"The Ballin' Pranksters in… A Call To Action"

Chapter 6

Created by The Spectacular SpiderDom

Charlotte sat near her desk with the sound of gentle, acoustic music playing in her ears. Sitting over her head was a set of black headphones with kitten ears on top. With a pencil in her hand, her eyes scanned through several unanswered math problems she had left, and she was determined to answer all of them before the end of the night. Releasing a low sigh, she quickly answered the problem she was on and moved onto the next question.

Her homework was dedicated to probabilities, which she knew well thanks to Tracy and Wendy's tutoring. She read the next problem to herself and wrote down several notes on the side. Feeling humble from the music playing, she hummed along to the melody as she answered the question and circled her answer. She was about to move onto the next question before something caught the corner of her right eye.

The moon.

Looking at her window, she leaned back in her seat and gazed out the window.

It didn't take her long to become lost in the millions of stars infesting the night sky. She slowly got up from her seat and approached the window, cracking it open and allowing a cold Spring breeze to enter it.

Her body shivered at the cool feeling before she opened the window and stuck her head out.

At first, she looked down at the parking lot that went from her front door all the way to the main gate. Once she finished following the parrel lines that made up her gate, she looked up and found herself amazed by the usual landscape of her neighborhood. Luscious green trees as tall as buildings and an armada of bushes and flowers surrounding them.

In the distance, she could see a few taller houses, but even they weren't tall enough to bypass the trees. Leaning on her right arm, she smiled and looked around, thankful that a beautiful night like this could be possible. She eventually leaned backward and closed her window. Pressing her hands against the glass, she gently tapped it and returned to her seat.

But in the process, she stubbed her dark-skinned toe against the side of her bed.

Grunting in frustration, she hopped backward and looked down at her purple-colored toenail before she bumped into a shelf behind her.

A few of her personal collectibles shook, but the one thing that fell onto the carpet was a picture frame.

She mumbled to herself, as she rubbed her toe and leaned down to pick up the frame.

But just before she placed it on top of the shelf, a familiar figure in the image captured her attention.

Placing her headphones on her shoulders, her eyebrows raised upward, as she turned the frame around.

A whole group of younger children sat down near a lengthy, rectangular table covered in a blue cloth that was topped with paper machete cut-outs of birthday cakes and cupcakes. Everyone in the photo had blue birthday hats with pink, yellow, and green polka dots all around them. All of them surrounded Charlotte's younger self, who looked very different than how she did now.

She had a white and black striped shirt with a black sweater and blue jeans, but the major differences were that she had large circular glasses that were the size of her head and she had shiny silver braces over her teeth. A bright smile was on her face and several friends wrapped their arms around her shoulder.

Speaking of the other kids, she took a look at all of them and said their names to herself.

Mack Mackenzie, who didn't have a mustache at the time, had curly red hair, a red shirt, and black sweat pants.

Walter Henning wore a simple blue shirt with black pants. He didn't have a magician hat at the time, instead, he had a royal blue baseball cap.

Tracy and Lacey had similar outfits, in which the former had a black shirt that said, "My Best Friend Is To My Right" and the latter had the same colored shirt with "My Best Friend Is To My Left" on it. Tracy had purple pants and Lacey had pink. Both of them had bright smiles on their faces, as the future basketball player held out a peace sign with her left hand.

Just like her friends, Jasmine had a very different appearance. She had a yellow shirt with a black silhouette of a rock and roll band and she had black jeans with brown boots. Her hair was wrapped in a ponytail and she had her arms wrapped around Mack, who was seen blushing in the process.

Charlotte chuckled at that before she turned her eyes to the main part of the photo.

Wendy had brown hair at the time and simply wore a red shirt with yellow pants, she also had little freckles on both of her cheeks. But the ones that caught Charlotte's eyes the most were three friends who now considered her an enemy.

Michelle Wittman, Vanessa Bowman, and Gregory Sport.

Gregory's outfit, of course, looked like it came out of the 1920s'. He had a brown suit along with the same-colored pants. With a red tie and a white shirt underneath it, he had a black beret and his arm patted Charlotte's shoulder.

Vanessa, with her arms spread out, had a lime green shirt with purple stripes and black pants. Her glasses were larger than the ones she had today and she too had silver braces.

Lastly, her former friend turned enemy had worn a shirt that was orange on the top and yellow on the bottom. With denim blue jeans, her hair was straight, and it reached down to her back and she had a bright smile on her face.

Unlike Gregory, she and Charlotte did something their future counterparts knew they could never do again…

…having a fun time.

Both of them had their arms wrapped around each other and nothing but smiles were on their faces.

Charlotte's smile turned into a frown once she saw the two of them together and she closed her eyes, releasing a low sigh.

Before she could put the picture down, she heard faint voices echo through her mind.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHARLOTTE!"

~Flashback, Many Years Ago…

In the city of Eugene, Oregon, 2027…

Charlotte was celebrating her seventh birthday inside of her living and she and her friends just finished taking several group shots from their parents. Gregory rubbed his eyes due to many flashes he was blinded by and all of the parents went back to mingling with each other. Eartha approached her daughter and kissed her on the head, watching Charlotte and Michelle hug each other one last time.

"Happy birthday, Sweetie," Eartha smiled.

"Thanks, Mom," her younger daughter smiled, looking around at her friends. "Thanks for inviting everyone. But where's Dad? Is he back home from work yet?"

"Um…" the dark-skinned woman rubbed the back of her head, feeling nervous.

She looked down at her daughter and saw her concerned look and seeing her tilt her head to the side made it worse. Eartha patted her fingertips together before she maintained her composure and took a deep breath and placed her hands on her daughter's shoulder.

"I'm sure Daddy's on his way home, Charlotte," she smiled warmly. "I'm going to check with him as we speak."

"Thanks, Mom," Charlotte smiled. "I want Dad to be home in time for cake. He's going to love it!"

"I'm… sure he will," Eartha sighed and forced a smile.

She whipped out her cell phone and walked towards her husband's office, dialing the number for her husband.

Charlotte watched her close the door and her smile turned into a curious frown.

"Hey, Charlotte," Tracy tapped her on the shoulder, holding a large red box covered in red ribbons. "I got you a present!"

"Aww, thanks, Tracy," the birthday girl smiled, taking the gift from her friend's hand.

"Let's hope it's not an active volcano you got for my birthday last year," Michelle joked.

"It wasn't active, it was plastic," Tracy rolled her eyes. "And the reason why it burned a hole through your table was that you did it wrong. You were only supposed to add three tablespoons of baking soda."

"And we all had to clean up the fake lava that day," Vanessa chimed in, nudging her best friend. "What a pleasant experience that was."

"Come on, Charlotte," Mack smiled. "Open up your present!"

"What did you get!?" Wendy asked brightly.

"Come on, tell us!" Jasmine shook Charlotte's shoulders.

"Whoa, everyone, calm down! Give her some air!" Gregory said, gently pushing everyone out of the way. "Go ahead, Charlotte, open your present. Unless you don't feel like opening it now, in that case, we won't force you. But if you want to open it now, go right ahead. But you don't have to if-"

"Greg," Walter chuckled, as he patted the oddly dressed boy's shoulder. "You're telling everyone to calm down when you're the one that needs to relax, ha-ha."

"Oh… sorry, I'm rambling again," Gregory mirrored Walter's laughter.

"You mean rambling?" Tracy winked.

"Right… what you said," Gregory nodded.

"What did you get, Charlotte?" Lacey inquired, pressing her hands together.

"Hold on, hold on, I'm opening it," Charlotte chortled softly, as she ripped open the present in a split second. Opening the box, she pulled out the gift and took it out. "Aww, Tracy, this is amazing!"

She pulled out a large, space-textured package with grassy graphics on the bottom and a bright moon on the left-hand corner. A picture of three large telescopes stuck together was in the center of the package and gold letters were reading, "Splashtastic Products Presents: The All-New, All-Different Triscope! Allows you to see stars and planets three times as far!"

"Oh, cool!" Gregory said. "I don't know what this is."

"It's a Triscope, Greg," Vanessa began to explain. "It's three telescopes built into one and they're all designed with the same technology that goes into space satellites. They can give close-up details of stars, planets, moons, dwarf planets, etc. You can see a lot of things with this thing! Tracy, I can't believe you got this for her! I've always wanted one!"

"My dad was one of the lead designers for this thing," the young engineer adjusted her circle-rimmed glasses. "I asked him if he could grab one for me so I can give it to you. He's already given one to me last week, it's amazing!"

"Tracy showed it to me and it's incredible," Mack nodded in agreement. "I saw Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and even Pluto! It stinks that Pluto isn't a planet anymore."

"At least he's still a dog," Michelle joked again.

The group of kids laughed at her witty remark.

"Tracy, thank you so much," Charlotte smiled, as she stood up and hugged Tracy with one arm. "This thing is great! I'll have to hide it from my brother, he's gonna flip once he sees this."

"Where is your brother anyway?" Wendy inquired.

"Upstairs playing video games as usual," Charlotte rolled his eyes. "I think he's up there with your brother, Michelle."

"Knowing those two, they're only going to come down for cake and ice cream," Michelle asked.

"Righty-o," Charlotte nodded with an annoyed sigh.

"Well, forget about him, Charlotte," the young prankster wrapped her arm around her best friend. "You got all…" She began to count how many of her friends there were in the group. "Nine of us, so that's all that matters. Besides, they're probably doing something stupid like watching creepy anime or something."

"Gross," Lacey cringed.

"You had to make it weird, didn't you, Michelle?" Wendy groaned as she reached for a yellow present beside her. "Here, Charlotte, open my gift."

"Wait, wait, open mine!" Jasmine said, holding up a rectangular blue present.

"Girls, girls," Charlotte chuckled, standing up on her feet. "I'll open your gifts in a bit, I got to use the restroom."

Her nine friends nodded, as they huddled together and entered their own discussion.

Charlotte walked away from the young interlocutors and approached the bathroom.

Just as she was about to open the door,

"God damn it, Harold!"

She heard her mother snarl from the laundry room.

Apparently, Eartha didn't close the door all the way, it was cracked open a tiny bit.

As much as she didn't want to snoop, Charlotte couldn't resist and crept up to the door. Getting down on her knees, she scooched towards it and gently pushed it open, watching her mother pace back and forth. The phone was glued to her ear and her face was as red as a tomato. Charlotte imagined steam pouring from her mother's ears, as Eartha snarled and facepalmed.

"You're telling me you're working overtime when you knew I was throwing your daughter's birthday today!?" Eartha barked. "It doesn't surprise me you'd want to miss out on something like this, after all, you're the same prick that missed the day she was born!"

Charlotte felt her gut wrench at the harsh language.

"Don't use that 'We need the money' bullshit with me!" Eartha grunted. "You're the president of a multi-billion dollar company and I'm just a measly news reporter, you will come home right now and be there for your daughter!"

Charlotte couldn't understand anything her father said, all she heard were murmurs and whimpers.

Eartha sighed and rubbed her head. "Look, I'm not saying I don't want you working, you and I both do a lot to support this family. I'm just saying you need to be here for your daughter when she needs you most. Every time she tries to speak with you, you treat her as if she's your assistant. A father shouldn't do that to their own child. But I don't understand why you would take an overtime shift when you know it's her-"

She was cut off from her sentence and she heard a growl come from the other side.

"Fine!" Eartha snarled back. "But know this… the more you neglect your kids, the more they disappointed they are."

Hanging up the phone, the news reporter slammed her fists against the washing machine and sat down on a wooden stool. With her legs wrapped around each other, she buried her face into her left hand and an annoyed/depressed grunt escaped from her mouth.

Charlotte was tempted to go in there and cheer her mother up, but she shook her head and backed away.

Rubbing her arm, she returned to the group where Michelle noticed her somber expression.

"Hey, Char… what's wrong?" the yellow-shirted girl asked.

The birthday girl closed her eyes, shedding a small tear. "My dad's not coming for my birthday this year."

"Again?" Michelle inquired. "Charlotte, I'm so sorry to hear that."

The other eight kids heard the conversation, and they surrounded their melancholy friend. Wendy embraced her best friend in a warm hug while the others did the same thing. But Michelle placed her hands on Charlotte's shoulders and gave her a warm smile.

"I know you miss your Dad and I'm sad he can't be here for you," she explained. "But I just want you to know this. Vanessa, Gregory, Tracy, Lacey, Walter, Jasmine, Wendy, and I are always going to be here for you when you need us. We're your best friends, we wouldn't trade our friendship with you for anything. We'll always be friends, no matter how far we apart we are."

Registering that to her head, the dark-skinned birthday girl wiped her eyes and smiled at her friend's words of wisdom.

"Yeah, even when we're freezing our butts off in Antarctica, which would be physically impossible considering none of us wearing coats at the moment, which would mean we would slowly freeze to death," Tracy added. "But yes, we'll always be thinking of you."

"Darn it, Tracy!" shouted.

Charlotte laughed at her friend's scientific comment before she cleaned another tear off her face and smiled.

"Thanks, guys. And thank you, Michelle," she smiled. "I know I can always count on you."

The ten friends gathered together, as the birthday girl opened Wendy's gift.

~Present Day

Just like her younger self, Charlotte wiped a tear from her eyes, and she placed the frame back down on the counter.

Patting the side of it, she began to remember the day she and Michelle ended their friendship.

With a sullen look on her face, she sighed and clenched her fists, feeling more tears pour down her cheeks.

Bur right in the middle of her thoughts, she heard a clanking sound from outside.

She opened her eyes and walked towards her window, cracking it open. Looking towards the gate, she saw her mother pull into the driveway and go straight into the garage. An excited Eartha came out of the vehicle and closed the door with her backside. Whistling and humming with delight, she spun around with her hands in the air. Dancing around, she took a few steps forward and shook her rear from left to right.

Charlotte raised an eyebrow before she saw her mother walk inside.

Stroking her chin, she removed her kitten headphones and placed them on her desk. Then, she opened the door and walked down the stairs to the living room.

Once she entered the area, she saw her mother stuck to the couch, plugging her phone's charger into the computer. With her phone plugged in, she transferred the video of the ice cream shop robbery into her videos folder.

"Oh, this is so good," she whispered to herself, as she opened up an email folder and messaged one of her editors.

Charlotte approached her with her hands folded and spoke softly, "Hi, Mom."

But Eartha didn't hear her. She was too busy working.

"Mom?" Charlotte asked again, snapping her fingers.

Once again, her mother didn't notice a peep."

Charlotte cleared her throat and sternly spat, "Mom!"

"Gah!" Eartha shivered, nearly dropping her computer from her lap. She looked at her daughter and smiled. "Oh, hi, sweetie, how's it going? Wait, why aren't you in bed? It's a school night."

"But it's only 8:37," her daughter replied.

"Is it?" Eartha looked at the clock and read the time to herself. "Whoa, time flies when you're relieving stress. Anyways, what's up?"

"Uh… can I talk to you about something?" she asked, rubbing her arms.

"In a minute, Hun. I'm in the middle of messaging my editor, but I keep getting this stupid message that says 'Video File is too big to be sent. Would you like another option?' Bah, you think they would have fixed this by now!"

"What are you sending, I hope it's not another one of those Xavier Quincy videos?"

"Nope, this is something better! We got ourselves a trio of vigilantes in Eugene!" Eartha smiled, trying to decrease the video file's size.

"Vigilantes?" Charlotte inquired.

Eartha turned her computer around and showed the video of The Ballin' Pranksters fighting both thugs in the ice cream shop. "Wayne suggest I'd get some space, so I tried to go down to Hendrick's Park, but in the process, I stumbled across these costumed suckers smacking the hell out of some thugs. The pink one's Bubblegum, the green one's Mad Potion, and the dude with the exterior underpants is Luther Crusoe."

Charlotte observed the video and saw both Bubblegum and Mad Potion punch the blonde thug while the bald one chased Luther Crusoe around with an ice cream scooper.

She kept watching until she saw the pranksters shoot the thugs through the window with The Echo Master.

"Whoa," her eyes lit up.

"That's what I said," Eartha playfully nudged her daughter, wrapping her arm around her shoulder. "Wilfred told me to find something creative to report about, so I did. If this doesn't knock his socks off, I don't know what will!"

"Do they have a team name or something?"

"Um… I believe they call themselves The Ballin' Pranksters."

"Ballin' Pranksters… hmm, sounds like a franchise."

"Right!" Eartha's face beamed with enchantment. "So, what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Huh?" Charlotte froze for a second before she remembered why she came downstairs. "Oh, right!... I um… wanted to talk about… um… well… I uh…"

The purple-haired news reporter raised an eyebrow.

The dark-skinned girl twirled her scarf and rubbed her clammy hands together, trying to formulate her words.

"I was just thinking," she continued. "About…"

After one more moment of silence, she shook her head. "You know what, never mind. I just wanted to come down here and say goodnight and wish you congratulations on finding a cool story. I'm hoping those Ballin' Pranksters give you the views you deserve."

"Let's hope so," Eartha nodded. "Otherwise, I'm gonna have to put my foot up Wilfred's ass, ha-ha. Good night, sweetie. See you in the morning."

"Yeah," Charlotte said quietly. "See you in the morning."

With that, her daughter walked up the stairs and back to her room.

But in the process, she saw Wayne, who was dusting some portraits of Eartha on the walls.

As Charlotte opened the door, the grey-haired butler cleaned his duster and cleared his throat.

"Your mother cares for you very much, Miss Withers," he said softly. "You can always talk to her when you need her most. Trust is one of the most important things about family. You can also talk to me."

"I'd love to… but the both of you wouldn't understand."

"Miss Withers, the generation I grew up in is far different than the one you're living in now," he brushed off his clothes. "But I know a thing or two about broken friendships."

Charlotte allowed his statement to sink in before she said. "Good night, Wayne."

She closed the door and entered her room.

Inside her room, Charlotte pulled back the white blankets on her bed and sat down on her royal blue mattress sheets. Just as she pulled the covers onto her body, she laid her head against her pillow and reached for the lamp on her nightstand.

But just before she turned off the light, she noticed something sitting right beside it.

A brown notebook with a piece of white tape across it. Two words were written in red marker, "PERSONAL JOURNAL."

Charlotte stared at the book for a few seconds before she turned away from it and turned off her light.

Adjusting her pillow, she rested her head and curled underneath her blanket.

As she began to fall asleep, she hoped that tomorrow would be a better day.

END OF STORY

Tune In Next Time For…

Ballin' Pranksters – Issue #3: To Break In & Break Out