Dirty Faces

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Chapter 3: Tresspassing

The telltale sign that Tommy's father had returned from his most recent hiatus less than pleased was written on his face in the form of a red, swollen left cheek. With only five present, Tommy had suggested batting practice this day- "bat 'til ya strike out," he had said. He'd had no problem striking the rest of them out, aside from the grounder Danny had managed, but now Ginny was pitching to Tommy and he was on a roll. There was no variety in his hits; they were all going way out into the outfield, where Danny, Becky Kelly, and J.D. Williams had now permanently stationed themselves.

One strike and eight hits in, he smacked one beyond what would have been the outfield fence, if there had been a fence there at all. It soared all the way to the old foreman's house across from the school house, right through a window. The sound of shattering glass should have been their signal to scatter and go to their respective homes, but seeing as it was their only ball, it wasn't. Tommy dropped the bat and headed toward the abandoned gray house - the one from Ginny's dream - with the broken second story window. The others trailed behind reluctantly.

"Tommy!" J.D. hissed. "The Priest! What if the Priest sees us?"

"So what? I didn't knock out his window. Besides, we have Becky with us."

"And it's a darn good thing it wasn't his window you knocked out, or you better believe you wouldn't have Becky with you!" Becky added.

Becky's uncle, Dr. Riley, and her cousin Rowdy, lived in the boarding house next to the gray house. For reasons unknown to Ginny, though Becky's uncle served as the town's doctor, most folks insisted on referring to him as the Priest. True, he was also a priest, and held Mass in the parlor of the boarding house on Sundays for the Catholic community in Mabry's Ridge (most of which was related to him), but every run-in most of them had had with him was as a doctor. Maybe it was the black garb he was always wearing, or his near-silent, mysterious demeanor, or the usual suspicion of the papists that made him the Priest and not Dr. Riley. No matter what anyone called him, Becky and Rowdy indicated that he was strict and tolerated no nonsense.

No one really knew why the gray house had been abandoned, though there were stories abound; it seemed like a nice enough house. It was certainly bigger and nicer than Ginny's little house and the company houses in which the miners' families lived. On closer examination, they found that it wasn't gray, but white, like the rest of the company houses. The illusion of a gray exterior came from years of coal dust settling on the siding, but unlike the rest of the company housing, it never got cleaned or a fresh coat of paint.

Ginny couldn't quite explain the frightening dream she'd had the other night involving this house, as she had never been leery of it. The mystery surrounding the old gray house had, in fact, always been a source of great curiosity for her and she was a little bit excited about finally having an excuse to trespass; she just hoped it wasn't inhabited by ghosts or vagrants, and, of course, that they didn't get caught by the Priest.

Both doors were padlocked so Danny and J.D. hoisted Ginny up to one of the back windows and, to her surprise, it was unlocked. Years of being tightly shut made it difficult to open, though, and she struggled to slide it up. When she had finally worked it open far enough for her to fit through she slithered through the opening, landing with a thud on the dusty, wood floor. She dusted herself off and looked down at her hand which was suddenly throbbing; her palm was angry and red around the huge splinter she must have picked up from the windowsill. She shook it off and set to work trying to get the window open far enough for Tommy to fit through.

"That looks good," Tommy whispered after she had worked it up another couple inches. She stepped back as Danny and J.D. boosted him up and he stealthily climbed through. Once he had joined her, Ginny finally looked around the intriguing old house. The room they were in contained a dust-covered walnut table with six chairs and a matching china cabinet. Just off of the room was the kitchen, and through an archway she could see the still-furnished front room. It was like the foreman and his family had just up and left one day, not even bothering to take their belongings.

"Come on," Tommy said. "Let's find the stairs."

She took one last peek out the window at Danny, J.D., and Becky, patrolling the corners of the house and on the look-out for detection by the Priest or passer-by. Tommy walked by her side into the front room, his dark eyes staring at the ground.

"How bad does it look?" he asked, almost too quiet for her to hear.

She looked around the room and shrugged. "My mama'd have a fit over all these cobwebs but I reckon it's pretty nice."

His eyes moved from the floor to meet hers. "Not the house, Ginny."

"Oh," she whispered. His face. That glaringly obvious inflamed left cheek of his. "I hardly noticed."

He sighed. "You're a terrible liar."

She bit her lip, not knowing what to say next. She supposed suggesting a solution was the best direction to steer the conversation. "You could stay at my house if ya need to. Mama won't mind having you."

He shook his head. "I don't need a place to stay. I have a home. Pap was just...I deserved what I got."

She doubted that, but she let it go. A rustling upstairs offered a distraction. Tommy's foot was on the bottom step now and he froze in place, Ginny standing wide-eyed right behind him. When the noise stopped he continued up the steps but she grabbed his shoulder.

"What was that?" she whispered.

"Your imagination. Now come on."

"You heard it, too!"

He ignored her and moved silently up the stairs and she reluctantly followed behind him. She expected the old staircase to creak beneath their feet, but it was solid and they didn't make a sound. Once atop the stairs, they heard it again - that scratching and rustling that seemed to be coming from a back bedroom. Tommy gestured with his head in the direction from which the noise had come and Ginny nodded. They weren't likely to find the ball in that room since the broken window was on the front of the house, but they had to investigate.

They tiptoed into the back bedroom, the scratching growing louder the closer they got to the closet whose door was open just a crack. They cautiously approached the closet and Tommy put his arm out to grasp the rusty, old doorknob. He swallowed hard, his heart hammering away in his chest in sync with Ginny's, the only sound louder than the scratching at this point. He let his hand hover just above the doorknob and looked over his shoulder at Ginny who nodded in encouragement, then he took a deep breath and threw open the door.

They both squealed and Tommy jumped back, falling into Ginny and knocking them both to the ground. In the closet, staring back at them with beady, black eyes, a huge possum hissed viciously, baring its dozens of sharp teeth and twitching its ugly, pink nose. When he realized what it was, Tommy placed his hand on his chest and let out an uneasy laugh, which Ginny mimicked. The possum seized the moment and scurried off as they sat on the floor laughing at themselves.

Tommy, still laughing, stood and put out a hand to help Ginny back to her feet then walked over to the window and knocked on the glass. The others looked up at him with alarmed faces. They had heard their cries and the ensuing clamor and were now arguing over who should be shoved through the window to check on them. He gave them a thumbs-up and they looked relieved, then turned back to Ginny.

"Well that was fun," he said. "Now what do ya say we go find that ball?"

"I say that's the best idea you've had all day."

They walked back out into the hall and into the small front bedroom. The lace curtains over the broken window billowed eerily on the light breeze blowing in. They scanned the room but didn't see the ball anywhere. Ginny's eyes were drawn to the pine nightstand, to the word carved into its surface. As she got closer, she realized it wasn't a word, but a name: Addie. It looked to be the handiwork of a child, the letters all capitalized with a backward 'E'. She traced them with her fingers, reminded of the picture that Mama kept tucked in the frame of her vanity mirror. It was a picture of a girl with innocent, child-like eyes. The girl's name happened to be Addie, and she had been Mama's sister.

Ginny looked at that picture each time she was in Mama's room and thought about how she would have liked to have known that sweet-looking girl. She was lost in her thoughts until she heard the floor boards creak. When she looked up, she saw Tommy getting down on all fours to look under the rusty metal bed. Just then, they heard a creaking on the floor from one of the other bedrooms and the fine hairs on Ginny's arms stood on end.

And then the door slammed shut.

Tommy's arm shot out and he snatched the ball out from under the bed then jumped to his feet, threw open the door, grabbed Ginny by the wrist and dragged her out of the bedroom.

They rushed down the stairs making no effort to be quiet as they barreled down them like a herd of wild elephants. Whatever made the noise may well have been as trivial as the possum in the closet and maybe a gust of wind had blown that door shut but they weren't about to stick around to find out. They ran through the front room and were back at the open window in a blur. In an instant Ginny had slid out the window and hit the ground hard, tearing up both knees and shins in the process. By the time she was back on her feet, Tommy was out, too, screeching, "Boost me up! Boost me up!"

A bit confused, Danny and J.D. complied and Tommy slammed the window shut with much less effort than it had taken Ginny to open it.

"What happened? What did you see?" the others asked anxiously.

"That's enough baseball for today," was Tommy's only answer. "Y'all wanna go down to the river?"

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