I have reached "a certain age.". I have a compromised immune system thanks to the cancer devil, and I currently take a powerful chemo pill. Yup, I am in that high risk group. Like so many other folks, I am stuck at home, self quarantined, and trying to stay healthy in the midst of this pandemic. I am also trying not to go stir crazy.
I have walked the house, looking at all of the projects that I need to tackle, things I have deferred for over a year. I made a to-do list and pinned it to the refrigerator. But my heart isn't in it. I can live another few months with my messy garage and stuffed attic. I contemplated baking cookies and even went so far as to assemble the ingredients. But then, I thought of how hard I have been trying to lose the steroid weight, and I reconsidered. I needed something to keep me busy, something productive and important. For the past week, Angelique has tried to gently nudge me back into her world, calling me to finish her story, the one I began two years ago and then abandoned, left languishing on my computer.
It isn't that I didn't want to write. I didn't think that I could. Chemo brain is real. The massive drugs pumped into your system attack every cell, even the healthy ones, which is why your hair falls out and your taste buds die. I'll spare you the details of the poison's side effects, but let's just say, it compromises your thinking. It certainly did mine. Many days were a complete fog, a one way trip to lala land. No joke.
I didn't feel confident enough to pen a readable novel. And I felt that I owed it to Angelique to wait until I could tell the rest of her story and tell it well. But then, I wondered about time, that commodity whicht we cannot stop nor create. If I waited too long to write the sequel would I run out of the time I needed to do it? It was a question that haunted me, and I didn't have the answer.
And then, I got an email from a random reader. A few days later, I got another. Then, a recent 5 star review popped up on Amazon. And each one was asking for more of the story. I am a firm believer in signs, and I do think that they come in threes. This was mine. Isn't it funny how a few words of encouragement can often be all the motivation we need? Sometimes, we underestimate the influence we have on each other. Writing is such solitary work that connecting with a reader can be incredibly motivating. Interesting, isn't it?
.And so, I began to think once more about the characters that have become such a part of me. The blog has been therapeutic, but it hasn't scratched my itch to write fiction. I can't deny that. I'm not going to lie: I takes me twice as long to write as it did at one time, but that's OK. Progress is progress, right?
I have spent the past two days in my pajamas, lost in Angelique's world. I managed to write 4000 words. The manuscript for Angelique's Legacy is now 30,000 words long. I figure that I am a third of the way there. Surely, I can finish this race. Most people don't know this, but I write backwards. I always pen the last few paragraphs of the book before I begin. I need to know where I am going before I can figure out how to get there. This one stirs my emotions like nothing else I have ever written. I can't wait to share it with you all. Wish me luck! I have included the first chapter of Angelique's Legacy below. If you have read the trilogy, you will see that it continues from the last bit of Angelique's Peace. Please feel free to send along any critique or questions or comments. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you don't want to post on the webpage (or Facebook). Consider yourself a beta reader. Thanks for the support. You guys really are the best!
Aimee exhaled, the sound of it echoing through the silent room. She concentrated on her breathing, a technique she had often employed as she assisted Franklin in surgery during those moments when the gruesome sight of blood and infection was too much to bear. And with each lungful, she willed herself to calm her runaway emotions, as the sound of her heart beat so loudly that she was sure the others heard it as well. It seemed like hours had passed since they had first gathered in the parlor, and she had taken her place on the crimson velvet settee, but it had only been a few minutes, fifteen at the most. Time has a way of playing tricks on the mind at such times.
Her mother, Angelique, had insisted that this, the best room in the house, be reserved for company and important occasions, so when she appeared with the fancy china coffee pot and delicate cups loaded onto a silver tray and invited them to sit, both Aimee and Franklin knew that something significant was about to happen. But something significant had already happened that day and the one which had proceeded it. Uncle Gaston, the man who had once stolen her, ripped her from the busy streets of Charleston as though she was the pocket book belonging to a fancy lady, had resurfaced. And although the passing years had done much to erase the memories, she still had occasional nightmares, moments when she was once again that helpless five-year-old child kidnapped by a stranger. His arrival at the clinic had seemed like an uncanny coincidence, a cruel twist of fate, and as he slept, she gazed at his scarred face, the cracked lips of his mouth twitching with the pain. She mentally practiced the speech, the words that as a grown woman, she wanted him to hear. And she was ready to deliver it. But Franklin, always her protector, had shielded her from him and the loathsome man had passed away far too quickly for her to get the closure she didn’t even realize she needed. Aimee wringed her hands. Gaston was gone and never able to hurt her again, but her mother’s implication that there was more to the story than neither she nor Franklin knew gave her pause. She couldn’t imagine what secrets connected her charming, elegant mother and that wretched creature, but her intuition, honed from years of nursing, told her that it couldn’t be good. She closed her eyes and prepared to hear the truth.
The walnut clock on the mantle began its melodious song, marking the half hour. Angelique carefully poured the coffee and cream, then dropped a cube of sugar into the cups. Her hands shook as she handed one to each of them before moving to the chair opposite to where Aimee and Franklin sat. She looked first to Andrew, her husband and father of her children, searching his face, her eyes filled with tears. He had always been her greatest supporter and an ever-present source of comfort. She reached over to take his hand. He nodded and then offered a weak smile. Angelique cleared her throat. There was a long pause, and Aimee thought it odd, that her mother, always so poised and prepared, seemed to be at a loss for words.
“Just tell us what you think we need to know, Mother,” Franklin said, “We are not children, certainly.”
“Whatever it is, we will understand. You have shown us that the tie that binds our family is strong. We have weathered some difficulties, of course, but as you were always quick to point out, together we can face whatever may befall us. It is one of the first lessons you taught me as a child,” Aimee said.
Angelique sighed. “My beautiful, brave children. You do honor me with your loyalty. And however painful it is to tell, you deserve to know the story of the life your mother lived before this one with all of you. As you will soon see, it is quite the tale.”
“Before Poppa, you mean?” Aimee asked.
“Long before then, when I was a young girl, living on Chauvin Plantation and the years which followed.”
Franklin took a sip of coffee and shifted his weight. She had his full attention.
“I met him one night at a dance held at a neighboring plantation. He was older and brazen in his attempts to get my attention. But there was something mysterious and interesting about him as well, and he swept me off my feet in a matter of weeks. The courtship was brief and the marriage came quickly. As a young bride I adored him, and the baby girl who came into our lives shortly thereafter.”
Angelique swallowed hard. She knew that there was more, much more, to tell, and once the box which carefully secured the memories had been unsealed, she would have no choice but to relive them. The moments rolled through her mind like tumbleweed in the desert.
“Life changed when our sweet Josephina went to live with the angels, claimed by the fever. It was as though she was the one who bound us as a couple.” Angelique paused, remembering. She wiped away a tear. “Without her, little remained between us. I locked myself away, lost in my grief, and despair. He fell deep into the arms of the devil.”
“The devil?” Franklin asked, his eyes growing wide.
“It undoubtedly seemed that way,” Angelique said. “I had no idea that he was a gambler, even in those early years together, but as time passed, it became the center of his life. He courted Lady Luck as he would a lover, and she ultimately jilted him. Within a short period of time, the debts became overwhelming, and he grew so desperate that he faked his death, staged an elaborate hunting accident just to escape the financial penalties of his misdeeds. He simply disappeared, swallowed up by a big world, leaving me penniless and alone to sort through the mess he had created. Because of him, I lost Chauvin Plantation and everything else we owned, a tragedy that altered my life.”
“And that got you to the resort where you met Poppa.” Aimee added. She cleared her throat. “I am so sorry, Momma. And now I understand why getting your home back was important. How sad for you. How utterly unfair to be burdened by the consequences of another’s choices.” She hesitated. The story had triggered a recollection she herself had fought to forget. “Uncle Gaston. He gambled, too. Every single day. I didn’t understand at the time what playing cards meant. I was so little, and it was hard to sit and wait while he spent hours at the tables. But I remember that some days he would be sad and happy on others. I guess it was tied to his winning.”
Franklin furrowed his brow. He remembered the first time he saw Aimee, perched on a high stool as she waited patiently for her uncle to finish his game, finally releasing her. She was so innocent, so fearful. His heart clinched. Those images of little Aimee haunted him, too, but this raised bigger questions in his mind. “Is that why you recognized Uncle Gaston? Did he know the gambler you married, the one who vanished? And did you ever find him? Was he still alive and did you divorce him? I assume you must have in order to have married Poppa.”
Angelique took a deep breath. This was the moment of truth. Jean Paul seemed to have been unstoppable, a man resurrected from the dead over and over again. She certainly had believed the men who had carried what she assumed to be his lifeless body home so many years ago. And she thought he was dead for the second time after he rowed away into the raging winds of the hurricane. But the evil one had lived, and once again shattered her life when he stole her precious child, breaking her motherly heart into a million pieces. She had no knowledge of what might have happened to him in the years which followed, but it appeared that he had lived a hard life, reaping the consequences for his reckless decisions. That was justice. But now, he was truly gone, and she had watched him take his last breath earlier that morning. After all that happened, all of the pain and sorrow, it was time that he was finally buried, laid to rest once and for all.
“Gaston is a name he bestowed upon himself, an alias, a change in identity to hide who he really was. In truth, he was Jean Paul LaTour. And he was once my husband.”
The silence was deafening, the air in the room suddenly thick and heavy.
Aimee stared into the delicate cup filled with cold coffee. Her mind was reeling, replaying the months spent with the man who had claimed to be her mother’s brother, but actually was her husband. “I don’t understand,” she whispered.
“I know it is confusing, Aimee. And there is more to tell, of course. But for now, let me say that I truly believed him to be dead when I met your poppa. When our paths crossed again on Last Island, I thought we had engaged in a final show down and that he had perished in the storm that had claimed so many. It wasn’t until we met Franklin in the park that I learned the truth, his identity confirmed by the tell-tale scar he bore.”
Franklin winced at the memory, which had changed his life as well. “I’m not sure who rescued whom that day, but I am glad that I could help.”
“You were our hero, Franklin. And most recently, you have proved that still to be true.”
“So that means I had an older sister?” Aimee asked.
“Half-sister. But yes, and she was beautiful just like you girls.”
“One more question, Momma,” Aimee said.
“Of course. Ask anything.”
“Were you not going to tell us the truth? Did you not think we deserved to know?”
Tears filled Angelique’s eyes as she searched for the words, the justification for concealing something so important. She swallowed hard, unable to speak.
Andrew, who felt that it was not his story to tell, had patiently listened as the drama unfolded, but sensing his wife’s discomfort, finally spoke. “Once your momma found you that’s all that mattered to her, Aimee. Besides, we figured that he was still in Charleston, or perhaps had gone to France. We had determined that it was best for our family to leave his existence in the past.”
Aimee nodded in understanding. She looked to her mother, who seemed to be intent on saying all that was on her mind.
Angelique sat quietly, her hands folded as though in prayer. “There is one more thing.” She took a deep breath. “I was prepared to kill him as he lay in your clinic. And I would have done it with little consideration as to the value of his life. Somehow, I thought that doing so would erase the history, his role in my story. But that was foolish. I suppose. I imagined that with him gone, I would never have to face this moment, one I have dreaded for years.”
“Telling us, you mean?” Franklin asked.
“Yes, of course. But I learned something important as I sat at his bedside. Unless we can face the demons of our past, we seek revenge rather than truly feeling what has happened to us and all of the subsequent pain it has caused. And that only begets more sorrow. To turn judgment into compassion and vengeance into forgiveness is powerful. And difficult. But that’s when true healing begins.”
Franklin placed his cup on the tray and moved to his mother’s side. He offered a hug. “You are wise and brave.” He turned to Aimee. “And now we know the truth. It is finally over.”
She nodded. “The truth, “she repeated. “And what about Aida? Certainly you will tell her when she arrives next week.”
“Indeed. Your sister should know as well. And I hope it won’t overshadow her happy mood. We have a wedding to plan,” Angelique said.
“Aida will be fine,” Franklin said. “She really had no contact with Uncle Gaston, I mean, Jean Paul, as we did. Besides, we know that she will be so involved in bridal details that it will be no more than a passing story to her. She does love to be the center of attention.”
“You know her very well,” Angelique said, laughing, happy for a lighter moment.
But before Angelique could even clear the coffee tray, Aimee had excused herself, retreating to the quiet of her bedroom. She paused in the doorway, studying the shadows cast by the afternoon sun. The curtains moved gently in the breeze as she crossed the room and knelt at the foot of her bed. She carefully opened the wooden trunk, casting aside the books and old clothing until she reached the bottom, her fingers searching until she found it, an old doll with matted hair and a faded calico dress. She clutched it to her bosom as she began to cry. “Sarah,” she whispered. “Oh, Sarah.”