Archive | April 2019

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 63

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“You’re welcome. Thank you for standing up for what’s right,” Aiden replied, giving each a gentle kiss.

With Inez, he got more than just a little kiss in return. Both realized it wasn’t the venue for such a thing, but she couldn’t help it. He promised to call her, and the girls also went to the buffet.

Finally, the line ended and they were able to get some food. Several of the ladies had set aside special tidbits for them, knowing they would disappear quickly. The buffet was hosted by the Council of Catholic Women. The family made sure to thank them for their kindness and generosity.

“It’s the least we can do for a lost lamb,” the president, Mary, said. “When Barry told us the circumstances, we couldn’t say no.”

It was finally time to go. The family, with Eoin, drove home. Changing into more comfortable clothing, they sat in the living room together. Fred brought out a bottle of wine that looked somewhat old and dusty.

“I had planned to save this to celebrate Aiden’s twenty-first birthday, but I think we need it now. I am a firm believer in celebrating someone’s life, after mourning their passing. We’ve had the sorrow of the day, now the joy.” He poured each of them a glass, including the two younger boys. “To Wendy. You touched our lives in many ways, whether you knew it or not. Your love, gave us a beautiful granddaughter. Your death brought us closer together. We mourn you, daughter, but delight in you as well. May you find peace that you didn’t know in this life.” He raised his glass.

The all clinked glasses before sipping the wine. It was a good vintage, a lovely, mellow white wine. Fred gazed down into his glass after taking his first sip.

“I bought this the day we found out we were going to be parents. From the beginning, I knew it was a boy. I have no idea how. I had a name picked out, and I was lucky Deirdre liked it. I wanted to name my first born son after the best man I knew, my grandfather, Aiden Stewart Partridge. He came to this country as a boy, with his mother and younger brother. His mother wasn’t well, so he was the one who found work, supporting them. He worked tirelessly until the day he died, providing for his family. If you will bear with me a moment more, to my grandfather.”

They toasted his grandfather as well. After that, the mood lightened and they told funny stories about Wendy and Granda Aiden. He had been around when Aiden was young, and he remembered the old man fondly.

The stress of the morning finally caught up with Deirdre and she went to bed. When she woke later she heard voices, more than she’d anticipated. Not quite feeling up to a houseful of company, for the first time in years, she made her slow way to the living room. She found Vanessa and Dario, along with Fonda and Inez. Not a bad crowd, she could handle that.

Fred brought her water and a pain pill once she was settled in the recliner. Eoin fussed, doing his own impression of a mother hen, and she had to laugh at him.

“I didn’t get a chance to meet the young ladies,” she said, smiling at Fonda and Inez. She didn’t miss how close the girls were sitting to Aiden and Eoin, but it didn’t bother her.

Aiden made the introductions.

“It was their testimony that helped get the search warrants,” Vanessa explained. “But that’s not why we’re here.”

“We know you have a lot of food already,” Fonda said. “But we really wanted to thank you, and this is the only way we know how. Despite our mothers’ shortcomings, they insisted that it wasn’t a true thank you celebration without food. So we made a comfort meal.”

Once they were all seated at the table, the girls served heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, parsnips and butter beans. Along with these side dishes, they served the best fried chicken any of them had tasted. This wasn’t the Colonel, or Publix deli, they had made it themselves.

“My granny taught me how to fry chicken before I got my first bra,” Fonda said, unashamedly. “The secret, she says, is cooking in cast iron. I don’t know if that’s true, but I don’t use anything but the deep skillet she gave me when I was ten.”

Inez set two platters, mounded with flaky biscuits, in front of them. “My grandmother insisted that every girl had to know how to make biscuits. While Fonda friend chicken, I mixed biscuits until I could do it in my sleep.”

“Mine are never this light,” Deirdre said.

“You could pave a road with them,” Fred said, earning himself a punch in the ribs. “I’m telling the god’s truth, woman,” he laughingly complained.

“Which is why we have Pillsbury,” she countered. “I know my weaknesses. This is absolutely delicious. Thank you.” She genuinely liked the girls, and felt that her two oldest boys, that being Aiden and Eoin, were in good hands. “At least I know they won’t starve,” she teased.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 62

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

The service was beautiful. Father Barry spoke as if he knew Wendy, and Aiden suspected he’d spoken to some of their friends, in order to find out about her. Near the end of his sermon, he stepped in front of the podium, putting his hand on the coffin.

“I didn’t know this young lady personally, but after speaking to those who loved her, I feel as if my life missed something, not having her in it. The world has lost a loving spirit, but heaven has been given an angel. If you will, please, join me in our closing song. You’ll find the words in the program.”

The pall bearers walked forward and the organ soared around them. The congregation raised their voices in song. The words to I Shall Not Walk Alone had always brought tears to Deirdre’s eyes, but hearing everyone sing it for Wendy, was too much. She forced herself to walk out of the church behind the coffin, but she wobbled. Corin steadied her on her left, Burl on her right. The men set the coffin on the rack that slid into the hearse. She and her boys stood together, and were joined by Eoin and Fred. Watching the hearse pull away, the two young men broke down once more.

There was to be a reception at the fellowship hall, so they walked over. The family, and Eoin, were lined up to receive condolences. Aiden wished he were anywhere but there, but it was part of the ceremony. He felt he owed it to Wendy to see this through.

A couple came up to him. They didn’t speak right away, but the woman took his hand, staring into his face. They looked to be in their late thirties or early forties. She was blonde, elegant. He was swarthy and rugged.

“You must be Aiden,” she said, her voice a mellow alto.

“Yes…ma’am. And you are?”

“Amanda and Leonard Register. You gave us our daughter,” she said softly. “We debated coming, but we had to say goodbye to dear Wendy. We also wanted you to have this.” She took a framed photo from her handbag. It was a picture of his daughter, dressed in a pretty pink dress, a bow in her hair. “She will be three in a month and we would be pleased if you would come to her party. You can be Uncle Aiden, if that’s all right?”

“Yes. Yes, of course! Thank you! You have no idea what this means to me. To be a small part of her life. Thank you. My parents, Fred and Deirdre Partridge, my brothers and our dear friend, Eoin Reilly.”

“You’re Eoin?” Amanda said, taking his hand. “Wendy talked about you. She lived with us before Rowan was born.”

“You kept her name?” Aiden didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“Such a lovely name, how could we not? Wendy spoke of you both so often, and fondly, we feel as if we know you. We are so very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” Eoin said graciously. “May I come with Aiden? I feel…she talked of you and the baby, Rowan, so much these last few months. If I may?”

“Absolutely! And we would like you all to visit from time to time. Lenny’s family is mostly gone. He grew up in foster care, like Wendy. That was one reason we were drawn to her. I came from a huge family, but we can always have more, don’t you find?”

“I do,” Deirdre said softly, taking her hand. “Thank you for making the trip down. Gainesville is over three hours.”

“We moved to Ormond a year ago, so we’re much closer now.”

“Thank you, son,” Leonard spoke for the first time, taking Aiden’s hand. “She’s such a treasure and a joy for us. We could never have our own, and having Wendy choose us, was such a blessing.”

“I’m so glad you’re all so happy. Thank you again.” He shook the other man’s hand, and was pulled into a hug. Amanda hugged him, too, and they wandered over to the buffet table.

“Uncle Aiden,” Eoin said softly. “Not bad.”

“I can live with it. F**k, Eoin, I’m a dad!”

His emotions were in such a jumble, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He didn’t have time to figure it out, because Fonda and Inez walked over. They had both been crying and their makeup was in ruins. Inez hugged Aiden, and Fonda buried her face on Eoin’s chest. They held them gently, hardly knowing what to do. A few minutes passed, and they disentangled themselves.

“Sorry, guys. Lord, we’ve made a mess of your shirts.” Fonda wiped at it with a tissue, but it didn’t help.

“Not to worry,” Aiden said. “Are you okay? You both look pretty shaken up. More than just this.”

“Our folks are in jail,” Fonda said. “And it’s about goddamn time!” she said a bit louder than she’d intended. “Sorry. Our dads, especially, deserve it. Thank you for making me brave,” she said, touching Aiden’s cheek, then Eoin’s.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

Red River Radio Presents What’s Write for Me with Kelsie and Rick

Join Us Wednesday, April 24 from 4-6 PM Eastern on Blog Talk Radio

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Dragons, and Dryads and Elves – oh my!

We’re taking a step in a slightly different direction. Anyone who plays video games knows that there is an incredible story behind each one. Even if the history isn’t active in the game, it’s there. World building for a fantasy game can be especially challenging.

This week, we will chat with Rick Simmons, programmer and trouble shooter for Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted. He is joined by Kelsie Belanger, an artist and animator for the game.

I’m looking forward to getting to know these two talented people a lot better. I know we’re going to have a great time, regardless of where the conversation takes us.

kelsie

Meet Artist Kelsie Belanger

How are you involved with Istaria?

I’m an artist, specializing in 3D animation and user interface (so icons), as well as some minor work in texturing and modeling. I also own and manage the Discord and have managed various events in the past.

Favorite pastime

I love to draw, but mostly I like playing video games with my friends.

Favorite book series or author

My favorite book series is the Age of Fire series, by E. E. Knight, though really only the first three books.

Family, furry friends or other life stuff

I have an elder sister and a young niece, and a whole boatload of cousins. I’ve a cat and a lizard as pets, though I really want a snake in the future, too.

Major things happening in life right now

I’m working my way through college to get a bachelor’s degree in Biology, however I do hope to get into the gaming industry as a 3D animator in the future.

rick

Meet Programmer Rick Simmons

How are you involved with Istaria?

I’m a programmer and do client and server side programmer. In general, I try to keep some distance from the design side of Istaria. It’s my experience that programmers make games that programmers like, while Istaria is intended for a wider crowd.

Favorite pastime

I like cooking and reading. For fiction, I usually read hard scifi and non-fiction is currently the psychology and biology of consciousness.

Favorite book series or author

While a bit older of a series, I still think the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons is a fantastic. I think a Canticle for Leibowitz deserves to be read more widely. For non-fiction, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter is a favorite.

Family, furry friends or other life stuff

Wife and two kids, but kids are mostly grown up now.

Major things happening in life right now

Getting on the crazy train… I think we’re on the cusp of significant changes to our lifestyle, based on climate change, and trying to figure out a better place to live that is more insulated from those effects. Maybe not so crazy.

To Join Us Live, or Listen Later!

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 61

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

Jasper arrived, taking Harkness from Fred’s less than tender mercies. Wrenching the principal’s arms behind him, he didn’t listen to the screaming, but hustled him to a nearby cruiser.

“Keep an eye on him. His hand is broken,” he ordered.

“You got it, Boss,” Aaron said from a few feet away.

“Hang in there, kids, the ambulance is on the way. Deirdre, nice work, babe.” Jasper kissed her surprised mouth. “Nay will be very proud.”

Fred helped his eldest son to his feet and out of the pond. Deirdre and Corin tore up Corin’s shirt to wrap around Burl’s bleeding leg. Not long after, the ambulance arrived. Then another. The family loaded into them and were taken to the hospital.

“I can’t believe you did all that,” Deirdre said, giving each son a hug and kiss, followed by more, until they protested.

“I told you, Mom. No one messes with the Partridge Boys,” Aiden said, and passed out.

Hours later, the family was home. Deirdre was in a cast because she’d managed to tear a ligament when she ran after Harkness. Aiden was overnight in the hospital, but Eoin had asked to be the one to stay. Burl’s leg had taken thirty stitches to put back together, and Corin’s ribs and knuckles were torn and bruised.

“No school tomorrow,” Deirdre said. “Maybe not ever again.”

“You can’t keep us home forever, Mom,” Burl said. “We make you crazy in five minutes.”

“True. But the rest of the week and maybe the next….”

She got no argument.

They were trying to decide what to do for dinner, when the doorbell rang. Fred, who was the only mobile one, answered. Their cop friends were there with a ham dinner, complete with yams, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and fresh bread.

“We’ll keep it short, we know you’re in pain,” Vanessa said. “But we needed a celebration, now that this is over.”

“And tomorrow, we plan a funeral,” Deirdre said sadly.

“That’s all taken care of,” Teague assured her. “My mother and aunts took care of the details. She’s going to have a beautiful send off. We didn’t know if she was Catholic or Protestant, but I don’t imagine God minds one way or the other. It happened that our parish priest had an opening in his schedule and agreed.”

“How much did you have to persuade him, McTeague?” Jasper teased.

“Lil bit,” Teague said, holding his fingers less than an inch apart. “Actually, Father Barry is very cool. He went to school with some of my cousins.”

“Everyone went to school with some of your cousins,” Jasper reminded him. “Cause half the school was your cousins.”

“So did you,” Teague said, sounding petulant.

“Not denying it, and loved every minute of not being related to the most beautiful women in the county.”

“All that aside,” Nadeya picked up the conversation thread. “The service is set for two o’clock tomorrow. It was Barry’s only window.”

“Good. Does Eoin know?”

“Yes,” Nadeya replied. “He’s a pall bearer. We were going to have Aiden be one, but since he’s not in any shape for it, would you?” she asked Fred.

“I would be honored. She’s the mother of my granddaughter.” He blinked hard, pressing his lips together.

Deirdre knew he was very moved by the request. He might not shed his tears publicly, but she knew he grieved for the girl he barely knew.

Their friends left as soon as they’d cleaned up after dinner. The family spent a quiet night, sleeping deeply, knowing they were safe.

Despite the solemnity of the day, it was bright and sunny, too beautiful for the sorrowful occasion.

“Funerals should always be in the rain,” Deirdre mused as she dressed. “It feels like God is crying.”

“Maybe sunshine is better,” Fred said, holding her from behind. “Because it’s like God is welcoming his daughter home.”

They drove over to the church in Deirdre’s car with Fred driving. They had picked up Aiden earlier in the day, and he rode in the backseat, stony faced and somber. For once, the boys didn’t squirm or argue and they reached their destination in silence.

Walking into the church, Aiden paused on the threshold, his heart tightening in his chest. A sob caught in his throat. He didn’t want to break down so soon, but he couldn’t stop it. Eoin wasn’t far away. He took Aiden in his arms and they cried quietly together. Since they were sitting in for Wendy’s family, they sat in a reserved spot near the front. Their cop friends filled in the rows behind them. The members of the golf team who had graduated with Wendy, sat together, not far away. All the girls were crying softly. The boys looked red eyed, fighting the tears.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 60

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

Oliver was in a heap on the floor with Corin standing over him, fists clenched. Burl held Moe by the front of the shirt, threatening to break his face.

“You okay, brother?” Burl asked over his shoulder, not taking his eyes from Moe.

“Yeah,” Aiden gasped. “Thanks. How?” He slumped to the ground, leaning against the cool, comforting tile.

“I saw Harkness poking at you. I knew he was up to something, so I grabbed Cor and we followed. When I saw you come in here, I called Jasper. They should be here any second.”

The door burst open again and Officer Mendez slid through the opening. “Boys! You’re okay. Well, some of you, sort of…. What happened?” He stood with his hands on his hips, trying to catch his breath. He’d run across the courtyard to find them.

Aiden explained, finally realizing that Harkness was gone. “Dammit, the bastard left!”

“You go see the nurse, let me take care of this. Jesus, what a mess.” He took his radio off his shoulder and started talking rapidly on it.

Aiden, Burl and Corin started toward the main office, to see the nurse. None of them had escaped injury, though they were excited by the outcome.

“Thank you,” Aiden said. “If you hadn’t come…. I don’t know how many of them it would have taken to whip my ass, but I knew how many they were going to use.” he quoted his favorite comedian, Ron White.

“He must be okay, he’s quoting stand up,” Burl said, dabbing a split lip with the neck of his tee shirt.

They were filing into the nurse’s office when they saw Harkness in the parking lot, running toward his car. Aiden tapped his brothers.

“We can’t let him get away.”

“Jasper’s coming,” Burl protested.

“He’s not here yet! You coming?” He dashed off, hitting the emergency door from the office.

Alarms started ringing, people stood up, wondering what the hell was going on. Soon, all hell was going to cut loose, and they’d lose Harkness in the morass of people spilling from the building. Realizing he wouldn’t get to his car in time, the principal started running. Corin went after him, his brothers flanking the running man. Each step took them closer. Across the driveway, over the curb, onto the grass. They were running out of time and space. Once he got to the road, there would be no stopping him.

Burl’s fingers brushed the man’s jacket as Harkness hopped the curb. He tried to follow, but tripped. Losing his balance, he fell hard, his shin scraping the concrete. He rolled to his side, bellowing in pain, his leg bleeding.

Corin hopped the curb, trying to tackle the principal. Had he been as tall as his brothers, he’d have made it. He missed by a breath. Aiden used the distraction to barrel full tilt at the conniving bastard. His long legs, and anger, gave him speed and power. He hit Harkness from the side, crashing into his hips. They went down in a tangle of arms and legs, rolling toward the retention pond at the front of campus.

Burl lay still, trying to stop the bleeding from his shredded calf. Corin struggled to right himself and recover, but his head was spinning and he couldn’t do much more than crawl.

With a mighty splash, Aiden and Harkness hit the pond. Aiden had the misfortune to be on the bottom when they landed. Gagging and sputtering, he got a breath, but Harkness was on top of him, pushing his face under water. Aiden thrashed and kicked, using his feet to knock the other man off balance. Finally connecting with Harkess’ balls he got the advantage. Bigger and younger, he had strength on his side, but Harkness fought dirty. Grabbing Aiden’s face, he tried to drive his thumbs into the boy’s eyes. When that didn’t work, he tried to punch him in the throat.

It was all Aiden could do to stay upright. He fended off the blows, but he was weakening. Hands slippery with water, he lost his grip. That was all the principal needed. Levering himself upward, he knocked Aiden down again. Grabbing the boy’s shirt, he raised his fist to strike a blow to drive his nose into this brain. Aiden couldn’t escape, he could only struggle feebly.

Thudding feet ran passed Burl and Corin. They couldn’t tell who they both were, but one was definitely their mother. They could hear her screaming before they saw her, like an air raid siren, loud, shrill and continuous. She threw herself at Harkness. Grabbing the hand which was raised to strike her son, she wrenched his thumb and fingers apart, like Nadeya had shown her. Not stopping when she met resistance, she heard the bones crack.

Harkness dropped her son. Screaming with pain, he found himself face first in the water. Fred grabbed his injured hand, twisting it in an Aikido hold as he flipped Harkness over. His foot on the man’s shoulder kept him face down, sputtering as he struggled to keep his nose out of the water. Fred pushed him further, increasing the twist and tension on the principal’s arm. A bubbling, gurgling scream escaped Harkness’ lips.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 59

sidetracked coverAiden ducked and slammed his fist into the other boy’s belly. Eddy fell with a thump and a grunt. Gasping for breath, he let out a high, shrill sound like air escaping a balloon. Aiden left him there, ducking down the staircase. He banged through the door at the bottom, jogging down the corridor, toward the courtyard.

“Aiden Partridge!” a man’s voice yelled his name from his right.

Turning, he saw Principal Harkness. The man was red in the face, his lips pressed so tightly together, they were white around the edge.

“Sir?”

“What are you doing, young man?”

“Going to class.”

“You’re running.”

“Sorry, sir. I didn’t want to be late.”

“You’re not just late, boy, you’re coming to my office. Get moving!” he bellowed, pointing to the administration building.

Without a word, Aiden shuffled toward the office. He passed Burl, who was at his locker.

“Sup?” he asked quietly.

Aiden shrugged, shaking his head. The man and teen walked out the door. As it swung slowly shut behind them, Burl watched as the principal prodded his brother with his fingers. Harkness shoved him hard enough for Aiden to lose his balance. Catching himself, Aiden stepped further to his left, away from Harkness’ reach. The principal sped up so he could poke him again. Not liking what he saw, Burl went to a nearby classroom. Corin was just sitting down. Burl tipped his head at the youngest Partridge.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Tyson, I need to borrow my brother. It’s important.”

“Sure.” The teacher frowned, but nodded. “Need a hall pass?”

“No, ma’am. Thanks. We got called to the office.”

“Okay.” Still frowning and puzzled, she watched the boys hustle out the door, trailing their brother and Harkness. Concerned, Ms. Tyson followed them to the door. Catching the eye of Officer Mendez, she pointed. “Something’s not right.”

“I’ll have a look. Not to worry. I’ve got this.”

She went back to her class, forcing a smile. “Good morning, class.”

“Good morning, Ms. Tyson,” they said as she closed the door.

Aiden had expected to go into Mr. Harkness’ office. Instead, the principle took him to the restroom beside the auditorium. These were generally deserted during the day, and often kept locked. Today, the door opened easily, and Aiden was pushed in ahead of the principal. Instead of empty, it held three other people: Xander, Moe and Oliver. The three boys had murderous expressions on their faces as they squared off with Aiden. He turned to go back out, but Harkness blocked his escape.

“What’s this about?” Aiden asked, assessing the situation. He tallied his chances of surviving this encounter, and didn’t like the total.

“You know what this is about. You and your pals shut down a very lucrative enterprise. You embarrassed a lot of people, caused more trouble than you’re worth. Do you know what happens to interfering trouble makers?”

“No, but I figure I’m about to find out.” He knew he could take any one of the boys, maybe two, but three—not even he was that good. Xander looked a little spooked, but he’d join his hood friends if they jumped Aiden.

“You’re a pain in the ass, just like your old man. He never played the game, either.”

“I’d rather play my own,” Aiden said, shifting his weight to take on the boys when they rushed.

“Foolish boy.” Nodding, Harkness signaled for the hoods to jump Aiden.

Moe rushed in first, going low with his shoulder, catching Aiden in the gut. He knocked him back a few feet, narrowly missing the tiled wall near the door. He took a swung at Aiden’s nuts, but felt his fist blocked and twisted hard. Bellowing, he tried to connect with his left. This was blocked, too. A leg sweep brought him to his knees, screaming.

Xander hung back, but Oliver jumped in, taking another swing at Aiden. He couldn’t block Oliver and contain Moe, though he did duck. Oliver’s fist still smacked the side of his head, making his ears ring. Another fist came at his face, and someone punched him in the stomach. By this time, he didn’t know if all three were on him, or just two. Lost in the pounding fists, he felt himself falter. Just as he thought he was going down, someone yanked Moe away.

A cracking blow landed, followed by a smack against tile and a loud, ululating groan. Closer to him, he saw Oliver tugged from behind. Blood spattered him as a fist, not his, connected with the boy’s nose. Xander tried to run away, but Aiden tripped him. He fell, hitting his head on the sink. Slithering to the floor, he bled from a cut to the chin.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 58

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

Eoin went to get a shower. Aaron called Jasper, giving him a brief report. He heard the water cut off in the bathroom, and saw Eoin walk to his room and fall into bed. Lying face first on the bed, Eoin lay there naked, the light on. Aaron pulled a blanket over the other man and turned out the lamp, before settling for the night.

Luckily for everyone at the Partridge house, the night was quiet and uneventful. Deirdre still woke with a start, after a particularly disturbing dream, which faded as soon as she opened her eyes. Fred was curled at her side, looking so much like Aiden, she felt a lump in her throat. Somehow, the peace of the night made her more nervous. Unable to get back to sleep, she hobbled to the kitchen to get a glass of water.

Tonight, Jasper was the one burning the midnight oil. He smiled up at her, offering her a cup of coffee. Since she didn’t think she’d be going back to bed anyway, she accepted.

“Couldn’t sleep, huh?”

“It’s too quiet, like the calm before the storm. I had a nightmare, some faceless something was following me.” She shuddered. “But it wasn’t exactly running and chasing, more lurking in corners.”

Jasper shuddered too. “Oh, you had to say that. My worst nightmares are like that. What’s sparked it, you think?”

“We’ve put away some very bad people and solved Wendy’s murder. But what I don’t get is, whose idea was this? Bullock’s not smart enough to do this himself. He’s a great patsy, but not a lot of little gray cells to rub together.”

Jasper put his elbows on the table, leaning toward her. “You figure there’s a master mind we didn’t roll in with the others. We had pictures of all those people, lists of names….”

“Yeah, but what if it’s someone who never attended? Wendy would never know.”

“True.” His nod encouraged her to go on.

“It would have to be someone involved with the school. This sort of thing couldn’t continue without a person to cover their tracks. But for the life of me, I can’t think who.” Shaking her head, she sighed. “I want to believe this is over, Jasper, but I’m simply not convinced that it is.”

“We’ve got you covered, Dee. We’ll watch your family.”

“I know, but you can’t do so forever. You have lives and families, and mine can’t live like this. I learned a long time ago to stand up to my fears, but there’s no one, nothing, to confront.”

“I wish I knew what to tell you. I guess we’ll have to figure it out together.”

“Sooner than later.”

They sat and talked until the boys got up. Fred got up with them. Nadeya followed a few minutes later. She and Jasper made breakfast. It was time for the boys to go, and Deirdre hugged and kissed them all three times before she allowed them to leave.

“Wow, Mom,” Corin said. “We’re okay. Chill, huh?”

“I’ll chill when you’re all home safely,” she said, giving him another kiss.

“Ready?” Nadeya said from the living room.

“Yes!” the boys said loudly.

“Thanks, I’m feeling the love,” Deirdre called after them.

“Mom, if we were openly affectionate, you’d think we were sick,” Burl said as he went out the door.

“Boys!” Deirdre complained.

“Who wants a game of Cards Against Humanity?” Fred suggested.

“Anything to take my mind of things,” Deirdre replied.

She, Fred, and Jasper sat down to play.

Aiden was getting weird looks from faculty and students. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but figured it had something to do with Wendy’s death.

“So, you’re the one, huh?” One of his golf team buddies accosted him in the hall between classes.

“What are you talking about, Eddy?”

Eddy shoved him hard. “You’re the one who ratted it all out. I was counting on that scholarship!”

“What they were doing was wrong, Ed. You were their whore.”

“I wasn’t doing anything I didn’t want to. So why didn’t you just mind your own business?” He shoved Aiden again.

“Maybe we should have arrested you along with the others,” Aiden said, standing his ground. “You’re so broken up about it, go cry to someone who gives a f**k. I did the right thing.”

“Bullshit you did!” This time, Ed took a swing.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

Dellani Oakes, Sidetracked, Florida, Murder,