Authors: Linda Kepner
Tags: #romance, #historical
“You could be right,” said Bat.
Again, Louis stroked her hair. “I was — how to say it — badly burnt.
Une vierge trahisée.
” A virgin betrayed. So he knew that.
“Tough thing for a man to say,” said Bat.
“Tough thing to live,” Louis returned.
“Did you ever think about ending it, yourself?” Only Bat would dare ask.
“Oui, I did. But I think I have never completely given up hope. My dark days, I said, ‘There must be more than this.’”
“I’m glad,” said Bat. “That augurs good things for the future. Bishou could tell you of the miserable Viet vets washed up on our doorstep, asking for me, saying isn’t there more than this, Sergeant-Major, I need something. Like me, she has always welcomed them with open arms. If they are asking, there is hope. The hopeless ones stay home and eventually kill themselves.”
“I do understand, Bat. And you understand that there is a place here for you, too, and the boys. You now have a home on each side of the world.” His weight shifted; apparently he and Bat had reached out and shaken hands.
Bishou shifted and moaned slightly. She sat up. “Mmph. I fell asleep.”
“You must have needed it,
,” said Louis fondly. “You have had a busy day.” He held her as she once held him, long ago in Virginia, half-asleep. He drew her against his body and reached for a cup. “Here. This tea is cool enough now.” She sipped from the cup he held to her lips. “Still sleepy,
. I must go to bed.”
“I will take you back to the pension.”
Bishou sighed. “I might sleep until noon, now that the pressure is off.”
Bat chuckled. “I’ll bet you’ll wake with the nine o’clock ferry.”
“I always do,” she admitted.
“I am the one who will be too excited to sleep,” said Louis. “Even the boys with their
, they will pass out. They won’t spend a restless night.”
“We’ll think up something to do tomorrow,” Bat told him.
“Brother,” Bishou threatened, “you will
bring him to church on Friday morning, hung over. I will kick your ass from here to Paris if you do.”
“No, ma’am,” said Bat. Louis grinned. “We’ll phone and leave a message what we’re doing, once we get a plan. I’m thinking, a whole ocean, we ought to get out on it.”
“Again, I remind you that alcohol and water don’t mix, no more here than on a New England lake.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Bat lifted up a packet from the floor beside him. “By the way, this is for you. From our parents.” He handed it across.
Puzzled, Bishou gently untied the string and opened the packet. There were two envelopes, and a tissue-wrapped package that contained a yard of white lace. “Why, this is from Maman’s veil.”
“Yeah!” Bat was equally surprised. “It’s been in her bureau drawer for thirty years. Who would have thought she was saving it for her daughter’s wedding?” He watched her examining the envelopes. “A letter from each of them?”
“Yes. Both marked ‘Personal.’”
Bat smiled wryly. “And, I’ll bet, both full of advice.”
“Some of it good,” she agreed. “I’ll read them tonight.”
“Come.” Louis stood, and reached out a hand. “I’ll take you home.”
They were silent until they reached the pension. Louis shut off the engine, turned to her, and kissed her passionately. “This has been a good day,” he murmured in her ear. “It lacks only one thing — my wife in my bed. If your brother hadn’t been there, I think you might have stayed. Now we will never know, will we?”
She laughed quietly and kissed him again. “
Bonne nuit, mon amour
.” Another kiss. “Let me get your dress bag from the trunk — although it seems foolish, for in another day, it will come to my house anyway.”
“Then take it back with you,” she replied. “I had forgotten about it. There’s really nothing there I will need tomorrow.”
“You are certain?”
“I am certain.”
“All right.” He got out of the car, came around, and opened her door. They walked to the front door of the pension.
Joseph opened the door. “Ah,
, mademoiselle, monsieur. I was just locking up.”
“I’m here, Joseph.” She turned and kissed Louis one last time, then went inside.
Joseph smiled as he barred the door. “You look very nice tonight, mam’selle.”
, Joseph. It has been a long day.
, mam’selle. Sleep well.”
“Thank you, the same to you.” She went upstairs to her room, changed into her pajamas, and washed up.
She got out the letters her parents had sent, and opened Dad’s first.
“Ma chère Bishou,” he wrote, “Jean-Baptiste has told us a very little about the man you will marry. Of course I am anxious — my little girl! You have taken many dares, but they have all been here in North America. Now I am watching you move to Africa, to a land I am told is as close to paradise on earth as one might find. But these visions might be deceitful — one does not know until one lives it.
“Oh, mon enfant, it was so good to have you here for so long, taking care of the boys while your brother was in the military. But even then, I thought, perhaps hoped, that someday you would want children of your own. I already know that you will be a good wife and mother, because I have seen you with the boys. You are patient, loving, and kind.
“Jean-Baptiste has not told me much about Louis, except that he is indeed the Louis Dessant of the Dessant Cigarette family. He is wealthy and well-established. But I seem to recall there was some scandal in that family, so do be careful, ma cherie.
“My heart breaks to think that I might never see you again, but we live in hope. May God bless you and your good husband. With love, Dad.”
Maman’s letter was quite different.
“Chère Bishou, my little girl,” she wrote, “You are young and strong, and not as cynical as your brother Jean-Baptiste, so I worry for you. You willingly go to a man’s bed half a planet away, with no one to aid you if he should be cruel to you. I think Jean-Baptiste will stay long enough to make certain you are all right, but one never knows. If this man Louis is rich, he may also be intemperate and inconsiderate. Every man has only one way to show his love to a woman, he gives his body. Do not mistake love for physical passion! But if you give your soul to him, give also your body. To a man, that means so much more.
“I send my maman’s lace to you, so that it may continue down through the women of our family. I hope for your greatest happiness. Write us. With love, Maman.”
Maman certainly has her opinions on sex,
It’s lucky I wasn’t there to listen to an entire lecture on the topic — it would have been uncomfortable.
She wondered when the last time her parents had made love, and suspected it was a long time ago.
With that thought, Bishou went to bed.
In a way, Bat was right — Bishou woke up to the sound of the ferry’s horn. But then, she closed her eyes and fell asleep again.
She heard a
at her door, and hauled herself out of bed to open it. It was Eliane, amused at her disheveled guest. “Mademoiselle, you look exhausted.”
“What time is it?”
“Almost eleven.” The prim-looking elder sister held out a piece of paper. “I have a message from your brother Jean-Baptiste. He said to tell you the boys are at the Campards, and he and Louis were going to East Beach. The Ford is in front, if you want to use it today. You drive, I take it.”
Bishou stared. “Bat stopped here?”
Eliane nodded. “What a handsome young man, your brother, and so approachable! It was a pleasure to meet him.” Yes, Bat had captivated the hostesses.
“Is the car all right, in front?”
“Of course. Would you rather park it in back?”
“Yes, please. I don’t need it for this morning’s errands, probably not until after lunch.”
“Dress and wash up, then, and Joseph will show you the alley to our back area. There’s room to park it there.” Eliane left.
Bishou washed up, and tried to clear the cobwebs from her brain. She dressed, went downstairs, and found Joseph. He showed her the alley and directed her through it to the little back areaway. As was their custom, Bat had left the keys above the visor, but now she placed them in her pocket. She locked the car. It would now be out of sight and out of mind until she needed it later.
Bishou walked to Rue Marché, Market Street. Her first stop was the jeweler; next was the florist. She saved her most time-consuming errand for last.
The Sundress Shop was having a busy morning. There were visitors, buying casual clothes for their vacation on Réunion Island. Madame Ross nodded to her, and finished with her current customers. When they left the store,
Ross said, “Well, are you excited, Mademoiselle Bishou?”
“Very much. Is Ceci around?”
“Of course. Ceci!” Madame called to the back room. Ceci appeared, and nodded shyly at Bishou.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Bishou said apologetically. “But your hair is so much like mine — I wondered where you got it done.”
“Er — Mma Jo’s,” Cecil replied, “
mais nous sommes noires
.” But we’re black. “I straighten it, too.”
Ross was smiling. “Mademoiselle Bishou’s hair is naturally straight, but I can see what she means. She doesn’t want a permanent, or oil treatment, or anything usually done in a French hair salon, do you, Mademoiselle?”
“Yes, that’s it exactly. And, you see, I grew up with only brothers, and my mother has always been ill, so I haven’t had a lot of advice. And your hair is so nice.”
Ross explained to Bishou, “You must understand about Mama Josephine. She is hairdresser, sometimes barber, sometimes nurse midwife, whatever someone needs in her neighborhood.”
“She sounds like a good person to know,” said Bishou.
Ross’s smile grew wider. “Ceci, why don’t you take Bishou around to Mama Josephine’s? It’s a nice sunny day for a walk. Bishou can see her shop, and decide if it’s right for her.”
“Oui, Madame,” said Ceci doubtfully.
As they walked along the sidewalk, Bishou said to Ceci, “I’m sorry to embarrass you. And it must be an embarrassment, to be seen with a white woman.”
“Oh, non, mademoiselle, it’s nothing. This is La Réunion, you know. And besides, you are
“True,” Bishou agreed good-humoredly. “I am forgiven many mistakes because I am
and so I must not know any better.”
Ceci giggled. “And you never will, will you?”
“Not if I can help it,” Bishou concurred.
They were walking into a neighborhood that was obviously much darker than Rue Marché, but just as busy. “This is nice. These open-air markets remind me of Virginia, where I went to university.”
“Yes. When visited the coast, we always went to the open-air markets, my friends and I.” She thought fondly of Marie Norton, her friend and head resident of the EVU grad-school housing units, to whom she’d written a letter only yesterday.
Ceci led her to a building with a plate-glass window, through which Bishou could see the hoods and hoses of hair dryers. The front door was open. They stepped inside.
A well-endowed black woman spoke in French. “
? May I help you?” Then she saw Ceci. “Ah,
bonjour, ma petite
“Mma Jo, this is my friend Bishou. She said her hair is like mine. She wants to get it washed and trimmed.”
,” Bishou greeted her.
If Mama Jo was surprised to see a white customer enter her shop, she didn’t show it. “Come sit down and let me look at your hair and scalp.”
.” Bishou sat down in the chair indicated by Mama Jo. The hairdresser then sat near her, and combed her hair.
“Smooth. Not washed too often.”
“I hate washing my hair.”
“You keep your natural oils, then. Too many women wash them all away. You just wash and cut, eh?”
“Bishou grew up in a houseful of brothers,” said Ceci.
For the first time, Mama Jo chuckled. It was a warm sound. “And your heart brought you to Ceci, and Ceci brought you here. Let me see your hands.”
Bishou gave her both hands, which she examined carefully. “You tend to your skin, but not your nails. You eat food that is good for you, and you drink water, but not quite enough.”
“Ladies’ restrooms are often difficult to find.”
“Mmph. Is this pretty blue stone on an engagement ring?”
Mama Jo deduced, “Then you are the tobacco-man’s wife.”
Bishou admitted, “Oui, that’s me.”
“Little fool,” said Mama Jo, patting her hand, “you could have any beautician in the city, and she would come to your house.”
“I would rather not have an expensive beautician. I would rather have a good one. And I am not a tiny little blonde Frenchwoman, and never will be. So why should I pretend?”
Now, Mama Jo’s smile was wide. “And here is where the other girls come to make their skin whiter and their hair straighter.”
“That is the other girls, not me.”
“What does your man want?”
“My man wants someone to hold. He wants to be kissed and petted.”
“He wants a woman,” said Mama Jo.
“Oui, he wants a woman,” Bishou replied, wondering exactly where this conversation was leading.
Mama Jo made a decision. “Come. I’ll wash your hair, and trim it.”
Bishou flung her purse and shopping bag behind a chair and followed her to the sink. Mama Jo wrapped Bishou’s body in a neck-apron and tilted her back to wash her hair. The warm water made Bishou close her eyes and relax.
“You’re not wearing makeup,” said Mama Jo.
“I wanted to get my hair done,” Bishou answered.
“Many women would not dare be seen without
, especially Frenchwomen.”
Elle est Americaine
,” said Ceci, who waited nearby.
This startled Mama Jo. “
! And you found your way to me?”