A Haunting in New Orleans
"What are you thinking, sweetheart?" Tommie asked her partner, Jillian's tense shoulders giving her wakefulness away.
"What are we going to do? This was suppose to be our dream house, where we would raise our family and live happily ever after. Now . . , God, it's turned into a nightmare." Jillian sniffled.
"Jillian, Gerard is an old man who likes to tell tall tales. I'll call Dana in the morning and ask her to research the history of the house. If there was a rape/murder here there has to be a record. In the meantime try not to upset yourself. Just in case the last insemination took, I don't want you all stressed out."
"The doctor said the chances of us getting pregnant on just the second try are minuscule at best."
"I have great faith in my brother's little swimmers . . . and you." Tommie gently stroked her wife's cheek.
Jillian lifted Tommie's hand to her lips and bestowed a tender kiss upon it. "From your mouth to God's ears."
"Now, try to get some sleep. Everything will look brighter in the morning and I'll be here all night to protect you from the boogie man." Tommie squeezed her partner close and kissed her bare shoulder.
"My hero." Jillian chuckled.
* * *
The conversation with her sister-in-law went well, in spite of the fact it made the usually pragmatic carpenter feel a bit silly. Tommie spent the rest of the morning working industriously in her shop. The process of hand rubbing the grain until it glowed helped keep her mind off the frightening revelations of the previous day.
Jillian came home straight from her last class. Her heart beat so hard and fast, she thought it would bounce right out of her chest. She quietly ran up the stairs, hoping to avoid her partner for just a few minutes.
Tommie thought she'd heard the front door and went looking for her wife. She saw the telltale book satchel in the entry hall and wondered where Jillian had gone to.
"Hey Jilly. Where are you?" Tommie bellowed.
"I'm up here, sweetie. Come give me a hug." Jillian hurriedly washed her hands and face, then brushed her teeth. Feeling fresh and ecstatically happy, she sat on their bed to await her lover.
"Hey Hon, what's up?" Tommie stood in the doorway.
Jillian couldn't wait any longer. She jumped up and dove into her surprised partner's arms. "We're pregnant!!!" She announced, as tears of joy flowed down her face.
"We're what?" Tommie asked.
Jillian took her wife's face into her two hands, gazing deeply into puzzled eyes. "Read my lips. We are pregnant. The rabbit died. God bless William's swimmers."
The light of comprehension dawned. "Oh my God! Oh my God! You're . . . We're . . ., Oh my God!" Tommie swooped her wife up and spun her around. "Yes! A baby! We're gonna have a baby!" Realizing what she was doing, she gently set her pregnant partner down and kissed her passionately. "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Tommy twirled in circles, unable to contain her joy. "I . . . I think I'd better sit down."
Tommie flopped down upon their bed, caught her breath, and frowned. "What are we going to do about this house?"
Jillian sat upon her spouse's lap. "You know. I kinda feel like the house is lucky for us now. Let's just play it by ear. Ok?"
"Sure." Tommie smiled in relief. She gazed deeply into sparkling green eyes. "I love you, Mrs. Mckenzie."
That night the couple made sweet and tender love until they fell into peaceful slumber.
Their lives fell into a comfortable rhythm. Even Scruffy appeared to adjust to her new surroundings.
They waited three weeks before feeling secure enough in the early pregnancy and in their home to announce the happy news to friends and family. The news was received with great joy and excitement. Camille, Mrs. Mckenzie and Dana immediately began planning an huge baby shower. Life was sweet.
* * *
Tommie gradually rose from a lovely dream, missing the feel of her spouse's warm presence. She rubbed bleary eyes, looked around the room and toward the darkened door of the bathroom. 'Where is she?' Tommie asked herself, then noticed a dim light coming from down the hall toward the attic stoop. 'What in the world is she up to at this hour?'
Tommie gasped as her bare feet landed upon cold wooden floors. She quickly tugged on slippers and a flannel nightshirt and went to find her missing partner.
Tommie climbed the six steps up to the attic door and pushed it open. She watched as Jillian softly sang a haunting lullaby while lovingly touching an antique crib. Tommie sat upon the dusty floor beside Jillian and waited for her presence to be acknowledged. "Jilly, why are you up here in the middle of the night?"
Jillian slowly turned toward her worried spouse. "I don't know. It was like something called to me. . . Aren't they beautiful?" She lovingly touched the crib and its matching rocker.
"Yes. They are."
"Can you restore them for our baby?"
"If you like. Why don't we talk about it in the morning."
Jillian looked adoringly into sleepy eyes. "Thank you. . . I am so excited."
"Me too," Tommie yawned.
* * *
The next few days went by without incident. The happy couple spent their time together planning the nursery and shopping. All seemed ideal until the call came from Dana.
"Hey Dana. How's life treating you Sister-in-law?" Tommie asked.
"Other than the morning sickness, I'm great. Umm . . . I looked into the history of your house. I found two of the incidents you mentioned. My curiosity got the best of me so I went back another twenty-five years, and then another, all the way back to 1864. A Monsieur Fontaine, the original owner of the house, was convicted and executed for the murder of his young wife and son."
Tommie leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. "Then it's true. All the stories of rapes and murder. It's all true?" Tommie felt her heart sink and her fears return. "Why did he murder his family? What kind of monster does that?"
"It appears he was convinced the child was not his but the result of an extramarital affair, although it does not say if he ever discovered the true father's identity." Dana took a breath. "Tommie, are you alright?"
"Just peachy. Now what do I do?" Tommie asked in dismay, rubbing her hand through her dark hair.
"I don't know. Perhaps you should think about selling and getting Jillian out of there."
"I can't do that. She loves the house. Says its been lucky for us. . . Look, Dana, have you told William about this yet?"
"No. I thought I should speak to you first."
"Do me a huge favor and don't tell him or Jillian. If he knew he'd be sure to tell her. I don't want to do anything to upset her while she's pregnant. Ok?"
"Ok. If that's what you want." Dana said, doubtfully.
"It is. At least for the time being. And, thanks for everything. I really appreciate it."
"You take care of your family, Tommie. If you need us, you know where to find us."
"Thanks. Oh, do you have the first names of Fontaine and his wife?"
"Let's see . . . yes, here it is. Marie and Charles Fontaine. The baby's name was Lucien."
"Thanks again, Dana. Bye."
"You're welcome. Bye now." Dana slowly hung up the phone, staring at the research in front of her. 'I don't like this. I don't like this one little bit.'
* * *
Jillian spent her Saturday morning rummaging through the musty old attic, charmed by the treasures she found. There were old dresses, curtains and area rugs. Unfortunately these were dry and crumbled in her hands. Behind all of this, way in the back, was a small armoire. She opened it carefully. Inside she found an oil painting of a beautiful young woman, which had been badly damaged, but was salvageable. There were also some faded photographs. She was afraid to touch them. She would leave that up to her partner who had much experience in the restoration of old paintings.
"Tommie! . . . Tommie! Come up here and see this." Jillian called out.
Alarmed, Tommie ran up the stairs, two at a time, to see what all the noise was about. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Calm down. Nothing's wrong. I found some things I'd like you to restore. There is this great painting and some old photographs from the Civil War era, I'd say."
Tommie sighed in relief. "Let me see them. Wow, I think you're right." She lifted the portrait and surveyed the damage. "I wonder what could have made this gash in the canvas?"
"Can you fix it? She's so pretty. Maybe she was a relative of the original owners." Jillian batted her golden lashes knowing her partner could never say "No" to that.
"Ok. I'll see what I can do." Tommie collected the painting and photos and retired to her workroom. She also wanted to search for a photo of Charles and his family. The photos were of a very good quality for that era, a sure sign of the wealth of the Fontaine family. She was sure the painting was a portrait of Marie. The back of the canvas was dated 11/1863. She was certainly a beautiful young woman, her serene expression belying the tragedy that was to come.
* * *
Jillian knocked upon the workshop door but received no response so she let herself in. She watched her partner work on the old portrait, taking great pains to restore it to its original beauty. "Tommie, it's getting late. I'm starved." Seemingly being ignored, she reached out and gently tapped her wife's shoulder.
"Jesus woman! Can't you see I'm working. You could have ruined everything!" Tommie raged.
Jillian stepped back in fear at the unexpected outburst. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."
Tommie took deep breaths to calm herself. "No. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. I don't know what came over me." She put the painting aside and went to the sink to wash her hands and face. "Let's go out to eat. My treat." Tommie looked at her wife and smiled sheepishly.
Jillian decided to let it pass. "Sounds like a plan. Where'd you like to go?"
Tommie looked back at the photographs and painting. "Anywhere you want. The sky's the limit."
* * *
"Hey, penny for your thoughts." Jillian reached out and took Tommie's hand.
The dark head jerked up at her wife's touch. "I'm sorry. I just have a lot of work to finish and I can't seem to get it off my mind. It's not the company." She squeezed the smaller hand in hers.
"Are you sure that is all that's bothering you?" Jillian asked with concern.
"Yes. Now, let's dig in. It's not often I get to enjoy a gourmet meal I didn't have to cook."
"Don't forget the extra bonus. . . I don't have to clean the kitchen." Jillian stated before dousing her lobster with lemon and a liberal drizzling of butter.
The rest of the evening was spent planning the next twenty-one years of their offspring's life over coffee and cheesecake.
* * *
"Goodness, I'm stuffed." Jillian complained as she slid into the passenger side of the car.
"I'm about to pop my britches. Let's go to Audubon Park and take a nice stroll in the moonlight until we can breathe without unzipping our pants." Tommie suggested as she unbuttoned her trousers.
"Oh God . . . yes!" Jillian exclaimed as she did the same.
* * *
Tommie worked late into the night every day for a week. Jillian was becoming tired of her partner's short temper and long hours at work. It seemed there was nothing she could do to please Tommie. The entire atmosphere of the house was oppressive.
Jillian spent the hours alone grading papers and planning her classes. She found herself watching the late movie until she fell asleep. Tommie took her meals in the workshop and rarely came to bed before her wife was soundly sleeping. By the seventh night, Jillian had enough. She stomped down the stairs fully intending to give her partner a piece of her mind, but was stopped dead in her tracks at the site that greeted her as she passed through the foyer.
Tommie stood tall and proud in the living room, smoking a thin cigar and gazing up at the beautifully restored portrait above the fireplace where their own portrait had been hanging.
"Oh, Tommie, she's beautiful." Jillian exclaimed breathlessly.
"Yes, she was. But beauty of the body does not necessarily reflect beauty of the soul."
"What? Since when do you smoke cigars?" Jillian was trying to take in the full picture before her, but could make little sense of it.
"I don't know. The urge has just been kind of gnawing at me. So, I gave in. They are really good. Do you like the painting?" Tommie asked with a somewhat befuddled look on her face as she stared at the cigar in her hand.
"Yes. It is gorgeous. You did an amazing job. No one would ever know it was damaged. But, don't you think the cigar is a bit much." Jillian hoped that ribbing her partner would help her to see how strange she was acting.
"I'll do as I please, thank you. I do not now, nor have I ever needed you to tell me how to behave." Tommie spoke in a cold, resonant tone, never turning around to face her partner. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do. The bills are piling up on the nursery and someone has to pay them."
Jillian stood dumfounded as she watched Tommie storm out of the house. Tears of anger and frustration sprung to her eyes and she shook her head in disbelief. Not knowing how to express her anger, she grabbed her keys and ran out to the car and drove off.
* * *
Camille opened the door to find a very upset little blonde on her front porch. "Jillian? Hey, you OK?" Camille asked as she ushered her best friend's wife into the foyer and took her coat.
"I really don't know the answer to that." Jillian responded as she swiped at the tears on her red cheeks.
"Is the baby OK?" Camille asked in alarm.
"Oh yeah. The baby's just fine. It's Tommie I'm worried about." Jillian said.
"Sounds like you need a cup of coffee and an ear to bend. Let's go into the kitchen." Camille wrapped a protective arm around her friend and prepared for a long evening.
* * *
"God, I can't believe I said those things. What's wrong with me?" Tommie said as she stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. "I need to make it up to her somehow." She thought about the wicker crib and rocker that Jillian wanted restored for the baby's room and decided to get right on it.
* * *
"It's hard to believe that Tommie would ever behave like that. Seth and I have known her for years. She's my best friend. Something weird is going on. I think I'll invite myself for lunch tomorrow and feel her out."
"Thanks, Camille. Maybe she'll talk to you. I seem just to irritate her."
"No problem. You'd better get back home before she notices you've run off."
"That's not likely. She doesn't leave her shop until after I've gone to bed. She seems to avoid me every chance she gets." Jillian sighed.
Camille helped Jillian on with her coat then gave her a big hug. "Try not to worry, Jillian. I'm sure everything will be alright. Tommie loves you and the baby. Of that, I am certain."
Jillian smiled and nodded as she opened the door and ventured out into the cold night.
* * *
"Come on Tommie, open the God damned door!" Camille continued ringing the doorbell until it swung open.
"Have you lost your mind!?!" Tommie bellowed.
"That's just what I want to ask you." Camille retorted as she swept passed Tommie and into the foyer.
"Look, I don't have time to play games today. I have work to do." The irritated woman slammed the door and stomped past her friend. "Now, if you don't mind, please let yourself out."
"Don't you dare turn your back on me Thomasina McKenzie. I deserve to be treated better than that. You may be able to push your wife around, but I'm not afraid of you. You are going to sit down, cool your jets and tell me why your pregnant wife came knocking at my door last night in tears."
"Whoa, wait a minute. Jillian was at your house last night? She left without telling me?"
"Yes. And, I want to know why"
"Yeah, well so do I." The angry woman began to pace. "That's the gratitude I get for working night and day to give her everything her heart desires. You think I wanted this house? Do you think I wanted to sink every dime I had into renovating this money pit? No! But I did it."
"And, that portrait. . ." Tommie pointed to the wall. "Jillian asked me to restore her."
"Her?" Camille looked puzzled.
"Marie Fontaine. She was the unfaithful wife of the original owner of this house. She gave birth to another man's child." Tommie stated as she glared at the features of the woman in the portrait.
"What did he do?" Camille inquired.
Tommie walked slowly up to the portrait, then turned to face her friend. "He murdered them both."
"Oh my goodness. How tragic."
"They deserved it. After he gave her everything she ever wanted, she spit in the face. She disgraced him and his good name. And my wife had me restore the whore to her rightful place in my home. You have to love the irony." Tommie's grin was filled with disdain.
"Tommie, you sound as if that woman was unfaithful to you." Camille stated.
"Don't be silly. That's ridiculous."
"Is it? I don't think so. Perhaps it's living in this house with its violent history that is making you behave strangely toward your own wife. Have you thought of that?" Camille walked around the room so she could be face to face with her friend.
"I don't know. Maybe I have been short with her. Let me show you what I've been doing today." Tommie motioned for Camille to follow her.
Inside Tommie's work room Camille admired the crib and rocker her friend had been diligently working on. "They are beautiful. Jillian will love them."
"You think so?" Tommie asked hopefully.
"I know so. Thomas, if you don't mind me saying so, you seem like yourself out here. It's like you're
a whole different person in that house. A not so likable person."
"Gee. Thanks a lot." Tommie laughed.
"No. . . I mean it. . . It's that house." Camille insisted.
"You are serious, aren't you?"
"Yes. I am. Tommie, is there something you're not telling me? Does this have anything to do with the cold spot near the fireplace? I always thought that was weird."
Tommie stared at the floor trying to decide how much to divulge to her concerned friend.
"Oh, I know that look. So, there's a bunch you're not telling me. Come on. Spit it out. You know I always know when you're trying to keep things from me."
Tommie proceeded to share all of the knowledge acquired from Dana's research.
"Wow." Camille just sat for a few moments trying to take it all in. "How long have you known all this?"
"Not long after we found out about the baby. Jillian thought the house brought us good luck. She told me how much she loved it. I didn't have the heart to tell her that her dream house had a nightmarish history."
"I understand. But, surely now you can see how important it is that you tell her everything and that the two of you get out of this place as fast as you can."
Tommie's head nodded. "Is she very angry with me?"
"I think she's more worried and confused than angry." Camille reassured.
"What should I do?" Tommie asked timidly.
"I'd have a terrific meal waiting for her when she gets home from work, apologize profusely and explain, in detail, what Dana told you. Then I'd pack up our belongings and get the hell out of here."
"We can't just leave. We've sunk everything we have into this place. There must be another way."
"Well, the exorcism didn't work, maybe you could try a psychic. They're a dime a dozen in the French Quarter."
"You must be kidding."
"No. I mean it. This old city attracts all kinds of paranormal professionals, as well as nutballs. But, I'm sure that some of them are for real. I'll ask around campus and get you a few names as long as you promise to tell Jillian that all your Mother's friend told you is true. Deal?"
"Deal. Now I have to go to the kitchen and create magic."
Camille stood and hugged her friend. "Good girl."
To be continued in Part 3
Let me know what you think. Jonyakalena@webtv.net
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