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Tall, Dark, and Cajun
By Sandra Hill
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2007 Sandra Hill
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen the thunder bolt hits, duck, baby, duck
"Happy birthday to you ..." Remy LeDeux's head shot up from the mug of "burnt roast," the thick Cajun coffee he'd been nursing at his galley table. Who came out to Bayou Black to visit him on his houseboat?
"Happy birthday to you ..." Oh, no! Oh, no, no, no! Please, God, not today! Steps were approaching his door.
It better not be Luc and Reni. I am not in the mood for their games. Unbidden, a memory flashed through his mind of a birthday twelve years ago when his brothers Lucien and Reni had shown up at the VA burn hospital following one of his numerous operations. They had brought with them Ronald McDonald, but what a Ronald McDonald!
Underneath the clown outfit had been a half-naked, six-foot- tall, Bourbon Street female impersonator with a body that could rival Marilyn Monroe's, appropriately singing, "Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby!" There had been a lot of military vet patients cheered up that day when she ... he ... whatever ... had passed out Happy Meal cartons as favors, all containing talking condoms, red vibrator lips and edible thongs.
"Happy birthday, dear Remy ..." Remy peered through the dust-moted dimness toward his open door. It was definitely not Ronald McDonald, or a sexy stripper, noteven his teasing brothers. Much worse. It was his seventy-nine-year-old great-aunt Lulu, who was all of five feet tall, and she was carrying a cake the size of a bayou barge with a pigload of candles on top.
"Happy birthday to you," she concluded and used her non-existent butt to ease the wooden screen door open and sidle inside. Today his aunt wore a Madonna T-shirt with cone cups painted in the vicinity of her non-existent breasts, and a flame red spandex miniskirt. Who knew they made them in midget sizes? On her feet were what could only be described as white hooker boots. Her hair today was short and curly and pink-no doubt due to the efforts of his half-sister Charmaine who ran a hoity-toity beauty spa over in Houma, Looks to Kill, as well as a regular hair salon, Kuts & Kurls, in Lafayette. Uncertain whether the pink color was in honor of his birthday or an accident, he decided not to ask.
Despite her age and always outrageous appearance, his aunt's services as a noted traiteur or healer were still needed up and down the swamp lands. Unfortunately, of late she believed that he was the one most in need of her care.
If he could have, he would have fled, but where could a six-foot-two ex-Air Force officer hide in a houseboat? Besides, he couldn't ever be rude to his aunt, who was dear to him.
"Tante Lulu! Welcome, chhre, welcome." He stood and emptied his mug into the sink, then took the cake from her, placing it on the table. On its white iced top, mixed in with the thirty-three candles, was the message, "Happy Birthday, Remy," in bright blue letters. Typical sentiment. But in the corners stood four tiny plastic statues of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases. St. Jude was a favorite of Tante Lulu. He almost asked her what his birthday and hopeless cases had in common, but he caught himself just in time.
She kissed him on the cheek then, which involved her standing on tiptoes and his leaning down. And wasn't it just like his aunt to kiss his bad cheek, the one so disfigured by that 'copter crash in Desert Storm twelve years ago? Most people would at least flinch. She didn't even blink. "Didja think I'd let you stay here alone like a hermit on your special day? Bad bizness, that-being alone so much. Lost your joie de vivre, you have. Never fear, I have a feelin' this is gonna be your year for love. Whass that smell? Poo-ey! Stinks like burnt okra."
He plopped back down to the bench seat and watched his aunt sniff the coffee in his pot, wrinkle her nose, then dump the contents down his sink. Within seconds, a fresh pot perked on the stove.
"Tante Lulu, this is not my year for love. Don't you be starting on me. I am not interested in love." "Hanky-panky, thass all you menfolks are interested in. I may be seventy, but I ain't blind."
"More like eighty, sweet pea," he reminded her. "And don't for one minute think I'm gonna discuss hanky-panky with you."
"Not to worry, though, sweetie," his aunt rambled on. "I got time to concentrate on you now. I'm gonna find you a wife. Guar-an-teed! Love doan ask you if you're ready; it jist comes like a thunder bolt."
Over my dead body, he vowed silently. "That's nice." He decided to change the subject. "How did you get here?" "Tee-John drove me in his daddy's pick-up truck." His aunt was bent over now-and, yes, he'd been right about her having no behind anymore. She was trying to shove off to the side the saddle he'd left in the middle of the room- a reminder of his ranching days.
But then his aunt's words hit him belatedly, like a sledgehammer. "Tee-John? Mon Dieu, Tante Lulu! He's only fourteen years old. He doesn't have a license." Tee-John was his half-brother, the youngest of many children, legitimate and otherwise, born to Valcour LeDeux, their common father.
His aunt shrugged. "My T-bird's in the shop. This place, she needs some light. Mebbe you oughta install a skylight. It's so dark and dreary. No wonder you're always so grumpy."
A skylight in a houseboat that's as old as I am? "About your car?" he asked grumpily.
Now she was checking out the mail on his desk. "Someone stole the spark plugs. Can you imagine that?" Yeah, he could imagine that. It was probably one of his brothers, trying to keep their aunt off the highways. "Where is the brat?"
"Outside playin' with that pet alligator of yours, I reckon. You oughta get yerself a wife. A man your age should be pettin' his woman, not some slimy bayou animal. If I dint know you better, I'd think you were into those pee-verse- uns I read about in one of Charmaine's Cosmo magazines.
You got any heavy cream for cafi au lait?" He decided to ignore the wife remark, and the perversion remark, and, no, he didn't keep heavy cream in the house. "Useless? I do not pet Useless." He'd named the old alligator who lived in his bayou neighborhood Useless because he was, well, useless. "I toss him scraps occasionally. Tee-John better not be feedin' him Moon Pies and RC Cola again. Last time he did that, Useless was so jazzed up he practically swam a marathon up and down the bayou. A sugar high, no doubt."
Tante Lulu was nosing around in his cupboards now. Most likely, searching for evidence of perversions. "Dad's gonna be furious at Tee-John for driving without a license-and taking his vehicle."
"It doan take much to make that Valcour red in the face ... which he use'ly is from booze anyways," Tante Lulu said icily. His great-aunt hated their father with a passion, with good reason. "He's already spittin' mad at Tee-John. The boy is grounded for two weeks."
Remy was about to point out that driving her to his remote bayou home didn't count as grounded, but figured logic was not a part of any conversation with his aunt. "Why is he grounded?"
"Went to a underwear option party up in Natchitoches. That boy, he is some kind of wild." She shook her pink spirals from side to side and clucked her tongue to show her disgust.
"Huh?" A lingerie party? A teenage boy at a lingerie party? That doesn't sound right. Then, understanding dawned. "Oh. Do you mean underwear optional?"
"Thass what I said, dint I? There was a hundred boys and girls running around with bare butts wavin' in the wind when the police got there. Lordy, Lordy!" He started to grin. But not for long.
She was standing before his open freezer, empty except for two ice-cube trays. The way she was gawking you would have thought he had a dead body in there-a very small dead body, considering the minuscule size of the compartment. "You ain't got nothin' in your freeze box," she announced, as if he didn't already know that. "Where's the ice cream? We sure-God gotta have ice cream with a birthday cake."
"Tante Lulu, I don't need ice cream." Really, the old lady only meant good. At least, that's what he told himself. "The youngens do."
His neck prickled with apprehension. "What youngens?" "Luc and Sylvie's chillen, thass who. You dint think we'd have a party for you without the rest of the fam'ly, didja?"
Of course not. What was I thinking? He would have put his head on the table if the cake didn't take up all the space. "Reni couldn't come 'cause he's in Washington on that fish lobby bizness, but he said to wish you 'Happy, Happy Birthday' and to expect a Happy Meal in the mail. Do you know what he's talkin' 'bout?"
"Don't have a clue," he lied.
In walked Tee-John. What a misnomer! Tee-John was definitely no Little-John. At almost fifteen, he was not done growing, not by a Louisiana long shot, but already he was close to six feet tall. And full of himself, as only a born-to-be- bad, good-looking, bayou rascal could be. He was soaked from the neckline of his black "Ragin' Cajun" T-shirt to the bottoms of his baggy cargo shorts. He grinned from ear to ear.
"Hey, Remy." "Hey, Tee-John." "Happy birthday, bro." "Thanks, bro."
"Can I go check out your 'copter up there on the hill?" Nice try, kiddo. "NO!" The boy would probably decide to take the half-million-dollar piece of equipment for a spin. Never mind that it was the backbone of Remy's employment or that he was in hock to the bank up to his eye-balls. Never mind that Tee-John didn't know a propeller from a weed whacker.
Tee-John waggled his eyebrows at him, as if to say he had just been razzing and Remy had risen to the bait. "You jump in that pick-up, boy, and go buy us some ice cream at Boudreaux's General Store," Tante Lulu ordered Tee-John. "How come you wearin' those baggy ol' shorts? Yer Daddy lose all his money and can't afford to buy you new pants?"
"That's the style, auntie." He chucked her playfully under the chin.
"What style? Thass no style, a'tall." She swatted his teasing fingers away. "And don't you be flirtin' with that Boudreaux girl, neither. Her Daddy said he's gonna shoot yer backside with buckshot next time you come sniffin' around."
"Me?" Tee-John said, putting a hand over his heart with wounded innocence.
Outside, a car door slammed, followed by the pounding of little feet on the wooden wharf. The shrieking of three little girls could only be three-year-old Blanche Marie, two-year- old Camille, and one-year-old Jeanette. The admonition of Luc and Sylvie echoed: "Do not dare to touch that alligator."
Remy heard a loud roar of animal outrage, which pretty much translated to, "Enough is enough!" Then a loud splashing noise. Useless was no fool; he was out of here. Tee-John headed out the door to buy ice cream, or to escape the inevitable chaos that accompanied Luc's family. "Guess what Luc is considerin'?" He threw over his shoulder.
"Putting you in a dimwit protection program till you're, oh, let's say twenty-one?" he offered. Luc was a lawyer, and a good one, too. If anyone could tame Tee-John down, it was Luc. Look what he'd accomplished with him and Reni.
Tee-John ignored Remy's sarcasm. "Luc is thinkin' about gettin' neutered."
"The hell you say!" was Remy's immediate reaction. "Well, kiss my grits and call me brunch," Tante Lulu said. "Where did you hear such a thing?"
"Sylvie told her friend Blanche who told Charmaine who told everyone in Houma that Luc went to see a doctor about one of those vas-ec-to-mies. Luc and Sylvie got a scare last month when Sylvie thought she might be knocked up again. She wasn't but, whoo-boy, they were sweatin' it. Guess those little squigglies of his are too potent." He grinned as he relayed the gossip.
Really, keeping a secret in the bayou was like trying to hold "no-see-ems" in a fish net. The little gnats were impossible to contain.
On second thought, Remy could see Luc taking such drastic action. After having "Irish triplets"-a baby born every nine months-he and Sylvie were both ready to shut down the baby assembly line. But a vasectomy? He cringed at the thought. And wasn't it ironic that Luc was determined to stop having kids when Remy would never have any of his own?
Just before Tee-John went out the door, his aunt added, "Tee-John, when you come back, remember to bring in Remy's birthday present from the truck." She smiled broadly at Remy. "Your very own hope chest." "A hope chest? A hope chest for a man?" Remy winced. "No friggin' way!" he exclaimed, then immediately chastised himself. He didn't speak that way in front of women, especially Tante Lulu. "Sorry, ma'am."
"You'll be feeling lots better, once I get your hope chest filled, and we find you a good Cajun wife. I made a list." She waved a piece of paper that had at least twenty names on it.
Remy groaned. "Plus, I'm gonna say a novena to St. Jude to jump start the bride search." Remy groaned again.
"I'm thinkin' we should launch this all off with a big fais do do, a party down on the bayou." "Launch what?" Remy choked out. "Your bride search. Ain't you listenin', boy? With all the women there, you would have a chance to cull down the list."
"Bad idea, auntie." "Mebbe we could have it at Luc and Sylvie's place. They have a big yard where we can set up tents for food and a wooden platform for the musicians and dancing. Reni might even come play with his old band." She talked over him as if he wasn't even there.
He shouldn't be surprised. It was se fini pas, a thing without end, the way his family interfered in each other's lives.
Forget about the government contract he was about to undertake. If he had any sense, Remy would run off to some faraway country, like California, where no one could find him, especially his interfering family. But first, he'd set fire to everything here: the houseboat, the 'copter, all his belongings, the hope chest.
He was only half kidding while playing out this tempting fantasy in his head.
It would be the biggest bonfire in bayou history, though. Then, he would be free.
Yeah, right, some inner voice said. It was probably St. Jude.
Excerpted from Tall, Dark, and Cajun by Sandra Hill Copyright © 2007 by Sandra Hill. Excerpted by permission.
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