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Rated: 18+ · Chapter · Drama · #1117679
Jack must face the reality of his father's illness.
Chapter 3~0~

Jack You turned off the engine and looked over at his son in the passenger seat. “Come on, Caleb, let’s go inside.”~1~

“Just a minute,” the boy responded. He continued fiddling with his handheld video game, giving little indication of bringing the session to a close.~2~

“Ba’s not in the mood to fight with you today,” he said, placing a staccato on the word Ba. “You can finish that later.”~3~

Caleb huffed then wordlessly proceeded to end the match. He showed off a slant-eyed pout just before the light from the game player fizzled out.~4~

Jack got out of the car and calmly closed the door. The smell of saltwater, fresh rain and seafood hit his nose all at once, confusing his senses as he rounded the front end of the car in the Southern heat. But then the air became filled with the odor of car exhaust from a passing car. He coughed a little as he watched the perpetrator swerve into a space in the nearly full parking lot. The sight of a full lot at the Café or any building near the water was not uncommon during weekends like this.~5~

When Caleb finally emerged from the car, Jack reached for his hand. ~6~

Immediately, Caleb stuck his fist in his pocket. “I can walk across the parking lot myself, Ba,” he said. He threw his shoulder away from Jack.~7~

Jack sighed and pressed his own hand against the back of the boy’s shirt collar as they walked. It was easy for him to forget that his son could handle himself. Caleb was small for a ten-year-old and seemed especially so standing next to Jack’s own relatively tall body. Like his mother, Caleb was tougher than he looked.~8~

After a brief crossing, Jack walked Caleb through the glass doors of the Café. A few patrons waiting by the entrance shot them some listless glances. The hiss of the kitchen and oldies music blared above the dining room clamor, and the aroma of fried seafood now permeated the air at full strength. Steam clouded the preparation area, but the rest of the Café lay in perfect view. The eating area looked a little like a diner, with marbled cream tabletops with silver edging and red chairs to match the counter and stools in the back of the room.~9~

They found a table by the window and went to claim it before anyone else had the chance. They sat opposite each other, Jack facing the front doors, Caleb turned toward the silent but active TV perched in the back corner. To their side, a bustling Beach Boulevard lay not too far away. Not far beyond that, there was a sliver of the ocean, which glittered occasionally in patches of dark melon along the horizon.~10~

For a minute, Jack let his eyes linger over what open water he could see. He noticed that the sky had just begun to cloud over again, though it was not as overcast as it had been for the greater part of the day. Inside, he could feel himself unwinding a little as he watched the wisps of gray float parallel to the ocean. On the outside, he knew he still looked as tired as some of the buildings hiding along Highway 49, tired from thinking too much about the people in his life.~11~

A brunette in a red shirt and pleated black skirt came to their table. She looked very young, perhaps because of the ponytail she wore. But when she spoke, she sounded quite mature. Jack guessed she might have been in her early twenties from her voice. However old she was, he had a strange vibe about her. She had pretty green eyes that could get all sorts of guys in trouble.~12~

The girl placed a copy of the menu directly in front of each person. “My name is Wendy. I’ll be your server today,” she said with a heavy Southern accent through her smile. “How may I help you gentlemen today?”~13~

“A couple of ice waters for both of us, please,” Jack said, suddenly averting his eyes from her for a second.~14~

“And a chocolate milkshake, too,” Caleb blurted out afterwards.~15~

Jack at first thought about telling the waitress to retract Caleb’s order. He wondered if letting Caleb have the milkshake was a bad idea, knowing how the kid had a rather small appetite to begin with. But in the end, without much effort, he let it go. They were going to have to get takeout for his wife Lana anyway, he reasoned. They could eat together later if Caleb managed to fill himself on milkshake.~16~

“Two waters and a chocolate milkshake,” the waitress repeated as she jotted down the items. Then, showing Jack and Caleb equal amount of attention with her gaze, she said, “I’ll give y’all a couple minutes to look over the menu, and I’ll be right back.” She appeared to wink at them and smacked her gum before bounding toward the kitchen.~17~

Jack opened the laminated, two-paged menu and perused the list inside. As usual, the entire left flap and half of the right were dominated by a lineup of shrimp, catfish, crab and the seasonal oyster-crawfish combos. He never knew why he bothered looking, knowing nothing ever changed except for the special of the month, which was always a seafood dish never on the menu. But he did it every time with the feeling that maybe the Willeys would sneak in a new item between his occasional visits.~18~

After Wendy had returned briefly to take down their main orders, Jack turned to Caleb. The boy had his eye on the television. Jack eyed the mark on Caleb’s right temple and felt his muscles tighten again. A thin line of red crust had formed where a cut had been, surrounded by a faint purple patch of skin. ~19~

“So, tell me again about school today,” Jack finally said.~20~

Caleb remained fixated on the television but still managed a concise answer. “A couple of guys were being real nasty, and I let them have it,” he said confidently.~21~

“Nasty how?”~22~

Caleb groaned. “I was out in the playground just minding my own business when these goons attacked me hard and spit on me and took my book.”~23~


“And what? They just laughed and called me something really bad. So I started shouting back at them. Next thing I know, one of them hit me in the head, cut me open with a fingernail or something.”~25~

Jack sighed, tossing a lemon wedge amongst the ice cubes in his water. “You should have let the teachers handle them. The last thing you need is to get yourself in trouble.”~26~

Caleb frowned. “I don’t think any of the teachers really care much who gets hurt anymore. They don’t ever see these kids pushing me till it’s too late.”~27~

Caleb had a penchant for getting banged up. It had been that way from the moment he learned to walk. His wounds were mostly products of the clumsiness, a curse inherited not specifically from Lana but from her side of the family. However, on several occasions he had reportedly been provoked into injury. In half those incidents, racially charged name calling had been a common denominator. ~28~

Of course, whatever Caleb went through had to be just a ripple compared to what he himself had endured as a kid. Back then, name calling was the least of Jack’s concerns. As a Chinese fisherman’s son, Jack had seen the ugly side of human nature from the beginning of his new life twenty years ago. Up in New York City, there had been Asian malcontents to deal with, swindlers that had sometimes turned violent on him and his father. And while things had improved in Saint Louis Bay, relations were okay at best with the locals. Only once in a while did they run into people who threatened to ruin everything for them.~29~

Catching a glance at the drawing of an antique trawler several feet in front of him, he thanked Heaven for a career in computers instead of that often unforgiving life at sea. Still, when he looked back on those times, it was hard for him to not reflect on his father, how determined he had been to keep Jack’s thirst for the fishing life alive despite the attacks. While Jack’s decision to leave the fishery had helped them both financially, it had stung the old man’s heart, more than he could ever have imagined. ~30~

The jukebox next to the parlor began to stutter and interrupted Jack’s thoughts. “Her eyes a trouble” kept repeating itself in between a cluster of crackling sounds. He looked around the room. He saw no one paying attention, only driving their forks into their plates and babbling over all other noises to be heard. Only a couple of dark-skinned boys horsed around by the jukebox, but neither seemed interested in the music. They preferred playing tag and fake wrestling with each other.~31~

Eventually, the dilemma with the music ended when Wendy left the kitchen to return to the dining area. With one swift bump of the hip, she jolted the jukebox, and the song immediately played through without further glitches. ~32~

Quickly, her eyes met Jack’s, and she flashed her set of straight, white teeth in a grin. She then shuffled through the crowd with agility, keeping one plate well balanced upon an open palm and the other leveled by an unstrained grip. ~33~

“Careful, sir, the heat’ll bite at your thumbs,” she said upon approach, her face turned towards Jack. She laid down a bowl of chicken gumbo on a saucer in front of him. Steam rose furiously from the bowl when the soup had settled.~34~

“Ma’am, can I have a spoon, too? This shake’s real thick,” Caleb said as his plate of fried shrimp and French fries was placed in front of him.~35~

“No problem, mister,” she said. “I’ll have it out for you in a sec. And as for the catfish poboy.” She inexplicably raised her eyebrow at Jack. “I’ll be back with that as soon as we get more catfish in the fryer.”~36~

When Wendy left, Caleb looked up from his plate and said, “I thought Ma was supposed to only eat healthy stuff now.”~37~

Jack nodded. “She is. But she’s allowed to have cravings once in a while. You understand how that works.”~38~

Caleb shrugged his shoulders and pumped his straw through his drink. “It’s only for another month for her, right?” he asked.~39~


“Good, because I’m getting tired of having to do everything without her.” Caleb picked up his fork and started jabbing at his shrimp.~41~

Jack spooned up a mouthful of gumbo and blew vigorously before sipping up the broth. “Me, too,” he said before he flinched. Despite the preventative effort, the gumbo had still scalded his tongue and the roof of his mouth.~42~

It had taken Jack and Lana ten years to get back to this point in their lives. Every step of the way, this experience felt very much like the first. Jack had been as thrilled as Lana to learn that they would be having another boy. As with Caleb, there was little trouble with the first six months, and Lana had again become extremely upbeat about life. Sometimes Jack would hold her and wonder how her pumpkin-sized belly could be the only part that grew on her. Her body had deviated little from her pre-pregnancy figure, which had been on the slender side to begin with, even before Caleb. Unfortunately, she had entered the stage where she had to cut back on the walking per doctor’s orders. Jack knew she hated the inactivity, but that was something she was going to have to deal with.~43~

He watched Caleb work on his dinner and remembered his son’s first moments in the world. Caleb had been a small baby as well, but he had incredibly large dark brown eyes. He also appeared a little redder than he expected a baby could be, likely because of the olive complexion he displayed even now. And when Jack held that tiny body in his arms, he could see the uncanny resemblance between Caleb and his own father. They had the same ears, nose, mildly protruding jaw – features Jack did not share with either of them. ~44~

Jack understood how much his father had relished Caleb’s arrival in their lives. Now, he could only wonder if the old man might hold on long enough to know such happiness again, this time with his second child.~45~

After a while, Jack dabbed his lips with a napkin and noticed that neither the spoon nor the to-go box had been delivered to their table. It was taking Wendy longer than usual to get them their stuff, he thought. ~46~

He peered over toward the kitchen area, thinking she might be there. And as it turned out, she was there, busying herself with the two kids by the jukebox and a young black man dressed in the same shades of red and black as she was. She laughed and put her hand to her chest as she spoke to the bald-shaven gentleman. Then she got up on tiptoes to whisper something to him that made him smile.~47~

Meanwhile, out in the dining area, Jack spotted the middle-aged owner of the restaurant meandering through the crowd. A tall yet slightly tummy-heavy gentleman with flabby cheeks and a full head of slicked hair grayed on the sides, the man had stopped by some tables to converse with the patrons. Jack knew him to be an affable guy like his kind face suggested. Mr. Gerald Willey had been one of the first people he had known upon his arrival to the Coast. He was also one of his father’s most valuable customers.~48~

Mr. Willey eventually made his way to their table. He carried a spoon in one of his thick hands and a white box in the other.~49~

“Mr. Caleb, I do believe this is for you,” he said as he handed the spoon to Caleb, which the boy readily took.~50~

Jack stood up halfway in his seat to shake Mr. Willey’s hand, but Mr. Willey motioned him back down with his free hand. “Jack, haven’t we gotten past the formalities yet?” the older man said. His gray eyes gleamed with a hint of joy.~51~

Jack eased back down into his seat and dropped his hand to the table. “Mr. Willey,” he started. “I had not expected to see you around this late.”~52~

“Seven-thirty late? What do you take me for, son, an old geezer?” Mr. Willey shook his head as he chuckled heartily. “Nah, just come by to have a talk with the manager, that’s all. And while I’m here, I might as well check up on the crowd. So how’s everything?”~53~

“The food’s delicious as usual, sir….”~54~

“That’s good and all, but I meant with you. How are you and the expecting wife holding up?”~55~

“Lana was feeling a little too tired to go out, so I thought I’d take her food back to her.”~56~

“A nice catfish poboy with the works,” Mr. Willey reminded. “As I recall, she isn’t much of a fried catfish girl.”~57~

Jack paused to think for a second. He remembered Mr. Willey had known Lana longer than he had known him. “Maybe not,” he said. “But even when she was with Caleb, she had these cravings for catfish, probably since she couldn’t touch tuna or salmon for the health of the baby.”~58~

“Yes, of course.” Mr. Willey’s face then relaxed, and he took on a more serious tone. “Listen, Lana talked to my wife the other day about your father. How is he?”~59~

Jack pressed his lips into his teeth briefly. He had known the question would arise, but it still left him feeling unprepared. Nevertheless, he answered. “My father had a relapse of sorts.” He paused briefly. “Last night he slipped into a coma.”~60~

“My, I hadn’t realized it was that bad. Complication of the stroke?”~61~

Jack nodded. “His mind was slipping to begin with. The doctors warned me this could happen.”~62~

Mr. Willey sighed. “You know, Jack, I wouldn’t bet against your father. The man’s stubborn as a mule.”~63~

“Yes, I know.” But even stubborn mules can lose to nature, Jack thought.~64~

“Well, stay positive, son. We’re all praying for you. And Caleb?” Mr. Willey turned to Caleb. “You keep being a good boy for you dad, alright?” Then, after checking his watch, he bid them good night and headed back into the general dining area.~65~

Caleb put his fork down. He had finished all the shrimp on his plate but had left a handful of fries sitting there. “Ba, Lau Ba promised he’d be around when the baby’s born.”~66~

Jack smiled weakly. “I’m sure he did, Caleb.” He reached for his glass and took a gulp of his water. He did not know what else to say to his boy about his grandfather.~67~

Nevertheless, Jack’s silence did not keep Caleb’s face from lighting up as Caleb changed the subject on him. “By the way, Ba, I’ve got a good name for the baby,” he told Jack.~68~

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”~69~

“Caleb.” The boy started laughing through his partially toothless smile.~70~

Jack smirked. “Very funny. I think one Caleb’s enough.” Then he proceeded to pull out his wallet from his back pocket. He had a sizable tip for Wendy to take upon giving him the bill.~71~

Read on to Chapter 4
 From the Corner of Her Eye - Ch. 4  (18+)
Monique's troubles have only just begun.
#1133628 by sunsbabe
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