Title: Eighty-Eight Keys
Author: Catherine Lavender
After tossing and turning all night with dreams of being chased by a shadow, Leah woke up with a determination to get some answers. The police didn’t seem to be taking Jason’s murder seriously, but someone should.
Throwing on her running shoes, the plan was simple. Go for a leisurely jog around Bright Horizons and sneak into the building to snoop around Jason’s office. She continued to roll the idea around in her mind as she jogged, preparing for unforeseen circumstances. After being dismissed by Mrs. Turner, Leah wanted answers, and this was as good a plan as any to get them.
What she did not count on was Coach Turner sitting on a bench in front of the Bright Horizons building. Slowing her gait, she debated running past him. Maybe he wouldn’t notice her.
The man’s eyes looked up as she approached and he smiled brightly. “Leah? Is that you?”
She nodded as her heart sank. “Hi, Mr. Turner. What are you doing out here?”
With a large shrug, the man looked forward, but didn’t seem to be registering what he was seeing. “I was just thinking about life and how incredibly unexpected it is.” He slid over a bit and patted the bench next to him. “Here, come, sit.”
Leah grudgingly obliged. She didn’t know the university coach well, but something about his demeanor indicated that he needed an ear.
“How are you feeling?”
Unconsciously rubbing the back of her head, Leah chuckled. “I’m doing fine, thank you.”
“Jason was an idiot for not marrying you. I told him that too.”
She blushed with embarrassment. “Well, thank you for the vote of confidence.”
“He was a stubborn man, that’s what made him a success,” the coach began. She could see him pulling inward. “Jason was the best ball player I coached, and likable.” He let out a whoosh of air. “He had a way of charming people into giving him what he wanted.” Coach gave Leah a wink. “Of course, I don’t need to tell you that now, do I?”
“No, sir,” she agreed slowly, wondering how to tactfully extract herself from the conversation.
“Out of everyone on the team, Jason was the most successful. Knew how to play his cards right. Not that you would understand the politics of university coaching, Leah, but Jason had a gift.” He gave her a sympathetic smile before continuing. “It is a big responsibility to coach, to carry the weight of a school’s reputation squarely on your shoulders. Not a lot of people understand that.” He patted her hand lightly. “You have to earn respect and trust. People have to love you, believe in you.”
Leah sat in the silence, unsure as to whether she should say something or not. “I can see that,” she finally offered.
He continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “Being married to the mayor’s sister does have its advantages, but my first responsibility is to my players. I found it best to ignore what everyone else told me to do and trust my gut.”
“That is always a good plan.” She spotted a family coming out of Bright Horizons. The boy looked familiar. With a small stomach flip, she realized it was Calvin’s little boy. He looked just like his daddy.
It had never occurred to Leah to ask Calvin about his past relationships. Was this the little boy’s mother? She watched the weary-looking woman referee the two children.
“Fine, I’ll settle this now,” the woman said with a chuckle. “No one will be watching TV until after dinner. Now Tyler, stop picking on your sister.”
That got Leah’s attention. Calvin had never mentioned a daughter before. Come to think of it, Calvin never really talked about his life.
“Mommy” The little girl stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. Her eyes were very serious. “Will Daddy be home for dinner tonight?”
Leah’s heart clenched with sadness for the little girl. She knew she should turn away, but could not bring herself to do it. Was Calvin still married? A slow, sick churn developed in her stomach.
Sadness crossed the mother’s face, but was quickly replaced by resignation. “I couldn’t tell you, Sweet Pea.” She cupped her daughter’s chin. “We’ll just wait and see, okay?”
She watched the little family climb into their car, get safely buckled in, and drive away, all while her mind was trying to conjure up every conversation she had with Calvin. Was there something she had missed? Some important piece of the puzzle to indicate he was still married? The buzzing noise in her ear began to form words and Leah realized that Coach Turner was still talking to her.
“It is time to pass the torch on to someone else,” he said without realizing he had lost his audience. “To someone who will teach the fundamentals, but also inspire the love and passion for the game. Even after Jason graduated, he still held onto his passion. That is what I am looking for in my predecessor.”
“Your what?” Leah finally caught up with the conversation.
“My predecessor, I’m retiring.” He nodded sadly. “It’s being announced at the gala.”
* * *
Binoculars were slowly lowered, with a soft tsk. “Leah, what are you doing here?” the voice whispered. A slight frown crossed the face of the onlooker. Leah was going to be tricky. Why was she over on this side of town? She had been dismissed. There was no need for her to be here, unless…
Raising the binoculars, the observer noted the jogging shoes and running attire worn by Leah. “Ah,” said the voice, “clever ruse.” But thoughts swirled to the papers Leah almost found. The papers were safely tucked away, never to see the light of day.
“Just leave it be, Leah,” the voice whispered. “Or else you will find yourself buried next to your precious Jason.”
Catherine Lavender is from Baltimore, Maryland but now resides in Tampa, Florida with her miniature schnauzer name Ripken. She is an animal activist, as well as a supporter of the organization First Book which helps supply literature for underprivileged children. In her spare time, Catherine enjoys reading classic literature and playing the acoustic guitar.