“You don’t know me,” she replied solemnly.
“Ah, ma petit, knowledge is overrated…you’ll understand that better by and by.”
“Sage words. Spoken like a true old man.”
Chuckling, Jonquille eased her hand out of his and took him to Café du Monde where they waited in line for what seemed like ages but managed to get a perfect table near the side of the tented dining area closest to the fans. “Order the chicory coffee,” she suggested. “You haven’t had coffee until you’ve had New Orleans’ coffee.”
“Let’s have two large coffees, then.”
“Café au lait for me,” Jonquille corrected.
Not too much later, the beignets were delivered piping hot and dusted with powdered sugar. The heavenly aroma of buttery, crispy sweet dough pockets made Pierce sigh with wonder, and the first bite made him moan at the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. He found the coffee a little too acrid and odd-smelling for his tastes, but he was an instant fan of the beignets. Dusting his fingers on a napkin, he smiled at Jonquille and slumped back in his chair like all was right with the world.
“What?” she asked, delicately nibbling the corner of one of the pastries. “Spending the day with you? I’d say my mission is accomplished. You haven’t gotten hurt or killed on my watch, which is saying a lot. I don’t even keep houseplants alive.” He laughed.
A glance at her cellphone showed her it was almost six o’clock in the evening (and Trey had called or texted every five minutes for the past four hours). Jonquille knew she would have to leave soon. She had things at Trey’s place she needed to retrieve so she could make a clean break with him.
“What made you decide to do what you do?” Pierce suddenly asked. “The tarot card thing. Is that common around here or what?”
She smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know about common, but…When I was five years old, I met an old woman who lived by the bayou. People called her a witch, but that experience kind of set the tone for the rest of my life. There was this one day that my mama went out to see her, and she took me with her.” Jonquille stared into her coffee, replaying the memory as she stirred in her sugar.
The crooked shack on uneven stilts was hidden by bald cypress where Spanish moss swayed, ghost-like. She smelled again the marshy, muddy bayou. Cicadas whirred and clicked in the shadows where bullfrogs croaked and the water rippled with slinking, slithering things. Jonquille could hear Emmeline’s rich contralto voice break out in “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” the haunting melody hanging over the still water as they passed. Emmeline always sang when she was nervous.
They traveled by pirogue ferried by a man from town. They were on the way to the witch to ask Tante Fauche if the rumors were true. Did her husband, the good reverend, have another family with Sister Patti?
Tante Fauche, in a mixed patois of French and English, told Emmeline in so many words, “’Taint no need in consultin’ the cards for what ye already know.” Her laughter was a rattle of bones in the barrel of her chest.
Even five year old Jonquille knew. Her daddy was popular with the church ladies, with his pistachio shell complexion in his Sunday best, always crisp and clean like mama made it. He had “good hair” and green eyes and was a nice looking man, but her mama was attractive too, with her scarlet curls and milk and roses complexion. She’d never understand why one woman couldn’t be enough for a man.
Jonquille shook her head and came away from the memory, came back to the table with Pierce. He was watching her with curious grey eyes. “You got a family, Pierce?” she murmured. With her thumbnail, she traced the outline of his hand laid across the tabletop. He glanced down at the movement before gazing back at her and shaking his head.
“No,” he replied. “I never married. I never had…the time.” Funny how life worked. No time to do this or that until the time was really almost up. She nodded. She had plenty of time. She wasn’t in a hurry.
“My mama paid Tante Fauche twenty-five dollars to tell her my daddy was rifling under every skirt that swished his way. Oh, she was blunt! The whole time I clung to mama’s legs, hiding under the kitchen table, scared. Tante Fauche had one glass eye. It freaked me out,” Jonquille laughed.
“I can imagine,” Pierce chuckled. He sipped his coffee and watched her move a tendril of her silky hair out of her face. She looked so young and fresh. He wondered if she made him look old. There was an ache beneath his ribs that felt ancient. He rubbed the spot.
“The rest, as they say, is history. Mama made her decision to get a divorce. We packed up and moved out here. But, after meeting Tante Fauche, I’d cut up construction paper and pretend I had tarot cards. Anything powerful enough to make people move like that, I wanted to know.”
“I think it comes from a sense of needing to be in control,” Pierce assessed.
“Yeah, maybe that, too. You talk about predictability like it’s a bad thing, but I like to be prepared for what’s coming. I’ve always wanted to know in advance. Especially if it was something bad.”
“Can I pry a bit? Did you go to school? College, I mean. Why aren’t you doing something more…”
“Professional?” Jonquille scoffed. “To tell the truth, Pierce, I’m too free-spirited to learn much in a classroom.”
Pierce passionately leaned forward. He couldn’t picture her spending the rest of her life reading people’s fortunes while hers slipped away. She wasn’t a gypsy. She was a bright young girl with a whole future ahead of her. He hoped she wasn’t selling herself short.
“It just seems shortsighted for someone who says she sees the future. You can’t retire from fortune telling,” he pointed out.
“When I was in high school, I thought about going to college, but no money, no college. Simple as that. I have to make a living. And, who are you? My guidance counselor? Chill. I’m having a good time with you. Let’s not ruin it.”
“Hang on a second. Let’s say, hypothetically, you had the money, the resources necessary to go to college right now, would you go?”
Jonquille crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. She looked at him, realizing he wasn’t going to let the subject rest. “Fine,” she said with a sigh. “I’d take the money and travel the world and take pictures. I want a piece of forever, too. Like you.” She’d rather see the world than study it in a book.
Nodding, Pierce pursed his lips. “Great response,” he replied with a laugh.
“Now, let’s get back to your hotel, Pierce. It’s getting late. I’ve got some stuff to take care of before the day is out.”
Jonquille paid the bill for the beignets and coffee before Pierce could pull out his wallet. She grabbed her purse and led the way back to the public lot where he had parked his rental car, and as she walked ahead of him, Pierce traced the graceful curve of her back and followed the artless sway of her hips.
A piece of forever, she’d said. Like him. He wished he could give it to her, wondered how many ways life would try to destroy her belief in forevers before she reached his age. She was already close to not believing in anything.
And, he didn’t have the time to convince her otherwise.
Sondi Warner, of Kentwood, Louisiana, has a writing style that marries bohemian flare with plot-driven storytelling for a bold reading experience that’s unmistakably unique.
Sondi is a writer and mother of four school-age children. She lives a busy, writerly life, but when she’s not parenting or penning books, she can be found in coffee shops or at poetry readings.
Sondi has a knack for bringing characters to life in emotive situations for drama-laden romance sure to keep readers coming back for more.