Disclaimer: First of all let me take this moment to apologize to all my readers for the long wait for this part. I promise it wont happen again so I ask your forgiveness. My muse is back from her vacation in the Carribian and promises to stay awhile. All the characters are just fine and are still mine mine mine. Copyright 2005
Love/sex/subtext disclaimer: Ok, for those who have been living under a ROCK, this story contains romantic and sexual relations between consenting women. If this offends you, I shall refrain from making caustic remarks about your narrow worldview. (It just kills you we are having this much fun without you doesn’t it?)
Age thing: This is for external use only! Not for use by children under the age of 18 or while handling heavy machinery.
Language Disclaimer: Not too much, a shit here a damn there.
Dedications: Dear M, I will always be your dream weaver even if it seems like it is taking me forever. Also want to thank the rest of my beta readers for all their help in making this possible. And finally to my lovely wife, thanks for always being there and letting me know I can do this. Don’t forget to feed the bard (I don’t bite, well upon request) at email@example.com.)
By Lady J
The orangey pink glow of the street lights illuminated the long lonely highway. The evenly spaced lights set a hypnotic rhythm in the dark night. The lights along with the strobe effect of the center white line and the constant drone of the engine would have put Victoria to sleep had it not been for the continuous chatter of Shannon and Rebecca resonating from the back seat.
Fortunately for Victoria the two young women had only cat napped, unlike Jessie who was still slumbering. Victoria glanced at Jessie noting how peaceful she looked. She now regretted ever putting a crease in that smooth brow or a tear in those vibrant green eyes. She was being given a second chance and she wouldn’t waste it.
She listened to the good natured banter of the women as she drove through the evening. They talked about boys, fashion, dating horror stories, and ended up on the subject of family.
Finally, Victoria thought as Shannon began to ask the questions that she, herself, had wanted answered but didn’t dare ask.
Rebecca admitted that she didn’t know much about this side of the family. She continued, “I know they came over like on the Nina or the Pinta or something like that.”
Victoria smirked. Yeah you definitely don’t know much about your ancestors do you?
“How did they end up in Louisiana?” Shannon asked eagerly.
Becca shrugged. “Guess that’s where all the French ended up. Like I said, I don’t know much about it. All I know is that somewhere along the line my Dad had a falling out with my Grandma and separated from the family.”
“What happened?” Shannon asked.
“I don’t know all the details, just that it had something to do with my Dad being in the military. I think the family had other plans for him, so he just took off and did what he wanted. I wouldn’t even have thought to call great-grandmother except for the fact that I didn’t want to sleep in the airport,” Becca replied.
“So have you ever met Madame? Have you ever been to Dangereuse Beauté? Is it a place like you’d see on Gone with the Wind? I’ve always wanted to stay on a plantation like those. And why did they name it Dangereuse Beauté anyway? Is there some grisly tale behind the name? Are there ghosts in the house?” Shannon asked in a flurry.
Becca giggled at Shannon’s wild enthusiasm. “Ok, ok. First of all Dangereuse Beauté is no Tara or Twelve Oaks. It’s more like Manderly and Madame is more like the creepy Mrs. Danvers than the warm and loving Mrs. O’Hara. But that’s mostly just an impression more than a memory. I haven’t been there since I was a kid.”
“Wow, Becca, I’m impressed. I thought you only read Cosmo and Vogue.” Shannon giggled while Becca good-naturedly pushed her.
“Hey, I’ll have you know I have a 4.0 average. They don’t just hand those grades out to anyone,” Becca reminded her friend. From there the conversation turned to grades and the professors they either loved or hated.
Victoria sighed. She really didn’t know anymore than when all this started. She would feel more comfortable if she knew a little more about this prestigious family. Maybe she would call Daddy and see what he knew.
Out of the darkness a lone sign appeared.
“Is this it?” she called to Becca.
Becca sat up from her reclined position in the back seat and rested her hands on Victoria’s headrest while looking out the window. “Yeah, turn here and then take a right.”
“Ok,” Victoria replied and with a click she turned off the cruise control of the luxury sedan and sat up more attentively in the leather seat. She pulled off the main highway onto a small two lane thoroughfare. Her eyes squinted trying to adjust to this much darker road. Now she would have given anything to have those hideously colored lamps brighten up this dismal lane. She looked down at her odometer noting the read out.
Ok, just a couple more miles and we will be there Victoria told herself. To the left and the right was either thick foliage or walls that were only interrupted by the occasional gate. Damn it’s like being in a tunnel. Victoria grimaced. Half mile….four tenths……3 tenths….2……..1.
She carefully turned off the road and up to the elaborate gate that separated the dark sedan from the gravel drive that disappeared into the ominous black woods that obscured the view of the grand house and grounds. The automatic window made a slight whooshing sound as it lowered. Victoria leaned out to push the white button underneath the large brass plate that stated, “Dangereuse Beauté. No soliciting” The buzz pierced the stillness demanding attention from all. Jessie only stirred slightly.
A deep baritone voice echoed over the speaker, “Yes?”
“Rebecca DuShont and party?” Victoria called into the metal covered microphone.
“Yes. You are expected. Welcome,” the disembodied voice replied.
With a low whine of a motor and a squeak of heavily laden slightly rusted hinges the gate gave reluctant admittance to the automobile. Victoria pulled the car out of park proceeding down the gloomy path.
Victoria leaned forward, dark eyes narrowing, as she navigated down this desolate winding road. There were no electric lights posted anywhere on the path only the singular beams from her headlights illuminating their way. The dark lane was hemmed in on both sides by ancient trees, Spanish moss swaying gently from their twisted limbs. Overhead the limbs converged like the gnarled fingers of old withered hands effectively blocking out any promise of light that the stars or moon could offer.
Jessie listened to the gravel crunch beneath the tires of the sedan from behind closed eyes for a few seconds. The sound was comforting to her and she wanted that warmth to wrap around her completely before opening her eyes. Slowly her eyes flitted open to the sight of twisted trees appearing out of the darkness like ghostly monsters. Sitting up a little straighter in her seat Jessie commented, “We’re not in Kansas anymore are we?”
“It’s kinda spooky. So when does Jason or Freddie jump out of the trees with a chain saw?” Shannon commented.
“You’re talking about the guy from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Jessie corrected.
“Does it really matter when you are talking about being hacked to death?” Shannon asked with a tremor in her voice.
“It’s not that bad,” Becca chimed in.
“You’re kidding, right?” Shannon asked.
“Yeah, it does look like something out of a bad horror movie doesn’t it?” Jessie replied.
“Yeah, it does,” Shannon said her voice barely above a whisper. “It’s usually right about now that the car would stall and then …and then… and THEN!” Shannon suddenly grabbed Jessie’s shoulder. Jessie screamed, Victoria and Becca jumped, while Shannon laughed outright.
“Don’t do that!” Jessie cried slapping the offending hand that still lay on the back of her seat.
Through her continued giggles, Shannon replied, “Oh lighten up. It had to be done.”
Finally the trees that lined the drive opened before them like a curtain parting to reveal the brightly lit stage of a Broadway drama. It appeared that every light in the mansion was lit, welcoming the weary travelers.
A low-pitched whistle cut through the silence of the car before Shannon commented, “Damn, Becca. I thought you said it wasn’t going to be Tara. Ouch!”
Becca made no comment as she angrily elbowed Shannon. Silence descended upon the young women in the car as each quietly took in the grandeur of Dangereuse Beauté. Each in her own hushed contemplations felt a warmth that emanated from this place. This warmth was in direct contrast with everything Becca had ever felt about Dangereuse Beauté.
Becca strained to clear the dust off her memories but it was no use, the memories were just too fuzzy. One thing she could remember was how unnaturally quiet the house always seemed to be. No laughter, no conversations, not even the uncomfortable echo of contentiously raised voices just a chilling silence. There was nothing but a deafening silence that could be heard. She couldn’t ever recall if any one even dared to smile in this house. There always seemed to be a dark specter haunting these ancient halls that she always associated with Madame, but was that really true or just the imaginations of a frightened child? She couldn’t be sure, but shortly she’d find out and that was making her nervous.
While Becca mused about these mediations all eyes in the vehicle, including her own, were fixed on the three story, gothic columned mansion. The brightly lit house appeared out of the darkness like a sparkling diamond. The monolithic building quietly stood as a ghostly sentinel guarding the vast grounds and those who occupied its halls from intruders.
Two spiral staircases wound their way like ivy, from the veranda on the first floor to the second floor balcony, and striving past the third floor stopping just short of the widow’s walk that was perched at the very peak of house. For a moment Shannon thought she saw a shadow on that high walk, but upon closer look, the young woman decided she was mistaken.
The lawn that stretched out from either side of the path, which they drove on, was immaculately manicured. Beyond the neatly trimmed lawn loomed the dark shadows of the ever creeping indigenous foliage always at war with the pristine grounds. One could almost visualize an army of gardeners fully equipped with an arsenal of machetes, weed whackers, and pruning sheers all ready to mount a vicious assault if even one leaf from a vine even dared to cross the edge of the lawn.
At the base of the house were hundreds of flowing plants all placed with perfect random precision. From each side of the house a flowing vine rose. Restlessly it wound up to entangle itself with the beautiful polished wood railings of the second floor balcony. Like hungry lovers the twin vines reach for each other until they met and tightly entwined themselves together finishing a living frame for the great house.
Victoria expertly wound the car down the gravel drive and stopped the car at the base of the steps that led to beautifully adorned double doors at the entrance of this grand home. The light that shone through the cut glass panels of these large doors was warm and inviting. The etched designs in the glass scattered rainbow patterns into the night effectively chasing away the blackness with streaks of color.
Slowly the girls exited the car. Stiffening of muscles after the long drive as well as their hasty change of garb made it necessary to carefully emerge from the luxury vehicle. Each young woman, in her own way, stretched, adjusted their outfits and hair before ascending the stairs.
Becca looked up at the house, sighing audibly, before she began her reluctant climb. Jessie mounted the stair beside her friend as the other two young women brought up the rear.
Jessie looked over at Rebecca. The change that had come over her friend was breathtaking. The confident, vivacious, and almost always infuriating Rebecca was nowhere to be found. In her place was a somber quiet woman who seemed too timid to even raise her voice above a whisper. Becca’s trademark natural grace and style was noticeably absent being replaced by a stiff inflexible gait. Her face was a stoic mask, a plasticene wall that Jessie, could not get over, under, or around. For the first time she felt disconnected from her friend. Or was it her friend? This was not the Rebecca Dushont she had come to know and love. With this very noticeable change in her friend, Jessie felt more ‘odd one out’ than ever.
Timidly Jessie glanced back at Shannon and Victoria. Shannon looked beautiful, her long golden hair being gently tossed by the evening breeze, her body language as casual as ever with a bright smile gracing her lips. Victoria was totally in her element. She was the picture of classic elegance with her basic black sheath and pearls as she climbed the stairs with an ease that punctuated the difference between their backgrounds.
Victoria, her face set, was doing her own observations. The house was much more impressive than she had expected. She was not really sure what she had expected, maybe some run down shack that had barely weathered the hands of time. Maybe a three or four story monstrosity that had pealing paint and shutters that were hanging askew by their rusty hinges. Old faded shutters that threatened to crash to the ground with the next blow of a gentle breeze. Or maybe she was expecting something along the lines of a sterile Spartan museum-- a place that had only visitors and no residents, no family to fill this shell with life. No, that was perfect description of her own home. Maybe, Victoria thought, maybe she expected something less so she could feel like she was more. Maybe, just maybe, it was her air of superiority which was fragilely being held together by wires and rusty nails. Maybe it was her own distorted image of herself and her family whose facade had the chipped and peeling paint. Obviously she had been wrong about Jessie, and now Becca. What other impressions had been colored by her upbringing and the prejudices that upbringing had cultivated? Is that why was she so nervous? Was it the way she had always treated Rebecca? Only to find out that Rebecca’s family was far more influential then her own? Or was it simpler than that? Was it just her own conscience shouting at her that she had been caught for the way she had treated Becca for so long?
Once Victoria found her way out of the fog of her reveries, her dark eyes glanced up to be captivated by the beauty that was Jessie. With the light that projected from the home silhouetting Jessie, the little blonde was a truly a vision of loveliness. When she smiled over at Becca Victoria caught her breath. Her mind could not grasp the beauty that was before her, neither could she understand the feelings that this sight conjured within her.
Victoria had never seen Jessie in anything dressier than an oxford shirt and jeans. But here she was, gracefully floating up these stairs in her Jade skirt with the matching waist jacket that accentuated Jessie’s every curve. Carefully she had grasped the skirt to pull it up slightly as she climbed the stairs revealing a tantalizing view of shapely calves and ankles accentuated by the perfectly matched pumps. Victoria felt very distracted by the sight which only added to her confusion.
Finally, all the young women were gathered directly in front of the door. Before Becca could ring the bell, the door swung open. A tall lanky man of color dressed in a neatly pressed uniform stood before them. A slight smile graced his lips as he nodded. The only sign of his age was slightly graying temples.
“Les dames bienvenues, veuillez entrer.” He shook his head before beginning again in English. “I am sorry. Welcome Mademoiselles. My name is Louis your humble servant. If you would please follow me, Madame is waiting in the drawing room.”
He backed away from the door allowing the young women into the immense foyer area. Slightly to the right of the entrance was a grand staircase that led to the second floor. Above their heads hung a chandelier so big, so grand in its opulence, that it simply took one’s breath away. The foyer itself must have been twenty by twenty by two stories tall and gave Jessie vertigo whenever she looked up. The sound of their heels against the marble floor sent echoes throughout the big house.
To the right and the left of the foot of the staircase were two sets of ornately carved doors. Each set of doors were closed with a brass key resting in the brass lock beneath each crystal knob. The butler explained that these led to the morning room and the tea rooms respectively, before leading the ladies down a narrow hallway.
The tight corridor was lined with family portraits of Rebecca’s many ancestors. Walking down the hallway was like walking through a portal in time. With each step you passed from mid-sixteenth century to the seventeen, eighteenth, nineteenth and finally early twentieth century. All the women noticed that the eyes of these long dead ancestors seemed to follow their every step. Each ancestor silently appraising the carriage, dress, and demeanor of each of the visitors as they proceeded down the hall from this undiscovered dimension, these shadows was permitted a window into the here and now. The weight of these painted stares caused Shannon to noticeably shiver under their ghostly gaze.
The immaculately dressed butler stopped at another set of double doors and knocked.
“Entre’,” a feminine voice called softly.
Louis opened the door and stood aside allowing entrance of the visitors. Becca entered followed by Jessie, Victoria, and finally Shannon.
Shannon leaned over Victoria’s shoulder and whispered, “Are we supposed to tip this guy?”
Victoria shook her head to the negative wondering if Shannon was serious about that question or simply trying to lighten the mood.
As the women filed into the room, an elderly woman stood from the winged back chair she had been sitting in. She placed her book that had resided in her lap along with a pair of slight reading glasses gently upon the small round table next to the chair. With all the grace and elegance of a regal she greeted her guests. “Rebecca, bienvenue de nouveau à la Dangereuse Beauté. Vous démuni été ici puisque vous étiez un enfant, vrai ?” Greeted Madame while leaning in to kiss Becca on each cheek. Speaking in her native French gave Madame’s smooth alto tones a touch of the exotic and added to the older woman’s mystique.
Becca was taken aback by the warm welcome that Madame had given her. She was also surprised at how vibrant and agile Madame seemed, considering her advanced age. She was tall and slender with her white hair fashionably styled. Her grey eyes were clear and bright, her frame slight, but not fragile by any means. But most of all Madame exuded a vibrant youthfulness that kept intact her physical beauty all these many decades.
“Rectifiez, Madame. Vous regardez bien,” Becca replied in French while squeezing Madame’s hand. Becca turned to introduce her friends. Placing her hand on Jessie’s shoulder she begins, “ Laissez-moi présenter mes amis. Jessica Cole, Victoria Sinclair et Shannon Palmer."
Madame stiffened slightly before saying, “"Sinclair, sont vous la fille de Roger et Catherine Sinclair?"
Victoria’s dark eyes narrowed before acknowledging her parentage. “Oui, ils sont mes parents, Victoria stated in perfect French.
“Mes condoléances,” was the clipped answer from Madame.
My condolences? Victoria thought. What the hell does she mean by ‘my condolences’?
Victoria’s mind was reeling. How did the elderly woman know her parents? Did they have some business dealings that fell through? Or was it the fact that Madame was old money and a snob where her parents-though not exactly nuevo riche-did not come from the same type of ancient linage as Madame. Her mind was whirling so much that she didn’t even react when Shannon leaned over and whispered into her ear, “Vic, you better stop the French. It’s pissing her off.”
Though Jessie couldn’t understand a word of French, she did understand body language and that language had changed from warm to cold in a fraction of a second when Madame spoke with Victoria. Jessie leaned closer to Victoria and asked, “What was all that about?”
Victoria looked down at her friend, unhidden embarrassment in her eyes, as she mouthed the word, later.
After greeting Shannon, Madame suggested they all proceed to the dining room. Shannon offered her arm to Madame, who eagerly took it, while she chatted easily with the older woman through Becca.
Jessie envied the ease with which Shannon comported herself. She always seemed to feel at home anywhere they went, with anyone they met, and in any situation. Maybe it was because Shannon had the rare ability to be totally comfortable in her own skin. She didn’t judge anyone and didn’t care if anyone judged her. Maybe it was the California girl thing and being raised in Oregon was just not the same thing.
Louis preceded the group down a short passageway to another set of carved double doors. With a flourish he opened both doors and then stood to the side once again allowing the women to enter. Jessie glanced back just in time to see Louis tug on his shirt collar before he closed the huge doors. The older man was obviously uncomfortable in these clothes and Jessie wondered if she was the only one to notice.
The pure elegance and opulence of the table settings took the girls’ breath away. Silver and gold glittered from every inch of the table. Not one, but two silver candelabras were strategically placed on the table with every candle lit adding to the sparkling magic of the precious metals that were imbedded in the imported china. High backed chairs stood as silent pickets on each side of the table as well as at the head and the foot. The draperies that obscured the oversized windows were made of a rich velvet fabric. Their color was a deep rich red and they stretched floor to ceiling giving the illusion of crimson specters looming over the enormous table.
As Jessie surveyed the scene one thought kept running through her mind, am I tall enough to sit on these chairs without a booster seat?
Across the dining hall stood a tall dark haired, dark eyed young man with a finely cropped goatee, who looked like he had just stepped off of a GQ magazine cover. His expensive suit had obviously been custom made for his relatively muscular body. He gave off an air of slick superiority which could be felt from across the room. His complete boredom was only thinly veiled by his southern charm and years of etiquette lessons. Jessie pegged him as a pompous ass immediately and she would not be disappointed.
His total disinterest in the party was evident in the listless manner in which he sauntered toward the group. With a cold eye he appraised the women in the group. I wonder which one is dear cousin Rebecca? Hopefully neither of the tall beauties is her, because those two could be... He unconsciously stroked his goatee….amusing for a short time.
Madame cleared her throat and gave him a chilled glance before introducing him to Becca as her cousin, Jean Claude. Becca stepped forward and took his hand. Bending slightly at the waist he brought her hand to his lips and deposited a small kiss on her soft hand.
“What a pleasure to finally meet you, Cousin Rebecca. Please do me the honor of introducing me to these other lovely ladies,” he cooed, a mixture of French/Southern accent coloring his tone. He was genuinely relieved that neither of the taller women was his cousin, especially the blonde who had entered the dining room with Madame on her arm. She had an easy charm and grace about her that Jean Claude would be ill equipped to circumvent. He didn’t like competing for what should be his by birthright, and Madame’s affection was one of those things that should be his without question.
As Becca introduced each of the women, Jean Claude in turn took their hand in his and kissed it muttering some platitude thinking himself quite debonair in doing so.
Oh My God, is this guy for real? Jessie thought to herself.
Yet when it came to meeting Victoria his boredom lifted like a fog when faced with the morning sun.
“Victoria Sinclair of the Boston Sinclair’s?” he asked, not hiding the excitement in his voice.
“Yes,” Victoria answered, retrieving her hand with some difficulty.
“Your father is quite a remarkable businessman. I have followed his new business innovations in the trades over the past few years,” he almost gushed.
“Yes, my father is very clever,” Victoria hesitantly admitted.
Offering his arm, he asked,” May I escort you to the table, Victoria?”
Not wanting to seem impolite, she hesitantly took his arm and let him lead her to the table. Once again Shannon offered her arm to Madame and with a sweet, ‘Merci’ she accepted the younger woman’s gallant gesture. Jessie snickered softly as she followed the remainder of the group to the table.
Place cards had been set, but were almost lost in the plethora of silverware and china at each place setting. Madame, of course, was seated at the head of the table. Then to her right were Jean Claude, Victoria, and Shannon. To her left were Rebecca and finally Jessie.
When she pulled out Madame’s chair, Shannon noticed the place cards set in their silver holders. With a total lack of decorum she picked up Madame’s card and said, “Cool, where’s mine?”
Victoria, who had just been seated by Jean Claude, said, “Your place is here next to me.” She indicated the seat next to hers where Jessie just happened to be standing having followed Victoria and Jean Claude to that side of the table.
“Hey Jess, can you switch places with me? I want to be closer to Madame so I can talk to her?” Shannon asked.
Victoria blushed slightly at her good friend’s faux paux and Becca scrunched down in her seat slightly trying to make herself as small as possible.
“"Rebecca, ce qui est l'ennui?" Madame asked sternly.
Becca answered, once she had removed her hand from obscuring her face, [des1] "Shannon voudrait se reposer ici au lieu de là-bas. Elle a demandé Jessica pour commuter avec elle." She explained the change of seating arrangements to the older woman.
With a raised eyebrow, Madame looked at the attractive blonde, who settled herself next to her great grand daughter; and then to the smaller blonde, who with some difficulty, was being seated by Jean Claude. She watched the young woman for a few moments, her keen eye picking up on some subtle nuances that she would digest later. [des2]
Seeing that the crimson Rebecca was waiting for a decision Madame quickly said,” C'est peu commun mais ce sera bien Rebecca.”
Becca heaved a sigh of relief at Madame’s gracious consent to the changes in seating.
During this time, Jessie was also doing some digesting of the observations she had made thus far. First, though Louis was very handsome in his uniform, there was awkwardness in his demeanor that she could not account for. He would unconsciously, she was sure, fuss with his jacket or his shirt collar. The same could be said for the two young women that were even now serving the party seated at the table. The young women were constantly touching, pulling, tugging, or patting down different aspects of their clothing at different times. It was as if they were unaccustomed to being in these heavily starched uniforms, but that couldn’t be right.
Then there was the mysterious Madame. Madame so very proper, so very old world, so very aloof, so what seemed out of place? Wasn’t everything as Becca had said it would be? Yet there was something that didn’t fit.
While the others continued to chat amongst themselves, Jessie continued her silent surveillance. The tugging and adjusting of uniforms continued. Victoria continued acting interested in Jean Claude’s inane prattle. Shannon continued speaking to Madame through Becca. Madame politely nodded and contributed to the conversation from time to time. Every once in a while Jessie caught sight of an older black woman who would peak out the door when she thought no one was watching.
Jessie was brought out of her reveries by a groan that came from her left. “What?” Jessie whispered. Victoria simply nodded her head indicating for Jessie to look at the other side of the table. Jessie turned her gaze to see Shannon handing back the majority of her silverware to one of the young women that was serving the party.
“I don’t need all this,” was the comment that floated over the table.
Becca was whispering wildly to Shannon, who with a nod of her head and a wave of her hand dismissed her objections. Madame had placed her hand over her mouth as she watched the odd activity transpiring at her table. Jean Claude rolled his eyes, though happy that dear Cousin Rebecca’s friends were making such a ‘memorable’ impression.
Both women watched as the servant, Genevieve, glanced up at Madame while juggling about a dozen pieces of silverware in her hands. Again the eye brow went up, but with a mysterious twinkle in her eye, Madame nodded her permission for the excess silverware to be taken away. That twinkle, Jessie had caught it several times before. That twinkle was another piece to the puzzle but for the life of her, Jessie she couldn’t put the pieces together.
Shannon, totally oblivious to the horrendous mistake in etiquette that she had perpetrated, turned to Rebecca and said, “See? Madame is cool with it, so you can stop kicking me now.” She finished with a wink at Madame.
Madame smiled slightly, her eyebrow still arched high.
Genevieve disappeared through the swinging door ‘extra’ silverware in hand. The table settled back into a banal banter while they waited for the young woman to reappear from the kitchen with the next course.
Suddenly there was a crash that startled everyone at the table. All eyes turned to the swinging door where several muffled voices raised and lowered in turn. With another bang, clatter, and rising of voices all in the kitchen went silent.
All eyes turned back to Madame sitting quietly at the head of the table.
“Je suis sûr que tout va bien,"Madame assured everyone that everything was alright in the kitchen though her brow was furrowed slightly.
Becca and Victoria translated to Jessie and Shannon.
Just as the words fell from their lips another commotion started again behind the swinging doors. Without warning the doors swung open. A frazzled Genevieve exploded through the doors, two young women hot on her heels. Genevieve pirouetted and weaved trying to avoid having the young women steal the shrimp that were picturesquely displayed in tall silver chalices. The bizarre dance continued while the young women continued to chase her to the head of the table where Madame was seated. Abruptly the women stopped chasing Genevieve and for the first time seemed to notice the very proper dinner party that was taking place.
“Oh, I didn’t realize we had guests,” said one of the young women as she leaned over and kissed Madame’s cheek.
“Madame, are we missing a lesson? I don’t remember. Do you Claire?” asked the other woman before plopping unceremoniously into Jean Claude’s lap.
All the visitors looked from one young woman to the other, who was still perched on Jean Claude’s lap. Then all eyes turned to Madame, who was smiling brightly, that strange twinkle flashing in her eyes.
In perfect English salted with a beautiful accent Madame said, “Ladies, let me introduce my lovely nieces. First is Claire,” she said indicating the young woman closest to her, “and this is Dominique.” She pointed to the woman sitting in a perturbed Jean Claude’s lap.
Both young women waved at the band of slack jawed women that were sitting at the table. It was not hard to see the family resemblance to Rebecca. Both young women were about the same height and build as Rebecca with similar facial features with long wavy dark tresses. Jessie could not help but smile when she recognized the bright mischievous smiles that shown from Dominique and Claire as the same smile of her close friend.
Shannon was the first to recover from the shock. The tall blonde stood, raising her glass to Madame, she said, “Touché.”
Madame, with a most gracious flair, raised her own glass in return. Her grey eyes were sparkling with fun and mischief.
Becca looked from Madame to Shannon, still not grasping what was happening. Shannon good naturedly pushed her. “It’s a joke. Don’t you get it? It’s a practical joke,” Shannon said and started to laugh again.
Becca let out a very long breath which sounded much like a balloon deflating. For the first time since entering the ancient mansion, Becca noticed the kindness in Madame’s eyes and smiled at her own lack of observation.
Madame touched Becca’s hand. “I am sorry my child. I am--how do you say?--a joker. I was not sure of the impression you would have of me and Dangereuse Beauté. I think my first impression was correct, but I could not help playing a small prank on you and your friends. I hope you can forgive this old woman?” the elderly woman asked.
Rebecca’s posture visibly relaxed with a chuckle she said, “Of course I forgive you. I see where I had you all wrong.” She stood and went over to Madame and gave her a strong hug which the older woman greedily accepted.
“Good. Now we get to know each other, yes?” Madame asked with some anxiety.
“Yes,” Becca said with conviction as she returned to her seat.
With that the stress of the meeting and dinner faded away. The servants set places for Clair and Dominique and all started chatting and eating with great ease. The older black servant, Lucy, finally appeared from behind the kitchen doors and supervised the younger women and even Louis with an iron fist. Yet the way Louis, Genevieve, and the family smiled when the Lucy was bossing led everyone to believe that her bark was worse than her bite. Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time, perhaps with the exception of Jean Claude, who sat quietly, a disgusted look plastered to his features.
Rebecca’s demeanor returned with a vengeance. She was coy, flirtatious, vivacious outrageous, in other words the Rebecca that Jessie had come to know and love. Jessie couldn’t help but see a resemblance between the fun loving sparkle in her friend’s dark eyes and the spirited glint in Madame’s grey eyes. Oh Madame, there is so much more to you than meets the eye. It’s going to be interesting to see who you really are, Jessie thought. She smiled self-satisfied with the knowledge that she was on to Madame from the beginning. Surreptitiously Jessie’s eyes strayed to Madame. Any appearance of the formality had completely melted away. Though Madame did not laugh outright, she did smile quite a bit obviously enjoying the banter of the young people.
Before anyone knew what was happening the hours had flown by. Jessie was disappointed when Madame suggested they retire to the drawing room for an aperitif. She was afraid the magic of the evening would dissipate if they left the dining room.
Oh come on, Jessie mentally shook herself. How can the good time evaporate just by leaving the room? Everyone was rising from the chairs by this point when Jessie emerged from her musings. As if to catch up to the others she rose too quickly from her seat, but unaccustomed as she was to wearing heels and the extra height of the chair, she turned at an odd angle and stumbled.
“OUCH!” she cried as she grabbed the back of her chair before heading head first into the oriental carpet that covered the hardwood floor. Victoria instinctively grabbed the smaller woman before she fell.
“Nice recovery,” called Shannon from the other side of the table.
“What happened?” Victoria asked.
Automatically Jessie lifted the affected limb to check for damage. “Damn, I twisted my ankle.”
“Can you walk?” asked Victoria, as she placed her arm around her friend’s waist
“My dear, are you alright?” asked Madame.
“Jessie?” came the concerned voice of Becca.
She waved to everyone. “Yeah, I think I’m ok.” Jessie tried to put weight on her injured ankle, but when the pain shot through her she grabbed onto a very receptive Victoria. “Damn,” she growled through gritted teeth. “It will be fine.”
“Right,” commented Shannon skeptically, who had rounded the table and was kneeling in front of Jessie. Shannon removed Jessie’s pump and was looking at the already swelling ankle.
“Let me help you,” Victoria whispered into Jessie’s ear.
Jessie nodded her head. She smiled weakly as Victoria helped her the short walk into the drawing room and sat her in a plush chair. Louis followed the couple closely appearing almost from nowhere with an ottoman for Jessie to rest her foot upon.
Jessie could feel the blood rise to her cheeks. Could I be anymore clumsy? she asked herself as Becca, Shannon, Claire, Dominique, and even Madame came to inquire as to how she was and if there was anything they could do for her.
After a few moments she saw Madame lean over to Louis. She was obviously giving him instructions; a concerned looked covering her features. Louis nodded in assent to whatever Madame had said; turning on his heel, he left the room without another word.
Jessie was surprised and somewhat relieved when Louis returned with a tray ladened with crystal glasses of sweet liquors. Everyone in turn took a glass, resuming the conversations that were started in the dining room. Becca took a seat next to Madame. Within moments, their heads were together whispering conspiratorially, or it would seem to the casual observer. The others were gathered around the injured Jessie talking and laughing while Louis placed an ice bag on Jessie’s injured ankle.
Much to his chagrin Jean Claude could not get the lovely and wealthy Victoria away from the clumsy blonde. For all his efforts of charm and clever repartee he could neither capture nor keep the tall beauty’s attention for very long. The silly prattle of his cousins was giving him a headache. Looking around the room for a chance of sensible conversation his eyes lighted on Becca and Madame chatting like long lost friends. His blood began to boil. My dear cousin, you are not going to ruin everything I have worked for all these years. He walked over to where Madame and Becca sat hoping to enter the conversation, but to his utter amazement was dismissed by Madame who “Wanted to get to know the child." With a feeble explanation he excused himself from the party to go and sooth his bruised ego, knowing that nothing worth knowing would happen before tomorrow.
As Madame and Becca spoke the older woman kept a watchful eye on her guests and nieces as they chatted merrily on the other side of the drawing room. Her keen grey eyes caught how the tall dark one did not stray far from the little blonde. She was very attentive to young Jessie being sure that she had anything she would want. The tall blonde was also caring, but not to the extent of Victoria. Finally, during the lull of her conversation with Rebecca, Madame broached the subject. ”Your friends, they are very nice young women?” she asked noncommittally.
“Yes, they’re all great. We’ve known each other for years and we know we can count on each other no matter what,” Becca gushed.
“And these two, Victoria and Jessie?” Madame nodded toward the two young women as Louis placed a fresh ice bag on Jessie’s ankle. Becca acknowledged the names were right. “They are even closer, true?”
Becca smirked as her brows knitted together in confusion. “Closer? I don’t understand.”
“Yes, much closer than the rest of you. There is love there no?” Madame asked.
Becca continued looking at Madame trying to decipher what the older woman was trying to say. Then suddenly it dawned on her. “OH! You mean like lovers?”
Becca laughed out loud. “Oh no. They’re not lovers.”
“Are you sure, mon petite?” Madame cooed.
Becca looked over at her friends with a new eye. For a few silent moments she watched the gestures and body language of the young women across from her. She watched, noticing for the first time how attentive Victoria was toward Jessie. “I’m sure it’s just because she’s hurt, Madame, nothing more,” she commented after a pregnant pause, not sure if that was the true reason for this sudden outpouring of attention from the tall brunette.
“We shall see,” Madame replied with a smirk affixed to her angular features. Madame called to Louis, who had just finished placing an ice pack on Jessie’s affected ankle. Once the ice bag was secured he walked over to the smiling older woman. He leaned down to hear what Madame was saying. He stood, nodded, and left the room.
“You’re a trouble maker aren’t you?” Becca said grinning back at her great grandmother finding that she was liking this mysterious woman more and more as the evening progressed. “What was all that about?” she asked, pointing at Louis’ disappearing form.
“I have guests and arrangements must be made for their comfort,” Madame replied a suspicious glint in her eye.
A few moments later Louis entered the room. He nodded ever so slightly in Madame’s direction. Madame returned the nod before saying, “Ladies, our visitors have had quite a day. It is getting late; I am sure they are all exhausted and would like to retire for the evening. “
A loud groan came from Clair and Dominique both not wanting this evening to end. “Madame, they’re talking about leaving tomorrow. Please convince them to stay. We’re having a big barbeque tomorrow with our friends. You have to stay,” Clair pleaded looking from one young woman to the other.
Claire and Dominique both were captivated by their new friends. They found them all attractive, charming, and witty and just all around nice people who seemed genuinely interested in them and not their finances. These kinds of friends were rare for the young women and they greedily held onto the ones they did find.
Placing a soft hand on Becca’s arm she arrested the motion of the young woman who began to rise from her chair. “My dears, you’re more than welcome to stay here as long as you like. There is no need to rush off is there?” Looking over at Becca she asked, “Why don’t you stay and talk to me about your plans while Louis shows the girls to their rooms?”
“Ok,” agreed Becca reclaiming her chair.
Looking over at Jessie, Madame addressed her softly,” My dear, there are too many stairs between here and your rooms I think it would be best if Louis carried you.”
“No thank you, Madame, I’m sure I’ll be able to manage,” Jessie returned as she tried to move her ankle without wincing.
“Nonsense, my child. It would take you hours to get upstairs and Louis, I promise, is very strong despite his appearance.” Louis flashed Madame a wry look before moving toward the little blonde
“No really, Madame, I’ll be alright,” Jessie squeaked.
The tenor of Jessie’s voice caused both Shannon and Victoria to look at Jessie. With each step that Louis took Jessie seemed to get smaller and smaller as if she were trying to become part of the chair. Her eyes, though open, seemed not to see the approaching Louis any more but something else. She was seeing something that was terrifying her. By the time Louis walked the few paces across the carpet all eyes turned to Jessie who by this time had her legs curled under her. Her eyes glazed over.
Becca flew to her almost knocking Louis off his feet in her effort to get to her friend. Becca landed kneeling before her curled up friend. Placing her hands upon Jessie’s knees Becca spoke soft words of comfort trying to bring her friend gently back to the present.
“What is going on?” Shannon asked genuinely frightened by her friend’s appearance. She had never seen the always strong and confident Jessie look so small and helpless like a young child.
With all eyes affixed on the drama unfolding before them, no one noticed Victoria leaning over to remove her sleek black pumps. Shannon jumped slightly as Victoria touched her shoulder to get her attention. She handed Shannon her shoes and then weaving her way by her, Louis, and finally Becca the taller woman waited for the tiny blonde to look up before she leaned down.
“It’s ok, Jess, I’ll take you upstairs. You’ll be ok, I promise.” Victoria spoke so softly and kindly that no one but Becca could hear her words. Nodding absently she raised her arms to Victoria. Victoria leaned down and placing her arms behind the smaller woman’s knees and back, she lifted her from the seat effortlessly. Jessie laid her head on the taller woman’s shoulder as Victoria tightened her grip pressing Jessie to her while resting her dark head on her blonde hair.
The sight of the two women was so picturesque, so intimate, that those in the room with the couple felt as if they were intruding on a very private moment. Shannon and Claire looked away while Becca and Dominique could not remove their eyes from the touching tableau. Becca was mesmerized by the sight of the arrogant cold Victoria ministering to Jessie, who only a few weeks before was persona non grata because of her sexual orientation. Perhaps Madame had been right. Perhaps there was something going on with Victoria that she hadn’t seen until just now.
Suddenly Jessie’s head popped up as if being awaken from a deep slumber. Coloring to the roots of her blonde hair, she stuttered, “Hide me,” into Victoria’s ear. The smaller woman hid her crimson face in ebony tresses trying hard to disappear.
Once again Victoria settled her chin on the young woman’s head. “It’s ok. It’s ok.”
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?” Shannon said breaking the romantically odd scene.
Becca opened her mouth to begin telling the tale when Jessie’s hand went up signaling to her friend that she would tell the story. “Look, I had a hard time with some football players once when I was jogging. They decided to toss me around like a football.”
“Do you mean you were attacked?” Claire asked.
“Not….” Jessie began, but Becca cut her off. “Yes, she was attacked by these stupid jocks. So now when anyone tries to pick her up or carry her she freaks.”
“Were these men brought to justice?” Madame asked as she approached the circle that surrounded the tall woman, who still held onto the smaller one.
“Well it depends on how you look at it,” Becca stated a smirk curling at the edges of her lips. “Suffice to say none of them played a full season.”
With that the spell was broken and everyone including Jessie was laughing.
“Well now that we know what happened, Louis, can you kindly show us where our rooms are? She’s starting to get heavy,” Victoria asked good-naturedly as she shifted Jessie into a better position.
“Oh, of course of course,” Madame said. “Louise, please show the girls to their rooms. Rebecca are you still willing to stay behind and chat? I assure you your friends will be well taken care of.”
“Yes, Madame, I would like to stay for a few. Girls, I’ll see you in a few?” Becca said questioningly.
“No prob. Lead on Louie,” Shannon said as she slapped the older man on the shoulder.
The girls followed the newly christened ‘Louie’ back down the portrait lined hall to the foyer. Victoria shifted her valuable cargo once more before beginning the long trek up the grand staircase. She was thankful that the deep burgundy carpet was tacked securely to the hard wood stairs.
“I thought Becca said this place wasn’t Tara?” Shannon queried from behind Victoria’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” Victoria returned, “that’s what she said. It’s the same period of home, but definitely not Tara.”
“Well this staircase definitely looks like the one from Gone With the Wind and you’re doing a pretty good imitation of Rhett Butler right now,” Shannon quipped.
Victoria groaned. Jessie piped in, “Shannon cut it out. She’s just taking me up to bed.”
“EXACTLY my point, Scarlet,” Shannon remarked.
“OWWWWWW, if it wasn’t for this damn ankle you couldn’t run fast enough to have me not kick your ass,” Jessie threatened over Victoria’s shoulder while Shannon and Louis chuckled. Jessie looked up at Victoria and asked, “She’s your roommate can’t you control her?”
Victoria’s face was a stoic mask which surprised Jessie. “Nope,” was her monosyllabic answer to her small friend.
“Well then Rhett, you better get your ass moving and take me to bed,” Jessie demanded with a flourish of her hands.
This made Victoria smile. “Have a care, Scarlet, or I’ll leave you here to crawl to your bed by yourself.”
Shannon laughed outright. Louis stumbled up a step. He glanced back at the girls with a totally embarrassed look on his face knowing full well that his thinly veiled attempt at being indifferent to their conversation was totally blown.
The young women followed Louis across the landing to yet another set of ornately adorned double doors. Throwing these heavy doors open, Louis led the young women into a wide hallway. The walls were paneled with dark mahogany panels with crimson velvet wallpaper inlays. In the center of each wallpaper inlay a gas lamp floated, a tulip shaped glass shade protecting the passer-bys from the open flame.
Slack jawed by the richness and the history of this wing, the girls reverently entered the space. Louis walked about ten feet to the first door on the left and turned an ornate brass key. Once the door was unlatched, he twisted the bulbous brass knob and with a loud creak the first bedroom was revealed. Once again the tall servant stood to the side while the Victoria carried Jessie into the room.
To everyone’s surprise it was not a bedroom that met them on the other side of the door. It was actually an anteroom where every wall was lined with vintage books. To the right was a set of well worn wing back chairs. Between the two chairs was a small round cherry table where an antique oil lamp resided. To the left was a period fainting couch that hopefully was more comfortable than it looked.
Victoria looked back at Louis and then at the next open door. He nodded his assent and the young women entered. The first sight that met Jessie’s eyes was a huge high canopy bed complete with a small set of steps on the right side. On each side of the bed were a matching set of end tables and on each end table a quaint electric lamp. In the corner of the room was a large dressing screen painted with scenes of a typical antebellum barbeque complete with scurrying servants all painted with black skin and white smiling teeth.
Victoria unburdened herself of her precious cargo onto the soft down comforter. Jessie scooted up higher onto the bed while Victoria stretched out her back.
“Well, Louis, this works for Jess, but where are our rooms?” Shannon asked the grinning man of color.
“Oh this room is for Mademoiselle Jessie and Mademoiselle Victoria.” Louis continued, “Yours and Mademoiselle Rebecca’s room is down the hall.”
“What?” Victoria and Jessie chorused.
“All is per Madame’s instructions. Do you ladies have objections?” Louis inquired seriously.
“No, Louis, everything’s just fine. We’ll be great. Wont we, Victoria?”
“Of course, of course,” Victoria assured, her dark eyes looked questioningly at the waiting Louis. “Everything’s fine.”
A bright smile lit the dark man’s face. “Very well then. Your bags are behind the screen. The loo is just down the hall to the right. Miss Shannon if you will follow me.”
Placing her hand on his strong arm, Shannon called over her shoulder, “Lead on, Mr. Louis. Night guys.”
“Night!” Jessie called in response.
Victoria looked at her friend and then around the room uncomfortably. Jessie watched her wondering what her tall friend was thinking and what was making her so uncomfortable.
“You ok?” Jessie asked breaking the silence.
“Hmmm…oh …oh yeah I’m fine. How are you feeling?”
“Ok, I guess, for being as humiliated and sore as I am.”
“Why humiliated?” Victoria asked.
Jessie answered with a look.
“Jess, come on, crap happens. It was a freak accident.”
“Freak being the operative word.” Jess smirked.
Victoria just shook her head and snickered. “You tired?”
“I’ll get your bag from behind the screen and bring it here so you can dig your nightshirt out. While you change out here, I’ll change behind the screen. Sound like a plan?”
Jessie smirked. “Works for me.”
Victoria padded to the screen and emerged seconds later with Jessie’s overnight bag. The taller woman placed it on the bed next to her smaller friend. “Are you going to be ok to change?” Victoria asked praying silently that Jessie would decline her offer.
“Ummm, it’s ok, Vic. I’ll be fine. You go ahead and change.”
Victoria breathed a sigh of relief as she retreated behind the screen.
Shaking her blonde head Jessie thought, she never would’ve survived the dorms.
Shannon had settled herself in the big soft four poster bed and was flipping through her favorite surfer magazine, when a very exhausted Becca entered. The young woman flopped down into the uncomfortable opera chair and kicked off her heals. Laying her head back unto the top of the chair she let out a long low groan.
“Everything go ok with you and Madame?” Shannon asked.
“Yeah,” she uttered not lifting her head to look at Shannon. “Sha, what would you say to staying her for the break instead of going to Florida?”
“I would say, Hallelujah. I really like it here and I love Madame. I really want to know about the history of this place. As a matter of fact, I think I saw a ghost on the widow’s walk when we drove up,” Shannon gushed just happy with the idea of NOT having to fly anytime soon.
Becca wearily lifted her head and looked Shannon in the eye. “You’re kidding me, right? There are no ghosts here, Sha.”
“No, I swear, I saw something or someone up there.” The blonde grinned.
Becca groaned again. “Sha.”
Becca waved her hand to dismiss her friend’s topic of haunts. “How do you think Vic and Jess will feel about staying?”
Shannon shrugged. “Don’t know, but I don’t think they’re married to the idea of going to Florida. The idea of this trip was to just get away and have fun. We can do that here as well as Florida.”
“Yeah, I know, but Victoria went to a lot of trouble to set this whole thing up,” Becca said torn between the prospect of staying here and getting to know her family, or going to Florida so she wouldn’t disappoint Victoria.
Crawling to the edge of the bed so she could look Becca in the eye, she said, “Look, Becca, family is more important than anything. I think it’s really important that you--that we--stay put so you can get to know them. All of them, well Claude may be the exception.”
“Claude?” Becca giggled. “I like that. Claude.”
After a shared giggle fest, Shannon continued, “I’ll talk to Vic in the morning ok?”
Becca nodded her thanks wondering what the coming days would bring and what revelations she would glean by staying with Madame at Dangereuse Beauté.
To be continued part 7.
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