Midnight Bayou Page 72

It had been a broken heart.

She let herself into the house and immediately saw the spill of light from Odette's room. Even as she approached, Lena heard the quick thump-thump of Rufus's tail on the floor.

She stepped to the doorway, cocked her head. Odette was sitting up in bed, a book open on her lap, the faithful dog curled on the floor.

"What are you doing up so late?”

"Waiting for my baby. I didn't think you'd be back for another hour or more.”

"Business was light enough to spare me.”

Odette patted the side of the bed in invitation. "You took off early because you were worried about me. You shouldn't.”

"You used to tell me worrying was your job." Lena lay down on top of the sheets, her head in the curve of her grandmother's arm. "Now it's mine, too. I'm sorry she hurt you.”

"Oh, baby, I think that must be her job. God knows she's good at it." Odette stroked Lena's hair. "I got you, though. I got my Lena.”

"I was thinking what it was like for you and Grandpapa to raise a baby after you'd already raised your own.”

"You were nothing but pure pleasure to both of us.”

"It made me think about how the Manets brought your grandmama back here when she was a baby. You remember her pretty well, don't you?”

"I remember her very well. You've the look of her. You've seen the old pictures, so you know that.”

"Did she ever say how the Hall should've been hers?”

"Never heard her say anything like. She was a happy woman, Lena. Maybe happier here than she would've been in the Hall, had things been different. She had a fine hand with baking, and that she passed to me. She told good stories, too. Sometimes when I'd come spend time with her, she'd make them up just like they were real. I think she could've been a writer if she'd wanted that for herself.”

"She m/'ve thought of her parents, and the Manets. No matter how happy she was here, she m/'ve thought of them.”

"I expect so. She used to take flowers to her papa's grave. Took them every year on her birthday.”

"Did she? You never told me that.”

"Said she owed him life-hers, her children, her grandchildren. She even laid flowers on the graves of Josephine and Henri Manet. Though she never stopped there to say a prayer. And she did one more thing on her birthday, every year until she died. She took flowers and tossed them into the river. And there she said a prayer.”

"For her mother, you think?”

"She never said, but that's what I think.”

"And do you think that's where Abigail is? In the river?”

"Some say.”

Lena raised her head. "I'm not asking some. I'm asking you.”

"I know sometimes I walk along the bank, and I feel an awful sadness. And I think, sometimes, old souls search for new life. And keep searching until it comes out right. What're you searching for?”

Lena laid her head down again, closed her eyes. "I thought I'd found it. Now I'm not so sure. He loves me, Grandmama.”

"I know he does.”

"If I love him back, everything changes.”

Odette smiled, leaned over to shut off the light. "It surely does," she murmured and continued to stroke Lena's hair. "It surely does.”

As host of Remy's bachelor party, Declan felt socially obligated to stay till the bitter end. The bitter end was some dingy, backstreet dive in the Quarter where the liquor burned holes in what was left of a man's stomach lining and the strippers were woefully past their prime.

Nobody seemed to care.

In the spirit of good-fellowship, Declan tucked a final dollar in the frayed garter on a flabby white thigh, then hauled a glassy-eyed Remy to his feet.

"Let's go, pal of mine.”

"Huh? What? Is it morning?”

"Close enough.”

As they stumbled out, arm in arm as much for necessity as friendship, Remy looked around. His head bopped like a puppet's on a jerked string.

"Wherez everybody?”

"Passed out, in jail, dead in an alley.”

"Oh. Wimps." Remy grinned his rubber grin. "You 'n me, Dec, we still got it.”

"I'm starting a course of antibiotics in the morning to get rid of it." He tripped and had to wrap both arms around Remy to keep from falling on his face. "Too much gravity. There's entirely too much gravity out here.”

"Let's go find us another naked woman.”

"I think we found all of them already. Time to go home, old buddy, old pal.”

"I'm getting married in three days." Remy held up four fingers to demonstrate. "No more carousing for Remy." He looked around. The streets were nearly deserted and oily with the light drizzle. "Do we have to bail anybody out?”

"Screw 'em.”

"Damn right. Where's my girl? Effie!" He shouted it, and the name echoed back, making Declan snort drunkenly.

"Stella!" Cracked up by his own wit, he sat down hard in a puddle. "Fuck it, Remy. Let's just sleep here.”

"Gotta go find my girl, gonna make sweet, sweet love to my Effie." "You couldn't get it up right now with a hydraulic pump.”

"Bet?" Remy fumbled for his zipper, and Declan had just enough brain cells left to stagger up and stop him.

"Put that thing away before you hurt yourself. Get us arrested for decent exposure.”

"'S okay. We're lawyers.”

"Speak for yourself. Find cabs. We must find cabs.”

"Cab to Effie. Where's my blushin' bride?”

"Home in bed, like every other good woman is at …" He lifted Remy's wrist, tried to focus on the watch. "Whatever o'clock in the morning. Lena, she's in bed. She thinks I'm a woman.”

"You must not be f**king her right then.”

"No, you ass. And remind me to punch you for that later. She thinks I'm Abigail.”

"You haven't been trying on her underwear or anything weird like that, have you, son?”

"I like the little black lace panties with the roses best. They slim down my hips.”

"Pretty sure you're joking. Wait." He stopped, leaned over the curb, hands braced on his knees. Then slowly straightened again. "False alarm. Not gonna puke.”

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