Authors: Laney Monday
Brenna Battle Mystery #3
I high-fived the last sweaty kid in line. Martin was a chubby kid with dark, serious eyes. He moved a little slow, but he was a hard worker. His jet black hair glistened with sweat and streams of perspiration ran down his sideburns, in front of his ears. Not that I’d worked the kids very hard today. It was just sweltering, sauna hot. I’d let the kids do their warm-ups and anything else we could get away with without their
tops on, but what was a judo camp without
—going live, sparring? And we needed
s, judo uniforms, for that.
Martin tore off his judo gi top just as quickly as the thirteen other kids had before him. He staggered to the water cooler. There was no air conditioning in the dojo. There was no AC almost anywhere in Bonney Bay. And I was told that was pretty much how it was throughout Western Washington. Air conditioning was for grocery stores, shopping malls, and movie theaters.
“Why didn’t anybody tell us there was no air conditioning before we moved here?” I whispered fiercely to my sister, Blythe. I dumped my gi top on the ground and stripped down to the shorts I always wore under my judo pants—just in case they ripped or got pulled off in this rough-and-tumble sport.
She poured a paper cup full of water over her already sweat-soaked hair. “You should have asked,” she moaned. “Why didn’t you ask?”
“It’s the second hottest June twenty-fifth on record,” Will Riggins, my favorite member of the Bonney Bay Police Department, informed us.
He had come in right at the end of our judo summer day camp to say hello. Thanks to my pushy little sister, Blythe, we’d been on several dates and we saw each other almost every day now. Well, I guess it had a little something to do with the fact that his smile made me melt and he’d saved my rear end a few times.
While Blythe and I were sopping, red-faced, and greasy, I could tell Will was freshly showered. There were a few sweat droplets on his forehead, but his striped tank top and cargo shorts weren’t stuck to him. He didn’t look miserable; he just looked hot.
“Wonderful!” I said.
“Be thankful,” said Will. “Three summers ago the sun didn’t shine once until after the Fourth of July. Give me a heatwave over soggy any day.”
“Hopefully it’ll be nice for the Fourth,” Blythe said. “I heard there’s a parade.”
“Are you going to have to work?” I asked Will.
“Some. But not the whole day. I haven’t worked out the details yet. I wasn’t sure…what your plans were.”
“Oh.” I glanced at Blythe. I hadn’t really thought about it. Blythe would tell me to just spend the day with Will, but it was one of her favorite holidays, and we were still new in town. She was struggling to adjust to being single for an extended period of time. Not only single, but without any love interest at all. Blythe had been one of those girls who always had a guy, ever since high school.
And I’d been…the girl that never had a date. Blythe said I projected a distinct message—
. Hey, I had goals. I was busy. I didn’t need that mess. Plus, I’d secretly been in love with my judo coach for years. But Blythe never knew that. She still didn’t.
Anyway, maybe that was why I always attracted creeps. Maybe creeps were more likely to ignore or be oblivious to my invisible forcefield. And then there was Will. Naturally, the fact that he was even interested made him suspect. But I was trying to come to terms with the fact that for some odd reason, a really great guy was interested in Brenna Battle.
Will said, “I was hoping I’d get to show both of you the best small-town Fourth of July in the country. Street fair, parade, fireworks, the whole shebang.”
“Really?” I smiled encouragingly at Blythe. I wanted her to be with us. I couldn’t leave her alone on a holiday.
“That would be great.” Blythe returned my smile and didn’t make a fuss about “intruding.”
“I’ll make sure I get a good chunk of the day off. And even if I’m working, I’ll be in right in the middle of things. Doing crowd control, that kind of thing.”
I filled another cup with water. “Crowd control?”
“People come pouring in from out of town for the holiday. Like I said, it’s the best small-town Fourth of July in the country. Bonney Bay contracts with the county to bring in extra police. They help direct traffic and just keep an eye on things. Usually nothing gets too out of control. There’s a few fender-benders now and then, when the fireworks end and people are trying to find their way back out, get out of places they should never have parked in in the first place. It’s dark and it’s late, and everyone’s had a long day.”
“What about the street party?” Blythe asked. “That doesn’t get crazy, with a lot of out-of-towners?”
“Nah. The people looking for crazy go to downtown Seattle or Tacoma. The people looking for wholesome small-town Fourth of July, they come here.”
“And they stay for the fireworks?” I said skeptically. “Small-town fireworks?”
“Bonney Bay is a small town, but we don’t do
fireworks. Just wait and see.”
I crossed my arms. “Well. I guess I should prepare to be impressed.”
“Yes, you should.” He smiled smugly. “They shoot them off from a barge on the water right below Pioneer Park. If you watch them from the park, it looks like they’re right over your head. Like the difference between a 3-D movie and regular.”
I lifted my dripping hair off my neck and fanned myself with my hand. Man, I was dying in this heat. Like a 3D movie, huh? Movie theaters had air conditioning! “We should see a movie.”
Will looked surprised. “You and me?”
I felt my face get even hotter. “Well, we never have, you know.”
He glanced around to make sure none of the remaining kids were watching, then reached for my waist and pulled me closer. His hand felt nice and cool. How was that possible? Because he hadn’t been working out in an oven full of little fireballs of energy—A.K.A. my campers—all day.
Blythe grinned a sly little grin. She turned around and walked to the door to say good-bye to a couple of the kids.
Will’s eyes sparkled. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
I blinked at him, trying not to look and sound totally melted, in more ways than one. “I could always bring Blythe along.”
“Then how would I secretly hold your hand in the dark? She might bust me.”
I laughed. “No, she’d be more likely to make sure that happened.”
“Definitely bring her along, then.”
“Oo-ooh!” Eleven-year-old Sammi’s face popped up beside us. Her hands were on her hips and she bobbed her head tauntingly.
“Sammi!” Katie grabbed her arm and whispered warningly. Her face was bright red and she wouldn’t look at me. She was totally humiliated on my behalf.
I wasn’t a pre-teen, but I wasn’t exactly used to having a boyfriend, either. Wait.
Will my boyfriend? Suddenly I longed for the idiotic simplicity of middle school, when a boy you hardly knew would say, “Will you go out with me?” And then you’d say, “I guess so,” because you really didn’t know what else to say. And that meant, in my grandma’s words, that you were “going steady.”
“Seriously, Sammi?” I said. “Grow up.” Yes, that was very grown-up of me, I know.
Will gave her a defiant look and kissed me on the cheek. She gave him a look that said,
I despise you. You’re worse than lettuce on a perfectly good hamburger.
Okay, so I was a little too familiar with everything about Sammi, down to her food preferences and of course her need to continually express her resentment for Will Riggins, who’d had the displeasure of arresting some friends of hers.
“Come on,” Katie told Sammi. “Let’s get to my house before our show starts.”
Katie was a little younger than Sammi, and a whole lot less cool-looking, less coordinated, less…everything that probably mattered to girls that age. But she had a lot more sense, especially when it came to people. They couldn’t be more different, except that they were both basically on their own. Only children, with single mothers who were too busy with their own lives to pay much attention to them. I tried not to think about it. It made me too mad, and I was already burning up. Who could just ignore those girls like that? My head was pounding and my blood was boiling as I thought about those kids, what it was like not only to not have their mothers’ involvement, but to know that it was their mothers’ choice.
I picked up one of the kids’ discarded gi tops and tried to fan myself with it. Blythe waved good-bye to the girls and fanned herself with a stack of flyers.
“I think I’m liquifying from the inside out!” Blythe’s usually perfectly shiny ponytail hung limp and straggly. Her impeccable posture was drooping too.
Will laughed. “Come on, ladies. You’re Washingtonians now. You’re just going to have to toughen up a little.”
I gave Will a look that would’ve made a lesser man wilt.
“Alright. I get it. Sweating like pigs is no laughing matter for the Battle sisters.” He held his hands up in surrender, but his eyes still twinkled in triumph. He’d bested me at enduring the heat. At last, he’d found something to lord over me.
“Pigs!” I said.
“Come on, Brenna, it was a joke,” Will said.
“This,”—I waved my hand over my stuck-on, wet, sleeveless top and shorts—,“Is no joke.” I glared at Will, then turned to Blythe. “You know why I didn’t think to ask about air-conditioning? Because civilized places have AC, that’s why!” I’m pretty sure I spit a little when I said that. You know, like a maniac. I’m surprised there was enough water left in my body to spray my poor sister, but there you go.
Will gave me a hard look. “I’m out,” he said to Blythe. “See you later.”
All the kids were gone, and when the door shut behind Will, it was strangely quiet.
“Way to go, Miss Congeniality,” Blythe said.
I tossed a cup of water at her.
“Thanks, Bren.” She wiped her wet hair back and smiled, her brilliant, endearing smile. The smile that gets little sisters out of everything and convinces big sisters to let them have the last grape popsicle. “Let’s get this place cleaned up and take a cold shower before the evening classes start.”
We still had our regular judo classes going—three a night for different age groups, while we were running a summer day program. We couldn’t afford to cancel classes and risk losing any of our regular students who weren’t in the day program. It was exhausting, but we needed the money, and hopefully some of the new kids we’d gotten for camp would join evening classes in the fall. We’d left Arizona to take over this property I’d inherited from my aunt. An older lady, a Bonney Bay native named Miss Ruth, had leased the building and run a ballet school here for decades.
When Miss Ruth told me she was ready to retire and wanted out of her lease early, the dream was born. The first new dream I’d had since I first set a goal of being an Olympian when I was seven years old. I would move to historic Bonney Bay and turn those ballerinas into judo fighters. I’d brought Blythe, freshly divorced from Jake, my judo coach—yes,
judo coach. Long story—here to Washington State. We’d invested everything in this business, in my dream to find the joy again, teaching judo to kids. I had to do
after making it to the Olympics twice and failing to medal.
“You’re welcome,” I told Blythe. “You shower first. I’m going to go pick up some popsicles.”
She looked me up and down. “Like that?”
“You’re right. Popsicles are worth a little public humiliation right now.” She downed another cup of water.
“As long as it’s
“Right,” she said cheerfully. “Hurry up. Now I really want some. Make sure you get some grape.”
“Of course.” I smiled, grabbed my keys, and headed for the door.
My trip to the Cherry Bowl, Bonney Bay’s only grocery store, had been refreshing, to say the least. Not only had I gotten us as many popsicles as I thought we could fit in the freezer, I’d immersed myself in the glorious coolness of the air-conditioned store. Even better, when I opened the freezer case door, it was absolute heaven. I’d enjoyed the breeze until a woman waiting behind me cleared her throat meaningfully. Couldn’t she see I was dying?