Welcome to Bannville, MS, home of the Banned Library and set right in the middle of the dark piney woods where drugs, violence and dark forces are as abundant as the humidity. Our narrator on this journey is Evan Banned, one time director and current owner of the library now trying to bring it back after it burned to the ground and then, right after it reopened, was closed due to funding. Recently, reporter and Evan’s old flame Ashley Weathers asked to have her and Ocean’s grandparent’s anniversary party at the library, and Evan and Brad Francis, Ashley’s cameraman and other ex, got in a fight. Will Evan get revenge on Brad? Will the anniversary party go off without a problem? How is Evan gonna decorate for an anniversary party?
My face and ribs hurt like hell. I cleared out the library as best I could, took out the trash and everything, but had to take rests. Ocean Penn called at noon.
“You sound like shit,” she said.
“Should pregnant ladies be cursing?”
“Hell, far as I know the thing ain't got ears yet.”
“Don’t the doctors tell you those things?”
“Since when do I listen to doctors,” she said, and I heard her smile over the phone, “I’m bringing stuff for the party.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Holy shit, what happened to you?” she said as soon as she walked into the library, carrying a box of decorations, “Hell, Evan, I heard there’s been some activity, but it looks like you got hit by a truck.”
“You should see the other guy,” I said.
“Who was it?”
“Nobody of consequence,” I said. If I told her that Brad Francis had been in here last night and kicked the shit out of me, Ocean would make a bigger deal about it than it needed to be. Plus, I was more concerned about the way Brad looked around the library. In his younger days, Brad had been known to go where he should not and take things.
“I do not like what you've done with the place,” she said, “looks like a drunk book hoarder lives here.”
“Sorta does. Your sister came by,” I said.
Ocean’s eyes bunched and her mouth looked as if she had just been told she was eating roadkill, “I heard. I meant to call, but Daryl’s been sick. I made her promise to call first. You two aren't having sexy times here again, huh?”
“Hell, no. And she did, call, caught me at sea last week while I was recovering,” I said. I told Ocean about the events aboard the Dark Water Crescent, omitting the parts about the mystical Lady in Blue and the Man in Red maybe being real.
“Cultists?” she said, “What the hell is this world coming to? You didn't invite them to the party, huh?”
She poked me in the ribs when she said that and I winced.
“Ooo, got you all over, huh? You need a vacation.”
“Funny. So, what’s the deal?”
“Maw Maw and Pop Wallace are gonna be here at about three. They eat early. We have the cake coming, maybe we can set up some of those tables and stuff over there?”
She pointed to the magazine racks. I shook my head.
“We never got knew tables,” I said, “Fire took the old ones and insurance only covered construction and furniture.”
“Tables are furniture, Evan,” she said as she threw a garland over the banister of the staircase.
“Not library furniture. Not according to Bannville Fire and Loan. We can just use the circulation desk, huh?”
She turned around and looked, “Yeah. I guess. Kinda high for the old bastards, though.”
“Old bastards, huh? Maw Maw still got that cane?” A phantom pain shot up my leg remembering the old lady’s cane cracking across my shin the last time I participated in a Wallace family Scrabble game.
“Better, they gave her two of them.”
“What do you do with two canes?” I asked.
Ocean picked up two candy canes, “Dual wield,” and waved them around. I laughed hard and my ribs hurt even more than before.
Within an hour, Ocean had the library looking bright and cheery, ready for a party and better than it had in months. I looked around at the warmth of the place, the soft light on the wood and fell in love with it again. And I knew what caused it.
“Hey, Oce?” I said.
She looked up from a box of ornaments.
“You want a job?” I said. I did not know how much money Uncle Ted was willing to put into the place becoming a library or bookstore or bar or whatever again, but I knew there must be enough for staff.
“What kind of job?”
I waved my hands to the decorations, “This. Helping me out. Keeping the place looking like a library and not like… well, not like some drunk bookhoarder’s lair.”
“I never said it was your lair,” she said, smiling, “Maybe. Let me talk it over with Daryll. With the baby...”
I held up a hand, “No rush. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with the place just yet. Just, think about it. Maybe just an under the table thing, you come in and I pay you in books.”
“Ha, like I’ve got time to read.”
With the decorations hung, we walked over to the diner and I treated her to some pie. We talked about old days, about running around town when we were young. We talked about how wild Ashley used to be, back when she and Ocean shared a last name. We talked about the old times and how we thought there would be better times, about how we would move out of this small city and do big, great things. In our own way, we both had.
But we had also come back and now here we were.