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Authors: Talli Roland

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BOOK: Watching Willow Watts
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Whoa!’ Willow’s mouth dropped open as she entered the pub. Every seat was taken and it was actually buzzing,
an adjective that had never been applied to Lordy’s pub before – unless you counted that wasp infestation. Looking around, Willow recognised a few faces from the village, but the crowd was mostly strangers.


Se
e?’ Paula whispered. ‘Told you fans would come. Just give it a bit more time and the village will be absolutely crawling.’


Here she is!’ Lordy’s booming voice cut through the noise of the crowd. ‘The woman everyone wants to see: Willow Watts, Belcherton’s very own Marilyn Monroe!’

Willow gulped as what felt like a million eyes swung her way.
All these people were here to see her? They were in for a disappointment. Dressed in a moth-eaten tee and baggy jeans, she was as far from resembling Marilyn as Lordy was from Hugh Grant. Willow waited for a disapproving boo, but instead flashes went off as people shoved mobiles in her face.


It’s her
! It’s the new Marilyn!’ The buzz grew to a fever pitch, and one burly man shoved a tatty bar napkin at her. ‘Can you sign this, please?’

Willow stared at the stained napkin,
then turned to meet Paula’s raised eyebrows. Somehow, these people
did
seem to think she was Marilyn. Maybe they’d had too much to drink?


Er, sorry,’ she muttered to the man as she pushed past him toward Lordy at the bar. ‘Would you mind putting on the CelebrityCrush channel, just for five minutes?’ Willow yelled over the din of the crowd. ‘The reporter filmed me this morning and it’s airing tonight.’

Lordy laughed, a finger coming up to twirl his lengthy handlebar moustache. ‘Don’t I know it. I must have been asked a hundred times tonight if the pub’s planning to show the interview. Can’t fathom how people believe all that rubbish about ghosts, but hey, if they’re buying it, who am I to tell them different?’ He came out from behind the bar and manoeuvred Willow and Paula in front of the television, then shoved drinks into their hands.


I don’t mind giving thanks where it’s due,’ Lordy said in Willow’s ear. ‘I’ve already pulled in tonight what I usually earn in a month.’

In one night, Lordy had equalled a month’s takings?
Willow fervently prayed some of the extra visitors would make their way into her father’s shop, too. If a minor miracle occurred and they trebled their sales, they
might
be able to pull off next month’s repayment. That would buy her some more time, at least. Surreptitiously picking one of Lordy’s hairs out of her wine, she stared at the telly where Matthias’s face could now be seen. Instantly, the crowd grew so quiet Willow was sure she could hear Krusty’s disgruntled caws from the Watts’s back garden.


Goo
d evening,’ Matthias said in his deep voice. ‘I’m in Belcherton, England, standing in front of the residence of Willow Watts.’

The report jumped to the infamous YouTube video, and Willow dropped her head, wanting to crawl under the table as she took in her silly dancing image again. She stiffened, expecting a few guffaws from the people around her, but their eyes were trained on the television as if it held the secret to winning the National Lottery.

The camera
cut to inside the house and Willow jerked at the sight of herself perched on the aging sofa in the lounge. God, with her hair swept up like that and the extra make-up, it didn’t even look like
her
. She glanced at Paula to gauge her reaction, but Paula was just staring at the television along with the rest of the crowd.


So, Willow,’ Matthias’s voice came from off-screen. ‘Can yo
u tell our viewers a little about yourself?’

Willow winced, knowing what was coming next: a big fat nothing.


Well, I’m twenty-five
. . .’ her on-screen image said lamely.


The same age Marilyn was when she started to make her Hollywood breakthrough,’ Matthias’s enthusiastic voice boomed off-camera.


Oooooh!’
The hushed crowd let out a collective squeal, and Willow swung her head around in disbelief. They couldn’t be buying all that B.S. Matthias was shovelling, could they? But with every question and answer affirming the Marilyn reincarnation, a low hum grew louder and louder until Willow could barely hear the television.

Looking up at the crowd of strangers, Willow had the unsettled feeling they were closing in on her; hundreds of eyes shining down with zombie-like adoration. The way they were staring so intently – as if she was the answer to all their crazed Marilyn prayers – made her tremble.

The camera flashed
back to Matthias outside Willow’s house. ‘And there you have it. Marilyn hasn’t left us. She lives on, in Willow Watts, right here in Belcherton. This is Matthias Clodington, UK Correspondent for the CelebrityCrush Channel. Tune in tomorrow when we talk to Willow’s best friend Paula Rush to learn more about the woman Marilyn chose to make her own.’

Willow turned to Paula. ‘What? You never told me you were doing that.’


That’s because I never
actually agreed to an interview.’ Paula slapped her empty wine glass down on the bar. ‘It was unbelievably busy, and he came by right in the middle of two perms and asked if I’d be free tomorrow. I thought he meant for his hair, you know? He’d look great with a Mohican. Anyway, he’s pencilled in for half-one, I think.’


Honestly, I can’t believe a reporter is so interested in this,’ Willow said. ‘Surely there must be more important news to cover.’


Are you kidding?
People
love
this kind of stuff, and it gives the media something fun to talk about, besides murder and crime. Just wait, I bet your video will be on the BBC soon!’ Paula grabbed Willow’s arm. ‘Now, come on, let’s jet. If I’m going to look fresh for the TV tomorrow, I need to sleep off the effects of Lordy’s paint-stripping wine.’

The
hubbub of the pub grew even louder as Willow stood. Popping flashes nearly blinded her and she stumbled after Paula, who was bulldozing their way through the crowd.


This Marilyn thing is a pretty good gig, you know. You haven’t done anything, and already you’re a sensation!’ Paula’s tone held a touch of envy, something Willow hadn’t heard since she’d told her friend she was leaving for London way back when.


I guess,’ Willow said, careful to keep her discomfort to herself. She didn’t crave the limelight any more than Paula craved Muzak, but for reasons Willow couldn’t understand, people
were
coming to Belcherton – and still believing she was Marilyn once they saw her in the flesh. And if Paula was right, the numbers would only grow. If even just a few punters bought antiques from the shop . . . well, Willow could deal with a little attention if it might mean sorting things out herself.


I’ll see you tomorrow,’ she said, giving Paula a quick hug
as they reached her door. ‘Let me know how the interview goes. Night.’


Night night
, Marilyn!’ Paula shouted over her shoulder as she took off down the street.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

 

 

ACROSS THE OCEAN IN
Carter, Georgia, Betts Johnson plonked down in the La-Z-Boy chair and took a small sip of her precious Dom Perignon, just like Marilyn would have done. Well, maybe not in a La-Z-Boy, but still. The chair was one comfort Betts wouldn’t give up, not even for her idol. And who knew? If Marilyn had lived to the ripe old age of fifty-nine, she might be sprawled out watching TV, too. Just like Betts, Marilyn had been divorced (albeit a few more times), so she was sure to understand the comfort of a La-Z-Boy when there was no-one else to keep you cosy.


And now for today’s
Isn’t Life Funny
feature,’ the local news anchor said, smiling toothily into the camera.

Oh, goodi
e. Betts leaned toward the television. She loved this bit.


Across the pond in jolly o
ld England, the reincarnation of one of America’s greatest icons has been found!’


What?’ Betts gasped, mouth falling open as Marilyn’s image filled the screen. But wait – that wasn’t Marilyn. It was some girl in a dress, on a video. The camera cut to a collection of ragtag buildings in what looked like the middle of nowhere.

Betts turned up the sound.
‘A YouTube video featuring a British woman by the name of Willow Watts has now received over a quarter of a million hits, when one viewer claimed an image of Marilyn Monroe in the frame was actually the film star’s ghost.’

Betts loved closer
. Oh my goodness. Yes, there it was! Without a doubt, Marilyn’s own lovely face in the video. Betts pressed shaking hands against her beating heart.


One commenter claimed Marilyn had returned to endorse her new representative. Now Marilyn fans have begun flocking to Belcherton, England, to see the woman and pay homage to the memory of the great icon,’ the announcer went on. ‘And that’s it for this edition of
Isn’t Life Funny
.’

Betts scrambled
to her feet, quivering with excitement. Why hadn’t she heard of this? The past few days helping her son move apartments had been so manic that she hadn’t logged onto the
Moms for Marilyn
newsgroup. Now, she slid her feet into fluffy slippers and padded over to the computer in her Marilyn room. Every inch was covered in photos of the blonde goddess, documenting the transformation from Norma Jean to the woman who would live forever in the hearts of dedicated fans like Betts.

As fast as she could,
Betts signed into the newsgroup and scanned message after message, all bursting with excitement at the recent development. One had a link to the YouTube video, and Betts clicked on it.

She twisted a curl impatiently
as the video showed a field with booths selling jam, cookies and strange-looking beverages. A tall, thin woman wearing a white dress capered about in the rain, and Betts’s heart dropped. Even with the platinum wig, this person didn’t resemble the great Marilyn in the least. Maybe that image was a trick of the eyes?

But wait – there it was! Betts sat back on the folding chair, awe sweeping over her as she stared at the ghostly image of Marilyn hovering above the woman. Who was Betts to argue with her heroine? Marilyn had come back, and for some reason, she’d chosen Willow Watts. Gosh, what an honour. For a split second, Betts drifted into a daydream where Marilyn chose
her
to return into. Imagine, being a star – a chance to escape the daily drudgery of ironing, washing, cooking supper for her grown kids when they just
happened
to drop by every evening at six . . .

Get real, Betts, she told herself. Marilyn wouldn’t choose a fat slob like her to come back to. Who wo
uld want her life? Betts slumped over as she thought of the endless march of the days ahead. A vacation would be nice right about now.

Betts tapped her foot against the pink
shag carpet, mind racing. A vacation
would
be nice! Gord’s alimony was just sitting there, and if memory served, the passport she’d got when she’d overheard the kids discussing sending her to Jamaica for her birthday a few years back was still valid. Her heart sank as she remembered how, instead of jetting off to the beach, she’d ended up at the Jamaica Mon Wave Pool in town.

T
his time she’d do it right. And what better place to vacation than where her icon had just appeared? Ever since Betts’s divorce – well, to be fair, ever since she’d caught her bastard of an ex-husband boffing the IHOP waitress as he stuffed his mouth full of pancakes – Marilyn had been the one thing that got Betts through. The icon’s courage, determination and sheer ability to shine had been like a beacon during those dark days, when Gord had followed his belly and heart right out of her life. Sure, the kids always rolled their eyes when she talked about her idol, but what did they know? They were too busy living their own lives to pay much attention to dear old mum – except when they wanted something, which seemed to be every ten seconds. Well, they didn’t need to know why she was going to England. All they needed to know was Mom was finally off-duty.

Excitement surging through her, Betts leaped off the chair. Was she actually going to do this?
Gord hadn’t been keen on travelling and whenever they’d taken a vacation, they’d driven to Orlando. For goodness’ sake, she’d never even been on a plane! A thrill of fear and nerves hit as she thought about the long journey ahead, but she steeled herself against it. Gord had always said she was a wuss. Now was the time to prove him wrong.

Betts
shuffled into the bedroom and unearthed an old suitcase from the corner of the closet, then looked with disgust at her clothes: jeans, jeans, and more jeans, along with some foul floral blouses her daughter had bought her, seeing as how ‘flowers were appropriate attire for older divorcées’. Fifty-nine years old, and she was divorced – and alone. That was something Betts had never expected.

T
here was no time to go shopping now. She stuffed a few of her better-fitting jeans and blouses into a case, then sat back on the bed. What else to bring? What was the weather like in England, anyway?

BOOK: Watching Willow Watts
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