Keep reading for bonus chapters of Like Slow Sweet Molasses.
The first day of school muddled along with a huge number of challenges surfacing, seemingly bent on destroying the enthusiasm of children and grownups alike. Insufficient materials for learning: from text books to instructional manuals, visual aids to computers; the school lacked everything. To the present day, hope remained, though the brutal reality simply boiled down to the fact that the fight to recover from Hurricane Katrina wasn’t over, even six years later. Devastation etched the faces of older children and haunted the wide eyes of the younger ones. That look would shake even the most hardened soul. Pain and despair combined to form a kind of salve that treated the festering wounds of desolation while leaving behind a scab easily broken, if pricked.
“Hey, are you ready to go?”
Pausing from her study of the lesson plan before her, Angela looked up to smile at the petite twenty-something first year teacher poking her head into the room. “Not yet,” she answered, checking her watch to see if she missed their appointed departure time, also taking in Sheryl’s air of impatience. “I have a few loose ends to tie up.”
Their classrooms were side-by-side which set the stage for the friendly rapport that existed between them. Sheryl’s disappointed expression reminded Angela of the imposition she had probably placed on her new friend. She hadn’t asked her for the ride home that day, but Sheryl volunteered when she passed her waiting at the bus stop after school one afternoon, and the practice became an off and on tradition, until today.
“You go on. I’ll catch the bus.”
“Are you sure?” Sheryl asked, barely containing her elation, a mischievous grin revealing a gold sparkle. “I have an engagement I can’t be late for.”
Angela’s translation after their brief acquaintance; Sheryl had met a man.
“Get out of here,” Angela chirped, containing the mild flare of jealousy.
“See you tomorrow.” Sheryl didn’t have to be told twice as she vanished from the doorway.
Angela set about straightening up the classroom, putting order to desks that circled one side. It was here that she introduced her students to what she believed was a spirit-lifting experience. The financial investment was well worth it, even if it ate a good-sized portion of her car down payment, for the children reimbursed her with smiles and eruptions of giggles throughout the day.
She fingered a shiny gold triangle, tapping it rhythmically with the matching rod to make a soothing tinkly sound. Her satisfied laughter floated gently on the air. She couldn’t wait until tomorrow. Another day to impact young minds with the joys of music. Perhaps music would lead some yearning soul to a complete healing. All she could do was share her knowledge. That she was happy to do.
The precious viola that played during the music sessions today rested safely in its carrying case before the lid clinked shut.
She peered through the sparkling window panes at the grayness of the August sky, realizing she’d likely get a good rain-soaking on the way home. This was the time of year in New Orleans for afternoon and evening showers, no matter how bright and sunny the day dawned. One carried an umbrella to at least shield their upper torso from the drenching. Did she forget her girl scout’s motto to be prepared?
She was umbrella-less. So, the answer was y-e-s. Angela moved to shuffle the papers on her desk after depositing cymbals, bongos, tambourines, triangles and sticks in their respective bins along the opposite wall. If she hurried, she’d just make the three o’clock metro, having an earlier bus ride to the Garden District than originally planned.
She gave one last visual check, then closed the door. The lock clicked and she was on her way.
“How did it go, Ms. Munso?”
Angela recognized the nasal tone before turning in the direction of Principal Dauchex’s voice. The tall, full figured woman loped towards her, closing the gap along the polished hallway swifter than most her size could even attempt, her light brown skin burnishing a little from the exertion. In a matter of seconds, the educator was near enough to Angela, to blot out the light of the hall. “It was a very productive day, Mrs. Dauchex.”
“We will see you tomorrow?” Angela’s raised eyebrows asked a non-verbal question of their own. “The resource shortfall we face hasn’t given you pause for reconsidering your options, has it?”
Thinking a moment about her personal situation, Angela replied, “I committed to the end of the year, and have no intentions of leaving sooner.”
The principal smiled. She liked this determined young woman, thinking to herself that her parents had raised her with old school values. “See you in the morning, Angela.”
After the goodbyes, Angela pushed her richly endowed body through the double doors, switching the instrument case to the same hand as her attaché to get a glance at her watch. “Oh, well. I guess it’s the three-twenty.” Next, dark sunglasses were donned to protect her eyes. Although the sun hid behind the clouds, the glare, allergies and pollutants were enough to cause them irritation.
She cut across the campus yard, eliminating a few precious steps in her race to the bus stop two blocks away. The steel gray sky hung low, laden with unspent moisture and threatening to erupt at any moment. Traffic sped by as if in a race with nature to reach destinations unknown prior to the expected downpour. Angela reached the roof enclosed bench just as the first big drops plopped to the parched earth. Then the sky opened up, sheeting rain under the cover, pelting everything and anyone unprotected. She drew her feet as far under the bench as possible, returning to them when she saw the bus lumbering down the street.
The tokens clattered into the receptacle resting atop others already stacked as she briefly surveyed the entombed denizens of the bus. Swaying like a tightrope walker, Angela juggled her way to the middle of the commercial transit where she dropped her briefcase down on the hard pleather seat. The viola escaped the degree of neglect shown the satchel and was reverently rested on the former. Faces on the bus reflected in the windows, now a mirror of sorts courtesy of the darkened skies outside. Some were as blank as one of the unused legal pads she scribbled notes on when her creativity sparked. And it had been a while between writings. Others showed bleak signs of living, like life on the down-beat before eternal rest. Health professionals termed it “Katrina Fatigue”.
Almost immediately after the hurricane, Angela left for New Orleans with a volunteer group to do her part in the recovery, against her parents’ will. She had put her lucrative music career on hold to do so, also to their dismay. She was almost thirty at the time, quite old enough and more than capable of making her own decisions. The ‘only child’ syndrome kept the apron strings knotted and her close to home for longer than usual. Her parents were proud of her dedication, but afraid for her safety in what the media described as “war-torn New Orleans”. She’d stayed four months in a make-shift temporary community, helping with various tasks from preparing meals for hundreds of people a day to cataloging the missing, the found and the deceased.
The exit bell dinged. The bus lurched to a stop, disturbing her “daymare”, for which she was grateful. Angela’s eyes scanned the businesses and homes as they passed, noting a measurable progress. Yet, the work still left to do after all the grueling years remained more a mountain than a molehill. That was the main reason for her return. She’d gotten her second wind and was determined to lessen the shortfall of teachers in the area, even if for only a few months. Recognizing the neighborhood grocery coming up in the next block, she pulled the cord, collected her belongings and waited for the overhead light indicating the go ahead to open the doors.
The rain poured like God kicked buckets of water out of the heavens. One foot into her dash and she collided with someone on the corner. “Pardon me,” she mumbled as she clutched her possessions during her sidestep, and removed the dark glasses. Daylight resembled dusk now. Swiping the precipitation from her face, she scurried on, when suddenly, an oversized umbrella deflected the downpour.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” said an octogenarian with lively azure eyes, beaming at her. “I saw you leave this morning. You forgot to take your umbrella.” The look Angela gave her would be heroine drew a chuckle. “I’m Bella Thatcher, your next door neighbor. The house with all the rose bushes?”
Angela’s recall faltered, for being sociable during her travels to and from Chicago while checking on the renovations to her current place of residence was more than an oversight. Her secret visits left no time for pleasantries. However, she did remember hearing a woman’s cooing voice on a couple of occasions, enticing her flowers to grow. But, she’d never seen her. “I’m Angela Munso.”
“Come on. You’re soaked.” She looped her arm in Angela’s to maneuver them up the street.
She moved like a gazelle for someone who appeared to be in her eighties. “This was very kind of you, Mrs. Thatcher.” Angela repositioned her load to grab the handle when the wind nearly had the elderly lady mimicking Mary Poppins. “But, you shouldn’t be out in this weather.”
“Nonsense, child. What are neighbors for if not to look out for one another?”
They trudged through the puddles, oblivious to everything except arriving home without incident on the slippery sidewalk. As soon as they got within viewing distance of Mrs. Thatcher’s flowers, her pace suddenly slowed to a crawl. Angela watched as the old woman’s features shut out any trace of what went on behind her eyes as she now squinted in what seemed to her as fear. She stopped, her gaze straying to the car parked at the curb in front of her home. Movement inside alerted both to someone patiently waiting for the rain to slack.
“Is everything alright?” Angela inquired.
Muttering more to herself than answering Angela’s question, Mrs. Thatcher said, “Jackal showed up anyway. Thought he wasn’t coming since his appointment time passed.”
“What was that, Mrs. Thatcher?” She missed most of the answer, the words were so soft.
“Nothing, Hon.” She commenced her journey. “Take the umbrella with you. I’ll get it later.”
Angela didn’t have a good feeling about what just transpired and waited as she shuffled up her walk. She lingered a few extra seconds until Mrs. Thatcher entered her home before swiveling to inspect the car’s interior. Angela bent for a look. The white man’s glower was evident even through the darkly tinted windows. And the lack of light outside didn’t help matters. He exited sans cover, unmindful of the torrential rain, and strolled past her as if she was non-existent, without so much as a nod. A glimpse of the name tag on his medical scrubs bonded to her brain. She watched him climb the three steps to the wrought iron gate, ram it open with unnecessary force, march up the walkway and enter the house, uninvited.
Mrs. Thatcher’s door slammed in Angela’s face as she sprouted roots right there on the pavement. She was only a few steps from her house and covered the distance hastily to get out of the weather. Her walkway displayed loads of curb appeal. The attractive cobblestones were a welcome enticement to her and visitors alike, she suspected.
Boldly, Angela strutted to the front door settling all but her handbag on the porch to break down the gigantic umbrella. The sight that met her tired eyes begged her to leave her troubles at the door and enter her calm sanctuary. Her domain, once she shut the beveled glass entry door, was off-limits to any worries during her wind-down period, which usually took about an hour.
Variations of soothing earth tones comforted her weary bones, mellowed her rough edges and did away with tensions remaining from her exhausting day. Ignoring the repetitive blink of the new message light on the phone, her high heeled shoes were the first in a series of clothing items removed on her trek upstairs to the bedroom. By the time she reached her haven, Hansel and Gretel would have no problem finding their way to her. The remaining pieces of attire dropped haphazardly to the oak floors and she glided straight to the bathroom, touched a button on the wall that filtered in soft, relaxing music and submerged up to her neck in a tub of scented water. Her mind cleared of all negative images and thoughts to dwell in a place only her music was able to carry her. That aspect combined with aromatherapy set her adrift in a world devoid of troubles.
Just where she wanted to go.
Angela’s soprano voice rang true as she hummed along with the tune coming from the speakers installed overhead. The pillow braced her neck, ensuring comfort while she sponged more water over her glistening skin. Every now and then, an errant noise invaded her space formulating a disconcerting thought. She tapped the sound down with the remote handily available in the caddy on the Jacuzzi’s ledge.
There it was again. Louder this time. A mewling sound, then it was gone. Her eyes searched the ceiling as if doing so would heighten her hearing. Just as she gave up on honing in on the noise, it registered that someone needed help.
Time was of the essence.
She dripped from the tub puddling water on her way to the window. The opaque glass rose soundlessly to reveal Mrs. Thatcher unsuccessfully attempting to stop her visitor from destroying her precious roses planted next to the backyard fence separating their properties. He hacked away with what looked like a severed broom handle, deflowering a number of bushes. Angela rocketed out of the bathroom swiping at her wet body with a plush bath towel before she swiftly pulled on a pair of sweats for the shoeless run down the stairs, through the living room, out into the horrible weather and straight to her neighbor’s rescue, getting there just in time to receive a whack on the shoulder as she grabbed at the offending weapon.
Her attack, equally as swift as she landed a bulls-eye sidekick to his kneecap, surprised him, as was evident by his howling string of verbally abusive and racially-charged curses. He dropped like a brick, cracked and broken. His obvious pain dictated the writhing motions he made in the thick muddy mounds supporting the plants. It was his turn to moan and Mrs. Thatcher’s to make demands.
“Get up, you harasser of old women! You’d better have your lard ass off my property before my nephew gets here. He’s an NOPD lieutenant. Lt. Brock Alexander.” Her form of retaliation, an upwards slap to the back of his head, punctuated her commands. “Now, get the hell out!”
Meanwhile, Angela stood poised for further action, channeling her shoulder discomfort into the anger needed to fuel another defensive move, if warranted. It was unnecessary; for he stumbled to his feet and had to drag his injured leg, grooving his retreat into the ground. His raspy voice was hauntingly low.
“You haven’t seen the last of me. Either of you.”
Mrs. Thatcher mocked him to Angela’s disapproving headshake. “Yea, yea. Skedaddle!” Reading Angela’s eyes from across the yard, “I really do have a nephew on the force.” She snickered. “Haven’t seen him in months, though.”
“We’d better go inside and call 911.” She tested her shoulder with a circular rotation, and was immediately sorry for the action. A worry surfaced. An injury could impact her playing. What was she thinking, attacking like that? That was the problem. She didn’t think, merely reacted to a grown man intimidating an elderly woman.
Mrs. Thatcher interrupted her silent admonishment.
“No. I’ll contact the agency tomorrow. They’ll take care of it.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Mrs. Thatcher.” The senior citizen conveniently became deaf, clucked at the immense destruction and headed for the house, Angela on her heels. “What if he comes back?”
“I have something for him if he does.” She traipsed over to the broom closet. “It’s called an equalizer. And I know how to use it.”
Angela had never seen a real gun of any kind, nevertheless, a double-barreled shotgun. “Is that thing loaded?”
Propping it in the gun rack at the door leading from the kitchen, she said with an innocent smile, “It’d better be. No good to me if it isn’t.” Noticing the concern on her young neighbor’s face, she added, “Been handling guns since I was old enough to gather eggs without suffering the hens’ disfavor. I’m not cavalier about it.”
“Still, the police should handle this.”
“Have you eaten? I roasted a chicken today.”
Angela knew the subject was no longer open for discussion. She could keep her company for a while. It was early, yet, and truth be known she was hungry. Her appreciative smile accompanied the words. “I’m starved. I’ll run home and lock up. Be right back.”
Bonus chapters of Like Slow Sweet Molasses
“Miss Munso! We’re ready, Miss Munso!”
Angela’s attention returned to her students whose faces beamed in anticipation of their classroom musical performance. While they selected their instruments, after much intense exploration for the right one and took their seats, she scoured the internet for a list of police precincts in the downtown area, jotted them down and phoned each on her cell until satisfied one held the potential for success. Mrs. Thatcher left her with the impression last evening that her AWOL relative worked out of one close around the metro district. Well, as soon as class was over, she was on her way to make a little visit of her own.
Her genuine smile touched on the room of first graders.
“Are we ready?”
“Yeah!” The roar of little voices faded in and out.
“Then, let’s get started. Listen to this, first.” Back straight, feet slightly apart flat on the floor, she lifted the fine wood-grained viola to lie between her chin and shoulder, at once feeling the tug of the muscle as it rebelled. Her eyes teared a bit and she remembered the long welt marring her back. Determination stiffened her spine as she plucked the tune before using the bow. “What did I play?”
“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The answers came in a lively disjointed fashion.
“That’s right. Okay, ready? And one and two and three and four.” Every instrument was a single sound unto itself as they tried to keep time with her. Angela readily traded their shining smiles for her pain.
Later that afternoon, the taxi let her out across the street from the official looking building that occupied a full block at the edge of the French Quarter. The dingy gray appearance practically blended with the skies beyond since clouds lingered still. The speared wrought iron fence, a deterrent to someone breaking out or breaking in, she couldn’t be sure which, ringed the entire circumference. Angela squared her shoulders in preparation to stick her nose where it didn’t belong; in someone else’s business.
Her heels clicked on the gleaming marble lobby. The sight of such a beautiful floor in such an uninspiring place surprised her. She scanned the interior noting the architectural design in the flourish of the staircase that led to the upper floor. She passed through the metal detectors and the x-ray machines that guarded the guardians. All of her paraphernalia rolled along the whining belt apparently passing inspection for within a minute she possessed them again. Asking for Lt. Brock Alexander at the desk had her on her way to the squad room on the upper floor. The policeman who directed her claimed to have no knowledge of the person for whom she searched. Hope diminished of ever finding him with each footfall.
Phones jingled. Voices intermingled, distorting the conversations heard going on in the overcrowded room. Things moved at a snail’s crawl as officers, some in uniform, others in plainclothes, a couple of women, but mostly men, appeared to spend the time swilling down coffee and munching donuts. She thought that was a stereotypical cliché used in movies. All of a sudden, every pair of eyes swung to the doorway where she paused to get her bearings. There was no clear-cut indication of who was in charge and no one moved as they gaped slack-mouthed at her intrusion. Finally, one female officer, a black middle-aged woman in a police polyester slate-blue uniform approached. Courtesy with a yen to serve was absent in her demeanor.
“Can I help you with something?”
Her dry tone did more than hint at the disturbance Angela’s presence attracted. “I need to see Lt. Brock Alexander. I was told he reported to this location.” Suspicion seemed to fill the policeman’s eyes.
“I can help you if you need to file a report.”
“This is personal.” The incredulous look that crossed the policewoman’s face wasn’t lost on Angela. She took exception to the knowing look the officer threw her cohorts. “If he doesn’t report to this location, tell me and I’ll continue with my search.”
“Miss Munso. Angela Munso.”
“Miss Munso, there’s a Chance Alexander here but no Brock.”
Uncertainty flared, for hers was an ambiguous belief that Brock was the name of Mrs. Thatcher’s nephew and not a personal pseudonym for him. She dug in her purse, extracted a business card, “Please give him this,” writing on the back as she spoke. “If he’s the correct person he’ll know what it means.”
Unintelligible voices from outside intruded while the policewoman perused the cryptic message.
“Chance, you’re on someone’s APB list! I wouldn’t mind being on that list from the looks of her.” A wave of laughter rolled up the staircase.
“So everyone keeps calling to tell me.”
Lt. Chance Alexander made his appearance on the second floor stopping dead in his tracks at the sight before him. He was a man of the world, a self-claimed connoisseur of beauty. Her effervescence sparkled brilliantly in the drab windowless department, the aura spreading his way like slow, sweet molasses. Although presented with her back, for she was in deep conversation with an officer, there wasn’t a doubt she had more lures than the outdoor sportsmen’s shop he sometimes frequented as was obvious when she swayed to a one hipped stance; a good assist when hooking her man.
His growing enchantment had him take in everything about her such as her attire. She dressed to kill, and effectively succeeded. Overhead lighting bounced off the reddish highlights in her hair, upswept on her head that was balanced by a slender, graceful neck.. Her proud carriage accentuated perfect posture, a flattering waistline contouring to rounded hips and the prettiest legs that ever graced a pair of designer footwear. She stood flanked by a leather bound instrument case, a reptile-skin attaché and a staple for this time of year, an umbrella.
Chance’s presence caught the officer’s eyes and he held an index finger to his lips before giving her the keep-it-going sign. He wanted to get a feel for the real person without his presence being an influencing factor.
“Angela Munso: Professional Violist. Music Instructor. Academy School of the Arts.” She recited the credentials aloud. “Miss Munso, if there’s a problem, I’m confident I can help.”
She didn’t look like any school marm he ever had growing up and was certainly more stunning than any teacher he was acquainted with in today’s school system.
Angela took a deep breath, tired of repeating herself, but, mostly fatigued by the discomfort in her body and said, “Forgive me if I seem stubbornly adamant about this, Officer,” she read the ID badge, “Smith. Again, it’s personal. No offense intended.”
Watching the background, the officer assured, “None taken.”
“Will you deliver my business card?” A hand clamped down on her shoulder, the injured one and she reacted sharply.
He knew as soon as he did it that it was the wrong thing to do for she recoiled and turned all at one time, facing him with striking lioness eyes, narrowing suspiciously from beneath luxurious black lashes. Not the reception he normally received from women.
“I apologize if I’ve overstepped my bounds. I understand you’ve been looking for me.” It was really more of a question than a statement.
The giant with thunder for a voice standing before her, in her face while gnashing on a yellow toothpick, looked more the part of a rakish motorcycle rider rather than an officer of the law. Her stare fused on his beard. It was short, cropped like a two day’s growth, trimmed to perfection and blended its way up to the wavy black hair falling carelessly on either side of his prominent forehead. His hair hung long enough in back to just breathe on the top of his shirt collar; if he wore a shirt with a collar.
Angela’s eyes locked on the knuckles stroking the whiskers on his chin. What stapled her feet to the flooring were his hypnotic, penetrating eyes, a meadowland green squinting at her from under equally dark brows—deep-set and starkly contrasting his God-given bronzed skin. He and his tattooed chiseled biceps towered over her, casting off such male magnetism she found it hard to ignore the way the t-shirt and jeans fit his body. His overbearing persona sucked the oxygen from the room, relegating all present to insignificant masses of matter, utterly of no importance.
He invaded her space but she refused to back down. Her look said as much. “Are you Brock Alexander?”
“Who wants to know?” he queried, looking down his nose as he swung to dispose of the slither of wood in the nearest wastebasket.
“I’m Angela Munso. Your aunt’s neighbor, if you’re he.”
He frowned, his brows furrowing warily and cocked sideways. “Aunt Belle?”
“Bella Thatcher,” she supplied. “The flower lady? Is she your aunt?” He smiled, she believed at her description, the treat lighting up the room like sunshine.
“Yes, she is,” he confirmed.
“What kind of relative are you? She’s an elderly lady.” Angela belittling him, moved closer to stand toe to toe with the Goliath, “who needs you to check on her periodically. You’re a negligent nephew!”
Her get-in-his-face style of conversing turned him off. Before he realized what he did, both of her elbows were entrenched in his huge hands and he bodily toted her generous frame to his private office off to one side of the squad room, to the absolute amazement of the entire audience, and kicked the door shut. “You, lady, are out of control,” he hurled while unceremoniously setting her on her feet.
Shivering in anger, a rosy hue built under her velvety toffee skin, alerting him to her ill temper.
“You, Brock…Chance or whatever you’re called—” she said, jumping him with both stilettos, gouging at his pride, baited his retaliation before she finished her sentence.
“Don’t let the name fool you, Miss Munso.” His dark head leaned towards her a notch. “They don’t call me Chance around here for meekness sake,” he said, his words lathered in derision.
“…are borderline psycho!” She completed her thought giving no regard to his nose in her face. “How dare you…”
“I dare because no one speaks to me in that tone, especially not in front of my peers and subordinates.” Chance demonstrated how well the nickname fit his explosive personality, scolding mentally his quickness on the draw. He couldn’t help but notice how she unconsciously massaged the same shoulder he touched earlier. “Uh-oh,” he thought, “A lawsuit in the making.” He took a risk, asking the next question while putting a yardstick’s worth of space between them. However, it was better to know up front if he had any worries.
“Did I hurt you?”
She was mad and didn’t care if he knew. “Indirectly, I guess you did.” Instead of pursuing that topic, she changed the subject. “She needs your help,” With a little blow to ward off the increasing pain, “Your aunt is having trouble with a man who got physical with her yesterday.”
“I said your aunt needs your help!” She repeated in quantum volume with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
“Forgive me if I gave you the impression I’m deaf.” His cynical intonation charged the air with animosity. “I heard you, loud and clear, Miss Munso. The first time.” Ruling out any more physical contact between them, because the urge to wring her lovely neck was too great, his strong fingers gripped the back of the closest chair, plugging grooves in the upholstery. “Tell me what happened.”
“You should ask Mrs. Thatcher, Lt. Alexander. Please, do it ASAP. She has a shotgun, you know.” His rude guffaw incensed her. “White people and their guns,” she muttered under her breath, turning to sashay from the room only to stop short when snagged by the whirlwind his hand motions generated as he detained her. His brazen act underscored the perilous territory they were about to explore.
“Tell me I didn’t hear you right.”
It was completely unfair and absolutely uncalled for, Angela realized, as soon as the slur slid across her tongue, through her pearly whites and passed her plum tinted lips. She was angry with her family and the man from yesterday. Not him. She committed a cardinal sin by degrading an entire race based upon the actions of a few, the way society, in some cases, applied the rules condemning all people of color for one person’s infraction. In particular, if that person happened to be Black.
Their eyes clashed and it was her turn to apologize to him.
“You did. And I’m sorry for offending you. You…personally, did nothing to me.”
Her look begged him for her release.
He watched her glide from the small office, all eyes on him as he tailed her, believing she was sincerely contrite. She gathered her things, punched in a number on her cell and disappeared out of the squad room door. Following her escape, Chance tracked her all the way to the building’s entry where he covertly observed her, wondering what delayed her departure, until his name called on the front steps of the station got him busted.
“Brock! Hey, Bro!” The lanky black man yelled, attacking the steps a couple at a time. “Wait up.”
Chance moved out into the roasting humidity to meet him half-way.
Angela quickly swiveled, studying the handsome duo whose features were as opposite as mid-day to mid-night, to read a bond of some sort in their behavior. The two took dominant cop stances—the newcomer with a hand on his hip while stabbing at his teeth with a toothpick; the other’s arms crisscrossing his broad chest as they shared words in front of the precinct. Both watched her watch them, laughing aloud at what she guessed was the audacity of her visit, the undulating sound not at all unpleasant to her ears. A horn blew attracting her attention to the street where a checkered taxi, double-parked to await its
fare, blocked the progression of a horse-drawn tour carriage. Her obligation fulfilled, she climbed into the back seat without a backwards glance and her driver chauffeured her out of sight.
The days shortened as September lined up to replace August as the reigning month of the year. August had no choice but to relinquish its position. Nevertheless, it refused to take along all the stifling humidity. She attributed the sparseness of the French Quarter crowd this late in the evening to the Katrina fiasco and not the humidity. New Orleans still tackled an army of problems related to housing inadequacies and basic needs, among numerous other shortcomings.
Any other time, on any day six years ago, you’d have to wade through the sea of people soaking up the culture. The high decibels of noise in the background would have hardly attracted attention. That wasn’t the case today as she heard a motor throttle in the distance. The city was trying to make a comeback without its many inhabitants. The very ones who made the city’s heartbeat hum lived in exile, spread like many miles of uneven asphalt, from east to west and north to south. Tourism was back but not in the great quantity needed or expected to make an astronomical impact on the economy. Looking out of her window as the few tourists meandered along told the unfinished story. Like the phoenix, New Orleans would also arise from the ashes—given time.
One more school day existed before the long Labor Day weekend. The thought brought a flutter of apprehension to the pit of her stomach. She had a lot of soul-searching to do because of the bomb dropped on her, not by her parents, but an outsider with an ulterior motive. Reminiscing about her unfortunate attack on Lt. Alexander shamed her. He was collateral damage in the impending war to regulate her tumultuous life. Angela found it so hard to let it go that she sparred with two different white men in less than twenty-four hours for related reasons.
What was her world coming to?
The cabbie’s voice shook her out of her revelry. She was home and exited on the street side standing in the shadows of the massive shade trees gracing the thoroughfare. That’s what she loved most of all about her new multi-ethnic community. The mature trees’ luxuriant overhead canopy sketched an enthralling sight to behold.
The calming view up and down the avenue put her in the zone to wash her anxieties down the drain. The departing taxi cleared a pathway. Her pace quickened until, unexpectedly, she nearly tripped over her own feet, instantly brought to a screeching halt by the magnificent iridescent motorcycle, chromed out and shining in front of Mrs. Thatcher’s. Emeralds to grass greens glinted depending on the slant of the sunrays streaking through the tree limbs. If she had to guess who the visitor was, she’d speculate it was the wickedly handsome policeman—whom she’d just left, and who hoisted her as if she weighed no more than, as she spied him in the doorway, the saddlebags draped across his shoulder.
A stagnant breeze tickled wisps of hair around her cheeks tempting her to smooth strands behind each ear with a one-finger swoop.
Chance held the screened door to his aunt’s house ajar on his way out. He still had time to catch his club members at their scheduled rest stop during the first leg of the weekend trip. As he said his goodbyes, a motion in the middle of the street lassoed his attention. He had high hopes of catching a glimpse of her because she manipulated his every thought since their encounter.
Glued to the spot, he stood mesmerized by her beauty now indelibly branded on his brain. His Aunt Belle explained away Angela Munso’s animosity towards him that provoked her to lash out, with her excerpt of Angela’s caning, for lack of a better description, which occurred the previous day. He figured Angela probably incurred a painful reminder with each move of her luscious body. Chance now knew the reason she flinched at his touch and felt it was nothing personal.
Angela bounced up the walkway steps on her way to her front door cognizant his watchful eyes not only cataloged but also stored all of her mundane movements in his memory database. Instantly, her flight mechanism kicked in urging her to speedily unlock the door to enter her safe domain. It was a long time since a man unnerved her. Why on earth did it have to be this man? And a white man, at that?
Meanwhile, next door, as she raced to safety, “Aunt Belle, it’s too late to call the agency today. If it’s alright with you,” he couldn’t believe what he was about to suggest, nor the convoluted reason for doing so, “I’ll stay the night and take care of things in the morning before I leave.”
Bella Thatcher’s reed-thin frame hardly blocked the doorway as she waited on her great nephew to take his leave. This spur-of-the-moment turn of events rallied her confidence in him. He spoke to her, yet his eyes trained on something beyond her view. She pivoted a bit and caught Angela bounding out of their sight like the devil himself was on her skirt tail. She smiled a knowing smile that wasn’t lost on him. Chance’s Aunt Belle unmasked his spontaneity for what it was, a flirtatious lust. Chance blanched as he slunk into the house following his aunt’s joyful retreat.
Angela enjoyed the refreshing taste of her favorite cherry flavored ICEE on the walk home from the corner store several blocks away. Secretly keeping tabs on Chance’s motorcycle, relief flooded her being when she peeked and it no longer took up space at the curb. The absence was enough incentive for her to treat herself and get out of the house for a walk to boot mainly in an effort not to dwell on the difficulty encountered when practicing her viola.
Her thong sandals gritted on the sandy concrete broadcasting her position to all within hearing distance. The empty street was hers alone. The sky shed its grayness as daylight waned; coloring the atmospheric canvas a sea-blue sprinkled with floating cotton, sun-kissed and striped a feathery red. Marveling at the beauty, she sipped her drink, taking her sweet time in climbing the stone steps to her yard.
“How are you this evening, Angela?” Mrs. Thatcher called. She and Chance sat comfortably in the swing, keeping a constant back and forth motion, satiated after their light supper.
Initially unaware of their presence, she was startled to learn of her mistake. She wasn’t alone after all. “Fine, thank you, Mrs. Thatcher,” she lied. “And you?”
“Muddling along for an old lady.” Chastising her relative, “Don’t be so impolite, Brock. Speak.”
“Miss Munso.” His mind drifted to the music he heard coming from her upstairs window, a hauntingly melodious tune she had difficulty completing—pausing at the same spot after each try. Not to be outdone, he assumed, she finished the song by singing the notes in melodic crystal clarity.
“Lt. Alexander.” Angela decided to make her exit calling over her shoulder as she advanced on the door. “See you later, Mrs.—” The remaining words dwindled to a gurgle and the cup fell in slow motion from her hand. A smoky cheroot scent assailed her olfactory senses in competition with her sense of hearing just as one foot crossed the threshold. Alarm painted her features as she spun to look dead at Chance, eyes silently screaming for help.
The fine hairs on his arms snapped to attention across the distance launching his ascent from the swing like a rocket booster, landing him beside her in a flash. “What is it?” He heard it, too, while she backed away. Someone moved inside her home. “Were you expecting company?”
All she managed was a negative headshake.
The exchange of places allowed him to feel the delicate bones in her soft hands. “Stay out here. I’ll come for you once I’ve cleared the house.” She looked panicked. “Understood?”
She silently nodded her assent.
She watched him cautiously enter on cat’s feet, his expertise in such matters clearly exhibited. Now and again, she caught a hint of his movement as he materialized from one room to disappear into the next. How fickle could she be to put his life in jeopardy when she scorned him previously? Angela’s conscience whipped up on her. So much so that she tiptoed up the stairs behind him, against his express wishes.
The bottom floor proved empty sending him up to the next level, senses attuned and gun drawn. He whirled after hearing the slightest movement, leveling the weapon stiff armed and double-fisted. She gasped. Chance rapidly raised the barrel to the ceiling. He noted how in her flustered state she crashed backwards, bumping her head on the descent.
“Ow-w-w,” she groaned, vaguely aware of the swaying meadow grasses enveloping her before the light receded and he completely disappeared.
“Cra-ap!” That was as close to an expletive Chance could come to since turning over his new leaf. He knew the culprit had escaped through the door to the rear of the house for it was wide open. Yet, it was a precautionary measure to do a check of the upstairs, just in case. “Angela? Can you hear me?” Thumbing the safety and holstering his gun, Chance huddled over her on all fours.
“Hmmm?” She moaned miserably.
A rush of air expelled from his lungs.
“Don’t move,” he ordered as she attempted to rise on her own. “Let me check you over.” Carefully examining her limbs, satisfied there were no broken bones, he probed the tender spot near her temple where an angry lump already raised under the smooth skin on her face.
She stirred again, pushing herself to a sitting position and forcing Chance to scoot back. It was a losing battle to remain vertical when gravity yanked her down in an unconscious heap.
Chance let go an exasperated breath and called 911.
Their acquaintance was less than a few hours old. However, if he was any judge of character, her unpredictable nature surfaced on two separate occasions during that time. This was his fault. He’d given her a direct order. What else did he expect a headstrong woman of her caliber to do except disregard the command?
“Cookie? Cookie, Sweetie?”
“I supported your mama’s decision back then.”
“Mama lied to me, Father.”
“Oh, it’s Father now, is it? Your mother didn’t lie, Cookie. When you were young, you wouldn’t have understood. As you got older, the subject simply lost its importance. You were our baby. Your mother’s and mine.”
“I’ve been living the lie perpetrated by those who claim to love me for almost thirty-two years, Daddy. Why, Daddy? Why? He needs me, now. I don’t need him.”
Chance felt like he eavesdropped on her private conversation. “Angela, wake up.”
“Why, Daddy, why?”
“Wake up, Angela.” Her lids fluttered as she struggled to leave her foggy existence. “Let me look into those alluring eyes of yours.” Aunt Belle stepped up behind Chance, overhearing his intimate mutterings.
“Is she responding?”
“She’s hallucinating, I believe,” he responded, blushing deeply. “Talking to her father.”
An all encompassing bass resonance streamed into her consciousness.
She remembered the flash of the penlight testing the reaction of her pupils confidently held in the hands of the emergency room doctor and had been able to answer all his pertinent questions related to her name, birthday, the day’s date and address, among others. The tale of how her accident happened concurred with Chance’s story. Now, she reclined in her own bed as the voices around her pulled the veil from her eyes.
“Come on, Angela. Open your eyes,” Chance cajoled. He alternated the hourly interrogations throughout the night with his aunt after getting Angela home from the hospital, hot as hell under the collar at the dusky raised welt angled across the delicate skin on her back, visible above the neckline of her sleep shirt.
“What time is it?” She couldn’t part her lids, yet.
“Five A.M. Friday morning.” Her eyes flew open to stare at him in the muted light.
“Friday morning?” She noticed, luckily, someone dressed her in cotton loungewear as she hauled the covers aside.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he questioned harshly, looking to his aunt for support.
“I have classes today.” Sitting on the side of the bed, her hands kept her head from exploding into a million little pieces as she tried to rise. The thickness of the soft hair falling over his hands as he broke her fall coerced him to sift the strands through his strong fingers, a feeling he abundantly cherished.
“Sweet child, you won’t be going anywhere for a couple of days, at least,” said Belle.
“Will understand,” he cut her off.
“They can’t endure another disappointment. Music’s therapeutic to these kids.” She made one more stab at gaining her feet, making it to the bathroom door. “They’re fragile.” The contents of her stomach spewed everywhere. “Oh, God!”
Angela swiped a towel from the rack on her way to her knees.
“So are you. Though I suspect you’d never admit that,” he boldly admonished, wetting a cloth to hold under her trembling chin, pleased as she leaned into him without fighting.
“Get her back to bed, Brock. I’ll clean up.”
Objecting, “I can’t let you do that, Mrs. Thatcher.” She had no choice for Chance hugged her to him on the walk to her bed. “Maybe, the older children will understand.” She fell to the pillows, eyes closing to stop the room from spinning, a plan on her lips as he drew the covers up. “The babies have music starting at twelve-thirty. I’ll make it for the last two hours.”
“—room for new messages.”
“Angela Rose Munso. Pick up the phone this instant. Do you hear me?”
Even in the bathroom, Angela heard her mother’s voice, promptly increasing the water’s intensity to drown her out while putting on the finishing touches with the makeup cover stick. Dressed in aqua chintz slacks and a snow white blouse she topped with the matching jacket and a one-inch heel in a complementary color, Angela swung to glance at the clock almost collapsing from dizziness. She cut it close but still had time to make the twelve-thirty class.
“Twenty messages is my limit. Your father and I will pay you a visit this week—”
Chance, his attitude rising to the positive side of the weather thermometer the longer he stayed in her intimately color-infused home, raised his head from the Saturday morning paper, caught off-guard at the abrupt silence because he absently listened to the message—and yawned. He peered at the machine to see the answer light’s sporadic flash, gliding the toothpick to the other side of his mouth with his tongue.
Angela was awake.
He insinuated himself in her kitchen with ease brewing a pot of coffee of which he availed himself. A search of the cabinets had him now on his way to her bedroom carrying a tray bearing coffee and buttered toast. Perhaps, she could stomach something a little more substantial. He truly didn’t know.
His hand stopped mid-air as the sound of weeping assaulted his ears. Chance puzzled. She fought a man his build for his aunt and cut him down to size in front of the whole bureau. In spite of that, a softer side revealed itself during the break-in, which by the way, he found no obvious theft or destruction but could vouch it happened and now he was certain she cried. An ear-shattering crash reverberated off the door compelling his eyes to blaze to the spot where he suspected the item hit like he had x-ray vision.
The lady really has a temper. He inhaled a breath and knocked.
“Go away!” she shrieked.
“Angela, it’s Chance.” His fingers slid the splinter from his mouth. “I brought toast and coffee.” He waited. The door flung open unhinging his bottom jaw. She was beautifully dressed. Who was he fooling? She was just plain beautiful.
“I don’t have time—”
“I heard something break. Is everything okay?”
“No, everything isn’t okay.” Her hands fanned each word from her mouth. “For your information, I’m going to be late if you don’t move.”
“Late for what?” He still held the hot coffee and the now cold toast.
She looked at him wondering why he made himself at home in her place. “Look, Lt. Alexander. I appreciate all you’ve done. But enough is enough.” She snatched the tray to set it on the hall table. “I can just make it to the bus stop and get to school for the mid-day class.”
Houston, we have a problem.
He let her usher him down the stairs but not before he latched onto the tray. “Angela, you have time. Sit for a moment.” He braved her wrath to push her to the breakfast table. Turning on the small flat-screen TV on the counter, he used the remote to run the channels up and down. Awareness flooded her features. She appeared primed for more frustrated tears.
In a small voice, “It’s not Friday, is it?” Cartoons danced on the color screen. The weekday soaps were absent when the channels changed.
“Afraid not, Angela.” He felt sorry for her. More importantly, her plight fell on his shoulders.
“Today’s Saturday?” she asked amazed. He nodded. “I slept through a whole day?”
“You did. And deservedly so.” Her ascent was so swift he sidled protectively closer as she struggled to maintain her balance, tilting her head to rest on the fingertips massaging her sore temple, supporting herself with the other hand on the table.
Her job was now at stake. Or so she thought for yesterday’s unplanned absence went unreported. She waivered, calculating her chances of success if she leaned to get her attaché that fell on its side when she rose. It was as if he read her thoughts for Chance rescued the case to lay it within reach on the table.
“Thank you,” she mouthed quietly, never looking directly at him.
He gained a healthy respect for this woman whose barometric gauge measured her circumstances discriminately helping her choose when or when not to attack.
Cell in hand, she searched the phonebook, pressed one button and listened to the ring. “Mrs. Dauchex, this is Angela Munso. Forgive me for disturbing you on a Saturday. I—” She paused to take in the conversation, listening intently, a tiny frown wrinkling the bridge of her nose, before stuttering a reply. “I-I’m feeling better. Thank you for asking.” More silence. “He did.” An astonished look melded to her incredulous tone when she uttered the same words as a question. “He did?” Wide-eyed wonder transmitted in the gaze boring through him. “Yes. I’ll try to recuperate. See you Tuesday. You have a wonderful holiday, also.”
Uh-Oh. His trademark toothpick found its way between his teeth. That look he recollected seeing before. The one that wrapped around the phrase “white people” when she lobbed it off the side of his head the other day.
“Not only did you contact my employer—you also volunteered to conduct my last two classes?”
“You weren’t in any condition to report your accident,” he justified his actions, “let alone teach a class,” his shoulders hunched matter-of-factly, “so I pitched in.”
“Just like that? Doing your civic duty for the downtrodden, I suppose.” She always hated it when the media portrayed the “other” people as the ones most likely to give of their time and efforts to assist the less fortunate, to the exclusion of any mention of the same charitable works by Blacks. Here he was, ingratiating himself as savior of her universe, without her permission.
“I hear the comment rolling around in that pretty head of yours. We’re not going to go there, again, are we?”
Angela, appalled at how transparent he made her feel, caged her retort for later.
Chance wanted to nip that in the bud before matters got out of hand. “I volunteer at various schools, Angela. I’ve been exercising my civic duty since right after Hurricane Katrina. All kids need guidance and not just at home. These children, with all the trauma they’ve had to handle in their short lives, require extra attention.”
He strolled over, bent near to snatch his empty coffee mug from the table, carefully rinsed and turned it down in the sink. “It’s not much by some standards, but, I make the time to do what I can.”
“That’s mighty white of you,” she sniped.
He allowed this rejoinder to pass, settling for continuing his point. “Or do you begrudge me lending a hand simply because I am white?” Her fingertips flew to her mouth. “Did you present your back when you heard Aunt Belle scream? No, you went running—barefooted and bathwater wet, inclement weather and all.”
“That’s different.” Angela deduced his aunt left nothing out.
“Because—it just is. That’s all.” There wasn’t one good reason she could offer to bat down his comparison. “Mrs. Thatcher was in trouble.”
“So were you.” Standing a little over five feet from her, which was probably every bit as tall as she was—if she wasn’t just a tad over, he inhaled the light fragrance of her body lotion. “So are the children.”
“Then on behalf of the children, I thank you, for scraping a few minutes out of your precious life.”
“What is it with you?” He had enough of her belligerence. “Who broke your heart and crushed your spirit?” Chance knew he strummed the wrong chord when it took her more than a few seconds to replenish a breath.
“How dare you?”
“Was it a white man who shattered your faith in all of mankind?” She huffed past him headed straight for the front door.
“Get out, Lt. Alexander,” she ordered, shaking with barely contained ferocity. The door opened wider in invitation for he hadn’t moved from his spot and stared over her head. That’s when the smell wafted under her nose.
“You were in my home.” Angela’s pulse raced as she challenged the person on her porch who deigned to return to the scene of the crime.
“Prove it.” Boldly, he sneered, the act pulling the thin layer of mottled white skin tightly over his skeletal frame. As a taunt, he added, “You can’t, can you?” Looking over his shoulder, he beckoned to someone in a parked car.
She hadn’t noticed the vehicle because her full attention was on him. The car door opened to expose her horror of horrors. “You’re not welcome here!”
Chance moved forward to lean casually on the door jamb beside her only when he heard her strident tone. Her look told him not to interfere. His concurred, relaying as long as matters didn’t get out of hand. His physique rose behind her like a granite pillar of support.
“What part of don’t contact me anymore didn’t you understand, Jason Harper? How did you find me, anyway?” She stared at the smartly dressed visitor.
The man approaching engaged Angela in conversation as Chance kept a vigilant watch.
“You didn’t make it easy,” he snarled. “Your parents were of no use, either.”
He stood smack dab in front of her now and Chance wished he knew what the heck was going on. They favored enough to be kin. “Ridiculous.” His not-so-secret muttering captured her attention for a microscopic second. Same eyes. Same nose. Same twist to their pursed lips. He’s white. She’s not. But definitely kin.
“You’re trespassing.” She wanted nothing to do with him or his problems.
“You’re a cold-hearted bi***.” He cut to the quick.
The toothpick snapped and air over Chance’s tongue heaved the broken pieces out of his mouth. His hand lashed out swifter than a whip. The vise-like grip on Jason’s jugular forced the other man’s attempt at rescue to fall short of victory. “That’s no way to speak to a lady. Without a doubt, inappropriate on her own doorstep.” Jason was a minnow on his hook. “Apologize.”
Chance noticed how the weasely man stayed put as well as quiet, now.
“Lt. Alexander.” Angela tugged at his arm. “I can handle him.”
“You heard her.” Jason squeaked like the rat he was while trying to dislodge the spikes from his neck. He breathed his next gulp of air strictly at Chance’s generous whim.
Prior to rewarding Jason with complete freedom, Chance tormented, “We’re waiting.”
“I apologize.” He coughed and sputtered in discomfort when released. “I should sue.”
“In New Orleans, B&E’s against the law. Or was I hearing things when Angela pointed a finger at your accomplice here?”
“Like I said—” The little man’s courage returned to instantly falter again at Chance’s contemptuous look.
“It’s too beautiful a day for a hospital stay.” Chance’s enjoyment of his own rhyme illuminated sparkling ivory. “Want me to call for backup, Angela? Trespassing sounds legitimate.”
“Do I need to file charges, Jason? Or will you leave peacefully, of your own accord never to return?”
He weighed his options carefully. “I’m leaving. Believe me when I say this isn’t over. Think about your answer long and hard, Angela. Make no mistake, there’s more at risk than your hurt feelings.”
“Hurt feelings!” The door slammed shut so hard the glass rattled. Angela’s head pounded and her stomach reeled. She clutched at her face. “White people!”
Chance took that as his cue to leave no questions asked. She heard the rustling sounds and looked up.
“Not you.” She stopped his departure, her hand on his as he fondled the door knob, and met his unwavering stare. “This time.”
“White people have feelings, too, Angela. The same as Black people, Asians, Latinos, etcetera, etcetera. Has that term always been your mantra?”
He really wanted a reply.
“Only of late, Chance,” she divulged in a melancholy dirge.
The use of his nickname surprised him. Thus far, she only used his title and last name when addressing him.
“Lately, nothing in my life makes any sense. I’m stuck in I-love-you-but-lied-to-you hell. My father isn’t really my father.” Her loose lips regurgitated facts she wanted no one to know before her mouth clamped shut.
“He sounded like a father to me.” Chance comforted, tussling internally with why those words reverberated intimacy. He didn’t know her from Adam and here he was trying to protect her feelings.
“I know what he sounds like? He’s only called…like about ten or twelve times over the last day.”
“You took my calls?”
“Of course not. Your answering machine did.” Curious that her answer didn’t clear up his confusion, he pursued. “And this involves white people, how?”
“I don’t want to think about it.” She quietly opened the door. “I’ve burdened you with too many of my troubles already. This is something I have to handle all by myself.”
“You know, Angela. We chance seeing a lot more of each other, in passing, since my goal is to become the attentive nephew Aunt Belle deserves.” Chance’s eyes gleamed as he mocked her while casually leaning on the door facing outside. “I have you to thank for pointing out this oversight, regardless of your methods.”
He moved down a step with a sly grin fastened to his face.
Angela’s tender smile eclipsed the perfect laugh when a lofty bubble of air floated out to him as her door eased shut. That put the cherry on his cake for she was indeed a sweet confection for him to behold.
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