by Mary Jo Robertiello
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story. Trigger warning for sexual assault and attempted rape.
Kali pulled down the sexual harassment notice in Judson High School’s all gender restroom used by boys and taped it in the cheerleaders’ locker room. She placed it over the middle of the south wall where guys watched them.
Valentina, Lalli, Tracy, Harper, Zendaya, Emma, Sofia, Martha, and Kali stared at the notice. They were Black, Brown, and White, ranged in age from sixteen to seventeen, were between 5’4” and 5’8”, and weighed between 98 lbs. and 105 lbs. had blonde, brown, chestnut, black, red hair flecked with blue, green, and pink layers. Four were good at math, one was good at Spanish, three loved Visual Arts. One hated school. All nine were passionate about cheerleading.
“Violating private spaces.” Tracy read from the notice.
“See, it’s right there. It’s like telling us we have to do something,” Kali said in a low voice.
“Can they hear us?” Harper jerked her head toward the wall.
“At least they can’t see us.” Kali raised her voice and threw a middle finger at the wall.
“I told the coach maybe there are other holes,” Valentina said.
“What did he say?”
“Do you have proof?” Valentina imitated Coach Davis’ judgmental tone.
“Let’s tell Fanning,” Zendaya said, the cheerleader captain.
Principals had come and gone, but Miss Plum had been the Judson School’s head secretary for thirty years. She was hooked once Zendaya described the boys gawking at the girls in their locker room.
“Girls, Principal Fanning will see you now.” They had a twenty-minute two p.m. appointment.
The cheerleaders took a quick look in their mirrors, patted their hair, licked their lips, and walked quietly into Principal Fanning’s office. They remained standing since there weren’t any chairs.
“Hi, Judsonites.” He gave them a big smile. “Excited about the big day? Only four days to go.”
Everyone in Boston knew the Saturday before Thanksgiving was the big football game.
“Principal Fanning, can we talk to you?” Zendaya said.
“That’s why you’re here.” Another big smile. “Drop the principal stuff, okay? It’s Mister Fanning.”
What a cool guy. So real, like us.
Mr. Fanning was thirty-five, over six feet, lots of black hair, had a deep voice, and used to teach math.
Valentina replaced her habitual scowl with a sweet, innocent smile. She loved math.
Mr. Fanning’s eyes flitted over the nine girls. The cheerleaders waited for one another to speak up.
“You’ve talked to Coach Davis about some incidents?” Mr. Fanning prompted.
The girls hesitated.
“Yeah,” Zendaya said.
“You’re embarrassed?” The deep voice began. “Don’t be. We’re here to help you, but you have to help us. What do you think is going on?”
“It’s like the guys are sneaking looks at us in our locker room.”
“Not all the guys,” Emma interrupted, sticking up for her fifteen-year-old brother.
“Maybe not all the guys but which ones?” snarled Kali.
“Go on,” Mr. Fanning said.
“There’s a hole in our locker room wall.”
“We heard laughing.”
“Perry said he liked what I had on,” Valentina said.
“Perry? He’s a liar,” Kali hissed.
“What did he say?” Mr. Fanning’s wrinkled brow frightened and reassured the cheerleaders. “We have to get to the bottom of this.”
“I bet he got hot over her lacy bra,” Martha blurted.
Mr. Fanning pressed a button. “Miss Plum, have Coach Davis come to my office now.”
Minutes late Coach Davis, short and stocky, came in and closed the door.
He nodded at Mr. Fanning and the girls. “You’re telling Mr. Fanning about the locker room?”
The girls nodded.
“Good. I’ve quizzed the guys. They claim they don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You warned them about lewd remarks?” Mr. Fanning said.
“Of course,” the coach answered.
“About inappropriate touching? About violating private spaces?”
“It goes without saying,” Coach Davis said oddly.
Had Mr. Fanning memorized the notice?
“Let’s get the wall examined,” Mr. Fanning said.
That afternoon the plumber examined the wall on both sides. In the boys’ restroom, he dug out a wad of gum shoved into a crack.
Fanning bent over to take a look. “All I see is their locker room ceiling.”
Following the principal, Coach Davis said, “Me too.”
“Seal it and keep checking,” Mr. Fanning told the plumber.
Wednesday 9 a.m.
“Surprise,” Coach Davis said at practice the next morning. “The big game’s on Saturday, so the guys want to practice in the gym and on the field 24/7.”
“What about us? What about the wall?” Kali said.
“Oh, yeah.” Coach Davis sunk his hands into his trouser pockets. “No big deal. The plumber found one little crack. Mr. Fanning and I checked it out.”
“So?” Several cheerleaders chimed in.
“All we saw was about two inches of your locker room ceiling.”
The girls circled him.
“What are you doing about it?” Kali said.
“I don’t like that tone, Kali. We’re in this together.”
Always willing to challenge, Kali said, “When are we getting a woman coach?”
“We’re working on it. Want back Ms. Sally?” The coach snarled. Visions of the ex-coach showing up, if at all, and reeking of gin flashed across the girls’ minds.
“Maybe the guys can have a female coach since we have a guy,” Kali countered.
“As I was about to say, the plumber sealed up the crack and checked both sides of the wall.”
“He went into our locker room?” Zendaya said.
“With me and Mr. Fanning.” the coach blew out his breath, a signal to the girls that his patience was running thin.
“What about our practice?”
“We’ll practice at my place.” Catching their surprised look, he said, “It wasn’t my idea, but I think it’s great.”
“Your place? What’s that mean?” Kali said.
“I was about to say.” Captain Davis glared at Kali. “My place is a farm in Dedham. We’ll go early.” He raised his voice. “I said early, nine a.m. sharp, tomorrow morning, and come back on Friday afternoon.”
“You mean we’ll stay overnight?” Sofia’s eyes bulged the way they always did when she was scared. The other girls hid their concern by waving their heads at Sofia like disapproving aunts.
“Unless anybody wants to vault or spin in the spare room.” Mr. Davis laughed. The spare room was a dingy school space where ancient cleaning equipment and old t-shirts were tossed.
“What about our routines?” Zendaya said. “What about our stuff? We have to practice with poms.”
“We’ll take landing mats, First aid kits, poms. Miss Plum checked your uniforms?”
The cheerleaders frowned and nodded.
“If we had a woman coach,” Kali began.
“Enough. I want to see your outfits shipshape Saturday morning.” The coach handed them permission slips. “I’m messaging your parents but I need their permission in writing. If I don’t get it, you don’t go.”
The girls shifted between putting up with Mr. Davis and tolerating him. Good points: got cheerleading moves, didn’t play favorites and knew Ed Sheeran was the greatest singer who ever lived. Bad points: real strict, very punctual, unfunny jokes about weight.
Wednesday evening The Phillips’ dinner table
“Coach Davis says you’re spending Thursday night at his house?” Valentina’s mom didn’t hide the surprise in her voice.
Pop looked up from his scallops. “First time, isn’t it? It’s near Dedham.”
“We’re driving up in his SUV, tomorrow morning at nine a.m. sharp.” Valentina got a laugh from her parents imitating the coach’s insistence on punctuality.
“You can’t practice at school?” Pop said.
“The guys get the field and the gym 24/7.”
“We have to practice so we’ll do it at coach’s,” Valentina said. Her parents exchanged a look, surprised by their usually contentious daughter’s acceptance of going to Coach Davis’s. “Miss Plum is the chaperone.”
“Poor Miss Plum,” Pop said.
Mom continued reading the permission slip. She signed it and handed it to her husband.
Thursday 7 a.m. The Phillips’s breakfast
While flipping the pancakes, Mom said, “The coach doesn’t mention his wife. She’ll be there?”
“Diana, how should I know?” Since her sixteenth birthday, Valentina called her mother by her first name. No more babyish mami stuff.
Mom noticed the eyeliner. Pop took a long look then dived back into the Boston Globe.
“Am I crazy?” Mom sniffed at her husband who had just showered.
“Is Mami crazy?” Ben, the nine-year-old, laughed as he snuck a scrap of buttered pancake to Shaggy, their pet.
Valentina jumped up and tucked at her skirt.
Darling, that skirt is so short. You’re not wearing it to school, Mom thought but didn’t say, also not mentioning the heavy eyeliner.
Valentina slung her backpack over her shoulder, kissed the top of pop’s head and pecked mom’s cheek. “Please, please press my uniform. See you tomorrow.” She headed for the door.
Again, Mom smelled a faint whiff of aftershave. Valentina babysat for the Fannings the night before. “Honey, did Mr. Fanning give you a lift home? Pop saw a blue Chevy.”
“I thought Jake Fanning had an Audi,” Pop said over his paper.
“He said something about a rental. How should I know?” Valentina said.
“Valentina, call me the minute you arrive,” Mom called as their kids ran out to the bus.
Judson School Thursday
Promptly at 8:45 a.m. Coach Davis parked in front of the school and waited while Miss Plum collected the Judsonites’ permission slips.
Kali gestured at Miss Plum, indicating the seat next to Mr. Davis. Miss Plum’s raised her eyebrows and shook her head. Car-crazy Kali grabbed the empty seat while the other girls piled into the back of the SUV.
“Watch out for the kids’ stuff,” the coach shouted as he accelerated the motor like a plane’s engine and headed to the countryside ten miles from Boston.
Sofia chirped in the back seat: “I still think there’s a way the guys can see us.”
“Shut up, Sofia,” Tracy said, followed by a chorus of “Yeah, Sofia.” Eyes pointed to the back of the coach’s head.
Coach Davis headed northwest on Cambridge Street toward Sudbury Street. Emma pointed at the Bank of America on the right. “There’s dad’s bank.”
“Always pointing it out,” Tracy hissed.
The other girls ignored Emma’s and Tracy’s mutual dislike.
Kali inspected the dashboard, running her hands over the smooth surface.
“Hey, Kali, no offense but don’t touch everything,” Coach Davis said.
Kali placed her hands in her lap and her eyes on the different dials. “So what’s the schedule, Coach?”
“Practice, practice, practice all day Thursday and Friday morning.”
“When’s Miss Plum coming?” Kali said.
“Your kids are so cute. They were great at the holiday party,” Valentina said from the back seat.
Coach Davis took a right on Memorial toward Cambridgeport.
“Mr. Fanning ..” Tracy began and stopped when the others waved their heads back and forth.
“There’s one hole in the bathroom. I’m sure of it,” Valentina said.
“You’re taking my eyes off the road, girls. Discuss later, okay?” Coach Davis eyed them in the rearview mirror.
Valentina picked up a teddy bear and cuddled it. “Can’t wait to see them.”
They turned onto Route 2.
“The kids are with their mom at her mom’s. I’m on my lonesome,” the coach said.
The girls groaned. They had expected to see the twins and friendly Mrs. Davis.
Coach Davis pulled into Dedham’s Whitman Avenue. “Who’s helping me with the groceries?”
The two leaders, Zendaya and Tracy, jumped out.
Watching the girls trail Coach Davis into the supermarket, Sophia said, “My mom thought she’d be here,” referring to Mrs. Davis.
“Mine did, too,” several answered.
Most of the girls watched the coach and girls carrying boxes toward the car.
Valentina had her eyes on the road. She thought she saw the dark blue Chevy rental. If only. She kept her mouth shut, avoiding Kali gawking out the window.
A few minutes later they turned into the coach’s property.
“You have a lot of land,” Harper said.
“A few acres,” the coach answered, pleased.
He parked in front of the family saltbox, a white frame house with two stories in front and one in back.
“Come on, everyone. Bring your stuff. I’ll grab the food.” Coach Davis jumped out of the car and the girls followed.
Instead of opening the front door, the coach circled around the saltbox. Half an acre away was a brick cottage.
“That’s where you guys are bunking.” He glanced at his cell. “Take a half hour, I said a half hour, to get settled. Practice at 10:30 a.m. on the dot. Be in front of your dorm at 10:30.”
“Who are they?” Kali asked. Young guys in khakis and jeans were planting Christmas trees.
“We’re planting along the border,” the coach said. “Have our very own Christmas tree farm. The kids will love it.”
At ten the cheerleaders in practice and warmup clothes were stretching, jogging, and dialing their cellphones.
The coach carried a small table from his house and placed it near the cottage porch. He pointed at the table, “Phones here and now.” The girls were used to this. There was some heavy breathing as they separated from their cells, but they weren’t getting kicked off a routine for complaining.
“Mindset is everything.” With a straight face, Kali quoted the coach.
The girls got in formation. Sofia, the shortest, was on the far left followed by the eight other girls lined up according to height.
Coach Davis was all business. A recording blasted out “Shape of You.”
“Let’s go. Twenty Straight Jumps.” He clapped his hands. The girls’ leg muscles shone in the morning sunlight. “Okay. Thirty Tucks.” The girls jumped, bringing their knees to their chest. “Sofia, don’t kick your legs behind you. “Twenty clasps, twenty high-Vs.”
“Emma, tuck those elbows. You too, Martha.”
The guys planting the trees watched the girls bending and folding and somersaulting.
Twenty minutes later, the cheerleaders got a break. Several of them grabbed their cells as they ducked into the cottage bathroom. Others whispered into theirs, jogging around the lawn.
Some of the guys joined them. “Emma, tuck those elbows,” one of the guys imitated said, imitating the coach. “You too, Martha.” Despite themselves the girls burst out laughing.
The coach came out his back door. “Back to work. You too, guys.” He pointed at the row of Christmas trees.
Kali came out of the cottage and approached the coach. She whispered, “It’s that time of month for Valentina.”
He held up his hand, not wanting to hear more. “She has twenty minutes to pull herself together,” he said loud enough for Valentina to hear.
In the bedroom Valentina shared with Kali, she stared out the window at her cell. Seeing Kali, she held up her thumbs.
Kali nodded as she checked the time: two minutes until her cell had to be back on the table. She ran behind an elm and dialed the school. Miss Plum answered. Kali steadied her voice; “Hi, Miss Plum, the coach wants to know when you’re getting here.”
“Kali?” Miss Plum said. “Let me speak to Coach Davis.”
“Kali, your cell on the table now,” the coach barked.
She hung up and ran back to the group. The coach’s cell rang. He turned his back on the girls for privacy. All Kali heard was, “No problem,” before he disconnected.
Down the cottage hall Valentina heard the landline and ran to answer it. “Why aren’t you answering?” the deep voice said.
“Coach makes us put the cells on a table and not go near them during practice.”
“Got it. Out the back door now.”
Valentina felt a rush stream through her body. She remembered Tuesday night, snuggling in the cozy interior of the Chevy rental. His tender gentle kiss made nothing else matter. Almost nothing. “If I don’t go to practice…”
“Taken care of, Honey. Come to the car now. Out the back door. Shut it quietly,” he said, as if he were talking to a five-year-old.
Who took care of what? Contradicting her sexy principal scared her.
He held open the car’s side door, giving her a little squeeze and a gentle shove. He wrapped an old blanket around her, whispering into her ear, “Keep yourself covered.”
Valerie got in and sat on the back seat.
“Not there.” He lowered his voice. “Get on the floor. More private.”
“A special place for a special girl,” he said from the driver’s seat. “We’ll be there in ten minutes. You okay?” He sang “No Estás Sola” off key.
God, it was a song her parents liked.
“Love it, Carina?”
“Yeah,” She mumbled under the blanket.
“Say it in Spanish.”
He sounded old. Valentina fought her nervous laugh. She slumped down on the rental’s back seat floor and peeked out from the old blanket he’d thrown over her.
The rental rocked along. She shifted, pulling her long legs under her.
“Here we are.”
She sat up.
“Where are we?”
She glanced out the window before pulling the blanket over her head and read on a large sign WILSON MOUNTAIN RESERVATION.
He pulled to a stop. He was parking, she guessed. I want to go home. I want to be with the other kids. I want to cheerlead. Am I still a Judsonite flyer? Valentina was the cheerleader who twisted mid-air, trusting her team to safely catch her.
He opened the back door and pulled back the blanket. He looked down at her as she awkwardly crawled out of the back seat and pulled herself up by holding onto the door. He stood close to her. She ducked her head to the left and right to see beyond him.
“Look at me.” He smiled down at her, his eyes burning with mischief. “Look what I have for you.” He handed her a visor cap. “Put it on.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “My beautiful brown baby.” She stared up him as he shoved it on her head.
“Remember your sunglasses?”
She pulled them out of her tummy pack. After she put them on, he lifted her head and sank into a deep kiss. She didn’t know what to do with her hands so she placed them on his jacket, above the pockets. She felt a bunch of keys and a cell. She took her hand away, scared of him, scared of being accused of stealing. His aftershave made her recall Mami saying, “Am I crazy?”
No, Mami, you aren’t crazy.
He rolled his tongue around her mouth. Underneath the toothpaste, she tasted booze.
After he kissed her forehead and locked the car doors, he whispered, “Come on, Honey. Walk behind me.”
Walk behind you? Valentine watched the back of his head flitting from one side then the other, scared someone would see him with her.
He led them up a narrow trail surrounded on both sides by a dense forest.
Valentina realized they were coming to the special trees. On a fourth-grade trip, the spigots and buckets identified the maples. She licked her lips, remembering the syrup’s taste.
Edging up a steep hill he kept climbing and humming “No Estás Sola.” Valentina started to call to him to tell him about the maples. She stopped, realizing she’d rather keep things from him. Better he doesn’t know I’ve been here.
Why am I here? She stopped walking and turned in the opposite direction. He turned around.
“Didn’t hear your little footsteps.”
She forced a smile. “Tying my shoe.”
She knew he knew she was lying.
“Come on, Honey. Walk with me.”
She gritted her teeth, forcing another fake smile and a fake compliment: “Can’t keep up with you.”
“We’re here.” He walked to the edge of a steep rock and put out his hand for hers. She stepped forward and stood a few feet away from him. He swung his head from left to right, scanning the woods. Seeing no one he reached out his left arm and grabbed her. She reared back. His big arms surrounded her.
He laughed. “You’re going to love this.”
He steered her to a large rock hanging over the precipice. He sat down and pulled her onto his lap. He cupped her head in his large hand and tilted it upwards, downwards and sideways, laughing. “You beautiful doll.” She nuzzled against his broad muscular chest. The only alternative was to fall off the cliff.
“What’s this about a lacy bra?” He gave her his know-it-all smile.
“Huh?” Valentina felt a new wave of horror, recalling Perry, the world-famous liar.
He held her in a gentle vise, unbuttoned her shirt and ran his large hands up her shaking torso. “Calm down,” he growled.
He slipped a capsule out of his shirt pocket, ripped off the top, clenched her jaw and poured a liquid into Valentina’s mouth. She slammed shut her mouth but not before she’d swallowed a few drops. She strapped her hand across her mouth, afraid he’d force more of that stuff.
“Come on, Sugar. This is for us.”
This is for us? Sex with my principal, a married thirty-five-year-old man forcing something into my mouth? Tears welled in her eyes. She bit her lips to keep her mouth closed.
“What beautiful eyes. Cry more often. Only kidding.”
Valentina’s thoughts were bombarded with Mami and Pop trusting her.
“Can I use your phone?”
She slid her hand toward it. He smacked her hand. Then raised it to his lips and kissed it. Valentina sat in shock. The principal hit her.
“Surprise.” He reached in his jacket’s inside pocket and pulled out a photo. Valentina looked at herself standing in the Judsonites’ locker room in the lacy bra.
“I only choose the best,” he whispered into her ear.
She forced herself to say, “Any others?”
“Gentlemen never reveal that,” he snickered.
“I meant the pictures,” she stuttered.
“Maybe I’ll show you later.” He turned her over and stroked her. “I knew you’d like it.”
Valentina kept still. She couldn’t keep the tears from running down her face. Dizziness was folding into her head. Was it that stuff he forced into her mouth?
“This is what you want.” He grabbed her ass.
Valentina opened her mouth and bit his right hand. He jumped. She grabbed at his side pocket. His keys fell out. She snatched his cell, rolled off him and ran. Wasn’t there another trail used by more people? Yanking up her shorts and clutching his phone, she ran toward it. He found his keys, ran after her, stumbled, picked himself up, deep red in the face and caressed his right hand in his left hand.
“You little bitch.”
Valentina threw herself between bushes. Where was the other trail?
His sneakers crunched leaves. If it was him.
“Over here, Honey.”
She clutched his cell. So near, so useless. What’s his password?
Someone was calling him. Miss Plum.
Can I answer? He’ll hear me. I’ll text. Do I say Principal Fanning is raping me, and I’m hiding in a bush?
Instead, Valentina texted Wilson Mountain Reservation. Tell my mom, pop, Kali. Hurry please Miss Plum.
Shit, I didn’t put my name. That will show up automatically. Won’t it? Valentine threw up her arms in despair and lowered them fast. Did he see them? Sweat washed over her.
She heard nothing, his silence was as terrifying as his presence. She stifled a sneeze, then another one.
I have to get out of here.
Bugs liked her. They crawled up her legs. She swatted at them. More kept coming. She started to part the bushes then stopped. The rustle will alert him.
Over to her left she heard some kids. Seconds later, a tired dad’s voice yelled: “Get over here. I’m not saying it again.”
It dawned on her she was a cheerleader.
Valentine sprinted out of the bushes, did a roll then a jump onto the precipice. She steadied herself, feeling dizzy.
Was it that crap he forced me to drink?
“Hi, kids. Where’s your dad?” She held herself steady and flashed a smile at the five-year-olds.
Shaking their heads in wide-eyed wonder, the kids obeyed their dad and ran after him down a trail.
The principal was closer than she’d expected.
He grabbed at her legs. She sidestepped him. With an angry grace he mounted the foot-wide precipice. He moved his feet inch by inch toward her. Dizziness swept over her. She forced herself to take deep breaths. It dawned on her he was afraid of heights. It made her feel right at home. Valentina extended her arms above her head, her hands in fists. She circled slowly so he faced her with his back to the edge. His lusty look was replaced by confusion. He steadied himself, bunched his own fists and grabbed her.
“Touchdown,” she shouted, springing her arms forward and pushing him back.
He swayed, letting go of her and pinwheeling his arms for balance. Too late, he stumbled off the cliff.
Valentina screamed. She edged herself to the cliff’s edge and forced herself to look down at the still body 400 feet below. Behind her, she heard running footsteps and kids shouting.
Valentina recognized the tired father’s voice: “Get off the rock this instant. My five-year-olds told me you were on a cliff.”
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode goes up next month.