Because Of One Student I Am Never Having My Class Do A Project On Their Parent’s Job Ever Again

Steve Halama

I have been a 3rd grade teacher for about 15 years. By now, I thought I had become used to anything and everything kids could pull. Times change, but kids don’t.

One of the assignments in my class is to have a week or two where my students bring in reports of their parents and their jobs. For five minutes or so, the students take turns and stand in front of the class to talk a little bit about what their parents do for a living. You get your fill of doctors, lawyers, police officers, accountants, and even the occasional homemaker.

Of course, since there are always students who like to exaggerate what their parents do this can be quite entertaining. Most of the time, you can tell they have no clue about what their parent’s actual job involves. But they have the rest of their lives to learn about that.

We were over halfway through the exercise when Hunter began to give his report. He went through his Mom’s job, everything was normal, nothing out of the ordinary there. But then he started talking about his Dad.

“My Dad is a really cool guy,” he began, squinting to read what he wrote. “He works as a lawyer. This is a real cool job where you get to do things like go to court and argue with another lawyer in a big room in front of some guy in black. His office is the coolest. Super big, and with an awesome chair and a lot of books. Sometimes if I am really lucky, he lets me carry his briefcase.” Hunter struggled a little but on pronouncing the final word, but he figured it out.

“But he also told me he has a secret job.” At this point, the whole class began to whisper amongst themselves excitedly. I, on the other hand, was rather puzzled. Was this a stunt? Or some daydream.

“At night, my Dad has to sneak out of the house. I didn’t know about this for a long time. But when I did, he told me my Mom and my sister Jayne both knew and were ok with it.”

“Once everyone in my family is asleep, my Dad goes out to fight the bad guys.”

Ah, this finally made sense. It was the whole, ‘my Dad is a secret Superhero’ daydream. You’d be surprised how many kids try to pull this. Hunter admired his Dad, I knew that well enough.

“My Dad always has to take care that no one sees him, because he told me if they did, the bad guys would come get him. But my Dad is amazing! Not once has the bad guys caught him!” Now the other kids in class began to full on scream and yell in excitement.

“Quiet down!” I instructed them firmly. “Go ahead Hunter.” Best to get this over with. Hunter did always have a fantastic imagination.

“My Dad does his secret job because he says it needs to be done. He told me that sometimes people did bad things and need to pay for what they did. He always brings the coolest things home after. Gold things, silver things, things that look real expensive. Sometimes he comes home with lots of money. But he always has to do something with them, otherwise people will try to take them from away him. My Dad is always so nice.” He said this with the widest smile. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite done yet.

“One time I saw him come home just before it got light out and his truck had some big sheet in the backseat that got red all over it. When I asked him about it, Dad told me he had to take care of a bad guy and then move him so he couldn’t hurt anyone else. He then told me if I went inside and did my homework, he’d take me out for ice cream. Which he did. I got cookie dough, my favorite.”

Holy shit, this daydream is crazy. Hunter’s favorite ice cream really was cookie dough. Or was it an actual dream he had? I began to feel uneasy. Either way, this couldn’t be real. Sadly enough, I have heard of kids daydreams far more insane than this one. Thankfully, Hunter was almost done.

“The last time I saw him come home at night was a few days ago. I saw him playing in the backyard like he was digging in the sandbox. I saw him put something big wrapped in that same red sheet in the hole and cover it with dirt. When I asked him what it was, he said it was the bad pirate’s treasure and he was gonna give it back to the people he stole it from as soon as he could. Then he told me to go back inside and watch TV.

“I did, but when I got inside I looked out the window, and saw that he had started a big fire outside. My Dad is the best at building fires too. Sometimes he has to use clothes that don’t belong to any of us. Dad always says they are the best to start a good fire with. Sometimes they also look like the big sheet I saw from the backseat too.”

I felt like I had just been punched in the stomach at this point. What the fuck was going on? There was no way Hunter was making this up. This shit was real.

“So yeah, that’s what my parents do!” he finished excitedly. The other students seemed to think it was as cool as what Hunter said.

“Alright class, give Hunter a round of applause,” I said hastily. They did as I asked. The rest of the students took their turn for the period, then class was dismissed for the day.

Once class let out and the other students were gone, Hunter came up to my desk with an eager look on his face.

“Hi Mom, did I do good on my project about what you and Dad do?” he asked happily.

“You did great sweetie,” I told Hunter as I ruffled his hair fondly, doing everything I could to act normal in front of him. “Ready to go home?” He nodded excitedly. I grabbed my bag and followed him out of the classroom, locking it behind me.

My mind was spinning as I walked with my son across the parking lot. What. The. Hell. Hunter was an incredibly smart kid, and an honest one at that.

I must confess, for a little while now I’ve thought his Dad was up to something. He had been very withdrawn for a few weeks. My husband, Hunter’s Dad, is usually a very gregarious, upbeat guy, so when something is up you can tell. He would go to his office and sit in silence for a while. I know he had been frustrated at work, so I just chalked it up to that. Since it stopped after a relatively short time, I didn’t think anything of it. For a brief moment, I wondered if he was having an affair.

Funny, now I wish that was all I was worried about him doing. As Hunter got in the passenger seat and buckled in, I put the car in gear and took off down the road. One of the benefits of driving a car is that it gives you time to think. Focusing on the road is an amazing time to reflect on whatever is on your mind.

Hunter’s report was being played endlessly in my mind. The most troubling part being the “pirate treasure” buried in the backyard. Fortunately, Hunter was playing on my phone as we drove home. The drive home seemed to take no time at all. Looking up at my house, I didn’t know what to think. I loved our house, a beautiful white colonial with black shutters. Parking in our driveway, I decided what I would do about Kyle, my husband.

As I unlocked the door, Hunter ran inside with his backpack, tossing it on the bench in the hallway as he usually did on the way up to his room. I couldn’t blame him; one of the happiest feelings when you are a kid is that moment you get home from school. It never really goes away when you are an adult does it? You just substitute work for school.

“Hey guys, how was your day?” Kyle walked up with a smile on his face. I almost froze when he did. One of the worst things about getting dirt, gossip, or inside info is that it forces you to rethink everything you believe about someone.

“Good,” I added politely. His face fell slightly at my cool answer. I had decided to not out and out accuse him of what was in Hunter’s report. Know why? Because if he really was a murdering lunatic, the last thing I wanted to do was to make him feel cornered.

I was going with a tried and true method to get information out of someone voluntarily. Make them feel as uncomfortable and nervous as possible, so they inadvertently blurt out something they think you know, but don’t. If he wasn’t sure of what I knew, there was no telling what secrets he would blurt out in an attempt to find out why I wasn’t happy. It’s basically the equivalent of saying to someone “I know what you did,” so they feel free to talk about it with you.

“Something wrong babe?” he asked, stopping abruptly as he walked towards me.

“Nothing, I’m fine, just a little tired is all.” I said with a smile, extending my cheek towards him for a kiss. He obliged, but he still looked unconvinced. Good.

“How was your day?”

“Fine, how was yours?” No reason to panic, I was just fishing for information. Or at least that was what I was telling myself.

“Good, the Simmons meeting went well,” he looked incredibly pleased.

“Wonderful. I know you were working hard on it. How about we celebrate tonight with Pizza? I don’t feel like cooking.” Stupid question really, like most people, my Husband will always say yes to pizza. He’s not the only one who can use a favorite food as a distraction.

“Like I would ever say no, Giorgio’s?” Now Kyle looked truly happy.

“You know it, order and pick it up for us?” Our regular order consisted of two large pizzas; peperoni for the kids, green peppers and black olives for Kyle and Me, plus an order of cheesy bread.

“Will do. I’ll get right on it,” he agreed as he took his phone out of his pocket and promptly dialed Giorgio’s while walking into the kitchen. I heard him place the order than promptly walk back out in the living room where I had settled on the couch.

“It’ll be ready in 30 minutes, heading out now to go get it!” he called out as he walked towards the front door.

“See you later hon.” The door closed shut behind him. I took care of a few things I had been thinking of on the ride back home. School stuff and whatnot. When this was done and after making sure Hunter was in his room watching TV, I went downstairs into Kyle’s office. I went through his all desk drawers, nothing out of the ordinary there. Then I went to the garage, same story there.

Finally, I went to the backyard, the place where “the pirates treasure” allegedly was. I stared at the ground for a while, trying to figure out where Hunter said my husband had been digging. Since it had been raining a lot recently, the grass was very lush and green. No spot looked recently disturbed, so it was hard to say. It was at that moment I heard the sound of Kyle’s car coming up the driveway, so I hastily walked back inside the house through the porch.

“Pizza’s here!” he called out as Hunter ran down the stairs excitedly. Our older daughter Jayne was at a friends house for the weekend since it was Friday night. There is nothing like the smell of hot pizza. We got the plates out and sat down at the table. We all dug right in. I may have just been paranoid, but I made sure Kyle ate a slice of pizza before I did. But apparently my husband had no problem chowing down. We all ate quietly, little bits of ordinary conversation breaking the silence.

After dinner, Hunter returned to his room and I cleaned up the dining room.

“Want to watch a movie?” Kyle asked.

“Sure. Oh and by the way, Hunter did a great job on his project on us,” I added as an afterthought.

“Yeah?” He looked pleased by this.

“Yes, despite his including some fantasy he had about you having a secret job,” I managed a pretend chuckle at this. Kyle on the other hand quietly stood quietly on the spot, with a neutral expression on his face.

“That boy has some imagination,” he was pretending it was a joke, but his smile was too wide. It was stretched tightly over his face. The look didn’t suit him.

“I know, he clamed you were a secret superhero who goes out at night to fight bad guys. Crazy right?” I was impressed at how I managed to pretend I thought it was all a joke.

“Yeah,” he began chuckling too. But it wasn’t his usual laugh. It was a nervous “oh shit” laugh.

“I wonder where he would get that idea though? Especially since he claimed you told me and Jayne about it and swore us to secrecy.”

“It’s a mystery,” my husband was doing a pretty good job acting like he wasn’t on edge. He was a good lawyer after all. But I know him. He was tense. The pursed lips are a giveaway every time.

“Yup. So what movie you want to watch?” I felt sickened, Hunter’s story was true. Or part of it was. I’ve known that he has had some shady clients in the past. People you wouldn’t want to be seen with in public and shake their hand type clients.

But I always told myself what lawyer hasn’t? Well, most lawyers don’t have suspicious jewelry, burn clothes in the backyard, and bury bloody sheets covered things in the backyard. What the fuck did he get into at work? That had to be it. Of course, I used my teacher honed abilities to act to pretend I brushed it all off.

“How about The Wolf of Wall Street?” Good choice. I did have a soft spot for Scorsese and we both had yet to see that one. He also looked happy and surprised I dropped the matter so easily.

“Sure, want me to go get it from Redbox?” The nearest Redbox to us is five minutes away at the drug store. I love that thing. It’s the closest you get to a genuine video store anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I like Netflix, but it’s just not the same experience as a video store used to be.

“If you don’t mind?”

“Sure, I’ll be back in a few. Love you Vanessa.” He got back with the movie in what seemed like no time at all. Honestly, part of me was expecting him to run and never come back. But we watched the movie and it was terrific. I didn’t mention anything about Hunter’s project for the rest of the night.

But one last update for you all. Right before we went to bed, I mentioned a new project.

“Hey babe, how about we thing about putting in a swimming pool for the kids?” Not one of those cheap things, but a real one. Hire a pro to come and work on the yard and install it in time for summer?” I could practically feel him thinking on the couch beside me before he answered.

“Sure, sounds great.” That was all he said about my suggestion.

After a few more minutes of watching the news, he went upstairs to go to bed. I am just about to go to sleep myself, but I have one last idea. I thought of last place he could be hiding something here. The attic. No one ever goes up there but him. We also keep it locked so that Hunter can’t get inside and hurt himself. Or at least that’s what I always thought.

As soon as Kyle was asleep, I silently got out of bed and walked into the hallway. I can always tell when he is out cold. His breathing gets super deep. Plus he tosses and turns a lot when he is in a deep sleep.

I inched down the hallway, taking great care not to make a sound. First I had to go down to the kitchen to get the key to the attic. We kept it in the one place we knew Hunter would never look; where we keep the vegetables. The kitchen, along with the rest of the house, was dark and silent. Grabbing the key, I made my way back upstairs.

My eyes had adjusted to the darkness by now. Our attic was accessed by a trapdoor with a ladder that folded down, every time I made a small noise, I cringed, thinking that it would wake up Hunter or my husband. Or perhaps both. But that never happened.

Taking great care not to make noise, I undid the padlock to the attic crawl space and I slowly ascended the ladder. I could feel the air getting heavier as the ladder steps creaked under my body weight. I felt my hand getting sweaty as I tightly gripped the key. Not that I am heavy or anything, quite the opposite. I take good care of myself and work out regularly. As I quietly ascended the steps to the attic trapdoor, I thought about Hunter. There was no way he was lying, and I can tell you exactly why.

Most people don’t think about this, but teachers have to be keen observers of people. Kids will try to pull a fast one over you any chance they get, especially in matters relating to school. But here is the trick; kids are shitty liars and they have no idea they are. So its quite simple to watch them.

When it comes to kids in a classroom, you are in arguably the greatest possible vantage point to observe basic human nature. When dealing with kids at a young age and you have the chance to see them in the prime of life, you can see where they come from and where they are going. Especially when you have the chance to see them as they get older. It’s a prime opportunity to learn how to observe and read people. Not to mention it is part of what makes an effective teacher.

Either you get with the program and adapt accordingly, or you fail. Not just yourself, but the students. Because what you observe could be a matter of grave importance.

Sadly enough, there have been cases where I’ve had to contact Social Services because of what I observed from a student. Not in words, oh no. But in a gesture, a look in their eye, a mannerism. The interaction with their parent or parents is also key.

Allow me to let you in on another little secret; at parent-teacher conferences we analyze parents just as much, if not more, as they analyze the teacher. Abuse, especially child abuse, is like a bad blemish on the wall. You can try to pretend it doesn’t exist by covering it up on the surface as much as you like, but it’s still there. It’s just a matter of who can discern it. It saddens me to say it, but if a child is being abused, odds are good that a teacher will be the one to spot it.

By nature, teachers see their students every day for hours on end, so we have a much greater window to see into their lives. We see the ups and downs. When a student who was always so happy turns glum, or one of the best students grades suddenly tank, that’s a sign for concern, and the cause isn’t too hard to figure out.

Kids are more perceptive than people care to admit. At that age, children have a sense for anything that is out of place, out of the ordinary, or just plain different. It’s why they can be so cruel to each other, they can sense something is unusual, they just can’t process the reason why and comprehend it. Abuse is no different. . The child instinctively know something is amiss, they just can’t quite understand it. So their behavior changes in some fashion.

When a student’s behavior at school starts to change, it’s usually for the following reasons; problems at home, problems with peers, drugs, or dating issues. When it comes to the students I teach, the last two usually aren’t an issue; so that just leaves problems at home or with peers.

Its why when there is a conference and some issue comes up, we inadvertently ask “Is there any problems at home?” The reaction of both student and parent is always quite telling.

That is how I know Hunter truly believed what he was saying about his Dad, that was never in doubt. It was just a matter of the source he was getting it from. Hunter hadn’t been acting out or anything, so there was that to consider as well.

Switching the attic light on, I took a look around. Cardboard boxes scattered around here and there, a cobweb or layer of dust decorating the odd bit of furniture, and a lot of empty space where you could see the electrical wiring of the house.

What was I looking for exactly? I had no idea really, I just figured that whatever it was would catch my eye somehow. I slowly took the attic in. Nothing really out of the ordinary here. That’s another trick I’ve learned as a teacher. You learn how to sense things out of place. I looked around for a bit, but found nothing. After what seemed like an eternity, I turned out the light and slowly climbed down the steps again, being as quiet as I possibly could. I felt a mix of relief and disappointment wash over me, which was an odd feeling. Shouldn’t I have been happy to have discovered nothing was amiss? Yes, I should be, but I wasn’t.

Telling myself that I tried, I climbed back into bed. Kyle didn’t move when I got back into bed, as expected. That was also a relief. Part of me expected him to confront me about lurking around in the attic or something. After a few minutes, I felt myself drift off to sleep.

Since the next day was Saturday, it meant Kyle was off to his golf game. He and his friends played golf at the local club every Saturday, and then they had brunch. Of course, there was always the possibility they might do something else after as well. Like watching a football game or something. Not to mention it was also a great way to network and meet clients. A country club is the place to see and be seen. But no matter what, Kyle always enjoyed it. Since it seemed to help him relax, I always supported it.

He left at 10 am sharp and wasn’t set to come home until late in the afternoon. I had just finished up with some chores and was relaxing with some T.V. while I was going through the mail. Mostly a couple bills, all the usual suspects; car, electric, and gas. I was just about to put them away when I saw a statement from our health insurance provider. Skimming it, something caught my eye.

They documented that they had covered an office visit on September 15 with a Dr. Neil McFarland. From the looks of it, it was a pretty expensive visit, which meant it wasn’t just some random checkup. September 15 was a Friday and I remember Kyle had to leave work early. He said it was a meeting with a client downtown.

I was instantly suspicious. None of us had any such visit to a Dr. McFarland, at least not that I knew of. I tried calling our health insurance provider, but since it was Saturday they were closed. What really had me uneasy, there was also a prescription that was covered. I had no idea what the drug was, so I looked it up. It was a sedative, a really powerful one.

I sat there dumbfounded. I stared at the document for what seemed like an eternity. The crisp white paper crinkled as I gripped it tighter in my hands. Shock slowly gave way to panic, which began to claw at me. Slowly at first, then it came in great rushes, like a dam that had cracked wide open. Taking a deep breath, I tried to steady my nerves. Even after all this time, whenever I think of sedatives, I can’t help but think of Zane.

“Come on, get it together,” I told myself. “You’ve been through stuff worse than this.”

Just telling myself that helped enormously. It was also quite true.

About 7 years ago, I had a student in my class named Zane. When I taught him, he was one of my top students. He also happened to be one of the nicest kids you’d ever want to meet. Zane never talked back or did anything wrong. His parents were by all appearances wonderful people and it was a pleasure to have him in my class.

One of the most extraordinary parts of being a teacher is seeing your former students grow up. You see them grow into maturity; but no matter what happens, you can’t help but always see them as you knew them as children. Sort of how a parent sees their child.

Most of the students who have passed through my class have grown into sensible, well adjusted young men and women. Zane, well he was one of the others.

I don’t know what happened exactly, but for some reason he changed. It was right as he was about to go into the Junior High levels. In a small private school like White Pine Valley, word travels fast. All of my colleagues began to whisper about Zane’s sudden behavior change. I tried to never pay attention to it, thinking the gossip petty and beneath them. But deep down, I knew they had a point.

This previously hardworking and happy young man became quiet and withdrawn. He became something of a loner, which while not uncommon for kids at that age, it still broke my heart to see. There was just something about it that made you do a double take. Whenever I saw Zane in the halls, I would say hello, and he would quietly respond, and that was the end it. Eventually, Zane graduated and moved on to High School. I never forgot about him and checked on him as often as I could, but sadly he was out of my reach. All I could do was hope for the best.

I will never forget that day. November 17, 2011. I had just come home from work when I got a phone call. It was my boss, the principal of White Pine Valley; Sheila Farnsworth.

“Vanessa, its Sheila, I have some bad news.” I felt my heart sink as she spoke. Sheila sounded so strained. I had never seen her like that before, nor has she sounded like that since.

“What is it?” I took a deep breath as I braced myself.

“It’s Zane, he was arrested this morning.” I almost dropped the phone in shock. No, this couldn’t be happening.

“How?” I managed to mumble out.

“There was a bomb threat at the High School this morning. The police traced the call to Zane. Well, I guess one thing led to another and they searched his house and stuff. They found posts on his computer where he talked about committing a mass shooting.” Thank God I was already sitting, because if I hadn’t been, my legs probably would have given out from under me.

“I can’t believe it,”

“I don’t blame you Vanessa,” Shelia agreed. “But there is more.”

“Oh fuck”

“Oh fuck is right. Apparently Zane wasn’t just talking. In his locker, they found a few hunting knives, along with a list of his fellow students. Beside each name there was a phrase explaining why they ‘needed to be punished’ in his words. Zane also got a little creative, in that he had plenty of drawings to go with his list. Pretty detailed, gruesome ones too. So as you can imagine, they took the kid into police custody. They called me for background on him.”

“Goddamn it. I feel like I failed him.” I shouted more at myself than at Sheila. I had never felt so useless as a teacher.

“Hey, don’t you are blame yourself,” she gently corrected me. “You are the best teacher in my school. You bent over backwards for the kid and tried to help him.” In my head I knew she was right. But in my heart, it still ripped at me to know what happened to one of my students. If I had done something, anything, would it have made a difference?

“You’re right.” Sheila said a couple more things, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what they were. I felt numb to everything.

Laying in bed that night, my thoughts were all over the place. I kept replaying everything I knew about Zane in my head, obsessively micro analyzing every interaction I had with him. Looking back, it was an impressive act of self flagellation.

The next few days passed in a similar fashion. I would drag myself through the days at school, but come nighttime, I would lie awake and fester over what happened. This kid, a student in my own class had seriously thought about going on a rampage at school. Would he have done that to me? Disbelief turned to fear, as I suddenly began imagining myself being in the position of Zane’s High School peers.

Believe me, as a teacher these days, I am well schooled in procedure for a lockdown. But somehow this was different. Perhaps because it was so close to home; someone I had actually known and taught. He could have easily turned on me as well.

When I was instructing my students, I began to imagine Zane sitting there. It was only for a moment, but it was still terrifying. I still wasn’t sleeping at night, but during the day I was a mass of energy. I guess I thought that if I was the perfect teacher, I wouldn’t have another student like that pass through my class.

After a particularly brutal night of not sleeping, I decided to do something about it. I went to the school counselor and asked for a recommendation for someone to talk to. Since she knew all too well of the Zane situation, she recommended me to a psychiatrist who specialized in traumatic incidents. After a few sessions, he put me on a medication to see if it would help me relax and sleep. At first it seemed to help, but then on the fourth day, it came with an unexpected side effect.

That night, I dreamt I was running through a maze of lockers. My feed thudded on the black and white checkered floor as I sprinted down the halls. I was terrified, my heart was pounding so hard I thought it would burst through my chest. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried or how fast I ran, something or someone was always faster. I heard myself scream out to whatever was chasing me, saying I hadn’t done anything. All I heard in response was a cold, emotionless laugh.

Then, I suddenly found myself facing a wall. With my back to it, I turned to face what was following me.

It was Zane. Just standing there staring at me.

“Why are you doing this,” I screamed at him. “I was good to you!”

A sick smile twisted its way onto his face in response.

“So you think,” it hissed in a voice that was nothing like Zane’s. I was then staring down both barrels of a shotgun. A deafening blast emerged from it and I woke up in my bed with a jolt.

I was panting like I had just ran a mile. I frantically looked around my room to make sure it was all real. Everything was as it should be, but I was still pretty rattled from that nightmare. I didn’t immediately go off the medication in the hopes that the dream would be a one time thing. Sadly enough, it wasn’t. The dreams got even worse after that.

Once I even had a dream where I arrived into my classroom to see a “Welcome Class” written on the blackboard in blood and the desks were dotted with bullet holes. Believe me, it only took a few days for me to drop the medicine.

I took up meditation and found it quite helpful. Slowly, things began to go back to normal. But I won’t lie, there is an occasional moment where I am reminded of Zane. Once, I could have sworn I saw him at the mall. When that happened, I almost screamed. But I immediately realized that it wasn’t him. Zane and his family had moved out of the area after the incident long ago. But that still doesn’t quite totally stop the adrenaline you get when something like that happens.

I shoved the paper away after a pause. Time to focus on the matter at hand. I would not be taken by surprise this time.

This was all a simple process of elimination. Kyle hadn’t slipped me the sedative, because I would have known it. Not to mention it would have been obvious to others as well. He hadn’t give it to Hunter either, because I was able to observe his behavior. Jayne hadn’t been acting unusual either. No, the only possibilities were that he was taking it himself, or was using it on someone outside the family.

I’d have to keep an eye on Kyle when he slept. Maybe that was the connection. Hunter always said that his Dad went to fight the bad guys at night. Taking a deep breath, I knew what I had to do.

Moving quickly so I would be done before Kyle got home from his golf game, I looked up pictures of the drug in question. Tiny little orange capsules. Then I went to the upstairs bathroom. Combing through the medicine cabinet, I looked through everything, all the pill bottles. Nothing. I had slammed the cabinet shut in irritation when I realized it.

Inside Kyle’s desk was a container of Tic Tacs. They were filled with what I assumed were the orange flavored ones, so I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

Sprinting down to his office, I flung open the desk drawer and there they were. I opened the container and smelled it. That refreshing citrus smell was nowhere. There was no chance in hell these were orange Tic Tacs. I felt my stomach turn itself into a knot. Why does he have these? Even better, why was he hiding them like this?

Right at that moment, I heard the garage door opening. I hastily tossed the container back into the desk and closed it. Running upstairs, I threw myself back on the couch and turned on the TV just as Kyle was unlocking the door.

“Hey honey, how was your day?” I called out nonchalantly. “Good time on the green?”

“You know it, I had a good day. I put that son of a bitch Charlie Fielding in his place. Today he couldn’t hit the side of the Empire State Building.”

“That’s great, so he had to buy you brunch?” The grin on his face said it all.

“It was the greatest brunch ever.” Kyle practically beamed as he remembered it. “I don’t think Eggs Benedict and Hash Browns have ever tasted so good.”

“Wonderful,” I changed the channel as he was reminiscing.

“I’m gonna go take a shower babe. Any thoughts on dinner?” He called out as he headed up the stairs.

“I’ll think about it.” I swear, he had a one track mind when it came to food. I waited until I heard the door close and the showerhead being turned on before I spring up. I had about 10 minutes before he was done.

Moving quickly but quietly back downstairs, I went back into Kyle’s office. I yanked open the desk drawer, and grabbed the container of pills. Shutting it quietly, I put it in my pocket, and crept back up the stairs. Slowing down to catch my breath, I resumed my spot on the couch and tried to calm myself down. The water was still running in the bathroom. Good. .

After another minute or two, I heard Kyle switch off the water and the ripple of the shower curtain being opened. Turning the volume up on the House of Cards episode I was watching, I faintly heard Kyle go into our room to get dressed. Then I heard the sounds of his footsteps heading towards Hunter’s room. Kyle said something which made Hunter yell excitedly and run down the stairs. That boy, I was always telling him not to run on the stairs. It never worked.

“Hunter, go outside in the backyard and play sweetie,” I instructed him gently, but firmly.

“Ok Mom,” he said cheerfully.

“Babe, can I speak to you for a second,” I called out to Kyle. He walked downstairs in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

“What’s up?” I handed him the health insurance statement without saying a word. He stared down at it for what seemed like the longest time.

“I should be asking you that.”

“It’s just a mistake,” was all he said.

“Oh yeah, sort of like keeping sedatives in a breath mint container?” I pulled the container out of my pocket and shook it at him, the orange capsules taunting him as they rattled around in the plastic. I could feel his demeanor change. He stood rooted to the spot. “Does this have anything to do with Hunter claiming you’re a superhero who fights bad guys at night, the buried ‘pirate treasure’ in the backyard, or the clothes he saw you burning?” Kyle looked stunned.

“How did you hear about that?”

“That’s what your first thought is?” I exploded. He physically flinched at my outburst. Now I was pissed. “Not I was acting shady, but how does my wife know?”

“Please, let me explain. Everything that happened, I did for a reason. I swear.”

I didn’t say anything but I folded my arms across my chest. The universal gesture for ‘Start explaining and fast’.

“Some people were threatening our family,”

“Who?” I wasn’t about to give more than a one word answer right now.

“Mr. and Mrs. Ashton, the parents of that kid you used to teach. The one who got busted with the bomb threat years ago.” I heard the Tic Tac container drop from my hand and clatter against the ground.

“What did Zane’s parent’s have against us?” I rushed out. Kyle looked forlornly down at his hands.

“Well, they have things against a lot of people in town. But me specifically, I was the one who informed the police about their son. They didn’t just discover he was dangerous. I knew he was trying to buy a gun. Without that, they would have never had a clue.

“You’re shitting me,” I felt my back hit the wall as I took a few steps back. There was no fucking way.

“No,” he still wasn’t looking directly at me.

“So let me get this straight. After almost a decade, you are finally telling me that you knew a former student of mine was dangerous and you called the police and I am just finding this out now?” Kyle still wasn’t looking at me. Unbelievable. He had the balls to do all this shit but he can’t even look at me? What a goddamn coward. You ever get so angry you can’t even speak? I had never had that particular level of rage hit me, until that moment. I faintly heard myself say one word.

“How?” I didn’t even recognize my own voice at this point. It was almost like a growl.

“Well, for a while when they lived here, a couple of us knew the Ashtons weren’t quite right. You said so yourself when you met them.”

He was right about that. At parent teacher conferences, they seemed nice. Too nice. Their speaking style and courteous manners seemed rehearsed, awkward I guess would be a good word. It just didn’t seem natural to them. Not to mention, I always suspected they had something to do with Zane’s behavioral change. As I’ve explained, when a student’s behavior changes suddenly, there is usually a reason for it. Kyle continued speaking when I didn’t argue with him on that point.

“I first heard rumors of child abuse through a couple friends on the police force. A few neighbors of theirs had seen and heard things, but since not of it was solid evidence, they couldn’t do anything about it. I wasn’t the only one either. Others had similar ideas, but we couldn’t do anything. That is until the bomb threat thing.”

“One of my more discrete contacts through work was the guy Zane tried to get a gun from. The guy sold him the knives that were found in his locker. But a firearm was a no go for him. My contact said he didn’t sell guns to kids and that was the end of it. Then he told me what happened and I put it together.”

“Who would’ve thought a guy who sold shit on the black market had standards,” I spat out. “But that still doesn’t explain how they knew it was you?”

“Well, to be honest, they still don’t know I did specifically that. But after Zane got busted, those of us who knew the Ashtons were shady paid them a little visit. We managed to persuade them to hit the road and not to come back. They did what we said and all of us thought that was the end of it. Until a few months ago, when things sort of got out of hand.”

“What do you mean, they got out of hand?”

“Well, I guess Zane walked out on them for good and disappeared for some reason. That pushed them over the edge, and I suspect they blame this town for ruining their family. Some of us began getting threatening phone calls from them. Drunken cursing fits and the usual ranting. We just waved it off at first. But then we began getting letters in the mail. Letters telling us exactly what we had done on a given day and time. ‘I hope you enjoyed going out to dinner last night’ type thing. But that wasn’t the worst part.” He took a deep breath as if to steady himself before continuing.

“That was when Mr. Ashton would pay us a visit where we worked. It was creepy as hell; you could see the dude wasn’t all there when you looked in his eyes.”

“No kidding,”

“We met a couple times at night to try to decide what to do about the situation. Sort of a secret neighborhood watch type thing. Eventually, a bunch of us went to confront Mr. and Mrs. Ashton where they lived. I guess that is where Hunter first got the idea of me being fighting bad guys at night. It was about a month ago when we did it.”

“They lived about two hours away and both of them had been downing some drinks before we arrived. Well, one thing let to another and Mr. Ashton though he’d try to take us. Drunk asshole tried to pull a piece on us. Since we made damn sure to go there with backup, one of the group got to his gun before old man Ashton and well, I don’t think I need to tell you what happened next.”

“Right,”

“He survived, but barely. Then Mrs. Ashton tried to have a go at us as well. But that went nowhere. Especially after we got her subdued and demonstrated that we now had evidence we had of the nature of their behavior towards their son. Believe me, we didn’t take any chances. Virtually any interaction we had with them before was recorded. That stopped her cold.”

“I bet it did,” I can’t deny, I always knew Mrs. Ashton deserved to be put in her place. The woman was always very aloof.

“We told her that should anything happen to any of us or our families, what we had would be going straight to the cops. Oh and for good measure, they agreed to move west until they hit the Pacific Ocean.” Kyle paused for a moment. Talking about this seemed to do him good.

“After that, we all left and changed out of the clothes we had on. Since some of the guys got a bit, messy shall we say, they made sure to sit on a tarp I kept in the backseat of the car. I made sure all the clothes we were wearing that night were burned.” I felt Goose bumps erupt on my skin at this. That’s what Hunter saw.

“What was the big thing wrapped in it?” Kyle paused for a moment as he thought.

“Some of the evidence against the Ashtons. Other stuff was jewelry Mrs. Ashton used to try to bribe us. But believe me, none of us was dumb enough to keep it. They really had some really fucked up shit going on there. One of the things we found are keys to some storage locker, we are still trying to figure out which one.”

“I can’t even imagine what’s in there.”

“Me too. That’s what sickens me the most. We know some bad stuff, but there is definitely more we have yet to discover which is far worse. But don’t worry, we moved the stuff we kept in the backyard. That was just a temporary place to keep it until we could move it all to a safe place.”

“The pills and the things you said to Hunter about fighting bad guys?” My husband paused as he thought for a moment.

“I had trouble sleeping after that, as you can imagine. One of the guys I golf with, who also who went with us that night, recommended me to somebody. The doctor prescribed me something to help. I know how you feel about sleeping pills, so I didn’t want to say a word. It worked, but sometimes I would sleepwalk. I guess Hunter saw me and I started babbling to him in my sleep.”

“Right,” I had no idea what I felt anymore. It made sense, but believing something like that could actually happen always seems so surreal.

“But I swear to you, that is all that happened. I told you EVERYTHING that I know.” He looked at me pleadingly.

“Thank you for telling me. I just kind of want to be alone to think right now.” He nodded his head in understanding and went outside to play with Hunter. They are still outside playing basketball right now. They look so happy, shooting the ball at the hoop above the garage. Then there is me, sitting here, trying to figure out what to think of all this. Do I trust my husband? TC mark

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