What Lies Ahead
Chapter 2

When I went out for my run the next morning, Zoe was up and ready to go with me. Apparently, the girls had decided I needed a bodyguard. Luckily, there was no repeat of yesterday’s visitors. Still, I kept my eyes peeled as we ran, looking for anything out of place.

When we got back, everyone was up and waiting on us. My best guess is most of them got up when I left and they were waiting in case something happened.

“I’m glad y’all decided to start getting up with me. Maybe you should all start running with me in the mornings.”

“Fat chance,” Vicki said over her bowl of cereal. “I now have a super metabolism that makes it hard for me to gain weight. That means I don’t need to exercise ever again. I’m thinking of it as one of the perks.”

“Just think what kind of condition you would be in if you worked out?” I threw back.

“I’d rather not.”

“We all need to sit down and talk about something, tonight,” Mom said, cutting off my response.

She had heard this particular conversation before and the odds were good that it wasn’t an accident she chose that moment to break in.

“Why, what’s up?” I asked, concerned that something had happened.

“It’s nothing bad. We just need to have a short family meeting. By family, I mean everyone who lives here and you two, of course,” she said, indicating Tami and Vicki.

We all got off to school and the day went pretty much like the one before, since we were still settling into our classes. I watched the girls do a short cheerleading practice after school and then we all headed for the baseball field. I had put the word out the day before to members of the football team and to the cheerleaders we knew that the workouts would be starting up again today on the baseball diamond, since it was more or less unused in the fall.

I was surprised when we passed the bleachers to find almost thirty people milling around. Besides many of the football players I knew from the year before, there were kids from the track team, the baseball team, and even one guy from the water polo team.

I had honestly expected not many people to show up. We had an OK turnout the year before, but I had started this when I was still playing sports. Now that I wasn’t part of any of the school teams, I figured participation would be down.

I was happy to see this many people. I may not be able to participate in sports anymore, but I still really liked it when my school’s teams did well.

I wasn’t going to go easy on them! I ran them ragged, as though we had never left off for the summer, picking up the program from where we left it at the end of the last school year. Some of them had continued to work out over the summer and even follow the program. You could tell who those were: they were tired at the end of the workout, but not totally wiped out.

The regulars from last year who didn’t keep up the program over the summer did barely better than those who were brand new to it. Pretty much everyone who came out was athletic and in fairly good shape, so I had always designed our workout program so that someone couldn’t get through it using sheer natural athleticism.

That’s one of the reasons during last year’s workout sessions I had always pushed the girls to be aware of how hard the sets of exercises were. I wanted them to react accordingly, so they didn’t stand out.

Of course, I am terrible at taking my own advice. My poor choices the previous year had already showed my unusual physical abilities to more people then I was happy with. But I couldn’t put that cat back in the bag.

It had been a tough decision, but I had already suggested to the girls that they sit out the workouts this year. Even if they faked being tired, I was worried the girls would still physically stand out too much from everyone else If they slipped up just once, people could add up my abilities and their abilities and come up with something close enough to four to make me nervous.

After all, Josh ... who wasn’t the most observant person I had ever met ... had figured it out.

Zoe had been pissed, since she was pretty competitive, but Tami didn’t care and Vicki had already made her aversion to working out known.

We finished our workout and I headed home. Carter had sent me a message before I left for school asking for a sit down to go over his surveillance of Emily.

The girls had all made it clear that they wanted to be in that meeting, so they arranged to have dinner at my house tonight. Carter was already standing in front of the house when our two cars pulled up.

“Who’s watching Emily while you’re back here in Texas?” I asked him as I opened the door.

“I have some guys on it. You didn’t imagine I did all my surveillance solo, did you?”

“I guess I did. I mean, in my head, you always struck me as the loner PI type.”

“You read too many books, kid. This gig requires a staff and employees.”

“OK. Sorry to jump to conclusions. I just wanted to make sure someone was still watching her.”

“As long as your checks keep clearing, kid, someone will be watching.”

“So, how is she?” I asked once we were all seated.

“It’s hard to tell, really. But she doesn’t seem to be doing too good. She doesn’t leave the house except to go to school. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t made any friends. Things also seem tense with her grandparents.”

“How so?” I asked.

“The three don’t go out often, but they have a few times and all of those trips have been totally silent unless something specific needed to be done. Even in those cases, the conversation was kept to as minimal an amount as possible. I know teenagers can be like that. With everything she’s been through, I am not surprised she is closed off, but that isn’t what concerns me. It’s her grandparents. They are equally shut off from her. They react fairly normally to each other, so it’s not a personality thing. It’s almost as if she’s invisible to them.

“Now, I am just comparing their interactions with those of average grandparents and teenage grandchildren without any stress, so it could be the situation that’s causing the awkwardness, but it feels like more than that.”

“I had expected to hear from her by now,” I said, more to myself then to Carter.

“I think that’s her grandparents. She has put letters in the mailbox a bunch of times, just to have them come out and remove whatever she put in. The last time she put in a letter, I had one of my guys check it. It was addressed to you four. Her grandparents are keeping all of her letters and my best guess is they aren’t saying anything to her about it.”

“And everything you have is from observing them outside their house?” I asked.

“Yes. We are only set up for basic surveillance.”

“The fact that they are purposefully cutting her off from us, and then hiding that fact from her, worries me. What do we need to do, to go to the next step in surveillance?”

“What do you mean by next step?” Carter asked.

I knew Carter well enough by this point to know he was just being cagey. He knew exactly what I was talking about and just wanted me to come out and ask directly rather than offer anything outright. I doubted it was because he didn’t trust me and guessed it was probably just his natural instincts that caused him to be so cautious.

“Being able to tell what is going on inside the house. I am worried about her. I just have a bad feeling.”

“You know that is illegal, right?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“OK, then yeah, we can do that.”

“How does she look?” Tami asked.

“Honestly? She looks sad.”

I was truly pissed at her grandparents. The fact that they were stealing the letters meant for us and not telling her meant she thought she was sending the letters and we were just not responding. She probably felt abandoned by us. It made my heart break just thinking about it.

Tami clearly had the exact same thought and looked completely stricken by the news. A stray tear rolled down one of her tanned cheeks.

“Don’t worry,” I said, wiping the drop away with my thumb. “We will figure out some way to get in contact with her.”

Tami didn’t seem convinced and I didn’t blame her. At the moment, there seemed to be little we could do except wait until she turned eighteen. And if her grandparents kept playing this game the whole time, she would probably hate us when the time came.

There wasn’t much left to report. Carter said he had a few more stops to make before he headed back to Florida, so I walked him out.

The mood was pretty melancholy as we sat around and reminisced about Emily. The girls were all pretty upset by what was happening, but it seemed to be hitting Tami the most. Of the three of them, Tami was the most sensitive, and it was showing.

Our collective moping was interrupted by a phone call.

“Hello?” I said in an unenthusiastic voice.

“Well, that doesn’t sound convincing,” a familiar voice on the other end of the phone said.

“Charlie?” I asked after a few moments when I placed the voice.

We had met Charlie and his girlfriend, Sandy, over the summer. They were both college students who had big ideas for helping the poor in Mexico, with planning that left a lot to be desired. I had stepped in and helped them out, and made an offer that, if they wanted to get serious about helping people, I would show them how to do it.

“Yep, everything all right out there? You sound upset,” he asked, still sounding upbeat.

“Yeah, I just have some stuff on my mind,” I replied, trying to put a happier tone in my voice. “You should be in school now, right? How’s it going so far?”

“Pretty good. We are still settling in and trying to get our bearings. It’s taking some getting used to. College is different from high school, that’s for sure.”

“So, what’s up?” I asked, betting he wasn’t just calling to shoot the breeze.

“In Mexico, you had mentioned helping us do some real work, helping people,” he said.

“Yep,” I replied. I was going to make him ask what he wanted to ask, even though I know where this was going.

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Story tagged with:
Coming of Age /