I did a double take of the scene, dropped my suitcase handle, and clasped both hands behind me so I wouldn't have to touch him. Why are you asking? He moved his outstretched hand back to his dress, smoothing out the skirt. I want to take you out. Get ready for dinner, because we're going to a fancy place. They even have a drive-up window. I didn't know what to say. It must've been a southern thing, with his accent, but I was surprised. He looked down and lifted some of the lace. Oh, this? It's just to get Clarence in the mood so he'll take a fancy to some of the girls.
He pointed toward my right. That there's my place and I raise alligators for a living. Your aunt and uncle sold off some of their land, and now it's mine. I collected myself, still staring at the veil.
How did he know I was related to the owners of the huge white plantation sitting in front of me? I had to answer him. Well, sir, I'm dating, so I can't go out with you, even to a place with a drive-up window. Why he'd think that was classy was still beyond me. With him as my neighbor, it was going to be an interesting summer, to say the least. Ditch the guy and go out with me anyway. His grin was as slimy as his alligator's fake smile. The door to the plantation flew open and an older black woman marched out, looking like she was on a mission. Her jaw clenched and her eyes narrowed, swinging her arms as she approached us.
Tim, don't you need to be somewhere with that animal? Yes, ma'am. He nodded toward her, winked at me, then turned and pulled on the leash. He and his alligator strolled across the property toward his home while I watched, still surprised at the scene. The older woman reached out and shook my hand. Welcome, Miss Allison. She wore a red handkerchief tied over her hair with a streaked brown and red apron covering her old blue dress. My name's Louise. I'm the caretaker of the kitchen here at the Lunviere Plantation. Missus Charmaine said to treat you right fine and we intend to do just that. I see you've already met one of our neighbors.
Yes, I did, I think. I looked up at the white plantation with the giant pillared porch, sitting on a few acres of manicured land. Various trees such as weeping willows covered in Spanish moss surrounded the huge place. It was a setting no one should ever miss in their lifetime. And to think, I got to play owner of this Louisiana plantation for a whole month. I'm sure Aunt Charmaine left me with instructions?
Louise checked her watch and turned back toward the plantation. Yes, and I'll give you the envelope at lunchtime, in three hours. She lifted her head and gasped aloud, taking a step backward, right in my eyesight. She studied the second floor as her mouth fell open and her eyes grew in size. While crossing herself, she said something in French and then looked up to the heavens and back to the house.
Is something wrong? I followed her eyes to see a curtain on the second floor move back to its natural place. What did you see? She leaned closer and whispered, pulling her rosary beads out of her apron pocket. The evil one. She moved the beads deftly through her fingers while whispering, then kissed the string.
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This woman was completely terrified of something. If I were Catholic, I'd be doing more than kissing them once, from the way she spoke.
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I'd be tying them around my neck with a huge hunk of garlic, because it almost sounded like she'd seen a vampire. Maybe Uncle Leonard had a psycho relative locked upstairs? It would certainly fit his side of the family. They were rather odd, trying to be something they weren't. A crazy relative wouldn't be tolerated because it would hurt his family name.
I had to know more. Evil one? Is someone upstairs who shouldn't be there? Like a crazy relative from Leonard's side of the family, maybe? It's Jean Lunviere, here to get his treasure back. Ever since that newspaper article… She stopped talking and covered her mouth. I've said too much. She grabbed one of my suitcases and ran inside the house. I lifted my other two suitcases and followed her, watching as she ran faster than a woman of her years should be able to move.
She dropped my suitcase by the staircase that swept up from the center of the downstairs, and then took off toward the back of the house, where I assumed the kitchen was located. While still holding onto my other two suitcases, I scanned the gorgeous downstairs, painted in light tones with fans swirling on each ceiling.
See a Problem?
My eyes drifted off toward the back of the house, where people spoke in French. It was a shame I'd never learned the language because it would've been nice to know if they were talking about me, or reciting voodoo chants or something. I'd been a history major in college and taught history back home in Philadelphia, but didn't know French.
Who was Jean Lunviere, anyway? That must be the nutso relative, since this was the Lunviere Plantation, passed down through the generations in Uncle Leonard's family. But Jean wanted his treasure back? What treasure? My cell phone rang, pulling me back to reality.
The Waste Land
I dropped my suitcases and yanked it out of my pocket. I rolled my eyes. Liz didn't believe it, but she was straight as an arrow. However, she thought it was cool to be gay, so she hit on every woman she could find. No, but I could bury it, I muttered. What are you doing?
Dead Men Don't Dust
I told you before that women weren't your thing. From the way you stare at hot men in the bars—. Get with the program, she said.
You know I'm just waiting for you to figure yourself out. At the Dish and Dive, the center of cultural hangouts, I deadpanned in a monotone while rolling my eyes. If I weren't your friend since we started elementary school, I'd so be beating you up right now. Anyway, Isabel's this sweet thing that happened into our bar. I bet. I looked up the stairs, thinking I'd heard something. I'm here in Louisiana, by the way. Is there something major that you called me about?
Good luck. Call me when she dumps you and you find a man. I ended the call and kept looking up the stairs.