Thrown Off: A Cozy Mystery (Brenna Battle Book 3) (8 page)

BOOK: Thrown Off: A Cozy Mystery (Brenna Battle Book 3)
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A shiny new Volkswagen rolled by the dojo slowly, then turned to enter the parking lot behind the dojo. I sat up straight and exchanged glances with Blythe. New customers?

A moment later, a lady with a stroller approached the door. I hurried to hold it open for her. “Hi, there. Welcome to Bonney Bay Battlers!”

Her dark hair was close-cropped and spiky. She pushed a very big baby in a six-hundred-dollar jogging stroller. How do I know how much that stroller cost? One of my best friends in Arizona had been a high-end nanny. She loved venting to me because I got so fired up on her behalf—and on behalf of decent, normal people in general. I think it was very cathartic for her, watching me blow my top as she shared the latest outrages of the nannying world. What can I say? I performed a valuable service. And got paid dessert for doing it, too. Lisa had always treated me, the starving Olympian.

A closer look at that big baby made me wonder whether he was a baby, or just
babied.
He chewed on a pacifier with a full set of teeth, like a guy in a nineteen-fifties TV show chewing on a cigar out of the side of his mouth. His little fingers navigated a very noisy game on an iPad with amazing dexterity. “Mommy! I need more coins!” he burst out.

“Just a minute, sweetie.”

Sweetie?
Please, dear God, for the love of all that’s good in the world, don’t let this kid be four years old and about to join my judo camp.

“Hi. I’m Jessie Pakowski.” She held out her hand. “I’d like to sign my two boys up for your judo camp, if it’s not too late.”

I shook Jessie’s hand, then Blythe did the same. The little boy in the stroller screamed until his mother did what he wanted on the iPad.
 

I looked behind the stroller, but didn’t see a little kid hiding there. There was another one? And the kid in the stroller? I was just brainstorming ways to dispose of that binky when Jessie looked up and said, “Oh, here they come!”

One boy slammed his european shoe into the glass doors in a karate kick, and the other threw straight punches at the air. The wicked part of me hoped his fist would make contact with something very painful, like maybe the wall. He sported a moppy headful of light brown hair.

“Hello, boys.” Blythe’s smile was genuine.

Mine was a little, shall we say, coerced by the business-minded side of myself. My gut instinct was to tell this lady that our program probably wouldn’t be a good fit for her kids, and send them on their way.

“This is Holden,” Jessie said.

I tried to shake Holden’s hand, but he was too busy throwing punches.

“He’s seven. And Allen here is nine.”

Allen wore his light brown hair in a long ponytail. He glowered at his brother and tried to trip him.

Thank God, not the kid in the stroller. I had no problem with rambunctious kids. Or even kids, like Holden, who seemed just a little bit more out of touch with reality than most kids his age. Give me a mom struggling to discipline her kids any day. But kids raised without even that concept, as these boys appeared to be? I wasn’t so sure how I was supposed to deal with that.

 
Their clothes had that intentionally faded and rumpled look—not the kind that came naturally to boys’ clothes that had been shoved haphazardly in drawers or sat in the dryer too long before folding, that had faded over lots of wear and handing down. Nope, these were a miniature version of the clothes some adults who are into the whole natural, outdoorsy look pay big money for. The kind that are already like that when you buy them and that match the spectrum of colors that are trendy for that niche in the current season.

“We have a class starting at six,” Blythe said. Do you think you could swing by and watch a bit before you sign up? Just so you and the boys can see what they’ll be doing all day, and make sure it’s what you’re looking for.”

“Oh, they want martial arts. They’re sure. And connecting with their
chi
will be good for them.”

I grappled with how to politely explain to this lady that I’d never met my chi, let alone gotten in touch with it, and somehow I’d made it into the top five in the world. I lost that battle for words, but thank goodness, Blythe was there.

“Well,” she said, “we’re really more focused on the sports aspect of judo. We like to leave any spiritual instruction to the parents. It’s such a personal thing, you know?”

I wondered what this lady would think if she knew that international judo was run by Russians right now. I was pretty sure the top dogs didn’t spend their spare time meditating.

“Hi-yah!” Holden came at me.

I gently put my hand on the boy’s back, to turn him around, away from me. He whirled around, back toward me, with a wild flurry of kicks. I sidestepped out of danger, and he fell right on his face.

“Hey!” He looked at me like I’d just snatched a lollipop right out of his hand.

Yeah, right, kid.
Hey, why didn’t you just stand there and let me kick you?
That’s what he was thinking.

I turned to the mother with my best effort at a calm, friendly tone, given the fact that I had to keep watching out of the corner of my eye for an ambush. “It looks like the boys are really into striking. That looks like fun, but there really isn’t any kicking and punching in judo.”

“No?”

“No. Throwing and grappling only.” I shook my head sadly.
Darn. What a shame you’ll have to take the boys somewhere else
, I tried to convey.

“I wanna learn to throw people down!” Allen said.

“And then kick and punch ’em!” Holden chimed in.

“Yeah!”

“Oh, well, I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Jessie said.

Okay, maybe it was time to get just a little more blunt. “We take safety very seriously. We can’t have the boys punching or kicking us or the other students.”

Blythe added, “Like one body, working in harmony.”

“Oh, okay.” Jessie nodded earnestly, as though now everything made sense. “Well, the boys and I will dialogue about that. We wouldn’t want to disrupt the balance of harmony. So, you can take them, right?”

It was just a tad scary how good Blythe was at speaking Jessie’s language. Before I could tell her she’d have to wait until the next session—at least that would give us a couple weeks before we had to deal with this, and maybe they’d even find something else to do instead— Blythe said, “Oh, that’s okay. They can join now.”

What!
 

“Oh, good. I’m sorry we missed the beginning of the session. I didn’t know I’d be needing to find activities for them at the last minute. Our nanny left unexpectedly to go to school in Colorado.”

That poor girl really earned her education. The Pakowskis’ clothes and their behavior made me wish I could hide my advertised prices and charge them double. “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to offer a discount. We’ll have to charge for the days they missed.”

“Oh, that won’t be a problem.”

“Great!” I could tell Blythe caught the trace of sarcasm I’d tried and failed to filter out, but Jessie seemed clueless.

It was an ordeal getting the paperwork filled out, let me tell you. When they were finally gone and Blythe and I hunched over bowls of bow-tie pasta in our apartment, we had only half an hour left of our precious break.

I took a pinch of shredded parmesan and sprinkled it over my steaming pasta. “Why did you say yes? Why?”

“It’ll be good for them, Brenna. You know it will.”

“Only if the mom’s on board.”

“We’ll get her on board. Those kids need this just as much as kids like Sammi and Katie.”

But they would be so much more annoying than Sammi and Katie. I’d bet dessert on it.

13

I was already half awake when my alarm went off the next morning. The window was wide open, and I’d been in a sort of semi-conscious state for a couple of hours because of the birds squawking outside my window. Okay, some of them actually sang, and I guess you could say it was kind of pretty, but “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” might as well be squawking at five a.m., you know?

Blythe’s bed was empty, and I could hear the shower running. I plumped the pillow up against the wall behind me and sat up halfway, trying to acclimate myself to the Land of the Living. My twin bed was brand new, but it was just a basic mattress and box springs, with no frame. Blythe’s mattress and box springs was new too, but she had one of those old-school eighties metal frames. She’d found it at a garage sale and painted it purple.

Grabbed my phone from the nightstand and I turned off my alarm and checked my text messages. I had one from Lourdes. Odd, for her to message me this early.

“Can you meet me in the park for lunch? I know it’s hard for you to leave the kids, but it’s important.”

It must be trouble with her boyfriend, Brent. He was thinking about leaving Bonney Bay, and Lourdes didn’t want to go. They were in that awkward stage in their relationship where it was getting fairly serious, but serious enough to make a move together? Serious enough to withstand a long-distance relationship until it got more serious? That was the big question. Lourdes had been over at our apartment last week talking about it for hours with Blythe. I’d chipped in with a thought here and there, but Blythe was much better at that kind of thing than me. Lourdes must’ve gotten our numbers mixed up in her phone.

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk to Blythe?” I texted back. “This is Brenna.”

To my surprise, she responded immediately, “No, I need to talk to you. Alone. Very important that you’re alone.”

Huh
. What was going on here? Maybe Lourdes wanted to break it off with Brent and she thought I’d do a better job pumping her up to ditch the guy. Maybe he’d done something, and she was afraid he was a real creep after all, and she wanted me to run it by my notorious creep-o-meter. But, yeah, it was a big deal for me to leave Blythe to do lunch with the campers by herself. Sammi and Katie could help, but…

“I have homemade salsa,” Lourdes texted.

“Red or green?”

“Green, of course. I know you like the green.”

“I’m in.” Lourdes’s salsa was absolutely to die for. I didn’t even care that it felt like I’d been training as a circus flame-eater afterwards. Last time she’d brought some over I’d had to dig deep into my generosity reservoir to keep myself from eating the whole tub and save some for Blythe.

“Don’t tell your sister. This is just between us.”

What? I hesitated. “She’ll want to know who I’m meeting for lunch.” And she’d wonder why Lourdes hadn’t invited her instead. They were closer, really.

“OK, just tell her I wanted to treat you today.”

“OK,” I answered. But I still wasn’t sure how that was going to go over. Not that Blythe was prone to envy, especially when it came to her big sister. I just thought she’d find it odd, like I did.

“Se you under the tulip tree at Pioneer Park at 1.”

“See you.”

#

Grace and Anthony’s mom pulled up right in front of the dojo doors. The sky was gray, and in the distance dark clouds threatened rain. But Grace’s smile was all sunshine. Her usual pom-pom pigtails had been replaced by a sleek ponytail. She’d gotten her hair straightened. I held open the dojo door for the kids as they climbed out of the car.

“Got your lunches?” I asked.

Anthony and Grace held them up.

“And gis!” Anthony said. They both held up their judo gis, which they’d folded just like I’d taught them. The gis were tied into neat packages with their belts, which the kids also carried them by.

I gave them a thumbs-up.

“Thanks, Brenna!” their mom called.

“No problem,” I waved, and she pulled away.

Grace ran up to me and beamed. The expression on her face said,
Look at me!

I said, “Grace! You look so grown up!”

“My auntie did it!” She swished her ponytail and sashayed into the dojo.

“It took forever,” Anthony said as he followed.

“Well, I like your curls, but you look very pretty,” I told Grace.

“Ooh!” Blythe said. “So stylish!”

“As long as it doesn’t distract her from judo,” I whispered.

“Oh, please, Brenna. She’s four.”

I sighed and gave her my
You just don’t get it
look. I was trying to turn these kids into warriors. You had to start ’em young.

Next came Katie and Sammi. They’d started meeting up at Katie’s house and walking to the dojo together every morning. I really needed to talk to Sammi about making sure she didn’t ditch Katie once school started. Those two needed each other, and the last thing Katie needed was more rejection, especially from someone she cared about.

One by one, my fourteen campers arrived, put away their lunches, and changed behind the curtains Blythe and I had installed to create a boys’ and a girls’ changing area. I have to admit, my heart always did a little pitter-patter when my camper Battlers arrived in the morning. You could almost say I enjoyed mornings now.

Then Holden and Allen arrived, and that happy pitter-patter turned into a sour twist. I felt my face freeze in a fake smile. Blythe gave me a subtle elbow. “You look like an alien is devouring you from the inside out,” she whispered.

“Good morning, boys.” My teeth were a little clenched, but I managed to force the words out.
Come on, Brenna. You can handle these kids. Everything’s going to be fine.

14

Blythe showed the boys where to put their things and sent Martin to help them get their brand-new gis on. We’d given them the uniforms last night, but they brought them in, still in the packages.

It was a challenge to get those two lined up and bowed in with the rest of the class.

“Let’s see if we can get them to do warm-ups with the other kids,” Blythe whispered.

The kids made a circle to stretch out and do some exercises. Blythe counted and demonstrated in the middle and I went around correcting them. When I came to Holden, he was spinning in a circle on his bottom instead of doing anything remotely resembling sit-ups. I caught the back of his gi collar as he spun.

“Stay still,” I said firmly. “Put your feet on the ground and try to sit up without using your hands.” He looked at me a little warily, then started making an effort. A pretty lame effort, but at least he was going through the motions of doing what I told him.

BOOK: Thrown Off: A Cozy Mystery (Brenna Battle Book 3)
2.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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