SONDI WARNER – JONQUILLE
Jonquille flew down the stairs to the living room without giving her destination much thought. Simply out was it. Soon as she flung the front door open, a breeze laden with the spicy perfume of honeysuckle and magnolia blossoms infiltrated the house, but the noise of her boyfriend’s tirade overshadowed the tropic beauty of the night beyond. Her absinthe colored eyes darted to the ceiling, which rumbled and thumped with what was going on upstairs. A woman crying, a man yelling, crystal chandelier rattling nervously.
She squinted back at the shadowy interior of what used to be her refuge—Trey’s house—but maybe that had been her naïve heart, believing her boyfriend’s happy home could be hers, too. “He’ll send me over the deep end, if I let him,” she whispered bitterly. “Right off the edge of the goddamned earth!” She wriggled off the promise ring he had given her, dropped it. It plopped to the hardwood floor, skittered away forgotten under the secondhand mauve sofa, about as meaningful now as the rest of the dust under there.
Jonquille dashed out into the darkness, a woman alone and lovely—her pale skin fluorescent in the night, jet black hair cascading to her narrow shoulders—a creature of dangerous novelty in the Garden District. It was unsafe to be out by herself, but she would rather the devil she didn’t know to the one she did, and that mood carried her out the gate at the edge of the property.
As her platform sandals dusted the sidewalk beyond, she still heard him ranting. This, despite the fact everything was muffled because the Other Woman’s lusty moans plugged Jonquille’s ear canals. Behind closed eyes, she saw her writhing up and down her man’s pole like Trey Honeywell was amateur night at Kitten’s.
And, the baby not even cold in his grave, yet! Jonquille shook her head sharply to dislodge the memory of Trey holding her hand in the hospital as the nurse gave the agonizing news that their baby was a stillborn. Tears swung free off her spiky black lashes, but the last satisfied squeal of his mistress died to a hush in Jonquille’s mind as she forced her thoughts to go blank…to shield herself from the despair that almost swallowed her like a tidal wave.
“You hear me, bitch!” Trey threw open the bedroom window on the top floor, leaned out so the world could hear him. “I’m leaving you, Jonquille! I’m leaving your crazy ass!”
A short bark of angry laughter flicked past her pale lips. “Humph! Which one of us is walking away, dumbass? You’re late! It’s over, Trey!” Biting back a sob, Jonquille closed her eyes with regret and clung to the wrought iron fence snaking alongside the sidewalk to hold herself up. She felt like she would lose her legs, despite the fight words. This hurt. It cut deeply.
She saw his tramp’s face swimming in the dark, her dark brows winging off her forehead and her mouth a startled O, and dumbfounded Trey scrambling off the bed in a hurry at being caught by his crazy girlfriend. All his apologies running around the bedroom like naughty children, not even close to sorry, just playing. Just jive, Jonquille-baby. She kept walking even when his voice faded into the other sounds of the city.
She heard music playing, dogs barking, somebody else arguing a block away. Up ahead, New Orleans glistened with sparkling colored lights, and she knew the streets were crowded with revelers—tourists and locals alike.
Here in this quaint neighborhood the boulevard was lined with quiet, stately houses. She remembered a year back when Trey had invited her to move in with him in the writer’s retreat his fellowship afforded him. Back then the thought of having her man seen on the same level as other literary greats was impressive. Yet, Trey hadn’t written a book the entirety of their relationship. The best story he had ever told her was that he loved her.
At least she had been wise enough to keep her apartment in Carrollton. Her fears were confirmed now after months of puzzling over his odd behavior. Catching Trey having sex with his editor when he thought Jonquille was at work was an unfortunate stroke of luck. She was thankful for having the head to follow her intuition, but some things she really didn’t want to know.
Jonquille hailed a cab, and a private taxi slowed to a halt curbside to pick her up. “Where you headed, missy?” the cabbie queried with a gap-toothed grin. She climbed in the backseat and snapped on her seatbelt with a sigh.
“Carrollton. It’s been a long day.” Jonquille’s full lips found a wan smile.
“Coming from work, pretty girl?”
She shook her head. Speaking of work, she’d have to get a better job. Reading tarot cards and living off of Trey’s generosity wouldn’t cut it any longer. Jonquille gazed out the window, ignoring the cabbie studying her in the rearview mirror. Everything about the city beyond the glass seemed an invitation to slow down and enjoy, and, damn it all, she needed some enjoyment.
“What you doing, roaming the city by yourself? You from here?”
“Now, why are you in my business?” she snapped, green eyes flashing. He threw his hands up in surrender with a quiet laugh.
“Ain’t in your business…Some fool gone lose him woman, letting you off the leash,” he countered.
“You see a dog in this backseat? I don’t need a leash, and some fool already lost me. Me, sitting up here being faithful all year for him to run off with the first tail to twitch,” she complained. The cab driver’s eyes crinkled up with interest in his walnut brown face, and she was certain had he been a younger man he would’ve boldly took that as an invitation to try a pickup line.
The vehicle passed Bourbon Street, and she rolled down the window to listen to its Siren Song. The breeze carried the peppery zest of food cooking, and flyaway coils of her silky hair flew across her gaunt cheeks and slanted eyes. Hell, why not? Jonquille thought, eyes closed. The multicolored lights beckoned past her eyelids. The crowd was thickest here where the music, laughter and liveliness promised the good times would keep rolling no matter what.
“Know what? Stop the cab,” she murmured. “I think I want to get out here.”
“Aha! I knew you were too fine to let a good Saturday night pass you by. Gotta get him out of your system, huh?”
Jonquille shouldered her purse, the only thing she’d thought to carry out of the house with her. “Right here,” she demanded. She hurriedly paid her fare and hopped out. Damn right, she was about to get Trey out of her system.
Pierce Princeton patted the pocket of his blue blazer. It was still there: the list he had composed, his bucket list, things to do before he died.
It was his thirty-ninth birthday, and he was feeling his age in the middle of this cramped club full of twenty-somethings partying, girls shaking their bodies seductively, boys plying them with drinks. He had created the list because all of a sudden thirty-nine had seemed a late stage in life to still have things he wanted to do but just hadn’t gotten around to doing. Like club hopping on Bourbon Street.
“Definitely not my best thought out plan,” Pierce sardonically muttered. What am I doing here? Midlife crisis?
He had the right look for the boisterous atmosphere, even if he felt out of place. With his blowzy blond hair and designer t-shirt beneath the cerulean blue blazer, that combined with slacks and dress shoes, he looked like the artist he was. Only thing missing was the camera he usually had slung around his neck.
Pierce glanced ruefully down at his wingtips, and a woman sidled up next to him at the bar. Gazing at him, she fixed him with a smile. “Need something?” he asked, surprised to be the center of her attention.
“Buy me a drink?”
She tossed long black hair over her slender shoulder and canted her head to the side as his eyes swept over her. She was tall and leggy like a model with skin the color of buttermilk and honey, breathtakingly beautiful, but couldn’t be older than eighteen. “Are you even legal?” He grinned.
Jonquille hopped up on the barstool next to him and laid her purse out on the bar. She dug out her driver’s license to show him she was old enough to be in the club.
“Twenty-one,” he whistled as he did the math. “Impressive. Bartender? Give her a…” He looked at the charming minx who had taken it upon herself to dig in his pockets for her libation tonight.
“Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey on the rocks, please.”
“Hard stuff for such a soft little girl.”
Jonquille nodded appreciatively as the drink slid her way. “I can take it hard…” There was velvet in her voice. His grey eyes followed the cup to her lips, and Pierce felt his libido stretch like a lion after a long nap. He put his fist to his mouth and glanced away as Jonquille held the burning fire on her tongue awhile before swallowing it down with a throaty moan. “Mmm, thank you kindly, sir. Where are you from? You have an accent.”
If he thought all she wanted out of him was a drink, it was nice to see otherwise. When was the last time he’d had a drink with a pretty girl? “Well…” Pierce swept his dark blond hair back and shrugged nervously, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I’m in town on business. Why, you from here?”
“Not born here, but raised here. I’m so New Orleans that I read tarot cards for a living,” she laughed.
Her green gaze danced over his wide chest, dipped lower, and flew back to meet his stare. He had expressive, deep-set eyes and well-drawn lips above a dimpled chin. He had a familiar face, probably because he looked like every other actor in Hollywood—Gavin Rossdale, Jude Law. He was attractive, but he wasn’t her type.
“I can tell your fortune. What is it you crave? Money…power…women?” she teased. It was harmless flirtation; she hadn’t done that in a while.
“Heh! I’m, uh, a photojournalist. Once, when I was in Romania on a job, I met a gypsy woman who told me I’d live long and prosper. I don’t want to ruin her prediction by getting a second opinion.” His sculpted lips spread in a wide smile as he watched her eyeing him, catlike and curious. Lady luck was on his side to net such a catch tonight. “You really do that for a living? That’s original.”
“What can I say? I’m one of a kind.” Jonquille winked.
“Novelty appeals to me. I gravitate to the original like others flock to the fads. So, Jonquille, ma petit, what brings you out tonight?”
“I’m trying to make up for lost time.” She gave him another contemplative slow once over. Funny, cute and able to form complete sentences. Hmm, why wasn’t he her type again? She chuckled to herself.
“Elaborate. I’m curious about you.”
“Well, not a half hour ago I walked in on my boyfriend of the past year and some skanky tramp having sex together. After a year of me being painstakingly faithful to his ass, only to find out he was sleeping with his editor, I’d say I deserve a night on the town.” She raised her cup in salute.
Pierce tucked his head in and grimaced. “That had to be tough.”
Jonquille snorted a laugh but found herself sniffling back tears. She didn’t mean to get emotional. It was just with the baby and everything that had happened… She shook her head to get rid of the thoughts. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Pierce. And, you?”
“Nice to meet you, Pierce. I’m Jonquille.”
“Jon—what?” He colored slightly as he almost botched the pronunciation. It sounded ethnic. He always had a hard time with ethnic names.
“Jhaan-kwil,” she enunciated. “It’s French for daffodil. It’s a stupid name, I know, but I’m Creole. Anyway, Pierce, why do men do shit like that? It’s so much easier to break things off than string a woman along. All he had to do was call me and be like, ‘Yo, Jonquille, I don’t wanna be with you no more.’ Problem solved!”
Pierce let out a hearty laugh that made her chuckle as she dried her misty eyes. His laughter was infectious. He looks absolutely divine when he smiles, she appreciatively assessed.
“Women always say things like that, but you know it’s never that simple,” he replied, shaking his head. “Tell you what. I’ll help take your mind off what’s-his-face if you do me a solid and hang out with me awhile so I don’t feel so out of place with all these teenagers and college kids. Not that you’re any older than them, but you’re the first person to talk to me all night. It’s my thirty-ninth birthday.”
“Oh, happy birthday! Wouldn’t have pegged you for thirty-nine. You look pretty hot for an old guy.”
“I’m not old!”
Jonquille giggled. “I’m sorry. No, I didn’t mean it like that. But, you know, there are other clubs along the strip, maybe something else more along your speed.”
“Actually, I was trying something a smidge different,” he said sheepishly. “Who wants to hang out with old people? Pfft!” He blew out a breath and rolled his eyes. She clutched his arm, giggling harder.
“I said I’m sorry! This isn’t a good place to get to know each other. Wanna take a walk with me?” She wasn’t sure why she wanted to get to know him, but something about the good looking white guy appealed to her. It could be a pleasant way to end an otherwise fucked up evening.
Pierce gave the club a speculative look around. The music thumped loudly—too loud to hold a decent conversation—and where they sat at the bar, they were jostled by people dancing behind them.
The DJ suddenly threw on a lively track that scratched and hiccupped across the speakers in a resounding chant for people to get ready, and the rest of the club-goers sent up a cheer of recognition as the beat dropped. The activity in the club went next level when the popular song started to play.
Pierce and Jonquille shared a look. He eagerly nodded and laughed. “Lead the way, petit!”