
I turned and walked backwards. Sam stood by Ben’s Ford Explorer, his red and black t-shirt asking the world
, while Ben had his head stuck in the trunk, probably grabbing their baseball gear.
“Wait up,” he shouted.
I stopped. “I need to meet Darcy.”
“One second,” Sam called again.
I dropped my backpack on the ground near a blue Honda. A few yards away, groups of students gathered in their own circles talking and whispering—I imagined about spring break. As I waited for Sam, I couldn’t help overhearing two boys talking behind the Honda.
One boy, the taller one, wore a black ball cap with the bill facing backwards. A skull and crossbones were embroidered in white stitching on the edge of his cap.
The shorter boy had his back to me. His name, McDonald, was stitched on his sweatshirt above the number seventeen.
“Dude, did you hear? They found a red four-door pick-up truck in the State Forest with a mangled body inside. I mean like an animal attacked him or something,” Skull and Crossbones said.
“Shut up. Who was it?” the McDonald kid asked.
“My dad knows Officer Wilkins. I overheard him telling my dad the truck was registered to the janitor of our school,” the taller one said.
My knees buckled. I used the blue car as an anchor to hold me up, trying to catch my breath. Did I just hear him correctly? Was it Neil? Maybe that was why we haven’t heard from him. Oh my God! Maybe the bandana dude killed him. Then something else occurred to me. Were we followed the other night? If so, was it the man in the hospital garage standing next to the black SUV? My mind was doing somersaults when Sam snapped his fingers.
“Hey? Is my sister in there?”
“What’s wrong with her?” Ben asked.
“I think she saw a ghost.”
I blinked. Sam and Ben were staring at me.
“Her eyes are changing colors like yours, Sam. Is that a genetic disorder? It’s cool as shit,” Ben rambled.
“Jo, what’s going on?” Sam asked.
“Um, can…I talk to you alone?” I looked at Ben. “Brother-sister thing.”
“No problem, sweets. I need to tell my dad we made it safely so he doesn’t have a cow.” Ben picked up his sports bag and flung his backpack around his shoulders. “Sam, I’ll meet you in the locker room in twenty. Jo, love the eye thing you got going on.” He drew an imaginary circle around his eyes with his forefinger. “The green-blue color suits you.”
Sam nodded as Ben traipsed off towards the school building.
“My eyes are changing?” I asked.
“What happened?” Sam asked, ignoring my question.
I scanned the parking lot. The cop car that followed us to school was parked at the front entrance. The two boys who were standing behind the Honda were gone.
“I overheard these two boys talking and—”
“You’re upset because you heard two boys talking? Look, I’ve to get to the baseball meeting before school starts.”
I swallowed hard. “Neil is dead.”
All the blood rushed out of Sam’s face as he dropped his sports bag and crouched to his knees.
“What’re we going to do?” I asked.
He stood up. “We don’t know for sure if it’s true, right?”
“The boy said an Officer Wilkins told his dad. Office Wilkins, Sam. The same guy that was at Ben’s last week just after we got there. Remember?”
Sam tilted back his head, looking up at the gray sky, and bit the inside of his cheek. “Classes start in twenty minutes. We’ll talk at lunch.”
“That’s it?” I grabbed my backpack and hauled it over my shoulder.
“What do you want to do? Go identify the body?” Sam picked up his sports bag.
“Something. What if the cops find out we were with him? Do you think the bandana man had anything to do with it?”
“I don’t have time for this right now,” Sam snapped.
“Hey, I’m not the one to blame here,” I said.
We walked in silence, trampling through the dewy grass over to the school entrance. Usually a security guard stood at the gate, but today I didn’t see anyone. Most of the students had dispersed from the parking lot, with the exception of a few who were talking on their cell phones before entering the building. Mr. Jackson had a strict cell phone policy, which prohibited anyone from talking on a cell phone during school hours, unless it was an emergency. Otherwise, any student caught with a cell phone ringing, vibrating or texting during class would receive a pink slip for detention.
When we reached the main entrance, Sam said, “I’m sorry I snapped. I’ll see you at lunch, okay? And keep the whole emotional eye thing under control.”
Sam and I had speculated that any heightened emotions such as anger caused our eyes to change colors. We didn’t know why, but we agreed to try and keep calm about things. With the news about Neil, I couldn’t promise him or even myself, I would stay calm.
The day wasn’t beginning the way I had planned. I was as superstitious as those Black Sox players. I believed things happened in threes, whether good or bad. If the first incident were bad, then the next two would be, as well. The news about Neil was terrible. If anyone knew Neil helped us, Sam and I would be in more trouble—worse than what happened with Cliff. We could be accused of murder.
I only had a few minutes before the bell rang. I climbed the steps two at a time to the second floor where my locker was located. I stopped at the top to catch my breath, my ribs throbbing, but not as bad as a week ago. With three minutes to spare, I scurried to my locker, which was near my first period History class, thank God.
I grabbed the books I needed for the morning classes, slammed the door, and clicked the lock in place.
When I entered the classroom, students were talking in small groups around the room and Mr. Zielinski was seated at his desk with his nose buried in a large, thick book of some type. I made my way to my seat, which was in the last row near the windows. I bent over to pull my History book out of my bag, when someone pinched my arm.
“Ow,” I screeched as I jerked up my head.
Darcy Rose, my best friend, stood in front of me. Her golden blonde hair fanned out, spilling over her shoulders, and her gold speckled mascara glinted in the light from the classroom window.
“Whoa! What the heck happened to you?” she asked.
I totally forgot about meeting Darcy this morning. Shit!
“Spill, woman.” She had one hand on her hip and the other wrapped around her bag.
“I’m sorry, I got caught up talking to Sam.”
“That’s not what I mean.” She pointed to my face. “It looks like someone was trying to carve you up for their dinner.”
“Ha, ha. After class.”
“No. Now.” She raised her voice.
I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, but if I didn’t say something she would make a scene.
“I promise, after class. The bell is about to ring.”
She huffed and plopped down in front of me.
Darcy took the title of drama queen to a whole different level. In my book, she was drama squared. While she was my best friend, and best friends were supposed to keep secrets, she still had a tendency to gossip or let things slip.
The bell rang. Mr. Zee, as he liked to be called, closed the classroom door. He didn’t waste any time as he handed out a quiz.
Crap, I didn’t study a thing.
I grabbed a pencil out of my backpack when Darcy handed me a note.
“You have fifteen minutes. Begin,” he said.
The sea of heads in the class lowered their gaze and began scribbling.
I opened the note. The words,
were written in big letters. Darcy had a thing for Ben. She’d yearned to go out with him since we’d started school in the fall. Her words: “Who’s the Greek god? I think I’m in love.”
Ben had a small following of girls from all grades hanging out at his baseball games, cheering him on, and now he had Darcy.
I folded the note and stuffed it into my jean pocket. I scribbled my name on the top of the page and scanned the quiz. Most of it was multiple-choice except for the last one, which was an essay.
Since we were studying the Civil War, the essay question asked us to describe, in a paragraph or two, President Lincoln and the Confederate forces at Fort Sumter. I unpacked my memory trying to think about Mr. Zee’s lecture on President Lincoln—no luck. I couldn’t recall anything on the topic. I answered all the multiple-choice, then wrote the first word for the essay when Mr. Zee called time.
“Pass your quizzes forward.”
I sighed. I’m sure Mr. Zee would be disappointed with me for not answering the last one.
As soon as he collected the quizzes, Darcy turned around. “Well?”
“Gee, you’re irritating.”
“Are you going to spill or not?”
“When the bell rings.” I narrowed my eyes.
Mr. Zee spent the rest of the class polling us about the quiz. I drifted off thinking about Neil, hoping he wasn’t dead. It seemed as if there was a pattern forming. Everyone around me was getting hurt: first Officer Bradley, now Neil. Who was next? As I combed through my brain trying to come up with some sort of theory, the bell rang, jarring me back to reality.
I rose from my seat and joined the other kids who were filing out and realized that Ben never made it to History.
It must’ve been one hell of baseball meeting.
I pushed my way out of the classroom, but Darcy got tangled in the crowd. My next period was Study Hall, but I had about ten minutes before class.
I leaned against a locker outside the room waiting for Darcy when Ben walked up.
“There you are,” Ben said.
“The meeting took the whole period?”
“Yep. It got kind of heated,” he said.
“Nothing. You know guys,” Ben said.
I honestly don’t. Boys, guys, whatever—not in my vocabulary.
“Jack Powell, our pitcher, was being his same old self: an ass. The meeting got heated so Coach Welles gave us a free pass for first period. Nice, huh?” He had a grin from ear to ear.