Azura

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Chapter 11: Mr Jameson.

As time goes by, swift and impatient. The evening sun cast long shadows on the ground, the slanting rays of the westering sun give a warm orange tinge to the sky. Gran sits in the passenger seat with a large lasagne glass dish on her lap, overlaid with a plastic covering. Gramps in the driver’s seat with one hand on the wheel and his other elbow rested on the sill.

The siblings sit quietly at the back, Litha’s gaze flung far out of the car window.

After a long while of driving, nearing the foot of the valley of mountains. The Camaro takes a right turn into a line of ascent, passing a stretch of foliage on the left side. The westering sun gleams between the trees, spreading the shadows broad athwart, muting the green.

Entering a neighbourhood of standalone houses, two streets later, they reach their destination. A gateless two-story home on a commendable-sized property with cars that already fill the dual driveway. Gramps parks the car on the kerbside. Once the engines snuffs out, they all make the quick process to exit the vehicle.

“It seems we’re late.”

“We’re perfectly on time,” gramps refutes. “That way we can eat and leave.”

Litha snorts a laugh. Gran shakes her head wordlessly.

She leads them throughout the single wide front door into the Jameson home. The spacious and open floor concept synergizes well with the contemporary interior. The colorant bone matt porcelain glazed tiles and the walls an artistic Blanco grey. The free flow from the lounge, dining room and to the expansive gallery kitchen with clean lines, graphic fixtures, a simple grey, white and beige colour scheme, and an abundance of natural light.

Only what divides the lounge and dining room that sidle each other is a wall of glass panels that have been retracted and slid to one side, allowing unobstructed access between the house and backyard.

Gran guides them outside, pass the widespread entryway. On the far left is an outdoor living room entirely made from Niwala limestone, topping off the seating with cushions in matching neutral hues and throw pillows of nude accents. Burrowed in a large corner.

To the left is an al fresco ambience with an installed outdoor fireplace near the dining area that gives a sense of intimacy with a pagoda that hovers above. A twelve-seater Patio dining set flanking the fireplace with platters of brought-in dishes on the table, since none looked like they belonged with the other. With a shaped glass in the centre, spurting out wild-coloured orchids.

A few people are seated at the table, nattering, others mill around. Mr Jameson and a man speak enthusiastically with each other right before the fireplace with sheets of steel plates inside, roasting a selection of meats.

But this is only the ground floor as the narrow brick staircase leads up to the elevated lawn of green glass with a vinyl liner pool. The riotous bellows of scampering children can be heard from below, a few watchful moms chat above.

Gran makes a move to deposit her share on the table. Mr Jameson catches her in the corner of his eye, and he turns to look at her and gramps that follows. He beams a charismatic grin that flaunts his line dimples, extending his arm to them. His thick hair, wind-tousled, dressed in a casual short-sleeved, pale pink top that exposes his gladiator’s biceps, paired with white shorts.

“Uh, there’s my favourite couple.” The statement earns him a few curious looks. “I nearly thought you guys wouldn’t show.”

“And miss you burning the meal again and making an even bigger fool of yourself? Never,” gran says and makes her way to the staircase. Gramps journeys around the outdoor table to him.

“Hey, I like my meat crispy,” he defends.

“Charcoal black is not crispy,” she retorts.

Soon they hear twin shouts. “Granny-O!”

With an amused smile, he shakes his head at her back, then turns his attention to gramps as he clasps a hand on his shoulder in greeting. His gaze strays away for a second and Cece seizes it, and in that fretful moment she has him in her intangible siege until he rips his gaze from her.

The siblings stroll to the outdoor living room with elongated sofas, accompanied by a long serving table with a variance of drinks stacked on top, from six-pack beers in ice to a range of kiddie juice boxes.

“What was that?”

Cece collapses beside her brother. “What?”

He flares a brow. “Mr Jameson looked at you, the way a kid looks at Pennywise. I know from experience that looking at you has that common effect on people. But that didn’t look like a look of total disgust.”

I give him a look.

“It looked like fear.”

I force a snort. “Why would he fear me? Look at him, he could crush me to the ground by just looking at me.

His brows quirk in agreement. “Fair point.” He slaps his hands on his thighs and rises. “I’ll be back,” he says and saunters back towards the house.

Bored, Cece takes out her phone and scrolls through it aimlessly. Mainly re-reading her chat between her and Meeko, wondering if he’ll call back again or if she should initiate it by texting him first. Her mind whirls with plots and plans.

A mash of indistinct words swells to a zealous conversation. Two women descend the staircase, ambling towards the seating area to occupy the couch opposite her. Cece glances up and her eyes dart to a glass of red wine in each of their hands.

She doesn't pay attention to their presence until the theme of their conversation piques her interest.

“It’s ridiculous because Hillcrest edges the woods, I woke to a pack of barking dogs. I gather they were those German shepherd police dogs scouring the woods for our princess,” the woman spits out with remorseless antipathy.

“Allison,” the other reproaches gently. “You could at least fake a little bit of compassion. Jessica is missing though.”

Allison makes a shamelessly loud and revolted sound. “Oh, please. The Nolans have houses all around the world, she probably went to one of them and forgot to tell daddy.”

Her ears tune into their conversation whilst she pretends to busy herself with her phone.

The other lady persists in her sympathy. “Jessica came home with Lacey one time, and when I met her personally, she seemed exactly the way people perceive her to be. Kind and friendly and I don’t think she would be that reckless, that thoughtless to take off without warning.”

There’s a long pause. Gulping sounds. “You’re awfully confident about this girl’s innocence.”

“And your awfully insensitive about her disappearance. After all the posts and articles about her and what she has done, her life in the limelight. She doesn’t even have a hint of notoriety to taint her name, she’s done nothing foolish like other children of wealthy parents. So yes, I think she’s innocent and very much in trouble if she’s gone missing.”

Her rebuttal stuns her companion into temporary silence.

Litha returns and reclaims his seat beside her. “So what now? What’s your plan?”

She lowers her phone from her face, flinging her gaze at Mr Jameson.

“We’ll find out soon.”


Once the fire-roasted meats: lamb chops, linked sausages and burger patties are complete, ready for consumption. Katherine beckons everyone to crowd around the outdoor dining area. She gives a heart-warming speech about gratitude for life and the life of her husband. She prays and then everyone is released to feast.

Whilst everyone ques up to dish themselves a plate of the choice foods arrayed on the table. Mr Jameson slinks out of the cluster and disappears into the house.

Bingo. Cece follows him inside.

With a brisk stride, he makes his way to the kitchen. With his hand gripped on the handle of the French door fridge. He looks to his side and pauses.

“Cece?”

She approaches carefully. “Hi, Mr Jameson,” she greets awkwardly.

“Can I help you with something?" Though his offer, in concept, is benign. His abrasive tenor translates to something else entirely.

Cece twiddles with her fingers nervously. “I just wanted to apologize… about the last time we spoke. I could see my enquiry made you uncomfortable, and rightfully so. It was none of my business, and not my place to ask.”

Mr Jameson exhales heavily and all tension seems to escape with his breath, his shoulders easing. His hand ploughs through his hair, despite disrupted, it falls to one side perfectly.

“You shouldn’t be apologizing.” His gaze slips from her. “I was defensive and abrupt towards you… I just didn’t need that again. People looking at me that way.”

Cece’s head tilts to one side, searching for his eyes. “What way?”

His dubious gaze looks back at her with emotions that storm in his dark eyes.

She can see the distrust, suspicion and fear that wars within him. He had no incentive, no reason to tell her anything. Their only link is the tether between him and her grandparents. A stranger.

“Look, I understand that you don’t know me and might not want to tell a complete stranger the traumas you faced that day. But if there is anything, I have learnt from my own traumas. Talking about them made it easier to bear… people lessen the weight.”

He scoffs bitterly. “People’s sympathy are overshadowed by their perception. No-one wants to believe something…unbelievable.”

Cece’s eyes dart to the side and she moves to the left to seat herself on a backless wooden barstool behind the white countertop.

“Don’t lump all people under that category. You’d be surprised in what I don’t believe… and what I will believe,” she says staunchly.

Mr Jameson eyes her down inquisitively. Compelled to tell her, tell someone, anyone willing to not only listen to him. But believe him. It is a risk, a gamble to share his far-fetched qualms. And to him it is worth it.

He moves away from the fridge and moves to stand directly opposite her. He bends forward and places his arms down on the slab of marble, his hands clasped together.

“I’m a busy man, and Katherine’s a demanding woman that lives by a certain standard.” He then winces like he’s mentally scolding himself. “Though I can’t fault her entirely. I work too long and hard, but I do it all for my family, for my boys.”

Cece smiles in admiration, nodding avidly.

“So, every summer I dedicate a weekend to them. Just us boys, we go out fishing on my boat. There has never been an accident. I never make accidents, not driving, not in my work and definitely not in sailing.”

His face contorts with lingering pain that creeps from all the corners of his face.

“Except that day,” he breathes. Little louder, he says, “I was in the cockpit, steering. I remember looking over my shoulder constantly. The hardtop casted shadows but where the boys were in the deck area, the sun shone brightly on them.”

“I was driving to a spot in the Azura, near the mouth that splits to the fork of the other interconnected lakes. On my way there… well, that’s when things got… weird.”

Cece straightens with intrigue, brows crossed into pensivity.

“I started… hearing someone… something. It sounded like someone talking or muttering from a distance, but that was obviously impossible. The hushed muttering wasn’t a language, but they were words, strange words. Then it intensified and got louder, like a chorus of whispers that echoed all around me like a cinema theatre with surround sound.”

Sheer horror etches itself on his face, his chest heaves as if his heart pleads for him to stop, to not think, to not remember.

“I wanted to look over my shoulder to see if the boys could hear it, but when I did… that’s when everything went black.” Dread thaws into his tone. “Everything went black, I blacked out and….”

He hangs his head for a long moment. “I don’t know… I don’t remember.”

Anger spikes in his voice. “All I remember is that I woke up and it felt like water clogged up in my lungs, my body aching everywhere and my boys….My physical pain paled in comparison to the fear I felt by the mere thought of them being hurt.” His voice volcanic, loaded with vigour.

The volcano calms. “Fortunately, there was a nautical patroller nearby and we were rescued. My boys and I safe. But the damages on the ship make it look we all should have died. There were… claw-like scratches on the hull, too long and too deep to belong to any marine animal that I know of.”

Cece’s eyes explode wide with mutual horror.

He glimpses her reaction and nods at her. “There were gashes, knocked in that made enormous holes, they said its because we hit the rocks. The accident on the boat made little sense, all because of those two things. The damages on the ship were inconsistent to anything logical as well as our wounds. And the… voices… the words….”

“So… you don’t know what the words were exactly?”

He shakes his head sullenly. “All I can tell you is that they didn’t sound… human, it couldn’t have been. Because they were coming from the water, I mean how is that possibly?" He throws furtive glances all around them to make sure of no prying ears. "The day I woke up in the hospital, with everyone there, I acted deranged, screaming, yelling. I was—”

His hand begins to tremble with undealt trauma.

Instinctively, Cece’s hand snaps out of her control and her hand barely covers his own.

His trembling eases.

“You were scared about what you experienced. Scared for your boys, but they’re okay and you’re okay. You survived.”

His trembles cease.

It was both uncanny and disheartening to see a man of his great stature be demeaned by his qualms, so wrought with fear.

“You believe me? Why… how?

They both cling to each other’s gaze.

“I have come to the slow realisation that in this world. Everything is not what it seems,” she says vaguely.

But he more than anyone would understand the enigma of what she means.

“This is the first time I have opened up about this to anyone. No-one, not even my own wife,” he says with a tinge of resentment. “It's sad how you can be both in companionship, but still be utterly alone.”

Unsure of what to say to that, she nods, and her lips stretch into a line.

“Thank you,” he cups his over hand over hers, devouring it completely, “for believing me.”

Her smile grows into sincerity.

“Hey… Cece!”

Automatically, they both snatch their hands from each other, and she slides off the chair in one quick movement. Whereas he moves to open the fridge starts to inspect it thoughtfully.

Litha steps into the elongated entryway.

Oblivious, he says, “Come fetch your plate, grandpop wants to eat and leave.” Then adds, “It’s almost his bedtime.”

“Yeah, sure, coming,” she says and makes a brisk start to him. He swivels and disappears out of view. Cece looks off her shoulder to see him already staring back at her. But this time he doesn’t look away. He stares at her differently, something else kindling in his gaze.

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