Blue Autumn in the Bayou (Gumbo Love) (6 page)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

 

Reggie led him out to the gazebo. Before they could get out of the door, Trae called after them. “Hey, where are you taking my intended?”

“Don’t worry
, baby boy, this one only has eyes for you.”

“Well, I still have my eyes on you. Don’t keep her long.”

“If I didn’t know any better I would say my brother has the hots for you.” Travis opened the patio door and let Reggie out of the door ahead of him.

“I sure hope he does. I have it for him, that’s for sure.”

“I have to say I’m so happy for you. At first, I had my doubts, but you two managed to work this out like magic.” He squeezed her hand.

“I really love him, Travis. With all of my heart.”

“And he loves you.”

“I know, but that’s not why I asked you to come out and talk.” She sat on the bench just outside the patio door.

A nervous burst of energy caught him by surprise. Did she figure things out? The last thing he intended to do was lie to her. What had Autumn said to her if anything at all? he pondered. What she thought or said about him shouldn’t have mattered but it did.

“I saw your note to Autumn.”

Travis sat down next to her, and didn’t say anything at first. He brushed his hands down his face before he looked at her and thought for a few seconds about what to tell her. Autumn was her girl and Reggie was family. Family always came first. He draped his arm on the back of the bench. “Would you believe me if I told you I just wanted to talk to her about the wedding plans?”

Reggie looked at him thoughtfully before she replied. “No. So you may as well tell me the truth.”

Travis didn’t hesitate. “I like her, okay? And before you say anything, let me say I know that you two are really good friends and this could be bad if for some reason things don’t work out.”

“Well, I gu
ess I’ll just have to kill you.” She pretended to be serious but couldn’t hold the snicker behind her hand. “Okay maybe not that drastic, but I’ll tell you this, you don’t get very many good friends like her. I’ve already lost one of those.” Reggie touched his arm. This time her expression was serious.

Travis didn’t need an explanation for her comment. He knew just how delicate the situation was for Reggie. He intended to do his best to be the
greatest brother-in-law he could be. If that meant never learning about Autumn, so be it.

“I would not intentionally hurt you because that would mean I hurt my little brother.” His hand came down on hers. “I would like to get to know Autumn. Yet I’ll let it go if it means a rif
t in a relationship with you and Trae because of something I did.”

“Don’t be silly. I think she likes you, but don’t tell her I said that or I’ll
wring your neck. She just needs a little time to come around.”

Travis looked at her a long moment. Again he thought about why he hated commitments. When
things didn’t work out, or he was ready for something different, he had no problem moving on to something new. The volatile situation with pursuing even a relationship with Autumn meant some unwanted repercussions.

“Look
, I just like her, but I’m not sure I want to really get deeply involved.”

“That’s too bad. I won’t say it won’t happen for you because that’s what you’re looking for, but I will say tread lightly. Autumn don’t let people in her circle very easily and once you mess up
, you’re out for good. So don’t you dare mess up anything before my wedding day gets here or for sure I’ll be left with only one brother-in-law. In two weeks, I will have my day. After that, you two are on your own, got it?”

He
raised an eyebrow. “Got it, General Miles.” Reggie stood, placed a brief kiss on his face, and headed back into the house.

Travis
, on the other hand, sat and stared up at the evening sky for several minutes before taking a deep breath. He stood and went back into the house, descended the stairs, and went down to the basement to the makeshift studio he and Michael had built. He picked up the saxophone and pulled it to his mouth. He pressed his lips together, and the smooth melody filled the room as his fingers shifted up and down the keys. Eyes closed, he moved from one song to the next, allowing the velvety sounds to drug him into a fog, his mind full of images of the woman he couldn’t release. His spirit just wouldn’t let him.

* * * *

Autumn pulled into the parking area at the very far end of the almost vacant lot. She got out and dragged the large duffle bag from the trunk to the dock where Tempest would pick her up in exactly three minutes. And like clockwork, she spotted the ferry just off the shore. She smiled. As he neared, he, too, smiled like a hopeless idiot. “Little sister.” He drawled. The thick Cajun accent couldn’t be mistaken. No one else was on the ferry because the shuttle stopped running for the public more than two hours before. He made a special trip to pick up his baby sister.

Autumn leaped into her big brother’s arms and squeezed her arms around his neck. “Tempest
,” she called, breathless. “It’s been way too long.”

He picked her up and swung her around like when they
were kids. Growing up, they were very close. Both she and Tempest inherited the stark blue eyes from their grandmother Mer Drace. Only, Tempest did nothing to conceal his brilliant eyes. “Cher, you been gon’ too long, yay.” The thick Cajun accent was so distinct, his words almost sounded foreign to her. And because she hadn’t been home in a long while, Autumn lingered on the endearment her brother now bestowed on her.

“I know.” She held on to him a minute longer. “But I’m here now and we got a lot of catching up to do. By the way, how many hearts have you broken since I’ve been gone? Look at you, boy. If you weren’t my brother I just might snatch you up myself.”

He held both of her hands as he looked down at her. “You still got sass, peeshwank. We’re in for a treat.” He called her a little runt because she was so tiny when she was a kid. Even now, looking at her, she was too slim for his liking. But he remembered that she explained she was the perfect size for the very thing she loved most, dancing. “Mer Drace has been talking ’bout you comin’ most two weeks, now, beb.”

Tempest
’s revelation didn’t surprise her, especially since she really hadn’t told anyone she was coming home before Reggie’s wedding. She’d decided at the last minute to come early. And she didn’t know if she would get to come home at all because the plan was to head back to New York right after the wedding on Sunday. She knew her grandmother saw and understood things no one else did or believed.

“How is our Mer Drace?”
she asked.

Despite her apprehension about coming home
, it felt good to be back. She inhaled the mossy humid air. The smell and sight of bayou country brought back memories both good and bad. Still, it was comforting because it was what she knew best.

“Mer Drace is Mer Drace. She hasn’t changed in seventy years. You know she has been shuffling around here for two weeks trying to get all of your favorites together before you got here.”

Another revelation that didn’t surprise her, it was her grandmother’s way. She fussed over the tiniest of details. Everything had to be just right, especially when she wanted to make her family feel special. She loved her children. She especially loved her grandchildren. Their Uncle Damon didn’t have children. He lost his wife and both of his children years before and had never remarried or had any more children. He’d taken to her and Tempest.

“I have been pigging out like crazy since I’ve step foot back on Louisiana soil. I guess I’m going to have to work extra hard to keep from becoming a blimp by the time I leave here.”

“Sha, you need some meat on your bones.” Tempest sneered.

Autumn punched him in the arm. “Take that back.”

“Look, jest getting’ ya ready for da homecoming, peeshwank.” He picked up her duffle bag. “What do you have in here? A body?”

Autumn ignored him and climbed up the ramp to the ferry. Mer Drace was standing on the
rear porch when the ferry pulled into Grand Isle. Her eyes were as brilliant as the sky above them. Her aged skin was smooth and almost wrinkleless. She stood with both hands tucked away into the pockets of her cotton smock. Autumn’s heart raced when she captured her gaze. The familiarity was so overpowering that she had to pace her breathing. The tiny vein in her neck leaped.

She didn’t wait until the ferry stopped completely before she sprang across the dock and sprinted toward the age
-old house that had stood the test of time. She tenderly draped arms around her grandmother’s shoulders and held tight. “Mer Drace.” She closed her eyes and inhaled the familiar scent of lavender, the same fragrance Mer Drace had worn since Autumn was about ten years old.

“I miss
ed you, child, and I love you very much.”

“I love you too,
Mer Drace.” She pulled away just enough to capture her gaze.

“You still trying to hide behind those lens are you
, child? You haven’t been to see your old Mer Drace in a long while, why? You thought I would be upset with you?” Mer Drace’s questions rolled from her tongue without cease.

Autumn didn’t know which questions to answer first. Months extended into years in no time. Five years to be exact, that’s how long it’s been since she’d been home
, and at the time of her last visit she was home for only one day. Her mother had begged and pleaded with her to come home, especially during the holidays. She used her hectic schedule as an excuse for her absences during holidays and special events.

Mer Drace already knew what Autumn was going to say, she just wanted
Autumn to verbalize her thoughts in her presence. In all the years she stayed away, Mer Drace’s love for Autumn did not change. More than anyone else, she was just like her at her age. Mer Drace left and stayed away from Grand Isles for two years before she ran back home. She’d just discovered her gift, one she didn’t understand at first, and for the longest time thereafter, kept it a secret.

When Autumn first left,
she told her the story of how she went off to find her grandfather, Demarcus Grimillion. He’d been a foreigner, which was anyone not born in the parish. They married young but that wasn’t half the story. The ceremony had been performed by a man they later found out was not a constable. To top it all off, they had married without approval.

In those days, a man had to get permission from the bride’s family to get the marriage blessed. To Drace’s disgrace she’d slept
with and had her two children by the man, only to later find out that they weren’t even married. The shame it cast on her and her mother was almost as bad as the curse of Mer Drace’s own birth; another story in itself.

“Mer Drace, it’s just been easier to not come back. You know this already.” Autumn glided her hands down her grandmother’s arms and firmly squeezed her hands. “I’m here now and I’m so happy to be here with you. I love you very much
, too.”

Mer Drace touched the side of her face. “My sweet Autumn, unlike your old
Maw maw, I see good things for you.” She smiled up at Autumn.

“I sure hope so. We have a few days to catch you up on everything going on.”

“Child, I already know what’s going on.” She turned and headed back into the house. “But you go right on ahead and tell me all you want. Come on, I got your favorite in the warmer waiting on you. Maybe you can tell me about your young man.”

Autumn frowned as she followed her grandmother through the door. “What young man?” Her heart skipped several beats. Heat rose up her face and the muscles in her neck suddenly thickened
, cutting off vital air supply. Autumn’s eyes remained focused on Mer Drace’s back. The old lady didn’t slow her pace or look back at her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8

 

 

Realization dawned on Autumn. This was Mer Drace, the one person she couldn’t hide what was really in her heart. What now? A million things crashed in her head. She didn’t stop until she walked in to the kitchen. The savory crawfish etouffee competed with Autumn’s other senses, and somehow fell short of its usually tempting excitement. She watched her grandmother pull down one of the floral bowls she’d had for as long as Autumn could remember.

“I just finished icing the cake, so you’re going to have to wait until it hardens before we cut it.” Mer Drace broke into her reverie.

“Excuse me.” Autumn frowned even harder. She gazed over at her Mer Drace; as lines dressed her forehead like pleats.

Mer Drace ignored the panic she saw in Autumn’s face. She could hear her granddaughter’s heartbeat in her ears. How, she could never explain. Not even
she understood the connection between them, but somehow, on the day this little girl was born weighing only two pounds with lungs barely developed, she bonded with her as if they were one and the same.

Autumn fidgeted and stared blankly out the window after Mer Drace asked about the young man she saw
Autumn with in her dream. No one knew or understood how Mer Drace was able to see things. Autumn believed she knew things about people’s secrets, and those who wanted to guard their secrets, stayed clear of her.

“My sweet child, you have
to discover on your own, how to resolve your fears. And if you don’t, you’re going to miss out on the tremendous blessings God has set for your path, for your own good.” Mer Drace knew that Autumn’s fragility made it hard to trust anyone enough to let them see who she was. A sweet and passionate woman like her deserved to experience love unconditionally. Still, no one, not even she could make peace with Autumn’s fears.

*
* * *

“Mr. Brooks, Mr. Euclid is here for your
two o’clock appointment.” Meagan’s voice ran crisp from the intercom.

Travis turned away from the open pane he’d been staring out of for almost a half hour. “Thanks, Me
agan. Take him to the boardroom and make him comfortable until I get there.” Travis walked back to the window and looked down at the crowd moving below his corner office. He closed his eyes briefly and took a calming breath. Curiosity got the best him, so he finally broke down the night before and asked Reggie about Autumn. After three days and no word from her, his worry turned to anger. He refused to play games with her. He needed another headache like he needed another hole in his head. So be it. He planned to do his part. He promised Trae to be on his best behavior for his wedding and that’s exactly what he’d planned to do.

He pushed his way through the large oak doors of the
boardroom and stuck out his hand. “Mr. Euclid, good afternoon, sir. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“No problem and please call me
Jacob.”

“Al
l right, Jacob. Let’s get down to business.”

Travis, like his father and his brothers, believed in taking care of business. Each one of them headed a separate division of the family
’s import/export company. Travis started working there first, even before he graduated from Louisiana State University. He’d always taken an interest in what his father did. Aside from Clem, Alvin had been the man he most wanted to be like.

Everything his father did,
Travis wanted to do as well. Well, not exactly everything. He still didn’t want to be tied down to a woman. And although he saw the goodness in a commitment, the happiness and satisfaction of being with someone who was always there when you needed them most, something about the concept didn’t sit well with him.

He’d tried dating exclusively. Things always managed to get complicated. After dating
for a while, the woman felt that it was time to move to the next logical step, marriage. She was ready, but seldom was he ready, and it made the relationship dicey to say the least. So he made the TK rule: no more than two to three dates before he cut a woman loose. He made sure to let them know up front he wasn’t into a commitment, that he just wanted to have a good time. 

So far
, his plan has worked. Most of the women accepted his terms. Those who didn’t, he left staring at his back. He enjoyed women like Savannah. She was beautiful, freaky, and easy to contact when and if he needed her. She came without questions and left without hassles. He liked his life as it was.

“Thank you very much for seeing me on such short notice.”
Jacob Euclid stood and stuck out his hand once he finished his pitch. “I promise you this will be a great business venture.”

Travis
shook Jacob’s hand. Jacob spent two hours bending his ear and Travis wanted to give him his undivided attention, but his thoughts were elsewhere. “Thank you, Jacob. We continue to look for opportunities to expand. I’m happy we were able to meet. I’m sure we’ll find mutual success.”

“Indeed
, we will. Have a great evening.”

“You too, and please make sure you fax those proposals. Meagan
, my assistant, will make sure you get the fax number and email address you need.”

* * * *

Travis looked down at his watch. “Meagan, I’m meeting my mom at West Pointe to take care of some unfinished business. Call me if you need anything, okay?”

“Yes, sir.
Oh, and Mr. Brooks, you still have to pick up your tux. You asked me to remind you.”

Travis turned briefly after several steps before he headed back to his office to retrieve the sales slip he left on his desk. “Thanks for the reminder, Me
agan. I need to do this today. Can you call and let them know I’ll drop by around five?”

“Sure thing.”

Everyone had picked up their tuxes except him and Trae’s best friend, Rykard. Rykard was arriving in a couple of days from Atlanta. His college buddy’s early arrival was a surprise. The last time Travis saw Rykard, he assured him that he would meet him in New Orleans to celebrate his friend’s rites of passage. A good, old-fashioned bachelor party was the tradition no man passed up before going into the institution of marriage.

Travis kissed his mother’s cheek. “Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, baby. How was your day? You look a little tired.”

And before she could finish
, Travis interrupted. “It’s just been a long week, Momma. Losing Clem took a lot out of me.” He knew she was gearing up to lecture him about his late nights, women chasing, and to ask him for the thousandth time when he planned to settle down. So to beat her to the punch, he hoped to keep the conversation on the business at hand, Clem’s estate.

“You don’t fool me, boy. I’ve been your mother all your life
, and I know what you’re trying to do.” Diane stuck a finger up at him.

“Mom, I still have to pick up my tux for next week. Can we talk about this later?” He folded the finger and her hand in his, brought it to his lips and pressed a brief kiss to it.

* * * *

Autumn stood at the rear door and looked out at the garden draped by huge fig and pecan trees. Rows and rows of fresh vegetables hung on the vines
, ready to be picked, in all shades and colors in the far right corner of the yard. She fought to control the nervous energy coursing through her veins. Her grandmother had hit a chord she couldn’t quite keep in tune with. She did all she could to guard her thoughts and somehow, Mer Drace got past it all.

Mer Drace moved around the spacious kitchen. Pans and tops rattled. She stepped up on a little stool and pulled down a dish from the very top shelf of a cabinet. The bowl was Autumn’s favorite since she was a child. To make sure no one else used it, she stuck it on a shelf and only pulled it down when Autumn was home. Just as she stepped down off the stool, Tempest entered the kitchen.

“Hi Maw maw,” he kissed her cheek. “Something smells great.”

“I have your favorite too. You go wash up and it’ll be ready when you’re done.”

“Yes ma’am.” He moved behind Autumn and wrapped his arms around her. “It’s good to have you home, darling.” He kissed her head and left to wash up.

Autumn welcomed the love her brother showed her. He’d always been that way. As children
, he’d been her protector. Even when he was too little to fight off the big guys who thought they could pull Autumn’s hair or touch her from behind. She closed her eyes to remember the time when their father showed up just as two guys were about to beat Tempest to a pulp.

Gator
, Autumn’s dad, was as tall as an oak tree, as strong as ox, and as ferocious as an alligator, hence the nickname that stuck with him. Just the sight of him made grown men run. Now Tempest was as tall and as wide as their father. He worked on one of the rigs and when he was inshore, he ran the ferry to and from the island, mostly for tours. While Tempest was offshore, their uncle took care of the ferry, which ran five to six times a day.

“Come
, child, Eat.” Her grandmother broke into her thoughts. Mer Drace didn’t say anything about the comment she’d made earlier. Tempest caught her up on the latest gossip. Some of it she’d already heard from Mona and Erica. They ate, talked, laughed, and then ate some more. 

Autumn and Tempest ate until they couldn’t stand another bite. “Oh my God, I’m stuffed.” Autumn leaned back into her chair.

“Well, I have to get back to the mainland. I’ll drop by home first. When should I tell momma you’re coming home?” he asked Autumn. Their mother, Maree, lived not very far from Mer Drace.

Autumn paused a minute. “I’ll come by sometime tomorrow. I want to spend a little time with Mer Drace.” She stood and began to clear the table. Mer Drace didn’t have a phone in her house. She always said if anyone needed to talk to her
, they needed to do it in person. Maree lost the battle time and time again, when she argued with her mother that having a phone would help in case she had an emergency. Nothing persuaded the old woman that a phone was necessary.

Mer Drace looked up at Autumn before turning toward Tempest. “Tell that girl of mine that I still don’t have my dress she was supposed to finish. I want to look nice for mass on Friday. All the attention is going to be on me and my beautiful granddaughter.” She smiled and patted Tempest on the cheek.

“Yes, Maw maw. Love you.” He kissed her and left the same way he’d come in.

Autumn thought once more that she’d gotten a reprieve from Mer Drace’s early conversation. No sooner
had Tempest closed the door behind him did the old lady move next to her. She placed her hand on Autumn’s arm, halting her from her dish-washing task. “Leave those be for now. You have much to tell me, little one.”

*
* * *

Travis cursed under his breath
and shifted from one side to the other as the tailor refitted his tux jacket.

“I apologize, Mr. Brooks.” The man fumbled with the pins, trying not to stick Travis. “We’ll make sure to get this right
, and we will personally deliver the jacket to your residence or your office by the end of the week.”

Travis sighed heavily. Frustrated by the news he
’d gotten from Reggie the night before seemingly set the tone for his entire day, and had not improved. Standing in front of a mirror being poked with pins was evidence of that fact.

The news from Clem’s lawyer earlier didn’t make matters any better. At the reading of the will, Clem’s instructions had both him and the lawyers perplexed, which added girth to his sour mood. His mother
, on the other hand, thought the prevision in Clem’s will was pure genius.

But Travis wasn’t the least bit impress
ed by what she considered a stroke of genius. For him, it seemed Clem had played a dirty trick on him. Just thinking about it made Travis’s blood boil. The poor tailor attempting to strategically pin his jacket, caught the brunt of his anger as Travis continued to curse at him.

Deep frowns continued as he contemplated what Clem
had been thinking when it came to his final request from him. No one else had previsions, not even his sorry-ass children. He wondered if his mom had something to do with it. From the look on her face, she was just as surprised. Only her surprise was accompanied by sheer delight.

Apparently, assets assigned to Travis were contingent on several things. First, a large portion of Travis’s inheritance was to go into a fund for his future family. “
What
?” Travis nearly cracked the lawyer’s desk in half when he pounded it. He stood up so fast the chair he’d occupied bolted over backwards.

Secondly, he would get all of Clem’s saxophones, music rights, and royalties on the condition that he signed a letter of intent to keep those things in the family, and to pas
s them down to his children. “Who says I’m having children?” He blasted. “I’m not even interested in marriage.”

“Calm down, Travis.” His mother attempted to keep the snicker out of her tone. “Sur
ely Uncle Clem meant well. Even if it’s not now, you still have time to make all those decisions.”

“The hell I do! I don’t need Clem’s money anyway. And I would love to have his instruments if nothing else, but I don’t have to have those either. You can donate them to a museum for all I care.” He stormed out of the office.

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