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Rated: 18+ · Chapter · Drama · #1113407
Life on the MS Gulf Coast through the eyes of Josh Willey.
Chapter Two~0~

Harrison County, MS~1~

Aug. 26, 2005~2~

Josh Willey stared at the ad on the screen. “Not what I’m looking for,” he deadpanned as he watched the photo insert fade in and out from that of a schooner to a pair of airborne dolphins to a beachside sunset. The only thing that matched his search for “ms gulf coast history” was a passing mention of Monsieur D’Iberville and Jefferson Davis. Otherwise, the webpage offered nothing but garbage.~3~

He dropped to the bottom of the page and read the closing line. “Mississippi Gulf Coast. It’s your destination for an experience like no other,” it said. He wanted to laugh out loud but rolled his eyes at the very notion instead. In his two and a half years here, he had found little spectacular about the place. Perhaps it had quaintness going for it, but that was surely disappearing quickly into the shadows of Casino Row. Simply put, quaintness did not sell to the masses like sand and gold coins did.~4~

School had started just over a week ago, and already his English teacher had given the class this task of putting together a term paper. For this paper, they were to explore the themes of a book called Camille, a historical thriller set on this part of the Gulf Coast. So far he had an idea of what to write about. The topic would somehow involve personal growth achieved through learning from one’s past. ~5~

The report itself was not due for another three months. But knowing how stuff could easily pile up on a high school student, better yet a senior honor student working for the school paper, he figured he might as well begin looking things up. Scouring for the Gulf Coast’s past had seemed like the obvious starting point. Unfortunately, it had led him to this website.~6~

The door flew open behind him, thumping the wall with considerable force. “Not now, Scotch!” he said as he heard heavy panting and a set of claws clicking against the floor. But as he had come to expect, his command came too late. Before long, fifty-five pounds of golden brown fur came trotting to the side of his chair. The dog laid his front paws on him and dug his nails into the thigh of his blue jeans.~7~

“Ow!” Josh wrestled with the dog, pushing him off his body several times to only to have his paws clamp down on him again. But the tedium of the exercise soon got to both of them. Josh left Scotch alone to focus on his project, and the dog settled for slapping his moist tongue on Josh’s forearm.~8~

Realizing that nothing pertinent could be plucked off the website, Josh hit the backspace key. For a while he sat there, blankly staring at the flashing fireworks animation in the top right corner of his screen, waiting for the current page to go away. And, like many times before, he began cursing the slower-than-molasses speed of his internet connection. Although DSL and cable modem were available to most parts of the Coast, he lived in a house that could receive neither. DSL signals did not extend this far into forested suburbia, and his grandparents, with whom he lived, had never upgraded the house to receive cable at all.~9~

Outside the room, Josh heard the pattering of bare, human feet. “Katie, your dog is here!” he said, slightly raising his voice above the laptop’s engine’s whirs. More footsteps followed, and before he knew it, Josh felt a force jolt him forward in his seat. ~10~

As his chair sprang back into position, he caught his sister leaping out from behind him. She then dropped down beside the dog. Giggles erupted from below when the dog abandoned him to garner attention from her.~11~

“Katie, will you watch it? I’m trying to work here,” Josh said.~12~

“Chill out, Four Eyes, it was an accident. I’m sorry.” Katie again exploded into laughter as Scotch jumped her, toppling both of them over to the hardwood.~13~

Josh glanced down and saw Scotch rubbing his snout into Katie’s neck. The two of them looked like one big blur on the ground. Katie had rolled her petite frame into a ball next to Scotch, her long hair thinly veiling her face. In the dim fluorescent lighting, she and Scotch seemed to have the same colored hair.~14~

Eventually, Katie pulled herself upright, edging up against the desk to get a look at the monitor while she continued to pet the dog. “Why are you hiding out here in this dark room anyway?” she asked. “I was wondering why your laptop wasn’t upstairs.” ~15~

Josh blinked at the flickering of the screen. To his delight, the slideshow of Gulf Coast pictures had given way to the text-heavy page he wanted. “I’m doing English,” he answered.~16~

“Don’t you ever do the normal stuff people do on Fridays?”~17~

Josh frowned. As if she knew the meaning of normal, he thought. “What’s it to you anyway?”~18~

Katie shrugged. “Nothing really. I just wanted the computer to check email and stuff.” She sighed. “I’m bored.”~19~

“You’re always bored.” Josh paused, feeling Scotch once again nudge his elbow with a black wet nose. He patted the dog’s head once then motioned him away. ~20~

“But there’s really nothing to do. Until the new Hard Rock Café opens on Beach Boulevard, there’s really no point in going out. No one wants to go see another movie, and I hate shopping here.”~21~

“Then go do homework or read or something.”~22~

“That’s what Sunday’s for, you nerd.”~23~

Josh growled at her. “Sunday’s a day for rest.”~24~

Katie let out a huff. “Like you really believe that.” She paused for a second. Then a newfound giddiness colored her tone. “Then how about you take me driving? I need to get in some practice.”~25~

Josh did not answer, pretending to not hear her. He did not have the patience to watch her drive at the moment, nor did he want to be stuck in a car with her during a downpour. Since the beginning of the afternoon, it had thundered and already rained once. At last glance, the sky looked ripe for yet more rain.~26~

It was sometimes hard for Josh to believe what a typical teen Katie was becoming. In some aspects, he could see the old Katie, the little metal mouth who giggled too much and cared too much about trivial things yet generally took life in stride. Only now she stood taller and skinnier. Although it had taken a couple of years, she was finally fitting in with her crowd, forming meaningful relationships and even presumably flirting with a boy in the eleventh grade, something Josh cared to know nothing about. And now, three months past her fifteenth birthday and less than a year away from getting her driver’s license, she could not wait to jump behind the wheel every chance she got. To him, the thought of her driving down the streets of Gulfport or Biloxi was an unsettling thought.~27~

A knock came at the door, followed by the low wispy voice of his grandmother. “Kids, could you help me out a second?” she said.~28~

Josh turned around to find his Mrs. Willey’s solid body in his doorway. Gram, as both he and Katie called her, was not a fat or particularly tall woman. But one could tell she was a healthy woman, capable of laboring like an active woman half her age. She looked even sturdier as a shadow in their presence.~29~

“What’s going on, Gram?” Katie asked.~30~

Mrs. Willey immediately tipped her head back past the door frame, turning her face away to say something in a low voice Josh could not decipher. But after some time, she faced them again, her gold loop earrings swinging as she whipped her head. “Ms. Monique’s lost her necklace,” she said.~31~

Katie sprang up, startling Scotch with her sudden movement. “What does it look like?” she asked skipping out of the room with Scotch following closely at her heels. Her voice trailed off as she moved deeper into the main part of the house.~32~

Meanwhile, Josh remained anchored to his seat. He contemplated staying by his computer, figuring Katie might be sufficient enough help for two women. He did not want to lose his train of thought. But when he looked back at his computer, he only became irked. He saw the computer once again struggling to load the next page. The progress bar at the bottom had stalled at three bars, one-third transferred.~33~

Finally, he hurled another curse at the screen and got out of his chair to go help the ladies in their search.~34~

He stepped out into the hallway and headed for the living room. He could hear Katie's and Mrs. Willey's voices echoing distantly through his part of the house. The floorboards creaked beneath his feet step after step, making him sound heavier than the 130 pounds he carried on his lanky body. As he passed the kitchen, he smelled the scent of ripe bananas trickling into the air. It disappeared as he trudged forward, only to be replaced by a fleeting scent of old-house mustiness.~35~

The first thing anyone noticed when entering the living room was its spaciousness. The room, a mix of cream plaster walls and wood-trimmed windows, enclosed a copious amount of area for a house that seemed compact for a two-story. This room, along with other sections of the bottom floor, was actually newer than the rest of the house. The repercussions of two past hurricanes had made those renovations necessary. Still, according to family pictures, the rooms had been restored to the way they looked when the house was first built in the 1920s.~36~

Furniture was scarce as were wall decorations, adding to the illusion of expansiveness. Only an embroidered sofa set and an oval coffee table sat on a rug near the fireplace. Meanwhile, an old black and white picture of Gerald and Esther Willey leaning against the counter of the Café hung rather unpretentiously on the longest wall. The couple was the much younger version of the grandparents Josh knew. The Café still belonged to them.~37~

Neither Katie nor Mrs. Willey was in the living room when Josh stepped in. But he heard them speaking in the adjoining guest room above the faint whistling of the wind outside. With another step inside the room, he could partially see what each was doing from their reflections on a French door. Katie stayed busy on the floor, lifting up the chair skirts and reaching underneath. He could see little of Mrs. Willey except her hands, which were pulling up cushions from the seats.~38~

He started to head in their direction when the main door closed from across the room. A few seconds later, he saw a tall, brown woman walk in. She wore a fancy scarf over her slick, bronzed hair. The rest of her outfit was nothing special. Her top seemed to drape awkwardly over her rail-thin body to her hips. The hems of her pants, which covered the sides of her sneakers, were slightly damp.~39~

Her eyes immediately found Josh before the other women. “No luck yet?” she said loudly, seemingly to no one in particular. She had a considerable drawl to her mellow voice.~40~

“What does this necklace look like?” Josh asked.~41~

She moved her hand in an indistinct cross pattern across her chest as she walked forward. “A silver necklace with a crucifix about yea big.” She extended her arm out and measured out about half an inch between her thumb and index finger. “It’s real thin, but you can see little black swirl marks on it.” She frowned. “A gift from my mama, Lord bless her,” she said quietly.~42~

Josh twisted his head from one side of the room to the other. Then he started to slowly walk around with the intent of circling the periphery of the room. ~43~

A few steps through, he asked, “Are you sure it’s in the house?”~44~

“I was working in here when I found it missing from my neck. But I guess I could’ve lost it anywhere. I already checked my car, and it ain’t there either.”~45~

Mrs. Willey briefly poked her head into the room and interjected. “Don’t worry, Monique. It’s bound to turn up sometime,” she said. She was still holding on to a cushion from some furniture in the other room.~46~

It was not long before Josh found himself instinctively following Monique back into the hallway. He stayed a couple steps behind while Monique quietly pieced together her course of travel through the house earlier in the day. Eventually, her memory brought them to the staircase and carried them up to the second story. The floor boards began to creak again as they pushed up the steps. ~47~

Monique stopped at the top of the stairs and bent down to investigate a glimmer of light on the ground. She reached down to touch the spot, only to slowly retract her hand, leaving the shining object in place. “I swear I ain’t gone crazy and swept it away. There’s just no way.” Her voice resonated with a quiver, which she tried to clear away with a cough afterwards.~48~

Josh watched Monique pull herself upright and lift her body into the shadows of the hallway. He wanted to offer assurance to her sanity but opted to say nothing. He knew that necklace must have been very important to her, and he would have done anything he could to help her. But spinning words of support was not one of his fortes.~49~

Josh had known Ms. Monique Thompkins from the time he and Katie had arrived. She came to the house every Fridays to do various odd jobs for the family. Her official title was housekeeper, but it seemed that Mrs. Willey found her particularly useful as a companion to share household chores with. She was a polite and very thoughtful woman, very easy to talk to, and she smiled a lot. But there were times when her eyes contradicted what the rest of her face wanted to project. The hazel in her eyes often looked dull beneath her twin pair of slacking eyelids, just as they did now.~50~

He knew next to nothing about her life, but he knew Monique was not much older than him, and she had children and a boyfriend who worked at the Café. She did not voluntarily speak about her home life very often, although when asked a question about it, she would answer, giving just enough information to put the inquiry to rest. Instead, she seemed more interested in bouncing attention off herself and onto things like Mrs. Willey’s community service projects and Katie’s daily snippets of gossip. She even took time out to engage in intelligent conversation with Josh whenever he could bring himself to really talk to her.~51~

Monique pushed open the door to one of the guest rooms to let the two of them in. She quickly walked to where the panoramic window was and drew back its curtains. Instantly, the room brightened slightly, although the sun itself remained hidden behind a thick blanket of gray clouds. The sound of rain tapping against glass from earlier had faded away, yet thunder could still be heard stirring the air within the room. ~52~

She leaned against the window to watch the weather for a while. “You’s a high schooler for one more year, right?”~53~

Josh nodded lazily, kicking his toes into the lush carpet of the room as if to unearth the pendant. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right about that.”~54~

“Where you looking into?”~55~

“It’s still up in the air. Rice, Baylor or Texas if I wanted to go back home. Maybe Stanford or Duke, too. But I don’t think I’d be too disappointed with ending up at Southern Miss. They’ve got good programs.”~56~

“Southern Miss, yes? Close enough for you to think about staying at home instead of the dorms.”~57~

Josh shook his head adamantly. “I’m not going to do that. Would kind of go against the spirit of being in college.”~58~

“You suppose Miss Katie’s gonna take it okay?”~59~

“Okay?” Josh grimaced. “Probably better than okay.”~60~

“Maybe you’re right. It’s just that she’s been through a lot, like you have, and she hadn’t been too good with herself when things change around.”~61~

“Well, she’ll always have Grampa and Gram, and she’ll always have Scotch. That dog’s the one she can’t live without.”~62~

Josh remembered how bad things had gotten late spring of 2003, when he and Katie had just moved to his grandparents’ house. Their mother had died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage unrelated to her cancer that February, and their father was sent to the Middle East only a few months later. Their grandparents undoubtedly had good intentions when they took him and Katie out of Texas to live with them. But as it turned out, neither Mr. nor Mrs. Willey could foresee the repercussions of such a move. ~63~

Josh often found himself frustrated and quite alone during that period. But Katie quickly turned into an emotional wreck. He recalled the many times she locked herself away in her room to cry, and in the middle of some nights, she woke up screaming so loud that Mr. and Mrs. Willey had to rush in to comfort her. Josh could only imagine what she had gone through. While he might have lost his mother and father, Katie was the one who had actually seen their mother slip away before her eyes. ~64~

Suddenly, a gust of wind made a low moan through the trees and rattled the window. Monique returned her attention to the window, suddenly putting a hand to her bare neck. ~65~

“I just hate that sound,” she said. “Always sounds like a tornado coming to blow the house in.”~66~

Josh remained silent. He listened to the wind as well and marveled at how Monique could allow her imagination to run wild at the mere vibration of glass. Monique did not seem the jittery type to him. But when she spoke like that, in a more pronounced melancholic tone than usual, he knew that she must have been spooked.~67~

After scouring both floors of the house for another twenty minutes, Josh and Monique returned to Katie and Mrs. Willey in the living room. It was then that Monique put an end to the search. She explained she needed to get her children, looking regretful of having caused a stir around the house. Afterwards, she thanked everyone and nodded once at Mrs. Willey, telling her that she would be stopping by the Café. Then, swooping up her large straw handbag, she calmly walked out of the house.~68~

Katie dusted her knees and went to the nearest light switch to turn off the main lights. “I hope Ms. Monique finds that necklace,” she said as the room basked in a softer, off-white glow. “I’d hate myself for losing something precious my mom gave me.” Her voice grew hushed before she completed the sentence.~69~

“Don’t fret, hun, it won’t be the end of the world for her,” Mrs. Willey said. “She could do much worse than lose a piece of jewelry.”~70~

Josh held his breath when Mrs. Willey finished speaking. He remembered a time not long ago when a simple saying like that would have sent Katie into tears. But Katie appeared to be fine. She looked a little sad but nonetheless very collected.~71~

Katie’s face instantly brightened as Scotch, who had been dozing away in the corner of the living room during the search, padded behind her and nosed the back of her knee. And just like that, she switched over to a familiar topic.~72~

“So, Josh, can we please go take the car out?” she asked. Eagerness had crept back into her voice.~73~

Josh looked out the window and saw that the rain had resumed. This time, the drops came down heavier than earlier in the hour. ~74~

“Missed your chance,” he said, quite thankful of the timing. “Better wait till tomorrow, when you’ll probably have plenty of time to kill us with your driving.”~75~

Read on to Chapter 3
 From the Corner of Her Eye - Ch. 3  (18+)
Jack must face the reality of his father's illness.
#1117679 by sunsbabe
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