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Thank you for your encouragement.

This chapter contains no explicit sexual content.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter 2

Ethan was up early, reclined in his favorite chair. Typically, he wasn’t much of a morning person — though he enjoyed them after the struggle of getting up and around — but today, however, wasn’t much of a battle.

He seen a reflection of light, gleaming from off a windshield and through the window. A car pulled into the driveway and he looked out. Apparently his ride for the day.

“Well, it’s day one. Let’s see how it goes.”

He left the house, making sure to lock the door on the way out, and approached the passenger side of the car. When he opened the door, he seen Tiffany. Wearing that same smile he was now beginning to grow accustomed to.

“Good morning, Ethan. You ready to go?”

“All set.” He replied.

He got in and buckled up; not helping to notice, but also not saying anything about, the smirk on Tiffany’s face as she checked the rear-view mirror and backed out of the driveway.

“Glad you remembered about our carpool today. I was hoping I wasn’t gonna have to come drag you out of bed this morning.” She said.

“Nah, I remembered. Though, admittedly, I’m not the most pleasant person to be around in the morning — and I apologize in advance — but once I’m up, I’m up. I don’t sleep late. I only use an alarm as a backup in case I do have a one off and over-sleep.”

“Oh. Not me. When I get a day to sleep in, I take it. I have two alarms set each night just to make sure that I get up. You’d be surprised how many times I sleep right through the first one.” She laughed. “And don’t worry about being grumpy in the mornings. I hate mornings. So I’m sure I’ll have plenty of apologizing to do in the near future.”

Ethan relaxed, thankful they were able to come to an understanding of one another. Certain it would be the first of many. He gazed out the window in front of him, watching the streets come alive with morning activity.

This won’t be so bad after all.

“So.” Tiffany spoke up. Perhaps wanting to show herself good company. “I guess you keep up with the news?”

The question almost passed Ethan’s attention as he stared hypnotically out the window. “Not really. I watch sports news a lot. And during the winter I watch the local news for weather alerts and school closings.”

“So you haven’t heard the latest about the Kidnap Killer? Or so they’re calling him.”

He snapped out of his trance. “No. Why? What’s going on?”

“Well, last I heard, someone kidnapped a girl last night. She was home asleep, presumably, when this happened, and they found her dead this morning. Just outside of city limits. I don’t remember the girl’s name, but they’re not releasing too many details. Guess they don’t want people getting too worked up over the situation or maybe influencing a copy cat killer.” She shrugged. “Who knows.”

Ethan slunk back in his seat. The possibilities reeling through his head. Something wasn’t adding up, but there just weren’t enough details to know what.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I thought I got away from this sort of thing when I moved here — you know, being from a larger city and all before.” A tinge of concern in her voice. “I hope they find this bastard soon.”

She pulled onto a black-top drive and drove up to the faculty parking area of the school’s campus and parked near the front.

“Here we are,” she said and turned off the engine. “Sorry about the mood killer.”

Ethan opened his door, smiling, and shook his head. “Don’t take this wrong, but you have an unusual sense of humor.”

She smiled back. An awareness in her eyes.

“And thanks for this. It was — fun. I have to admit, I didn’t know if this was going to be weird or awkward or . . . who knows, but . . . you’re pretty easy to get along with.”

Her face softened.

Okay. Not too bad. We made it through round one. He thought.

“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself, Coach.” There was that smile again.

They got out and parted ways, content.

* * * * * * * * * *

Julianne woke up, moving her arm along Ethan’s side of the bed. It was empty. Nothing but a warm spot and crinkled sheets. She rolled over and checked the clock on the night stand. It was still early. Then she remembered: Today was the first day of Ethan and Tiffany carpooling together.

She felt as if her body was plastered to the mattress, but made herself get up and get dressed anyway and after putting on her clothes, she put on a pot of coffee.

She stumbled around the house — using the bathroom, putting clothes in the hamper, clothes in the washer, dishes in the sink — while trying to make sense of her Betturkey feelings. First, she didn’t understand why this carpooling business bothered her so much. When thinking about it, there was nothing to be concerned about, but there was a lingering notion inside her that kept biting at her heart. She really wanted to understand it. Second, she missed Ethan. Ethan was usually the first face she seen, the first voice she heard, the first body she felt in the morning. She enjoyed the daily routine of each of those. She liked sharing a pot of coffee with him in the morning.

And not drink it all by myself.

Even though he wasn’t much of a talker in the morning.

Well, Ethan really isn’t much of a talker, period.

But what was most disconcerting was his new routine.

She scowled in thought, thinking about Tiffany and her intentions. Maybe she really was that bad off and needed the extra money. Or perhaps she needed the camaraderie of someone in the same line of work, someone that understood the daily struggles and obstacles coaching a bunch of amateurs and getting them to work together to become something great, or at least efficient. The truth was, she just didn’t know much about her. Especially the important things she would like to know, or now, should know.

She picked up the pot of coffee from under the brew.

Is she smart? Is she funny? Is she a flirt? Julianne squinted her eyes as if peering into Tiffany’s mind.

I bet that little hussy is a flirt. She’s basically a woman in a man’s world. Damn sports.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and took a sip from the hot mug as her insecurities played on her.

“I bet she does the same routine with every basketball coach. ‘Oh! I could really use some extra money. Want me to suck your dick?'” She grinned. Making herself feel better.

She took another hot sip and went into the living room, found the remote and turned on the television.

‘In breaking news last night we reported on a girl that had been abducted from her home. We have just learned from authorities this morning that the body of the kidnapped girl had been found just outside city limits lying near the main highway. It appears, police are saying, that she was murdered some time late last night before the body was dumped. Police are urging anyone, with any information or having seen anything regarding this case, to please call.’

Julianne stared at the screen, aghast.

How could anyone do such a horrendous thing to such an innocent girl? What is this world coming to?

Her problems faded as the enormity of something far more tragic settled on her mind. She should probably give Tiffany the benefit of the doubt, and quit thinking so harshly of her, anyway. She had no right to judge her so quickly. She didn’t even know her.

She sighed.

“Why am I making such a big deal out of this? I trust Ethan.” She took another sip of her coffee. “He’s a good man.”

She left it alone and focused on other important matters she needed to take care — like the disciplining of a bunch of little brats at school, so that they don’t end up murdering little girls, for God knows why.

And maybe she would teach their kids a few things too.

She smiled and took another sip.

* * * * * * * * *

Ethan was reclined back in his chair, heels kicked up on the corner of his desk, as he held the local newspaper between his hands. Ever since hearing about a kidnap-killer being out on the loose, he couldn’t focus on much of anything. Sure, there had been plenty of such stories he’d heard about taking place all over the nation at various times, but never had something so sinister been set this close to home. He had to find out everything he could and so far, that didn’t add up to much, though he did learn that the police had some mysterious evidence they were withholding from the public’s attention.

Whatever it was they had, they were doing their best to keep it under wraps, citing, “Evidence in crime cases such as these usually aren’t brought to the public’s attention unless we feel as though it will lead to more evidence or to finding the perpetrator.”

His mind was stuck there, on that undisclosed evidence. He just knew there was something to that, something incriminating, but it had to be only a part of the solution, otherwise, they would have arrested somebody by now.

He lowered the paper and folded it up, setting it in his desk drawer to look back over later in case he needed it for reference. He placed his hands behind his head and leaned back, again kicking his feet back up onto the desk.

“Afternoon Coach.”

Spooked, Ethan sat upright, dropping his feet off the desk. He turned toward the direction Betturkey Giriş of the voice. Not typically the easily-startled kind, he felt like an idiot for his reaction, but the places his mind had been lately . . .

He laughed at himself.

Ted, the school custodian, chuckled softly to himself as he picked up the trash bin in the corner of Ethan’s office. He gave Ethan enough time to gather his wits as he carried the bin over to the big container on wheels he had rolled to a stop just outside Ethan’s door and dumped its contents.

“Oh, hey Ted. I didn’t hear you come in. How’s your day been?”

Ethan was never exceptionally good at making small talk but there was something about Ted’s diligence that he admired, so he tried his best when Ted came around.

“Another day, another waste bin that needs dumped.” Ted said smiling. “Think you’ll take home the big trophy again this year, Coach?”

Ted regularly attended the basketball games, even before his daughter had begun playing on the Ladies’ varsity squad. It was if there was something he was drawn to. More than just the game itself. It was as if he were watching a dream yet unable to participate. Only allowed to observe.

Ethan huffed and folded his arms across his chest. He didn’t know how to respond, though he seemed to be getting asked that a lot lately. He leaned forward and set his folded arms on the desk in front of him as he looked Ted in the eye.

“Well, I think we got a shot. A real shot. Last year we just didn’t have the depth or maturity.”

Ted nodded as he listened intently. Perhaps imagining that he could glean something of the coach’s success for himself.

“With another year of experience in most of these guys, I think we can make a run for it.” Ethan paused. His prevailing concern for his team surfacing. “They’ll have to remain disciplined though.” The year’s theme for his team.

He lowered his gaze onto the flat surface of the desk between his arms and contemplated whether or not his players would diligently focus on the task ahead of them. “Following Through,” had been his sermons. “Follow through with your shot. Follow through to the rebound. Follow through with your effort the whole game.” And while he preached it tirelessly every practice, it overwhelmed him how deaf or incoherent his players were. They just weren’t getting it. They either weren’t comprehending or didn’t care, but that was it, wasn’t it? They were a conglomeration of individuals placed together as a team, but without a captured vision for the group as a whole. They seem to have only dreams of grandeur for themselves.

Truth be told, he never coached many naturally talented athletes and he never expected to. But if he had his choice, he would choose players with resolve over players with skill every time. From his experience, relentless resolve always bested undisciplined skill.

Ted watched in fascination as the wheels in Ethan’s mind ground away, lost in thought. His position as custodian of the school had tenured as long as Ethan’s had for coaching, and throughout the years he had always kept an observant eye on the coach. Ethan never seemed to be anything or anyone less than exceptional in all that he did.

He skimmed the walls of Ethan’s office: the trophies on the shelves, the plaques on the walls, the news clippings framed and hung up — displaying winning championship teams of the past.

He shook his head in awe and unbelief and gathered up the last of the trash — a small sack from beside Ethan’s desk — and slung it over his shoulder. “I have no doubt that if there is anyone that can make this team championship caliber, it’s you. This office,” he nodded at the wall behind Ethan, “is a testament to that.” He gave him a reassuring smile. “Have a good night Ethan.”

Ethan looked back up. A sheepish yet proud smile on his face. He couldn’t deny the tangible evidence all around him. His office was all the proof anyone needed. It inspired the ambitious and intimidated the competition. But Ethan never could take a compliment without feeling foolish.

He felt as though compliments were double edged. On one side was the praise: meant as genuine courtesy and kindness and to be received with humility. On the other: an implicit comparison of status between the giver and receiver.

He often felt as if he were being involuntarily elevated by the compliment. As if he held a loftier position of fortune and were better than they were. But Ethan seen things differently. He understood that no one person is completely alike another and that we all have our own strengths and our own weaknesses. He coached his players with the same philosophy. “Understand your strengths and play to them. Know your weaknesses and defend against Betturkey Güncel Giriş them.”

Ethan noticed the door beginning to close as Ted’s silhouette shrunk in the expanding distance. “Thanks Ted. Goodnight.”

* * * * * * * *

The time had slipped by unnoticed between Ted’s departure and Tiffany’s arrival to pick Ethan up. He was still lost in thought when she had knocked on his door.

“Hey Ethan, you ready?” She appeared to be in a peppy mood. For what reason, Ethan had no idea but suspected that maybe her team had a good practice.

God knows my team needs one of those.

“Yeah, let me grab my things.” He picked up his bag and turned off the lights.

The night air was growing cold. The changing of the seasons had begun. Ethan loved this time of year when the world became cool and crisp.

“Do you mind if I stop by the store first before I drop you off? I need to pick up a few things, if that’s okay.” Tiffany asked, shattering Ethan’s still, cool quiet.

It then hit him why carpooling could be such a nuisance. Not only would he be arriving home later than he anticipated, but now he felt obligated to go on a shopping spree, since Tiffany was the one driving he felt like he couldn’t say no. After all, she was doing him a favor, right? He opened the passenger side door and got in.

It took him a moment, but he shrugged and put on the best facade he could muster. “Sure. I don’t mind.” But hoped that she wouldn’t ask him to go in.

“Thanks!” She grinned and put the car into gear. Leaving the now empty parking lot.

* * * * * * *

The table in front of Julianne had papers from work strewn all about it. She had a few neatly organized stacks that she had already gone through and several more chaotically aligned piles needing her attention, but she was beginning to feel a hammer in her head striking an anvil. She put her palms to her brow, her elbows on the table. Slowly, she ran her hands through her hair, pulling it back; trying in vain, to ease the pounding in her head.

Having no luck, she backed her seat out from under the table and stood up. She felt like Quasimodo after leaning over these papers all day. She put her hands on her hips and tried to stretch the knots from out of her back. Bending, twisting and arching her torso.

“Ah! Finally a little relief.” She felt better.

She left the table and its contents, opened the cabinet door and took down a glass. She filled it with water — not much in the mood for anything with caffeine nor staying up all night — then checked the time. It was late.

“First day of carpooling, first late evening getting home. Great.”

She took a few gulps from her glass.

The lateness of the hour was off-putting, but it wasn’t as if this kind of thing never happened. There are always several times throughout the sport’s year that Ethan will hole himself up in his office, scheming and strategizing, and lose track of time. It’s what he loved to do. He loved the challenge and the fight. He loved to find solutions to problems. He loved to win.

No, what nagged at her was that tonight, at this later than usual hour, she knew who he was with. Tiffany.

She had her suspicions that she was a flirty-cheating-conniving bitch, but to be fair, she didn’t know. What she did know, was that she was with her husband, presumably alone, and that was all she needed to know.

Who does that? Asks a married man if he wants to carpool. She didn’t ask me.

She tapped her fingers on her glass. She’s up to something . . . and probably wants to get up on something.

The tempest thoughts tumbled about her head, rocking her metaphoric boat.

Then again, why didn’t I just ask Ethan not to carpool with her? He wouldn’t have agreed to it if he knew it bothered me, right? Well, at least he would have taken my feelings into consideration and how it would affect me . . . not like I would be asking him to abandon his mother.

She began to doubt herself. After all, why was she picking on him now after she had given him her blessing?

Does it really matter who he’s with if I trust him? . . . Shouldn’t I trust him!? . . . After all we’ve been through together . . .

She sat down her nearly empty glass of water on the coaster, resting on the end table, and laid down on the couch. Her suspicions and fears running rampant. She played back the years of her marriage.

They both had their small indiscretions. Nothing devastatingly detrimental had yet happened — and she hoped never would — but there was enough that had placed seeds of doubt into her. Seeds, that over time, had grown into this thicket of confusion and uncertainty. With one exception: She loved Ethan.

She would do anything for Ethan. She had made her share of mistakes and had tasted the bitterness of her own lies, but she knew that she lived to please and love no one else. Her desire was for him. Mind, heart and soul.

If she thinks she can have him, she’s got another thing coming.

Julianne’s resolve forged into steel.

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