Blue Autumn in the Bayou (Gumbo Love) (5 page)

She knew Reggie wasn’t fooled by her reply. She kept ungodly hours and hardly ever slept, and she knew Reggie knew this about her. She might have been tired, but she had a good idea that her friend also knew she struggled with the memories of a past that still haunted her. If anyone knew, it was Reggie who knew what a tragedy could do to the psyche, and what healing could do for a broken spirit. How she wished and prayed that one day she too would find the healing she desperately needed.

They hadn’t talked in such a long time
, especially since Reggie moved back to New Orleans. In that first year when they lived in New York together, it was like they were two of the same spirits. Both struggled to deal with tragedies that were no fault of their own. Autumn rarely came home. She was far worse than Reggie when it came to that commitment.

Autumn made excuses for why she couldn’t go home. She was either on tour, at the start of a new season, or attending public events; just name one and she used it as an excuse to stay as far
away from Louisiana as possible. And now, here she was, in the one place she’d avoided for five years.

*
* * *

Reggie
glanced over at Autumn. She wondered if being in New Orleans had spurred unwanted memories. She hadn’t really considered what coming back would do to Autumn when Reggie had asked her to be her maid of honor. She wouldn’t have asked anyone else to do it. Even Val, as much as Reggie loved her, would have been her second choice. Autumn surprised Reggie when she’d agreed to come home for three weeks; three whole weeks to be with her until the wedding. Reggie didn’t know how to repay her for the gesture, but she planned to figure something out.  She reached over and squeezed her arm, which summoned Autumn to look at her across the small dark space between them.

* * * *

Travis and his brothers cleaned up both the gazebo area and the basement kitchen before they all grabbed showers in their parents’ house. They headed to the club to meet up with the other guys. “Girl’s night means guy’s night as well.” Trae slapped his brother on the back.

“Man, you better get all the
guy’s nights you can right now, ’cause your tail won’t be able to do anything in two weeks.”

“And I will gladly do nothing
, my brother. Me and the pretty, little woman are going to stay cooped up in that house and make love until she’s bow-legged.”

“First of all, I can’t imagine loving so good that I’d be willing to do it with one woman
forever. And secondly, be cooped up with her in the same house?” Travis replied.

“Trust me when I tell you, when it happens to you, you’re going
to understand where I’m coming from.”

“Like hell I will. Right now all I’m interested in is which of these little honeys will have the pleasure of
my company.” He walked away from his brother and headed over to the bar where several beautiful women stood sipping something from tiny red straws.

After Travis walked away,
Trae stood and watched him, and eventually he shook his head when he saw one lady light up like a Christmas tree when his brother smiled down into her face. He looked forward to the day when one woman would rule his world. He planned to have a great time giving him hell for it. Trae then strolled over to the area where their frat brothers all sat.

“Trae! You made it man. Where’s Travis?”

Trae raised his drink in the general direction of where Travis had started his tour. “You know Travis. He’s making some poor girl’s life miserable right about now.”

“All I can say is that he’s going to catch hell when the right woman comes along and smack his tail
,” one of his frat brothers added.

“If I know my brother, that’s not going to happen, ever!”

* * * *

Once everyone was done with a pedicure and manicure, the ladies were ready for a little partying of their own. Reggie and Denise knew the most obvious place the boys would go to if they were hanging out
that night, and they wanted to make sure they didn’t go there. “I hope we’re not going to the French Quarter,” Erica complained.

“No, we’re not going to the Quarter. Too many tourists hang out there. We’re hanging out someplace else. Let
’s do this.” They all grabbed their bags, dolled up with flawlessly applied eyeliner and lipstick, and perfectly painted toes and fingers, and headed for Reggie’s SUV.

All eyes turned to the entrance the moment they
stepped into the club. Five beautiful women dressed to make even women turn their heads. “Can I buy you ladies a drink?” an older, handsome man offered. He was tall, fit, and well dressed. Of course Mona perked up really fast. He was right up her alley, all the things she looked for in a man.

Truth be told, the only reason Mona dealt with older men was because it was the only way she’d ever been able to get the things she wanted. She owned her own business, a venture she
’d purchased just before she’d moved to Lockport. She managed to get it started with the help of a man she’d dated for little over a year. Mona often complained that younger men didn’t have a clue. “All they want to do is play you, screw you, and take what little you might have. I don’t have time for that bull,” she told anyone who bothered to listen.

“Honey, we will gladly take your drink.” Mona walked over to the man and slipped her arm into his.

“Ah, no thank you. That’s awfully sweet of you, but we’ll pass.” Autumn and Reggie both grabbed at Mona. “Come on Missy, let’s go. We can buy our own drinks, thank you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER
6

 

 

Autumn’s feet hurt like hell. She and her friends must have dance
d to every song the DJ played. She groaned when she looked down and saw the purple line drawn across both of her feet. The cute sandals were not so cute right now. After a long look at her poor feet, she vowed to pitch them in the first trashcan she saw. Frowning down into the silver-plated receptacle in Reggie’s guest bathroom, Autumn shook her head. “Good riddance.” She denounced the discarded shoes. Eighty dollars sat in the bottom of a trashcan. “Oh well. It’s not the last time I’ll throw away money,” she mumbled and shuffled off to her bedroom.

“Are you talking to yourself, crazy lady?” Erica peeped into the room where Autumn sat on the edge of the bed.

“Look at these.” She lifted her aching feet.

“Girl
, those were some cute shoes, but dang. They did a number on those feet.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I definitely should have worn different shoes. I won’t be able to practice until I soak my feet. Whew, they hurt like hell!” She stood and limped toward Reggie’s room. Erica followed closely behind her. “What time are you guys headed home?”

“In a couple of hours,” Erica said. “When are you going home? I’ll make sure to be off so we can spend a little more one-on-one together. You think you’ll have time?”

“Sure.” She turned around and met Erica’s gaze. In all that she’d gone through in her life, Erica always found time for her. Aside from Reggie, she was the only other person who she talked to about her nightmares, about the days that haunted her even to this day. She touched Erica’s arm and smiled. Nothing could come between their friendships. They’d managed to remain friends all th
ose years. Men would come and go, but friends like her, Reggie, and Mona were hard to come by.

Just as that thought settled in her mind, Mona came dashing from one of the other rooms. “What are you two up to?”

“Quadroon here has ugly ducklings for feet.” Erica pointed down to Autumn’s feet. “We’re trying to find something so home girl can soak her dogs.”

“Dang
, girl, I tried to tell you last night you weren’t going to last in those shoes.”

“Yeah, and I should have listened. Whew, I’m in trouble if I can’t work out today. Look at this. I swear I’ve gained ten pounds since I’ve been here. Eating all of that food last night didn’t help.” She patted her flat stomach.

“Girl, please. There’s not an ounce of fat on your tail. Well, maybe there is a little too much on the tail.” Mona slapped Autumn’s butt and Autumn yelped.

“Quit it.”   

Reggie stuck her head out of her bedroom door. “You girls must play nice or I’ll have to put you in time-out.”

“We got your time-out alright. This one has bad feet and we don’t want to be the blame when she misses her practice.” Mona held up the quotation sign to put emphasis on the word practice.

They all entered Reggie’s spacious bedroom. “Let’s see what we got.” Reggie glanced down at Autumn’s feet. “Goodness, girlfriend, you’re a mess indeed. Let’s see what we can do for you, child.”

Autumn soaked her feet while the others fixed breakfast. They enjoyed each other until Erica stood. “We’ve got to kick this can down the road, ya’ll.”

They hugged one another. “I’ll see you guys in a couple of days.” Autumn hugged both friends. “I’m staying with Mer Drace.’

“Now
, you know your cell phone won’t work at your grandmother’s house. There isn’t a consistently working tower within thirty miles of the island.” Erica reminded her.

“That is not true, silly. I’ll call when I get settled. Tempest will pick me up.” Her brother owned a ferry that ran from the mainland up the Caminada Bay to the coastal town where they grew up. She could drive across the bridge that married the island to the mainland, but taking Tempest’s ferry would give her a little downtime with her brother.

“What day should we expect you? You know Mer Drace is a little cuckoo, right?” Mona sneered. Everyone knew Drace Grimillion, and everyone called her Mer Drace, even her children. Most people believed she could see things no one else could, and is why they called her the dreamer. She lived in the same house all her adult life. Storms had come and gone, had torn buildings to pieces, but not Mer Drace’s house. Tempest and Autumn’s uncle, Damon would board up the windows, but did nothing else to reinforce it. Her house was always left unscathed. She knew when someone was coming to visit her. No one seemed surprised when they arrived and she’d already laid out their favorite treat.

“Girl, quit talking about my grandmother. She knows when you talk about her, Mona.”

“I ain’t scared of your grandmother. The woman is ninety. She can’t catch me. So there.” Mona grinned like a little kid who just won a dare.

Mer Drace was
seventy-one, and she looked better, and had more energy than a woman or man thirty years younger. “She is not, Mona, and I bet you any money you wouldn’t say this to her face.”

“Now I’m crazy
, but I ain’t that damn crazy.” Mona stuck her hand on her hip. “I like Mer Drace and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her feelings.”

“You can’t hurt Mer Drace’s feelings, so save
, it little girl. You’re scared of a beat down,” Erica interjected. “Now, let’s get going. It’s a long drive back to Lockport.” Mona would drop her off in Raceland, where she lived, before she reached her own house in Lockport.

Once Erica and Mona were on their way, Reggie and Autumn settled in the family room to catch up. They hadn’t been alone since she arrived. Curled up on the leather couch with her feet tucked underneath her bottom, Autumn sipped herbal tea Reggie
had made before they settled in the cozy room. Reggie handed her a white envelope.

“What’s this?” She sat the cup down on a coaster before
she accepted the envelope from Reggie’s hand.

“It’s got your name on it. It was on top of the pan you put in the refrigerator last night.”

Autumn frowned. She didn’t remember putting an envelope on the pan of food last night. And then it dawned on her. Travis had given it to her the night before as they’d left his parents’ house. She looked at it for a moment, and turned it over. It was sealed, so no one knew what was in it.

“Well
, aren’t you going to open it? Aren’t you the least bit curious about what’s in it?” Reggie badgered her.

Autumn looked at the envelope
, and then at Reggie before she stuck her finger through a tiny slit and ripped the top open. She pulled out a single sheet, which was folded in half, from inside, paused, and then carefully unfolded the paper.

Please call me, we need to talk.

She scanned the note a second time. Maybe she missed something. The note included his request to call him, his phone number, and signature; nothing else. It was generic enough to mean they needed to talk about the plans for the wedding, but Autumn had the sneaky suspicion that Travis had something else on his agenda. At that moment, she planned to ignore his note.

“Well, what does it say?” Autumn handed the note to
Reggie, who looked at it, read it, and then looked up at Autumn. “So you two are going to work out your plans for next week?” She smiled.

Autumn stood and reached down for her cup before she
stomped off to the kitchen. “I don’t think your brother-in-law is interested in talking about wedding plans.” She looked back at Reggie.

Curious where the conversation was headed, Reggie followed her into the kitchen. “And exactly what is it you think he wants
?” She grinned from ear to ear.

Autumn rolled her eyes before turning to fill her cup with pre-made tea. “You know him better that I do
,” she replied without turning around.

Reggie nudged her from behind. “I know you better than I know him and I’ll say you’re just as interest
ed in Travis as he is in you.”

Autumn turned and faced Reggie. “Regina, you know I’m not getting involved with your brother-in-law or anyone else. I’m just not going to do it.”

“That’s crazy. Why not? He likes you, you like him…”

“You know exactly why.” Autumn headed back to the cozy sofa.

“That was eons ago, Autumn. Surely you deserve to be happy, be with someone who loves you. Even you admitted that you left home to find your own life, make your own destiny. Girl you’ve traveled to practically every nook of the world, and I’m certain you can find something underneath one of these rocks you’ve overturned, even if it’s Travis.”

“Truth is I
’m not sure that I trust myself to believe I can find what you and Trae have. I’m okay with where I am. It’s easier than fearing I’ll have to reveal myself to someone else.”

Reggie
’s mouth dropped and she glared wide-eye at her friend. “I don’t know many people who deserve this more than you. And as for Travis, he really is a nice guy. I just sometimes question his lack of discipline when it comes to relationships. Like you, I think he runs for cover so he won’t be hurt.”

“I don’t shy away from hurt, Reggie. You know I’ve lived
my share and some. I don’t know.” She paced in front of the mantel for a minute. “I just don’t want anything complicated, and getting into a relationship to me spells exactly that.”

“Listen
, open your heart just a little. You might be surprised by what you leave yourself open to. Besides, wouldn’t it be cool if we ended up friends and sisters-in-law?” A wide, toothy grin lit her face.

“Girl, you need your head examined. I’m not having this discussion anymore.” She plopped down on the sofa and picked up the photo album.

“Won’t you at least call him?”

“I’m not talking about this.” She set down the album and left Reggie staring at her back.

* * * *

Travis rolled out of bed just a little past
10:00 a.m. Mass started at eleven. He was a grown man, out of his mother’s house, but was still expected to be at church either on Saturday or Sunday. He missed mass the day before, and dreaded the conversation he would have with his mother if he didn’t get to the church this morning.

It hadn’t mattered that he
’d pulled up to his driveway at six thirty after hanging out with his brothers all night. He knew his brothers would be dragging too as they took seats at the very rear of the same church.

He stood under the cool water for several minutes
, and then reached for a plush towel to dry off. As he stood before the mirror shaving, his mind went back to Autumn. Days earlier, he’d bragged about how no woman would make him think twice about her.

Travis
realized that he’d lied. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why he was pursuing her. He admitted to the physical attraction. He liked her tall, toned body and beautiful, flawless face. Travis felt her tremble when he stood or leaned close to her. She would drop her gaze when he looked directly at her. He liked that too. “Damn!” he yelled. He dropped the razor into the granite sink and grabbed the wet face cloth to dab the blood spot on his chin.

When Travis slipped in
to the pew next to Michael, his middle brother leaned over and whispered, “What happened to you? You get in a fight between the club and here?” He snickered.

Travis poked him with his elbow. “How about a knot on your head?”

“You’re in church.”


Which is why you should be quiet and pay attention.”

After church they generally hung out together. However, today Travis had other plans
: sleep. He planned to be in the office bright and early on Monday morning, especially since he’d not been to work in more than a week. He left one of his general managers in charge while he helped his mother finalize arrangement for his great-uncle’s funeral and burial. Clem had left her as executor of his estates even though he had living children. Needless to say none of his children were happy with that arrangement.

Finally back at home,
Travis flipped opened the visor on his BlackBerry case and slid his thumb across the face of the phone. He scrolled down through his call history, checked his voice mail and text messages. Nothing. Autumn hadn’t called. His siblings gathered at their parent’s house for Sunday dinner from time to time, so he expected Reggie to show up and hopefully Autumn would be with her later in the evening. With that thought in mind, he stretched out across his unmade bed and fell into a mindless slumber.

Travis’s posture deflated a notch when he walked in the house and discovered that Autumn wasn’t with Reggie. He wanted to ask about her but decided not to bother. The less he involved others the better. She hadn’t called and
right then, she wasn’t there. He’d begun to think that maybe he was barking up the wrong tree. Something about his behavior must have alarmed Reggie because right after dinner she pulled at his arm. “Come on. Let’s take a walk.” Her eyes gleamed, the same expression she always had when she was up to something.

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