Ninth Night – Prologue and Chapter 1

Prologue

Two kites flew over a stretch of sandy beach on the coast of Oregon. One was yellow and red, with an orange tail snaking behind in curving twists. The other was green and blue with three tails flapping in the wind. Both were shaped like diamonds and hung over the waves.

A young boy gripped one spool, and a girl the same age held the other. It was a sunny day, but the wind kept the children in hats and long sleeves.

“Look how high they’re going!” said the girl, pointing a pink mitten toward her kite.

The boy stood next to her, shielding his eyes from the sun with his free hand. “I wish they could go higher,” he said, sounding unsatisfied as he gave his spool another turn, watching intensely as his kite rose higher.

“Be careful,” the girl cautioned. “You don’t want to lose it.”

“I know what I’m doing,” said the boy.

The two kids stood together, backs to the cool breeze, as sand blew off their legs. Everything was going wonderfully until a gust of wind caused their kites to buzz in the air like a pair of giant bees.

The girl was able to handle the extra strain on her line because she hadn’t let all of her string out. The boy was not. He’d let out all but the last turn of his spool. With the next burst of air the spool turned for the final time. Both children held their breaths as the knot at the end of the line snapped.

“No!” shouted the boy, who was forced to watch his kite sail over the ocean. He lost sight of it as if disappeared behind a wave. The boy stared into the wind for a sign of his kite, whimpering. Deep down he knew he would never see it again.

A long silence passed before the girl put her free hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she said, sounding heartbroken.

“I got that kite for my birthday,” moaned the boy.

The girl reeled in her kite. Then she rubbed the back of her crying friend. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. “Everything will be alright.”

“No, it won’t!” he spat. “My parents are going to get mad at me for losing my kite.”

The girl smiled at her friend. “You can have mine,” she said, holding out her kite with two hands.

“What?” the boy sniffled, rubbing the tears from his cheeks with his sleeves.

“You can have my kite,” she said. “I want you to have it.”

The boy asked, “Really?”

The girl stuck out her chin and nodded. “For real.”

“But you won’t have a kite,” he said innocently.

“That’s okay,” said the girl. “I bought my kite with my own money. My parents won’t get mad. I want you to have it.”

The boy scrunched his face at the girl. “I don’t know,” he said. “You sure?” he asked.

The girl gave her friend an exaggerated nod. “I’m positive,” she smiled. Leaning forward, she handed him her yellow and red kite.

“Thanks,” he said, eyes lighting up. “But only if you take this,” he added, digging into his pants pocked. He pulled out a sand dollar he’d found early and handed it to his friend.

“Thank you,” the girl said, gazing at the sand dollar as if it were made from a diamond. “I will keep it for always,” she said, watching the boy with twinkling eyes.

The boy spent the rest of the day flying his new kite, while the girl kept her new sand dollar close to her heart.

 Chapter 1

“Why aren’t we there yet?” Carson asked.

His twin brother, Kyle, said, “Yeah. Mom said we would get there by 7:30, and it’s already 8:00.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” whined Carson.

“We just stopped,” said Liam, glancing at the pair of six-year-olds in the rearview mirror. His little brothers were quite the comedians. They were intelligent, part of the gifted program at school, but too smart for their own good if you asked Liam.

“We may be a little off course,” admitted Liam. “We’ll be back on track in no time.”

“Why don’t you use the GPS like mom does,” Carson said. “She never gets us lost with it.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t,” Liam said, checking left and right for a familiar road to get him back on track.

“Haven’t we driven past this gas station already?” Kyle asked, tapping a toy car against his window.

“Three times,” said Liam. He breathed deeply before speaking again. “Should we pull over?”

“No,” said Carson.

“I thought you had to use the bathroom?”

“I’d rather go at grandma’s house,” Carson answered.

“Uh-huh,” Kyle said, “grandma’s house!”

Liam’s face heated up. His brothers talked to him as if he was the one in the back seat. But using his phone’s GPS was not an option. Besides the fact it meant conceding to his brothers, Liam had lived on the Oregon Coast for more than half his life. Yes, the last time had been in sixth grade, but that didn’t matter. This was his maiden voyage to his grandparent’s house with a driver’s license, and he would get there without outside help.
Twenty minutes later, Liam recognized the road. He turned west, heading toward the Pacific Ocean. He finally reached the sign he’d been searching: Welcome to Cannon Beach!

“We’re almost there!” shouted the twins, clapping.

Liam turned off the Oregon Coast Highway, still heading west. He passed new houses gleaming in the sunlight, and others in need of fresh paint. When he reached South Pacific Street, he pulled up to a grey and white two-story house with a two-car garage. Liam breathed deeply, letting the memories of this place wash over him.

“Grandma!” Carson cried.

“Grandpa!” Kyle shouted.

Sure enough, two people with grey hair shuffled across the driveway to greet them. His grandmother wore a silky blouse and blue pants. His grandfather wore cords and a button up shirt. Liam turned off the engine. He was the first one out of the car, seeing as his door didn’t have child locks. He was caught in a bear hug from his ninety-five pound grandmother.

“You made it!” she cried.

“How was the drive?” Grandpa Davidson asked at the same time.

“Fine,” Liam lied.

Before anyone said anything else, he was distracted by a loud banging sound coming from the rear window of Liam’s car. Grandpa Davidson turned to wave to the twins.

“We didn’t forget you guys,” he said to the boys.

Each grandparent took a passenger door.

“Liam got us lost!” the twins shouted in unison.

Liam said something unpleasant under his breath about his own flesh and blood. He helped his grandfather unpack the car, while Grandma Davidson led the twins inside.

“How many U-turns did you take?” Grandpa Davidson asked Liam once they were alone in the driveway.

“Three,” he shrugged.

Arms full of bags, Liam followed his grandfather through the garage and into the house. The twins used the restroom. Then they joined Grandma Davidson in the kitchen. Both were drooling as they watched her set previously buttered pieces of bread onto a frying pan. The pan sizzled. Grandma was making her famous grilled cheese sandwiches. The smell of cheesy goodness filled the room. Liam’s stomach rumbled.

“Your parents called,” Grandma Davidson said once Liam and his grandfather had finished with the last bag. “They made it to London without a hitch. They have already visited the Westminster Abby and London Tower. They also said they’ll call you in the morning.”

“What are they doing now?” Carson asked.

“I don’t know,” his grandmother said as she cut an oozing grilled cheese sandwich into four triangles.

“I bet they’re kissing,” Kyle said as he made the cow shaped saltshaker do battle with the pig shaped peppershaker.

Raising an eyebrow at his grandson, Grandpa Davidson asked, “What makes you say that?”

“They’re always kissing when they think no one’s looking,” Carson said, completing his brother’s idea as if he shared a brain with his twin.

Everyone laughed as Grandma Davidson flipped the last sandwich onto a plate. She served the twins. Then she turned to Liam and her husband. “Would you boys like a sandwich, too?”’

“Of course,” said Liam.

“Yes, love,” said Grandpa Davidson.

Grandma Davidson nodded. While she worked, Grandpa Davidson got everyone some soda to drink from the extra refrigerator in the garage. When he returned he asked Liam, “How did your finals go?”

“I got two A’s, two B’s and a C,” said Liam.

“As long as you tried your best,” his grandfather said.

“I did,” Liam said. “I’m just praying my junior year isn’t as intense. I’m not holding out much hope, though.”

“What are your friends doing this summer?” Grandpa Davidson asked.

“Josh is playing summer baseball,” Liam explained. “Trevor is working at church camp.”

“Liam should have gotten a job,” Kyle announced.

“What makes you say that?” Grandpa Davidson asked.

“He’ll just sit around watching movies and playing guitar all day long, here,” Carson said.

With a mouth full of grilled cheese sandwich, Kyle added, “And, if Liam had money, he could buy us chicken nuggets whenever we wanted them.”

The twins smiled, clearly enjoying the amount of attention they were getting from their grandparents.

“Liam is not going to spend his entire summer sitting around,” said Grandpa Davidson.

“Are you going to make him vacuum?” Kyle asked. “Because I want to do that. It’s fun.”

Grandpa Davidson couldn’t hold back a smile. “No. Liam is going to help me put in a new deck.”

“Can I help, too?” Carson asked, raising his hand.

“Me three,” Kyle insisted, trying to raise his hand, too.

“Absolutely,” Grandpa Davidson said. “You two can be grandpa’s little helpers.”

Grandma Davidson finished two more grilled cheese sandwiches. She cut both into triangles and handed them to Liam and Grandpa Davidson on a plate.

Liam bit into his sandwich. He groaned happily as a piece of cheese stretched from his bottom lip to his triangle. “These are perfect,” he said, still chewing.

After polishing off the sandwiches, Grandma Davidson led the twins upstairs to unpack. They would stay in Uncle Maddox’s old room. Liam would sleep in his dad’s former room. His parents usually claimed his dad’s room, causing Liam and his brothers to share his uncle’s room. This year would be much less cramped.

Grandma and Grandpa Davidson hadn’t kept his father’s boyhood room like it had been all those years ago. Its walls were painted a soft grey, and the bedspread and pillows appeared new. Old pictures hung in black frames, clustered together with a uniform randomness.

Liam unpacked his things, transporting handfuls of clothes out of his suitcase and filling drawers. He leaned his guitar case in the corner. After placing his toiletries in the hallway bathroom, he joined the others downstairs.

His grandfather was sitting on a leather recliner, flipping channels on a remote control. He was watching sports highlights. Liam sat on the sofa staring through the wall of windows. Outside blue skies stretched out in every direction, and the 235-foot tall monolith rock formation, Haystack Rock, stood out on the shore like some enormous stone giant.

“You can never get used to that view, can you?” Grandpa Davidson asked, no longer watching television.

Liam shook his head slowly. “Nope.”

They stayed there, gazing out at the crashing waves as a ship sailed north, almost too far out to see. There was something about the water that always made Liam smile. The serene moment lasted until his brothers stomped downstairs.

With big, sad eyes, Kyle begged, “Can we go to the beach now, please?”

“Please,” Carson pleaded, his hands pressed together as if praying.

“What do you think, Grandpa?” Grandma Davidson asked with a raised eyebrow. “Can we?”

Grandpa Davidson turned from the wall of windows, showing the two eight-year-olds a very serious face. “Well,” he said, rubbing his stubbly chin. “I don’t know. What if we get attacked by the monster jellyfish that ate the little old lady last week?” he asked.

“Grandpa!” Kyle said, stomping and laughing. “There’s no such thing a monster jellyfish.”

“What about the sea ogres that stole my friend’s left socks?” he asked, acting very concerned.

“Those aren’t real either,” Carson said, giggling so much his eyes shut.

“Okay,” Grandpa Davidson said, not sounding convinced these creatures wouldn’t be there to scare them. “If you promise to protect grandma and me.”

“We will,” Kyle and Carson said together.

“Would you like to join us, Liam?” Grandma Davidson asked after her husband and the twins ran off to the garage to gather sandcastle construction items.

Liam nodded.

The four Davidsons spent the next two hours exploring tide pools, splashing in the cold ocean water, and building sandcastles. The sandcastles, sadly, were attacked by two creatures, which mysteriously looked like a pair of soon to be first graders. Grandma Davidson announced it was time to head back. Carson and Kyle pouted, but the promise of hot chocolate before dinner changed their minds.

Liam followed his brothers from a distance as they attempted to smuggle live crab back to the house. He had been quiet for most of the return trip, but with the twins around no one else noticed.

If you had watched Liam carefully, you would have seen his eyes darting back and forth towards the house next door to his grandparent’s place. The neighbor’s house had cedar siding with a flat roof and a wraparound deck. Mark and Judith Jones lived in it, with their daughter, Penelope.

Liam first met Penelope when they were both five-years-old. Grandpa and Grandma Davidson had invited their new neighbors over for a welcome to the neighborhood dinner. Liam and his parents were invited, too. He couldn’t recall what they ate that night, but he’d never forget playing underneath the dining room table for hours with Penelope.

After checking on the Jones’s house for the tenth time, a blue car drove over the rutty road. “Hey,” Grandma said, turning to wave at Liam. “The Jones are back!”

“Really?” Liam lied, pretending not to have noticed.

Liam tried to keep his attention focused on a group of tourists snapping pictures of Haystack Rock. His concentration lasted twenty seconds. He peeked at the Jones’s house out of the corner of his eyes. Liam didn’t see anything, guessing they were parking in their garage.

At this point they were almost at Grandpa and Grandpa’s house, but instead of going inside, everyone veered onto the Jones’s deck. They knocked on a set of French doors. A moment later Mr. and Mrs. Jones emerged with greetings and hugs.

“Look who’s back,” Grandpa Davidson announced, pointing to Liam and the twins.

“It’s so good to see you,” Mr. Jones said.

“I can’t believe we get to have you back for another summer!” Mrs. Jones said, waving.

Mr. Jones and Grandpa Davidson shook hands and talked, but Liam wasn’t listening. Instead, Penelope emerged. “Hello, Liam,” she said, smiling.

His face flushed, blaming it on all the eyes locked onto him and Penelope. “Hello, Pen,” he said, giving her a wave. “It’s good to see you.”

Penelope Jones wore a pair of overhauls, a t-shirt, and a pair of sandals. She was medium height, with a big smile and bright blue eyes.

The adults talked, and the twins chased a rabbit through the Jones’s yard, giving the two old friends some time to catch up. “How have you been?” Penelope asked, twisting back and forth, as if she were nervous.

“I’ve been good,” he said. “You?” he asked.

“Good,” Penelope said.

“What have you been up to?” he asked.

Penelope paused. “Since our last email, I finished three sculptures, and four paintings.”

“That’s amazing,” Liam said.

“I hear your parents are touring Europe,” Penelope said.

“For their twentieth wedding anniversary,” Liam said. “They’ll return after the 4th of July.”

“Why, Penelope,” Grandma Davidson said, interrupting, “you get more beautiful every day. Did you just get your hair cut?”

“Yes,” Penelope said, her hand going to her light brown hair hanging over her shoulders. “Yes, I did. I can’t believe you noticed. I only had it trimmed.”

Liam squinted, trying to see what his grandmother had spotted in less than five seconds. He couldn’t see any difference in her previous style of the past three summers, no matter how long he stared.

“Well,” Grandma Davidson said. “It looks great. Doesn’t it, Liam?”

The back of Liam’s neck caught fire. “Yes, it certainly does,” he said, fighting off the urge to glare at his grandmother for cornering him into the complement.

Penelope’s voice grew softer. “Thanks, Liam. That means a lot from you,” she said, looking at him through her brown bangs. “Say, Liam, Chloe is having a bonfire at her house tonight. You should come. Everyone would love to see you.”

Chloe was one of Liam’s classmates when he lived in Cannon Beach. She was also Penelope’s best friend. “You can stay out as long as you’d like,” Grandma Davidson said, a little too eagerly.

Liam watched his grandmother out of the corner of his eye. He turned to Penelope and said, “Sounds good to me.”

Penelope clapped her hands together. “I’ll pick you up at 8:00 pm.”

“See you then,” Liam said.

Penelope gave him a little wave.

“We’ll get out of your hair,” Grandma Davidson said to the Jones family.

Everyone said goodbye, and as they walked between the two houses, Kyle said quietly, “Does that mean Penelope and Liam are going on a date?”

“Yup,” Carson said, raising his eyebrows up and down. “Now they can get married and live happily ever after.”

Liam pushed his little brothers. “Knock it off.”

Kyle and Carson giggled, but obeyed.

As Liam walked to his grandparent’s house, he tried to come up with a solution that would stop his grandmother from acting so strangely whenever Penelope was around. If his mom were here, he’d ask her to talk to Grandma Davidson. He smiled at that thought. Never mind. His mother was worse than his grandmother about Penelope and him.

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