Here’s something fun! Just to get an idea of why she is the way she is, here’s a short story featuring the heroine of our book, The Body Hunters at the tender age of sixteen. Enjoy!
I’m not going!” I said not so politely to my mother. Her violet eyes looked at me in exasperation. She threw up her hands as she passed by my father saying to him, “You talk to her!” Marcel or Dad as he insists I call him gave me a look every father tries on their daughter the ‘do it or else’ stare, but he doesn’t scare me one bit. I brush past him into my room ready to slam the door in his face. He was having none of it this time. He grabbed my door from my hands practically ripping it off the hinges. Oh Lord, I have really pissed him off now!
“So help me missy, you are not too old for me to take over my knee!” He barks at me.
I shoot back with “Really, that’s the threat you’re going to use? You are as pathetic as her!” I know I may have crossed the line. He may not have been the most attentive father, my grandmere raising me and handling most of my discipline and all. But this time he’s not playing. He grabs me by my arm and swats me on my behind.
“Damn it!” I yelp. I had forgotten how big and strong he really is. “God I hate you!” Yep that’ll teach him, my 16 year old brain is pleased with itself.
Dad however is not. “I’m going to give you 10 minutes to get into that gown or I will put you in it myself!” And he’s not joking. Even I know when to quit. I resign myself to the fact that the debutante ball is in my immediate future. He lets go of me and I slam the door. Fuck her and fuck him! I sit on the edge of my bed my golden brown eyes welling up with tears. Damn that swat really hurt!
I go to my closet door where mommie dearest has kindly hung my ball gown. Leave it to Julianna to pick a white gown. Hello it’s not 1940! They do come in other colors! But no, she would not relent on style and color; she said it would be so pretty against my caramel skin. Well, I’ll give her that much, she was right about the dress. I will never tell her though, she would never let me live it down.
I put the dress on and it flows to the ground covering my feet. I slip the white heels on and it lifts me the few inches I need so it doesn’t drag on the floor. Now let’s see what to do with this hair. Screw it! I just shove it up in a bun. I had eyed the scissors and contemplated killing Julianna by cutting my shoulder length hair in a bob. Yep that would have done her in. I am grinning devilishly at the thought, but alas my rear end is still reminding me of why that is not such a good idea.
Earrings and a necklace, damn! Again they are laid out for me. Pearls, Ugh! Seriously mother I’m not eighty years old! The corsage will be given to me by some poor sap son of a lawyer she has decided to hook me up with. It’s her debutante all over again except this time I am to play the role of Julianna. I could care less. Its not like she was ever there for me in the first place with her and dad being absentee parents because of their so called jobs. It’s hard to imagine mother getting her hands dirty, coming from old money and an even older white family. Wretched excess I call it.
Wasn’t sending me to finishing school bad enough? It nearly did finish me, especially at tea when the head mistress had us showing off our polite high tea skills and I purposely shoved a whole scone in my mouth just to piss her off. I laugh to myself at the memory. I am probably the only person to ever get kicked out of a finishing school. Yep I was finished alright! But I received another patented Marcel Labouleaux tongue lashing. At least grandmere found the retelling of the story funny.
I decide since they are making me go to this pretentious event I will not wear the pearls. I had found a small old jewelry box a while back hidden in the floor boards in my bedroom under the bed. It is a very old home we live in and I never had the nerve to open it. I decide maybe there is something in there I could use. I move my bed and crawl on the floor not caring that the dust bunnies may be taking up a new residence on my immaculate white dress. Reaching underneath I loosen the boards and pull up the small jewelry box. Sitting back on the bed opening the box I see with fevered delight, a short gold chain filigree necklace with a pendant in the shape of a star with a blue topaz set in the middle and matching star topaz dangle earrings. I am in awe of the pieces and run to my closet door mirror to put them on. They are gorgeous. I fastened the necklace around my neck and to my delight the star pendant sits at just the right angle that everyone will have no choice but to look at my cleavage. Another kill shot for mother Julianna!
I am giving myself a grin in the mirror. Next up are the earrings. I carefully hold them in my hands as I remove the post stops and insert them into my lobes. I turn back to the box looking for anything else I can find. What is this? I pull a tab up and reveal a hidden bottom with a picture of a young man and woman. I immediately get a chilling sensation throughout my body as I fall to the floor; my eyes rolling into the back of my head. I see myself in my room but I am standing and I see the furniture and everything is changed. A man dressed in an army uniform is hiding the jewelry box in the floor board.
“Honey what are you doing?” a female voice calls out. I see him quickly replace the boards and right himself before she enters into my bedroom. She is unaware I am there. She is beautiful, almost glowing with a little bump in her stomach. I recognize she is pregnant.
He tries to hide his mischievous grin. “Just looking for my watch baby.” He says as he kisses her and puts his hand on her bump.
“You mean the one you’re wearing?” She says putting her hand on top of his as she kisses him back. “C’mon hubby we are going to be late for Thanksgiving at my parents.”
“We could just stay here and celebrate by ourselves.” He is now embracing her tighter, I feel like I am seriously intruding.
“Um, no they are expecting us and may I remind you celebrating by ourselves is what got me in this physical state to begin with!” She laughs and lightly pushes him away.
“C’mon baby you know I ship out tomorrow.” He gives her sad little puppy dog eyes.
“I know, we’ll stay a few hours and then the rest of the night you are mine!” Her eyes gleam at him. He smiles widely at the thought.
She walks out the door first with him in tow. I turn to find a way out but I see him now standing side by side next to me. He is looking forlorn; I think he is going to cry. No sound is coming out of his mouth, I am aware of this because it’s happened before, the spirits that come forth can’t speak to me. He turns to look me head on and I see the bullet hole in his forehead and the blood pooling in his eyes. I am shocked but hold on to my senses. He points to my neck and ears. I get it now; they were supposed to be a Christmas gift to her. I nod my understanding to him as I touch the pendant that is resting on my chest. I suddenly feel very guilty wearing it. I look away from him embarrassed. When I look back he is smiling, the bullet hole and blood gone, his is wearing white and glowing pointing to a slip of paper that was also in the bottom of the box. It’s a receipt with what I am assuming is his name. Sgt. John Deardon. I have a name to go on and I know what I must do. The room shimmers around me and I am suddenly eyes open on my bedroom floor. There is a feeling of urgency to the find her, Mrs. Deardon.
I have to escape this prison I’m in. Marcel and Julianna are at the watch waiting for me to come downstairs. I hear the front door open and the voice of a squeaky young man that is to be my date. Ugh! Dad is bellowing for me to hurry up. I yell back not to rush me in the most irritated voice I can muster. I look around frantic as I take off the earrings and necklace and replace them in the box. I have to act fast. I can’t go looking for Mrs. Deardon in this damned dress, but I don’t have time to change. I eye the scissors I was contemplating cutting my hair earlier with. I cut the dress ruffles to just above my knee. I am really going to pay for this later, but I don’t care, when the spirits ask me to help, they usually mean it’s very urgent and need help now. I open my window and remove the screen slipping out to the large branch hanging on quietly trying to not make any noise as I let myself fall to the ground. Damn it! I forgot about these heels.
“Oh well” I muse and head off sneaking into the back yard and over the fence. Mission accomplished! My inner voice is screaming with glee, no fucking dance tonight and no pimply nerd for a date to try to fend off in the corner of the hall.
I am quite a sight as I catch a bus a little closer to town. At least I had sense enough to bring my backpack with money and my bus pass not to mention the jewelry box. I am getting a lot of stares and snickers, but that’s ok. I get off at Bourbon Street and walk to my favorite little pizzeria; they will have a phone book there. I know the owner Terrance very well, I’ve given him a reading with his deceased daughter and helped him get closure after her death. For that he helps hide me out for a while when the wardens known as my parents come looking for me. He welcomes me in and after looking me up and down knows I’m up to no good.
“What in God’s name is going on today Danielle?” He says in his Caribbean accent. I tell him I need a phone book because I need to find someone and it’s urgent. He laughs and tells me aren’t they all urgent. He knows me well! He points me in the direction of the old fashioned phone booth with the phone book attached to a chain. Deardon. Not a common name and hopefully not too many in New Orleans. Thank God only one, Deardon, Samantha R. I won’t call her. I just need the address. It’s actually only 3 streets over! Terrance says I’m not going alone he will go with me. He’s met dad once or twice and doesn’t want to get on his bad side by telling him that his only child was kidnapped or something terrible he conjures up in his mind. Terrance leaves the restaurant in his capable waitress’s hands and brings his scooter to the front. He makes me wear a helmet. Now I really do look a sight!
We pull up into the driveway of the small apartment building. Terrance insists that he escort me. He’s afraid one of these times I’m going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We walk the hall and find the apartment number. I knock with apprehension as I hear light footsteps approach and open the door.
She is still beautiful. Her dark mane with silver streaks cascading down her shoulders as she stands staring at me with helmet hair and my torn debutante dress, standing with this skinny Caribbean man with the wide toothy grin.
“May I help you?” She asks me with a quizzical look on her face. She is dressed in mom jeans and a button down blouse appropriate for her age.
“Um, excuse me, I am Danielle Labouleaux and this is my um…uncle Terrance. I believe I have something of yours.” I am sweating and bordering on stuttering. This is the hardest part, getting the living to believe you. I unzip my backpack and take out the box while Terrance is saying his hellos. I hand her the jewelry box and she takes it with hesitation looking at it like I just handed her a bomb, which in a way I have.
“I’m sorry young lady, but I have never seen this before, I think you are mistaken.” She looks to Terrance who shrugs.
“Ma’am could you please open it? There is a piece of paper with a name you may know.” She breathes deep and ushers us into her small but nicely decorated apartment.
“Please sit.” She motions to the dining room table and chairs. Terrance and I oblige her request. He is smitten I can see it; he hasn’t taken his eyes off of her since we got here.
She puts the box on the table and slowly opens it picking up the necklace and earrings, I lift up the false bottom and she pulls out the receipt. An audible gasp escapes her mouth as she puts her hand over it. Tears well up in her eyes and I am suddenly feeling very sad. Terrance puts his hand on my shoulder sensing my mood.
“Where did you get this young lady?” Tears are streaming down her face.
“Call me Danny and I found it in my room. I believe you used to live in my house. It was hidden under the floor boards.” I am now holding my breath.
“On Rouge Street?” she asks.
“Yes ma’am” She stares at me as if she has seen a ghost. I am hesitant to tell her the truth but feel the need to do so anyway. “Ma’am, I know this sounds crazy but I get visions and spirits come to me when I see a picture. Here this is also yours.” I dig out of the backpack the picture of her and Sgt. John Deardon and hand it to her. “You too were lovely together, did he ever get to see the baby?” I ask and she jumps out of her seat. Terrance stands up quickly and tries to calm her down.
“Ma’am” He says through his thick accent. “I know it sounds funny, but it’s ok, she tells the truth on this. Trust her, she can do this, she has done it for me after my daughter died. Please sit we mean you no harm.” Terrance’s voice soothes her and she sits warily.
I tell her the whole story with all the details and her beautiful blue eyes glow with anticipation. I finish and she picks up the story.
“He shipped out the next day, straight to the front line. A few weeks later I have two Army men at my door giving me the news that his envoy had been captured and he was shot in the head as he was trying to gun down the enemy to give his platoon a chance to escape. So in answer to your question, no he never got to meet his son.”
She goes to the small living room and picks up her son’s picture from a small desk in the corner and brings it back to the table. “He looks just like his dad.” She says fighting back tears. “He’s getting married tomorrow and now thanks to you Danny I have a very special gift to give to my new daughter in law.” She leans over and kisses me on the forehead. Terrance smiles sweetly at her as he grabs her hand to comfort her. She continues wiping her tears away with a tissue.
“Young lady, I can’t thank you enough, but judging by your manner of dress aren’t you supposed to be somewhere? And what did you do to that dress!” She is now practically laughing at the sight of me. I explain the circumstances and she tells me I should have never gone against my parents, but admits she also left her own debutante ball ditching her date to meet her secret motorcycle riding boyfriend in the back alley, the future Sgt John Deardon. Her dad after giving her a good backside swatting, grounded her for a month along with threatening to break lover boys legs and bike if she ever saw him again. She is alive with the memory and I feel that I have a comrade in arms with her and Terrance who is now so deeply engrossed laughing at her every word.
I motion to Terrace that we should be going and I know that I have to go home and face the music. I can’t hide out at grandmere’s since she is in Atlanta right now, and I don’t want to ruin my other hidey hole at the pizzeria by having Terrance try to explain to my parents what I was doing. Samantha Deardon walks us to the door still holding Terrance’s hand. I go into the hallway walking fast and far enough so he can have a moment with her for which I can see he is grateful. I sneak around the corner and listen. She gives him her phone number and he promises to call her to tell her that I have made it home and that my parents aren’t going to go all Mommy Dearest on me. He reassures her that he’s fairly positive it’s not like that but is aware there are tensions between me and my parents. She tells him if it ever does become that way to please bring me to her. He agrees and tells her he will call her within an hour. She smiles at him. I think the smitten thing is now going both ways. I’m glad, since Terrance’s daughter died he’s been alone, his wife divorcing him for another man years before.
I put the helmet back on and we are driving through the streets. I am feeling free on his scooter, wishing it were a real motorcycle. The wind in my face is freeing and I relish the ride knowing that my very freedom is at stake. I tell Terrance to drop me off a street away so Marcel and Julianna don’t see him. He doesn’t need that grief and I don’t need to explain what I’m doing with an older Caribbean man. He agrees but makes me promise if things get to rough to call him right away he will confront the wardens. I promise him and tell him to save a slice for me whenever my dad decides to unground me. He winks and drives away.
On the short walk back home I see the house. All the lights are on and the front door is open. Marcel is pacing frantically and Julianna is trying to calm him down. I sneak behind the house and climb the big tree outside my bedroom window reaching across the branch to the frame of it. I enter in the window butt first and when I turn around he is there. Fire is lighting in his golden eyes making them shine brightly; this is not a good sign. He is staring at me waiting for me to speak. Julianna enters into the room and screams at the sight of my dress and me. Dad orders her out. Another bad sign. She is screaming in French about the dress and what the hell had gotten into me as she leaves. I put on my defiant face and dig in my heels. Marcel finally speaks.
“Of all the dumbass things you have done! I cannot wait to hear this explanation young lady!” He pauses. I say nothing. We stare at each other for a few seconds. In truth I am trying to formulate a decent lie and I know he knows it but he will never be able to confirm it’s a lie. I finally speak.
“I told you I didn’t want to be forced into going to that stupid ball! You didn’t listen to me, like you never listen to me!” I’m on a roll; I’ll use the screaming teenage girl routine on him. “You don’t care about me neither of you do! She just wants me to be her! Well guess what? I’m not and never will be! And wouldn’t want to be! I gave up stuck up snobbery for lent!” Whoa! even I surprised myself on that one. I am shocked when he answers in a calm voice.
“That’s all fine and dandy Danielle but it doesn’t explain where you were or how your dress got to this state, not to mention your hair!” It’s a ploy. He’s not buying the screaming teenage girl routine. I try a different tactic.
“I just wanted to see if either of you even noticed if I had left! Seeing as how you both are way too busy to be bothered half the time!” I start with the crocodile tears.
He’s not moved. “Well if it’s our time you want then by all means your mother and I will be very happy to spend a lot of quality time with you. Starting tomorrow in fact! You will be your mother’s little helper around the house and I will be more than happy to make sure you are not deprived of my attention when we clean out the gutters and garage.” Oh crap! Well that backfired and grandmere is not going to be back from Atlanta for another two weeks. He continues. “Now that that is settled I’m still waiting to hear where you were.” I’m running out of ploys, I can’t tell this man that I’m psychic and talk to dead people, that I was delivering jewelry box to a heartbroken widow. They will have me committed! Only grandmere would understand. I come up with the best thing I can think of on the fly.
“I was meeting my boyfriend. He picked me up in his motorcycle down the street, that’s why my hair is messed up. I’ve got helmet head.” I look down at my feet. I hear my mother reenter my room. I think I just succeeded in killing them both. They should be dropping dead at any moment. Instead their mouths are wide open and they’re staring at me. Well at least it shut them up. My brain is pleased with itself! Hell I should have thought of this sooner! Ha! A faint sound escapes my lips that resembles a snicker. Marcel is not buying it, Julianna is hovering over my father’s shoulder ready to cry.
“Julie, quit crying! She’s joking!” Marcel is glaring, damn why did I snicker out loud! “Fine you don’t want to say where you were then that’s OK, but don’t even think you are leaving this house anytime soon! And tomorrow that tree is coming down! Talk to your daughter damn it!” He addresses her as he leaves and mother comes over to me, she takes my face in her hands and sits me on the bed. Oh lord what fresh hell is this? My brain is frantic.
“I know your father thinks you were joking, but darling do you have a boyfriend and are you having sex? Do we need to talk?”
“Oh God mom! Really!” My face is flushed with embarrassment and anger. I’m sixteen years old and she’s just deciding its time to talk about the birds and the bees? “No, you don’t have to talk to me about that; grandmere has already had that talk with me a long time ago! Ugh!” I cross my arms and turn away from her. I can’t even look her in the face. How dare she decide this is the time for that just because I bring up an imaginary boyfriend. She is just as uncomfortable as I am I can tell. She gets up to leave and kisses me.
“If you do have any questions……”
“Grandmere has covered everything, will you please leave now, I’d like to enjoy my last few hours of freedom before I begin my prison sentence!”
“Danielle, be happy I had already talked him out of the belt! I’ll work on getting you an early pardon if you promise not to do anything like this again.”
I look at her dark hair and flawless white skin that has been sun kissed by the hot Louisiana summer sun. I wish I could have had her violet eyes. She really is stunning, people have compared her to a young Liz Taylor and I can see why. I feel she means her words and I make a meek promise. She leaves and I finally get out of the destroyed dress and shoes. I brush out my hair and get ready for bed. Laying in the dark I am awake but dreaming of boyfriends with leather jackets on motorcycles.