Chapter 2: Whisper

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Something small and black rushes past my leg, sending a whisper of air up my skirt and I flinch and jump to the side, knocking into Rita who collapses into a fit of giggles as she clutches my arm

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Something small and black rushes past my leg, sending a whisper of air up my skirt and I flinch and jump to the side, knocking into Rita who collapses into a fit of giggles as she clutches my arm.

Jumping onto the porch balustrade, the cat, a sorry-looking mess of black fur, arches it back and hisses as it narrows its poisonous yellow eyes at me.

"Stop that, Mr. Faustus!" A soft voice calls out, the tone disapproving as if scolding a child. "You stop that right now. We don't hiss at our guests."

Standing in the doorway is probably the most glamorous woman I have ever clapped eyes on. Her glossy jet hair is teased into curls, a style I've only ever seen worn by the likes of Lauren Bacall or Elizabeth Taylor. Her skin is flawless powdery white and she wears so much thick, black mascara and cherry red lipstick that in my head I can picture my Mama's wide-eyed, repulsed glare, because she always said that any woman who needed to wear this much make-up was either as ugly as Hell underneath, or a no-good whore.

But I don't think Barbara Arden looks like either. Sure, she's definitely the type of woman who could turn the head of any man she happened to meet, but with her Hollywood beauty, I'm suddenly ashamed of my simple cotton dress and drab hair pulled back into a pony-tail. I suddenly wish the 1962 Stony Crag Prom Queen looked a little bit more like the 1966 Stony Crag movie star medium.

"Oh, don't mind him," she says, waving a manicured hand in a dismissive gesture. "He's the crankiest damn cat in the whole state." She smiles, a broad grin that makes her eyes sparkle. "Well now, who do we have here?"

She looks at us all expectantly, the grin still plastered across her face.

Connie instantly holds out her hand in greeting. "I'm Constance Fleming, Ms. Arden, we spoke on the phone? And these are the friends I was telling you about. Rita Duncan and Kathleen-Anne Jones."

Barbara's gaze flickers over me and I see the smile break, just a little mind you, but it breaks nonetheless. "Kathleen-Anne? You wouldn't happen to be Patricia-May Brown's girl, would you?"

She knows Mama. All at once I feel my cheeks flush and my heart sinks, because if she does know Mama, then I can't imagine that the experience of meeting her was a particularly good one, especially considering I know exactly what Mama's opinion is of Ms. Barbara Arden.

"Y-yes ma'am," I stammer.

"Is she still working down at the church?"

She glances down and I realize I'm bunching up the sides of my skirt in my hands. I quickly try to smooth out the crinkled fabric, which is now damp from the sweat on my palms.

"Uh... yes, ma'am, she still volunteers there. Thirty years now."

"Thirty years, huh? How about that?" Her eyes don't leave mine and she has those kind of eyes that make me think that she doesn't miss a damn thing. "Tell me, does your Mama know you're here?"

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