Blue Autumn in the Bayou (Gumbo Love) (7 page)

He’d driven around for almost an hour before he’d calmed down enough to show up for his tux, which he knew he had to take care of today. He couldn’t let his baby brother down, even though at the moment, he felt Clem thought little of him. Travis could make his own decisions for his life. It really wasn’t about the money or the things. Clem hadn’t trusted him to do what was right. So needless to say when he finally arrived at the tux shop and found his jacket didn’t fit, he dared to think his day couldn’t get any worse.

His phone rang. He picked it up, looked down at the display, and then dropped it back in the holster. He would pay the consequences for not answering his mother’s call later.
At that moment, he needed a cold beer and food for his stomach. So he pulled into a pub he patronized, got out of his car, and sat down at the bar.

“What’ll it be, Brooks?” Jeff called over his shoulder.

“Stack’em high, Jeffery, my man.”

“That great of a day, huh?”

“Yep. Keep’em coming.”

* * * *

Autumn couldn’t look her grandmother in the eye when she told her she wasn’t the least bit interested in Travis. She almost lied when Mer Drace asked her about the man she’d seen her with weeks before. “I have only met him a week ago, Mer Drace.”

“That may be true, but he’s been with you longer than you think. What is this young man’s name
?” she asked.

Autumn hesitated. Perhaps her grandmother meant someone else. She tried to recall who she’d met just before she
’d arrived in New Orleans. This dream could have been of someone else. But she couldn’t recall meeting anyone else in the last two months while she’d been on the road. She kept to herself in the last two performing cities. She went from the bus to the hotel room and from the hotel room to theater; ate her meals alone in her room, and didn’t even congregate with her cast-mates after the shows. Then she thought maybe it was Romeo, from the jazz club, but then thought better of it.

“You might as well tell me
,” Mer Drace egged her on.

She looked at the woman who was as beautiful as she’d been when she was in her twenties. Her hair had only a few strains of gray, which were in a small patch at her right temple.

“Travis,” She said just above a whisper. “Travis Brooks.”

Mer Drace stopped as she studied her granddaughter face. “This young man is a Brooks?”











Autumn met her grandmother’s gaze and shook her head. Blue eyes stared at blue eyes hidden behind hazel contact lens. The two stayed that way for several seconds before Mer Drace looked away. They sat that way for several more minutes, just holding each other’s hand while deep in thought. Finally
, Mer Drace spoke. “I see good things in this man. He reminds me so much of your grandfather.” She squeezed Autumn’s hands lightly. “Unlike Demarcus, this man knows his place and he will cherish you no matter what you say or do to him.”

Autumn moved her lips to speak, but Mer Drace shook her head to say no. She paused before she spoke again. “Tell him who you are and he’ll understand.”

“But Mer Drace…” Autumn tried to tell her grandmother that her dream had to be wrong. The man in her dream had to be someone else. And that she had no intentions of becoming involved with Travis or anyone else. But her grandmother stood up, and walked away before she could finish.

Left to deal with her own thoughts and feelings about what her grandmother said to her, Autumn sat for almost an hour before she stood up and walked down the narrow path that led to the coastal walkway she took so many years ago. She strolled along the rocky shoreline; the sun drew down ready to descend
across the breathtaking gulf waters. The clouds formed into different shapes and sizes, and transformed an array of red, yellow, and orange contours in the sky.

Autumn inhaled deeply the musky gulf air. After about a mile and a half, she found herself in the familiar place from her childhood. She and Tempest scoured the beach along this trail for shell
s in various shapes, sizes, and color, to put in mayonnaise jars that they sold to tourists as they passed on the roadside.

She carefully climbed three large rocks and then two smaller ones
, until she reached the top of the cliff, a place she called the Eyes’ View because from there, she could see shrimp boats with wide-winged nets slowly float by. Dolphins in the backdrop rode the waves; up and down they went, silently disappearing into the water. The sun no matter the time of day; either rising or setting; the moon as it glistened and illuminated the entire island, were all spectacular views from that very spot.

The hilly foliage
dotted with wildflowers and shells. The cooing of sea gulls in harmony with the age-old melody of the water crashing against the shore brought serenity that wasn’t duplicated anywhere else in the world. Autumn stepped between sandy patches before she plopped down on the edge of a rock that was the perfect seat to absorb the picturesque view. She often went there to clear her head or to think through her decisions. Today, she came to think through the nearly one-sided conversation she had with Mer Drace.

She lingered in the same spot until the sun finally settled beneath the gray blanket of water. The evening drew cooler
, breezy air. Autumn folded her arms around her waist and eased her way down the hill. She still hadn’t decided on what to do about Travis, and only had three more days at home before returning to the city to figure out what she wanted to do.

She took the lit bike path back
, and headed straight for her mother’s house. Waves off the coast continued to rustle with the sandy beach as she passed several fish-cleaning stations where men cleaned the day’s catch with the help of overhead lanterns. As she moved closer to Maree’s house, she could smell the heavily seasoned boiling crabs at various campsites along the roadside. Some occupants could be seen inside their screened porches with spread newspaper for tablecloths, wreaking havoc on the tasty critters.

Autumn walked through the gate to her childhood home, looked up and saw the tree house that Gator
had built for her and Tempest when Autumn was six. It was a great place to hide when she’d gotten into trouble, which was a lot. A dim light beamed through the lacy sheers, a light she knew without doubt watched over her father while sound asleep with the TV remote in his hand.

She walked through the door and was instantly taken back to the evenings she’d come home from school to the wonderful smell of the evening meal. Maree cooked every day
, mostly because there were seldom any leftovers after dinner. Gator and Tempest ate enough for four people. Autumn turned left, stepped down into the den, and as she’d suspected, found her dad slumped over in his brown leather chair. She walked over and kissed his forehead. He stirred but continued the loud snore that competed with the blasting television program.

“Mom.” She walked into the kitchen.

Maree with hands deep in water stood at the kitchen sink, turned to face her daughter with a smile as wide as the gulf shores. “Hi Sweetie. I’d hope you come by to see me tonight.” She dried her hands on the dishtowel and opened her arms to receive her beautiful baby girl.

“Mom, I miss
ed you.”

* * * *

By Friday, Autumn had decided what to do about Travis. She and Mer Drace spent the past two days laughing and talking. And the more her grandmother talked, the more Autumn was convinced to put her fears aside. She pulled Mer Drace’s vintage car from the driveway and put it in park. “Mer Drace, let’s go!” She yelled into the door.

“Hold your horses, little one. I got to look my best, you know.” Mer Drace appeared through the
front-screened porch in the dress that Maree had sent over two days before. She slowly, but proudly climbed down the three steps that led to the driveway and got into the opened passenger side door.

“Thank you, sweetheart.”

They pulled up to Our Lady of the Isle where one of the parishioners opened the passenger door and helped Mer Drace from the car. Autumn entered the heavily ornamented door, stuck two fingers into the bowl of holy water, made the sign of the cross, and then knelt down to genuflect before taking her seat next to Mer Drace. She glanced up at the ceiling and the balcony where Brother Pierre played the huge wind pipe organ.

The thoughts of her youth came flashing back as fresh as if it was only days
before. Sister Tess’s tutorial on the ritual of mass was something she would never forget. “The light tells you Jesus is in the tabernacle.” She’d pointed to the floor lamp with a red shade next to the altar. “It’s called a sanctuary lamp,” Sister Tess had explained. “And you must be on your best behavior.” The nuns were strict disciplinarians who demanded the children behave in class and in the chapel. Their desk at school sat on a sixteen-inch-high riser.

Autumn remembered the days she
’d slipped into the chapel between classes to see if Jesus was on duty. Mer Drace had told her that he was always on duty and to a five-year-old she couldn’t understand how if Jesus was on duty, why at times he let her grandmother be so sad or why God had to take her Uncle Damon’s wife and her cousins Caroline and Philip Markus. For a very long time, she’d thought God didn’t love them because they were so different from everyone else. Years passed before she’d understood the vastness of what God meant, especially for her grandmother.

Mer Drace placed her hand on top of Autumn’s bringing from her deep reverie.
Autumn looked at her before giving her attention to the aged priest at the altar.

* * * *

Travis spotted Rykard’s car in his driveway. Trae still had no idea that his best friend was in town. Nor did he suspect that they’d planned a surprised bachelor party for him at a rented raised center-hall cottage in the Garden District. For all Trae knew, he was accompanying Travis and Michael to a house party. Trae had already gotten his kitchen pass from Reggie to hang out with his brothers.

, man. What’s going to happen once you place that ring on her finger? You’re going to need permission to go the bathroom,” Travis had ragged him.

“Very funny, big head
,” he’d retorted.

Travis took in stride all the things that occurred over the
past couple of weeks. Planned—and some unplanned—events had brought their families together. They were down to one week from the long-awaited celebration for his youngest brother’s wedding. He still hadn’t heard from Autumn, and took her silence to mean they would only have to put up with one another long enough to get through the wedding. He accepted that fate and began to focus on what Trae wanted from him.

“Hey, Ry
,” he called out once he pulled his key from the lock and closed the door.

Rykard sauntered down the stairs. “Hey
, man. Long time no see.” He moved forward, grabbed Travis’s hand and pulled him into a strong embrace.

“What’s up
, my brother?” They exchanged their fraternity handshake. “Trae is going to be beside himself tonight, man.”

“I sure hope so. This has been a long time coming. Wow, it’s hard to believe. I remember the evening Reggie stole up to our room looking for this boy. We were on curfew, but she had it in her mind that she wanted to see him.” Rykard shook his head as he recalled that night. Trae risked taking her back to her dorm because he didn’t want her out so late at night by herself. “They deserve this happiness.”

“Well, I agree. They’ve come a long way and I think they’re going to make it, as crazy as that sounds coming from me.” Travis smiled. “In a week, my little brother will be a married man. Go figure!”

“Go figure.”

“So, when are you going to tie it down and let some woman drive you into insanity?”

“Right after you do, my brother.” Rykard laughed.

Travis smacked him on the back. “Well, guess it’s going to be a very long time, Ry!”

“Yeah, I guess so. Now let’s talk about the festivities for tonight. That sounds more appetizing than marriage, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes, indeed!”

* * * *

Travis picked up Michael first and then pulled up to Trae’s house. “Come on Trae. That woman will be here when you get back.” Travis honked his horn to get Trae’s attention. He and Reggie stood in the door in a lip lock and pretty much ignored Travis and his horn blowing. “Look, man. We can leave you and find someone else to join this Brooks pack.”

,” he mumbled into Reggie’s mouth as he continued the tease her sweet lips.

She attempted to pull away. “Go, enjoy yourself. I’ll be here when you get back.” She gave him a final peck.

“I love you.”

She blew him a kiss.
“I love you.”

“Goodness, would you look at this
!” Travis barked as he raised both hands before landing one down on the horn once again. “Come on, slow poke!”

“I’m coming, hold your horse
s.” Trae climbed into the back of Travis’s SUV. “So, where are we headed?”

“Don’t you worry about it
, little brother. Could I use your cell phone for a minute?” Michael stuck his hand out to Trae.

Trae handed him his
BlackBerry. “Where’s your phone?” he asked.

“The same place yours will be, my little brother.” He tossed the phone into the glove compartment as Travis pulled away from the curb.

A frown formed on Trae’s forehead. “Okay, where are we headed?”

“Just hang tight. Your brothers will never lead you astray.”

The three brothers pulled up to a split-level house raised four feet above the ground on brick piers. The full-width front gallery framed by six columns supporting entablature bolstered with music, friends, cousins, and fraternity brothers. They all yelled, “Surprise!” when the trio walked through the black iron gates.

Trae spotted Rykard standing in the wings, he lost it. He immediately greeted his best friend. “What the hell are you doing here, man? You told me you were headed to Jacksonville until Thursday.”

“Yeah, well, what I should have told you was that I was really headed to New Orleans. It’s good to see you, old friend.”
Rykard wrapped an arm around him.

“Hey, break this crap up
, man. If I didn’t know any better I would think you were whining.” Trae turned just as Corey moved into the circle.

Trae turned to greet yet another of his college budd
ies, and before long, he’d greeted almost his entire college football team. Overwhelmed, he exclaimed, “Wow!”

Before he could recover,
Travis shoved a cold beer into his hand. “Enough of your damn moping, baby boy! It’s time to party. Let the festivities begin.”

Trae forgot he
’d promised Reggie that he wouldn’t be out long. But by the time strippers broke out of a large box cake, pushed in by several of his FRAT brothers, it was long after 3:00 a.m. with no end in sight for the party that continued going strong. One too many bourbon shots and beer challenges, Trae had abandoned any thought of calling home to let his bride-to-be know that he’d been kidnapped.

* * * *

Autumn squinted at her cell phone’s caller ID. When she’d talked to Reggie earlier, Reggie had told her that Trae was hanging out with his brothers, which gave them a chance to talk and take care of some of the last-minute details for the wedding. She now wondered if Reggie had forgotten to give instructions for her return trip later that day. Autumn had already ordered her to bring up shrimp and crabs for the gumbo supper she and Trae planned for Saturday evening.

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