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Authors: Linda Kepner

Tags: #romance, #historical

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BOOK: Second Chance Sister
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He smiled and admitted, “It was my childhood room, although the furniture has changed and my childhood things are long gone. Bettina and Madeleine refurnished it — while I was away.”

“Really?” She looked up into his face in wonder. “They kept the house up?”

“For me. Yes, they did. And reported to Etien and Denise, and went on half-wages until I returned.”

“What loyalty!”

“When I returned — it was the only thing that made me weep. Them, too, I admit.” He nuzzled and kissed her, and added, “Do you know, I went downstairs to the kitchen yesterday — just to refill my coffee cup — and Bettina was sitting at the kitchen table, weeping. I was alarmed. I gave her my handkerchief and asked her why she cried. She said, ‘Oh, Monsieur, I heard you singing.’ I asked, ‘Was I that bad?’ and she answered, ‘No, it’s that you never sang before Mademoiselle Bishou. Your heart is mending.’”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Bishou said softly.

Louis pulled her over to the bed, and sat on one edge with her, his arm around her waist. “Very good,” he said, in the same soft tone. “We will have this room, and this bed. The moon will shine in our balcony window, and in the morning, we will see the roads and the fields all the way to Saint-Denis.
D’accord
?”


D’accord.

Then Louis drove her and her packages back to the pension. “Not this much longer, ma Bishou,” he said, as he kissed her at the door. “Then we just go upstairs.”

“Soon,” she promised. “
Bonne nuit.

One last kiss. “
Bonne nuit.

Bishou went inside. She heard the car drive off. It seemed harder tonight to leave him, somehow.


Bonjour
, Mademoiselle Bishou,” said Joseph cheerfully. “I was waiting until you came in to bar the door.”

“I am glad you knew I would be back,” said Bishou. “It was very difficult to leave him tonight.”

Joseph smiled at her. “He is a lucky man, mademoiselle.”

“You are very kind.”

“You sound sad. No homework tonight, mademoiselle,” Joseph advised. “Sleep instead.”

“You may be right, Joseph.
Bonne nuit
.”


Bonne nuit
, mademoiselle.”

She climbed the stairs to her room, washed up, changed her clothes, and called it a night.

Chapter 4

Tuesday. She heard the deep horn of the ferry. For a few minutes, she lay in bed, feeling the longing. It would be nice to be able to touch him, to say, “Wake up, let’s start our day.” And she hadn’t heard from Bat, either.
Well, do things that are within your control, Bishou,
she told herself.
Order your flowers, get your wedding dress finished, finish your lecture notes, see about your hair. And what else to while away your time?

“Mademoiselle Eliane, may I use your telephone?”

She dialed a number from her notebook, and heard, “Campard residence.”

“May I speak to
Mme.
Campard? This is Bishou Howard.”

“Oui,
Professeur
, un moment.” The receiver jiggled; a voice murmured in the background. Then a new voice came on the line.


Allo
, Bishou! Denise Campard
ici
.”

“Denise, may I invite myself to lunch with you? I feel like I haven’t seen you in weeks.”

“Oh, I’d love it! But here’s what we will do instead. This is my day to volunteer at the library. Then we’ll meet for lunch at Chez Ma Tante, the little café next to it, and I’ll treat you. Is that all right?”

“That’s a wonderful idea,” said Bishou.

“Are you spending too much time with your own thoughts?”

“That’s it, exactly.”

“Well, come to the library, then, and help me mend books. We can always use an extra hand. I volunteer at the main library on Mango Street.”

“That’s the best idea I’ve heard in days.”

Denise laughed. “The library is open in the afternoon and evening, and we volunteers work in it mornings. Come to the front door and ring the bell. We’ll keep an eye out for you. I’ll be there in about half an hour.”

“All right, I’ll see you then.” After she hung up the phone, she asked Eliane, “Where’s Mango Street?”

“Six or seven blocks straight uphill. Are you going to the public library? Go up from here, then make a left at the Mango Street sign. You’ll see a little café nearby, too, Chez Ma Tante.” That jibed with what Denise had said. “The library is a nice little place — not like the university library, of course — but a comfortable place to read a magazine or a mystery book. I go there sometimes, myself.”

Her directions were good, and Bishou was satisfied with the uphill exercise. She had spent too much time sitting around. The public library was a nondescript building, sand and stucco and cement, but the doors were clearly marked and she found the doorbell easily enough. She saw the shadowy outline of a slim woman with glasses, walking swiftly to the door, unquestionably Denise’s silhouette. The door opened before she rang, and Denise Campard ushered her inside.

Denise took Bishou to a back room, where something like a quilting bee was going on — only it was a bookmending bee, with six women industriously gluing and taping.

“Girls, this is my friend Bishou,” said Denise. The ladies responded with a chorus of hellos.

“New to town, Bishou?” asked one.

“Yes,” Bishou replied. Denise merely smiled, pushed up her spectacles, and showed Bishou some bookmending basics.

Bishou worked with tape, glue, spacing sticks, and other tools, and listened to the conversation. One woman had just had a baby. Another had a grandchild who had just begun to walk. Another woman was training a new dog. The conversations were mellow and unimportant, interspersed with questions about how to best save the cover of this book or a signature in that one. Bishou felt herself relax. She met Denise’s gaze, and saw her smile.

In a low voice, Denise asked, “How have things gone?”

“Busy but productive,” Bishou answered. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”

“I can imagine. Etien told me about meeting you at the University. He would have felt silly if you hadn’t taken it so well.”

“You married a wonderful man,” said Bishou.

“And you are going to,” Denise replied, in an undertone, patting her hand.

One of the ladies saw the gesture, and laughed. “You are one of Denise’s lost souls, aren’t you, Bishou? Any time anyone has a problem, Denise says, come in here and mend books, it will make you feel better.”

Bishou gave her a big smile. “That’s it, exactly. I feel like I owe Denise a lot, so what’s a little glue for repayment?”

The girls laughed. Another woman marched into the back room and said, “Good morning, ladies!”

“Good morning, Madame Cantrell.”

Her gaze fell on Bishou, and she said loudly, “Ah! We have a new volunteer this morning! Welcome! And you are?”

“Madame, allow me to introduce my friend, Bishou.”

“Bishou, eh? Do you have a last name, Bishou?”


Oui, madame
,” said Bishou, and concentrated on the book she was mending, somehow omitting to mention it.

Denise merely giggled. “Come on, Bishou, you’re teasing Madame. I know you better than that.”

Bishou looked up at the matron, and smiled slightly. She certainly wouldn’t embarrass Denise Campard, or call her a liar. “I do, madame. It’s Howard.”

“Howard, eh?” the woman said, equally loudly. “Where have I — ah! I know. The university sent out an announcement about a lecture open to the public that is being given by a Docteur Howard. Any relation to you?”

“Yes, I’m related,” Bishou replied. She saw Denise clamp her lips tightly to keep from laughing.

“So we’ll see you at the lecture?”

“Definitely,” Bishou replied.

“‘The Bible as Literature.’ Sounds a little agnostic, but who knows. My husband and I will certainly be there. We do everything we can to support art and culture in Saint-Denis. Does your husband, as well?”

“My husband can take it or leave it,” Bishou replied. “Sometimes I must coax him a little.”

In a stage whisper, with a great wink,
Mme.
Cantrell boomed, “Mine too. See you at the lecture.”

Denise bent down under the table, ostensibly to pick up something from her purse, until the great woman proceeded out the door. Then Bishou turned to Denise and whispered, “Who the hell was that?”

“Chairwoman of the Library Society,” said Denise, collapsing in silent laughter. “Stopping by to see how we are doing. Come on, I’ve got to get you out of here while I can still walk.”

“I’m really sorry,” Bishou said, as they seated themselves at an outside café table. “I didn’t mean to make a scene among your friends.”

“You didn’t,” said Denise gleefully. “They’ll have caught on by next week. Bishou, I love you dearly.”

“Good. It makes it easier for me to ask you to be my bridesmaid.”

“Gladly.” Denise didn’t seem surprised. “I wondered if you were hesitating just because I was present the first time.”

“You mean Carola, pretending to be Celie Bourjois?”

“Oui, Carola the false bride. Do you have a particular dress in mind for me?”

“Non. Have you got a blue dress?”

“Yes. Any particular shade of blue?”

“No, not really. Just blue. And be there. It’s all I ask.”

“I’m glad you’re not picky. And when is your family coming? Will you need a guest room for them?”

“I think not. Louis says they’ll stay at the house, with us. But my younger brothers must be about the same age as your boys. I hope they’ll spend time together.”

“That will be good. We’ll invite them over. This is so exciting, Bishou. Excuse me for saying it — a
real
Madame Dessant.” She reached out and clasped Bishou’s hand. “How is Louis taking all this?”

“It’s been a little difficult for him, but he’s happy.”

“Difficult how?”

Bishou told her about the trip to the church, and a little about their talks in the dark and on the coast road. “He is trying very hard not to let old ghosts spoil anything for him, but every once in a while, we unwittingly conjure one up.”

“I know,” said Denise. “Louis never told us everything Carola did to him, or what happened in the prisons, no more than he tells you. He keeps many things in his heart. We’ve always had him over for Friday night dinner — some weeks are good, some are not. But, you know, the boys love him, and so do we.”

“Does it bother you — ” Bishou struggled for the words and found none, “ — if the boys don’t inherit from him?” Shy Etien Campard was Louis’ oldest friend, school chum, and (as much as he hated managing the company) business partner. He had stood by Louis through all his tough times, as staunchly as any brother. Louis, an only child, a lonely widower, was immensely grateful for Etien’s friendship.

“Pardon?” Denise stared at her.

“Does it — ” Bishou repeated, and then stopped in surprise. “Am I telling you something you don’t know, Denise? I don’t mean to be a cow about this.”
Quelle vache
, she thought,
Denise doesn’t know.


Inherit
from him?” Denise repeated in shock.

“Oui. His will states that if he dies without issue, his share of Dessant Cigarettes goes to Jean-Luc and Pierrot Campard, equally.”

“Sacré Nom,” mild-mannered Denise swore wholeheartedly, “I certainly hope you plan to have children. We have already spent our ten years in hell.”

“Louis said that was how Etien felt about it, but I wanted to make sure.”

“He got that right,” Denise affirmed. “Oh mon Dieu, Bishou, you don’t know what it was like. Running the business, and fighting blight, Louis on the run with Carola, her suicide, and his arrest. And then prison. There seemed to be no hope. I thought Etien’s heart would break. And I was so helpless.
We
were so helpless.”

“I understand,” said Bishou.

“I’m so glad you do. There are plenty of other women who would say, ‘It is just business. My husband will handle it.’ That simply isn’t true. When I heard that Louis sent you to fetch Claire, to help him out, I wanted to shout for joy. It is not only that you helped him. It is that he reached out for your help.”

“He never thought twice about it. It was work, his business,” said Bishou.


Hein
? Do you think he would have sent
me
running off to the factory to send a cable? Or even Carola? And expect the task to be accomplished with no problems?” Again, she gripped Bishou’s hand. “It’s only you, Bishou, who could do that. You don’t let him down. He trusts you. And that’s a lot to say, for someone who’s been through everything he has.”

“Denise,” Bishou protested, but her heart wasn’t in it, “he’s perfectly capable.”

“You know what I mean. He’s coming back from whatever terrible place he was.”

“I think you’re right,” said Bishou.

• • •

Bishou eyed herself uncertainly in the mirror, in the privacy of her own room. This underwear was certainly sexy, lacy, and revealing. No one else would know what was underneath her academic skirt and blouse but her. Still, it was not what she usually wore. She reminded herself that the blue dress would be required after the lecture, and her ordinary bra and panties might be too obvious, and might show through the fabric. And two sets of underwear, as well as the dress and two sets of shoes, was just too much to lug around. She was glad Louis was going to bring some things over for her and meet her in the parking area.

She caught the bus to the university stop, and hopped off at her destination. Inside the gates, she checked the campus bulletin board. There it was: “‘The Bible as Literature,’ Lecture by Professorial Candidate Docteur Bishou Howard. Wednesday, 1900 heures, Morison Lecture Hall 59.” Hm. Any sign that she was female? Nope. Ah, well. That would change quick enough. This was, in its way, a job interview, and she was up for it.

She had checked, UFOI did not require academic garb while teaching. That was probably because it started out with an emphasis on science. If anything, scientists wore lab coats, not their academic robes, while lecturing. She was good in a white blouse with a black skirt and sensible pumps.

And, of course, academic attitude.

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