Dark Memories (The Phantom Diaries, #2) (5 page)

BOOK: Dark Memories (The Phantom Diaries, #2)
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I hid my elation. Of course a visit to Annette’s home town was in order, and Christmas gave me the convenient and perfect reasoning to talk Kristine into it.

“This is more than magical, Eric.” Kristine pulled the blanket up over her shoulders. “I’m deliriously happy. Your New York is indeed something to behold.”

“Happy and cold?”
I said with a chuckle.

“The chill is penetrating,” she admitted.

“Perhaps a week in the warm bayou would be better,” I suggested.

“What bayou?”


New Orleans
.”


New Orleans
?
 
What could I possibly want to do there?”

She tensed and I feared she’d see through me.

“It’s Christmas, Kristine.
 
Annette’s family is expecting her for the holidays.
 
You have a final show tonight and you're off for the week.”

“Speaking of… I should be at the opera house in no more than an hour. I don’t want to be late.”

“I’m happy to see how conscientious you are.”

“Darling, I’ve been waiting a hundred years to return to the stage. Nothing will keep me from making my spectacular debut at the Met.”

Now was not the time to worry about the quality of performance I feared she’d provide.
“And the holidays?”
I ventured.

“Annette is an adult living in a big and exciting city. They’ll understand that she has more interesting things to do than sit with
Maman
and
Papa
. I’ll give them a call, wish them a
Joyeux Noel
and say she… I… can’t make it.”
 
Her hand suddenly fluttered awkwardly a moment then fell still.

“As you wish,” I bluffed. “But be prepared to face her parents when they come here to see you.”

“They have no business here,” she argued.

“Their daughter is here, Kristine. Do you really think they’re going to buy a story about her not being able to return home for the Christmas holidays? If you really want to fill Annette’s shoes and not have everyone suspecting something is wrong with her, you’d better fill her shoes right. Or be prepared to answer to a lot of questions.”

She huffed and stared straight ahead.
 
Though her chin held a defiant tilt, I knew I had won. She didn’t want to risk being found out.

That night, after a performance that left her cast members gazing curiously at her and a full house somewhat underwhelmed, I guided her back to my home.

“I’m ecstatic. I’m absolutely euphoric.
 
That was just the most splendid thing in the world, Eric.” She fluttered across the floor, still high on the applause of the crowd.

“I’m going to go prepare us each a bag.”

“What for?”

“I told you, Kristine. We’re going to New Orleans.”

“Oh, you're being such a bore, Eric.”
 
She came up to me, her nose barely an inch from mine, and draped a lazy and confident arm around my neck.
 
“You have the hottest, most sultry opera diva in all of
New York
here at your disposal and all you want to do is run off to meet the parents.”

“It’s for your own good, Kristine.” I backed away and headed to my bedroom to pack our bags.

Slow, languid and meant to please, she tiptoed around me and sprawled out on the bed.
 
Beaming, her smile still held the triumph of her first night on stage. Completely unaware of the remarks and comments her performance had incurred, she floated on a cloud of pure exaltation.

“You're overreacting,
Mon amour
.” She brought her index finger to her lips and bit into it as one would a rose stem.

Satisfied with the contents of her bag, I yanked on the zipper and set it on the floor.
 
“Look, Kristine, I didn’t want to have to do this, but…”

Her gaze was suddenly alert.

“Your performance was wonderful…”

“How sweet of you to say, Eric.”

“For a first night’s performance.”

“What are you saying?” Her brow furrowed and her lips lost their sultry pout.

“Annette has brought her portrayal of Adelle to perfection.
Every note, every intonation, every breath.
That is what people have come to expect of her.”

Kristine gazed sidelong into nothingness before returning her skeptical gaze to me.

“People are already asking questions.
 
The change you’ve brought about is too sudden; too drastic. Staying here now… not only will Annette’s parents suspect something is up, but so will Annette’s friends and cast members here in
New York
.”

She rose suddenly and grabbed the bag off the floor. “Fine,” she blurted out.
 
“Let’s go then and get this sickly sweet homecoming out of the way.”

*****

 

Our late night flight had us arriving in New Orleans in the wee hours of the morning where we found a hotel to sleep for a few hours.

I sat sipping a tasteless coffee for half an hour before Kristine stirred.
 
The heavy drapes were open and the sun did its part to bring her to complete wakefulness.

“I don’t know why we simply couldn’t get a flight this morning,” she complained, rubbing the grogginess from her eyes.

“I’ve brought up a few things you can choose from for breakfast.” I gestured towards the dresser where I’d laid out a few muffins, some buttered toasts, a croissant, orange juice and coffee.

“You outdid yourself,
Mon amour
.”
 
She pushed the thin hotel comforter off her and headed to the makeshift buffet.

Wearing only a t-shirt
long
enough to cover her torso, but not quite long enough to cover her buttocks, she offered me a glimpse of her white cotton underpants.

I clucked and forced my gaze to return to my dreary coffee. Unlike Annette, Kristine was obviously unabashed with showing off her body. “We’ll go to the dress shop where Annette’s mother works.”
 

I dared a glance up at her in time to see her hand go for the muffin. Kristine met her gaze in the mirror and narrowed her eyes at Annette.
 
“What kind of breakfast is a muffin?” she whispered as she redirected her hand to the croissant.

Ripping off the tip of the croissant, she turned to pout at me.

Du beurre
?”

“There’s some in those little containers.”

She grabbed one, peeled back the plastic film and slathered a healthy dollop of butter on her croissant.

“Keep eating and you’ll play the part of Hannibal’s elephant.” I said with an amused chuckle.

Just as she was to take a bite, she dropped the croissant. In a fury, she spun to face the mirror.
 
“Bitch!”
 
She grabbed a muffin and threw it to the floor. “Well, you're not going to get a muffin, either.”

Tempted to laugh, I simply watched her antics, proud of the fight Annette was putting up. Kristine picked up a toast, gripped it tightly, slathered butter over what was already there, and took a huge bite.

“Where’s her mother’s shop?” I asked.

“How am I supposed to know?” she irately answered.

“Ask her.”

“Oh, seriously.
You're going too far, Eric.”

“Would you prefer we roam the streets aimlessly?”

She emptied a small container of marmalade on the over-buttered toast.

“Will you just ask Annette? Then hop in the shower so that we can get on with this.”

After shoving the rest of the toast in her mouth, she licked butter and marmalade off her fingers and walked to the bathroom.
 
With a flair for drama, she threw off her t-shirt and entered the shower without closing the bathroom door.

Moments later she emerged wet, freshly fragrant and barely conceal behind the thinning hotel towel. Leaving a trail of water droplets behind her, she went to her bag and rummaged through the contents. With disgruntled huffs, she discarded a series of garments, allowing them to pile up on the bed.

“Did you pack every dull article of clothing this nit of a girl has, or is all her clothing truly this dull?”

“We’re here to visit her parents, Kristine, not seduce all of
Louisiana
.”


Quelle Dommage
.” Foregoing all decency, she released the towel and let it fall to the ground.

Only my respect for Annette forced me to avert my gaze.
 
As I busied myself putting away my toiletries, I heard Kristine snicker.

“Really, Eric.
Why the puritan?”

Ignoring her, I carried our bags out to the rented car and waited for her.

“So let me see,” Kristine pondered as she got in beside me. “If my cousin Beatrice had Arthur and Thomas, Thomas had Victor, Hugh and Colette, Collette had seven children including Pauline and Pauline had Michelle who is Annette’s
mother, that
makes Annette…” She turned to flash me a mischievous grin. “That makes her virtually nothing to me.”

I wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince me or herself of the distance in her relation to Annette. For the first time that I could recall, she seemed nervous and on edge. Was this meeting with Michelle that intimidating?

I pulled up in front of the dress shop that was just outside the French Quarter and watched Kristine’s reaction. Her eyes lit up with excitement while her lips remained caught in the uncertain grip of her teeth.

“Ready?” I got out before she could respond.

Getting out of the car was a dramatic affair and she drew it out as long as she could.
 
However, once we entered the shop and Michelle came into view, it was clear Annette had the upper hand.


Maman
!” she exclaimed as she threw herself into her mother’s arms.

As the older woman reveled in her daughter’s presence, I saw the perplexed expression that took over Kristine.

Having met Kristine’s mother only once, and briefly, I was able to see the startling resemblance between the women.
Surely the sight of Michelle had a profound effect on Kristine.

“Let me look at you,
ma belle
,” Michelle cooed. She pushed Annette’s hair behind her ears and gazed lovingly at her.
“Even more beautiful than on your last visit.”

Kristine remained slightly aloof and standoffish, and for a moment I thought she would give herself away, but a tear formed in her eye and slowly streaked its way down her cheek. She brought a hand to Michelle’s cheek, cupped it gently and stared for a long moment.

Je t
’aime, Maman
.”

“Oh, sweetie.
I love you, too. And I’m so happy to see you made it home.” She hugged her once again before acknowledging me with a quizzical nod.


Bonjour
,” I said.

BOOK: Dark Memories (The Phantom Diaries, #2)
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