The sun had long set over the wet Louisiana terrain. Evangeline sat on the edge of the bed and thought about what she was doing down south, and what was she actually looking for. She had come down this way because she was curious. Something had always stirred in her to visit these parts of the country, something deep that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She wanted to taste the food here, smell the earth, and watch the sun; all in a day of course. Her parents had raised her in a rural part of Kentucky, far from the city lights. They had relied on the land in the summer to provide them with the food they needed and again in the winter for the fuel that their fires craved. Her mother had died just a few years after Evangeline was born; a stout sickness came upon her and it took her with it. Her mother was a missing mystery to Evangeline; she never really knew much about her at this point in her life and she did not really even remember her. What she did remember however was the scent of sunflowers, her mother’s favorite; and so each year, Evangeline made sure to plant at least one sunflower in the garden. During the summer months, those sunflowers became her anchor; sometimes the only.
Her father and she were alike in many ways. He had taught her to love the land and use it as a crutch when she needed help. With him, she learned how to snag a catfish with chicken liver and how to read the clouds for signs of rain. Her father had a large family, for which at a young age he and his brother both quit school in order to go to work at a tobacco farm to support the family. Their father had been a Vietnam War veteran and had died years within returning home from battle. He made do with what he had, but was always excited when the world gave him just a little more. As she thought about her own family, she began to wonder about Mason’s. He seemed like a nice country boy, appreciated what he had and loved his family. She wondered where his father and mother were. Had he been raised here his whole life?
At that moment, with her head full of thoughts she decided to go find Mason. It wasn’t too late so she figured he wouldn’t be asleep yet. She stumbled down the hall and into the living room. The lights were off, but a glow was coming from the front porch. The small creak of a rocking chair was filtering through the screen door.
Mason was sitting by himself, watching the fireflies dart through the live oaks. A creak behind him startled him and caused him to swing around.
“What are you doin’?” said Mason. A slight mask of anger was on his eyes. “Don’t you know what time it is?”
“No, not really. My phone is dead and I don’t have a watch.” Evangeline looked at the chair next to him.
“Go ahead, make yourself comfortable I guess. You’re probably going to anyway.” Mason turned away and continued to watch the faint yellow lights flicker in the trees.
“What are you doing out here?”
“Sittin’.” Mason’s one word answer was sharp. He noticed Evangeline sighed at his rudeness. “I can’t sleep yet. The couch isn’t very soft,” he said as he turned his head so she could see his half smile and slight brow raise.
“You raised here?”
“What kind of question is that? You don’t even know me and you are asking questions about my past?”
“Is that why you came here, to the south?”
“Actually, yes. I came here because I was curious.”
“What could you be so curious about? All of y’all from the city know that we are just a bunch of Cajun swamp people who aren’t civilized like you and your kind are.”
“I have never heard that”.
“Well, I don’t know who you’ve been talkin’ to then,” said Mason. Evangeline averted her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. A stiff breeze was beginning to blow through the trees. It wasn’t cold, but the movement of air when it touched her dewy skin sent chills. With it came the scent of stale and stagnant water. A set of headlights were growing brighter and before Evangeline could realize, they were next to Mason’s truck. A man climbed out of the vehicle.
“My brother, don’t mind him. He is sure the charmer.” Evangeline watched Mason as he said this. She smiled as to say; well it won’t work on me. As she turned back to see where the shadowy figure had gone, she was startled to see that he was already walking up the porch steps. His boots were heavy on the wood planks and he smelled like used motor oil.
“Salut, who is this pretty little thing?”
“Leave her alone Chase,” Mason said tiredly as he stood up and opened the screen door. He tilted his head to Evangeline as to tell her to go inside. She did so, without a word. As she slid past Chase, he winked and cracked a crooked smile. Mason continued back to his bedroom, chaperoning Evangeline back. “Please try to sleep soon.” He turned and left. Before he could get down the hallway, he heard his name again. He sighed and walked back to the bedroom where he then stood in the doorway and lifted an eyebrow.
“Could I use your shower?”
Mason hesitated before he finally answered, “I suppose so, it’s at the end to the right.” His Cajun accent peeked through as he spoke. Without another word, he wandered back onto the couch and began to flip through some old magazines.
Evangeline quickly pulled a shirt from the drawer and moved to the bathroom. It was painted white, but it was weathered and old, antique even. Some of the paint was peeling from the door, but it had a well worn and comfortable feel. It was Victorian style, with a tall mirror enclosed in a wooden frame that became a vanity with drawers and a small sink. To the right was a large claw-footed bathtub with golden hardware and a tall curtain that was secured at the ceiling. The bathroom was ornate but small and country, just as the family seemed. The water was hot and felt good after the long humid day; like warm liquid silk. Afterwards, she found some old French face powders and a drawer that held men’s shaving equipment. It was all dusty, probably hadn’t been used for a while. She decided to quit rummaging through their stuff and opened the door to release some of the steam she had created. As she watched herself in the tall mirror, she ran her fingers through her hair. It is getting too long, she thought to herself. As she continued, she noticed a shadow in her peripheral vision; she turned and jumped when she saw that it was Chase.
“How long have you been there!?” Chase smiled before he said anything.
“Just a hot minute. Saw the light and came to check.” He moved closer and placed a lock of hair between his fingers. Before he could continue, Evangeline moved away and walked out the bathroom door and made her way back to the bedroom. Chase let out a sigh of disappointment and didn’t follow her. Evangeline couldn’t shake the feeling that Chase gave her so she strolled back into the light of the living room. She noticed that Mason was asleep. She decided not to wake him, but to slip back out the front door. The moon was high and bright. The silver light reflected off the shiny green leaves of the oaks and the fireflies were nearly gone. There were crickets and frogs singing together in the dark beyond the trees. The grass under her feet felt warm and wet with the night dew as she walked out to the biggest of all the trees. Its roots were knobby and rose out of the ground like small sitting posts that were waiting for her. She took a seat under the tree and leaned back against the trunk. She closed her eyes and relaxed for a moment until she heard the heavy-footed sound of someone walking. When she opened her eyes, she immediately relaxed when she saw it was just Mason trying to tiptoe to where she was. Without a word, he sat silently next to her.
“What are you doing outside at this hour, again?”
“I was conflicted.”
“Well, you’re gonna be even more conflicted if you stay out here all night. I know you won’t believe me, but those ‘gators down there will smell you and they can be right up here before you know it. They are actually pretty fast runners.”
“You sound worried Mason. Why are you awake anyway? When I left you were asleep”.
“You thought I was asleep. Look I came out here because you are under my charge kind of. I brought you here so I gotta make sure you don’t do anything stupid, like sleep outside under an old tree and get eaten. Look, I think we should go back in.” Evangeline heeded his warning and was on her feet before he was.
“I’ll make a compromise Mr. Mason, we stay outside, but on the porch.”
“My god Evangeline, its midnight, people have to sleep you know.”
“Fine, I will sit out here myself. I’m not worried about it.”
“Okay then. But in the morning when you get woken up with the sun don’t be complaining to me about how tired you are because it isn’t going to work.”
“Okay.” Evangeline plopped down in the chair on the porch and Mason, who didn’t look back, let the screen door shut behind him.
The air was still thick with humidity but cooler. Rain was probably coming soon; maybe a storm would help cool off the air. Tomorrow would be interesting, she had to find her way back into town and back home. She loved it here, out in the country outside of the street lights and police sirens. There was something special about the dirt road and the singing crickets that got to her. She felt at home here; like this was where she was supposed to be. She thought about Mason and his chivalry back at the gas station. Most people would not have offered to help a lost person, let alone invite them into their house. Mason, she could see was different. He had that tough exterior but was soft on the inside. Her mind wondered to Chase, Mason’s brother. That man got under her skin and he knew it. He was attractive, tall, and blond but there was just something about his character that made people uncomfortable around him. Her mind drifted and soon her eyes were closed.
Evangeline jumped at the hand on her shoulder. With bleary eyes she could hardly make out the silhouette of a man above her. It was still dark, but as her vision adjusted, she realized it was Mason.
“What are you doing!?”
“I told you not to fall asleep out here, it’s not safe.” Mason’s tone was like an older brother; someone who cared about you and was watching out. Without any words, Evangeline stood and started to make her way to the front door when she started to wobble a bit.
“Let me help you, all I need is you fallin’ and hurtin’ yourself now.” Mason said as he held the door open. He had changed into some sleeping pants and had thrown on a thin white t-shirt and as she caught a glimpse of his eyes, he looked tired. As Evangeline walked through the door, he lightly led her through the living room and down the hall to the bedroom.
“I got if from here; I think I can find the bed just fine.” Mason gave a small nod and walked back down the hallway without a word. Evangeline crawled into the bed and was under the covers in seconds. She had left the door open so she could hear if anyone was up walking about; being in this house made her feel safe but also uncomfortable all at the same time. Before she knew it, she was asleep.
The small room was bombarded with sunlight and the old glass seemed to multiply the beams by ten. It fell everywhere and on everything in the room, including Evangeline’s face. Not able to fight it any longer, she got out of bed. The short night’s sleep had left her still tired, but she wasn’t going to let it show in front of the Mason who had warned her about it. Without remembering that it was now daylight and she was only in a long shirt, she left the bedroom. The hall was still dark and the living room was quiet. I guess I’m the only one up she thought. Quietly, she made her way through the hall and into the living room. Mason was still asleep, his arm thrown up over his head and his breath leaving with a soft sound. Chase hadn’t gotten up either, so it seemed; all the house was asleep except Evangeline. She decided to take this time and use it wisely. She went into the kitchen, just around the corner and opened the cabinets looking for coffee. She saw the coffeepot on the counter and assumed that there had to be some around there; of course there was. She started a pot and stared out the kitchen window.
The yard was wide and open. The land was flat, save for a few stands of trees that were draped with old moss. There was one oak that was twice the size of all the others. She couldn’t see beyond that, there was probably a swamp down there somewhere, Mason had mentioned alligators. The grass was taller beyond the trees; that part must not be kept as well as the rest of the yard. The coffeepot finished its brewing and so she grabbed a cup from the cabinet. As she sipped her hot coffee, she walked around the kitchen looking at the artifacts lying about. The refrigerator had a few notes on it, written in a loopy font, probably Mason’s mothers. There was a clock just about the sink, yellowed with time but still accurate. Mason’s mother probably liked dishes, there were at least three different patterns displayed above the cabinets, on the walls, and in a large china cabinet by the door. The house was well cared for at some point and it probably held a lot of life. There were probably parties and dinners here; family get-togethers, birthdays, Sunday dinners. But all of that was quiet now. She took a long slow drink of her coffee, letting it warm her. As she was finishing, she heard the soft shuffle of sleepy feet. Before she had time to sit at the table, Chase was sliding in the doorway. His blue eyes were even colder than the night before. He stopped as he saw her and smiled his crooked smile. He just stood in the doorway; she could feel his eyes moving up and down her body as he assessed her. To break his stare she handed him a coffee cup without raising her eyes. Chase took it and moved to the coffee pot.
“You always dress like that?”
“No, I don’t. I just didn’t think to bring my closet with me,” Evangeline said with a snarky bite. Chase smiled and Evangeline turned to walk into the living room, however before she could get anywhere, Mason had already began to walk through the doorway. At first, Mason said nothing. He looked at Evangeline and then Chase. His eyes changed and his body seemed to tense around Chase. The entire kitchen was tense. Evangeline shot a glance to Mason and walked out of the kitchen back to her room. She continued to gather the clothes and realized that Mason had followed her back. He picked up her shoes and handed them to her. Evangeline looked shocked; no one had actually helped her before with anything. Even though it was small, it was a big gesture to her.
“Did he say anything to you?” Mason said. His dark hair was tousled. He looked at her boyishly with dark doe eyes and ran a hand through it.
“No” Evangeline lied.
“How did you sleep?”
“Fine, the bed was fine.”
“Better than the chair out front?” Mason smiled. He had laugh lines around his mouth. There must have been some good parts in his past.
“Ha ha, you’re very funny. I wasn’t really asleep out there, I was just testing you.”
Mason laughed as he said “yea sure”. She had made him laugh for the first time since she had been there. Evangeline had her clothes in her arms and walked out the door. “Hey where are you goin?” asked Mason.
“Shower, it was a hot night.”
“I’m sure I can find something for you to wear.”
“You have women’s clothing now…is there something I need to know about you Mason LaFont? Do you…”
“No! I do not. Just let me go see what I can find okay.” Mason hurried out the door and left Evangeline standing there. She walked on back the hallway to the small room Mason had disappeared into. It was dark and dusty. The curtains had probably not been pulled back in years. Mason was crouched over a dresser drawer digging through its contents. He pulled out some fabric and was surprised to see Evangeline standing there watching him. He stood up and unfolded the fabric. It had transformed into a soft white sundress. It had baby doll arms and delicate eyelets around the neck. He handed it to her.
“It was my mother’s. She loved it.”
“Mason, I can’t…”
“Yes you can, you can’t wear my shirt all day.” Evangeline smiled and walked out the door. Mason shut the bedroom door behind him and watched her walk the few steps to the bathroom. Evangeline shut the door and turned to the mirror. Her hair and dried the night before into soft ringlets so she piled them on top of her head and twisted it all into a knot. The shower wasn’t as hot this time, but still felt just as good. After grabbing a towel, she looked over at the dress. She held it up and admired it. It was simple but so pretty. She couldn’t believe that Mason had let her borrow it. She slid it over her head and it fit perfectly. She let her hair fall where it played on her collarbone. She slipped her flip-flops on and then out the door. The house was empty again. She peeked out the window and saw Mason in the yard and Chase as well. She decided to walk out to the porch to see what was going on. Immediately, both men looked up at her and stopped what they were doing.
“It looks great,” said Mason. Chase didn’t say anything; he just had that look on his face and a smile. There was no telling what he was thinking. Evangeline walked down the steps to where they were. Mason had already gotten dressed, as had Chase.
“I’m going into town; you wanna come with me beautiful? I can show you a few things.”
“No thanks Chase. Mason was going to take me”. As Evangeline said Mason’s name, Chase’s face was full of anger. She had used Mason to make Chase angry, jealous even. With that, Chase slammed his truck door and sped out the drive way. She looked over at Mason who was smiling.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, just nothing. Dress looks good, but you might get dirty.”
“What, how am I going to get dirty?”
“Well, you get to help me today.”
“You said you were curious about the south, right. Well, I have to go help some guys down at the docks load up some ‘gators to take to the market. So guess who gets to come with me and help.”
The docks stank. There was nothing like the scent of sweaty men, old beer, rotting wood planks, and alligators. The swamps carried with them some of the foulest creatures of the south. The glaring sun and high humidity did not help the scene at all. Huge alligators were being laid out on the floor and measured snout to tail for length. They were already dead, luckily, but they still had big teeth that poked out from their lower jaws. Mason had brought her here and told her she was going to help, but when they got out to the docks, he asked her to stay back with the kids.
Defiantly, Evangeline creeped over to where the men were standing. They were all making jokes on the sizes of the animals, and paying over handfuls of money from lost and won bets.
“We don’t get many beautiful creatures down in these parts.” An older man standing next to a pile of alligators smiled kindly with his words. He took off his hat. His hair was dark and had a light gray color coming through. “You lookin’ for somethin’?”
“No, I’m here with Mason.”
“Oh. Rick’s boy huh. Haven’t seen him with a girl in a while.”
“We aren’t together. I just kinda stayed at his place last night. I got lost and didn’t have anywhere else to go.” Evangeline tried to smile to break the awkwardness. She stepped over to him and held out a hand, “I’m Evangeline.”
“Name’s Joe. I’m a swamper.”
“Hi Joe.” Shyly, Evangeline tucked her hair behind her ear and turned back to watch the men at work unloading alligators.
“He’s a good guy you know.”
Evangeline turned back to Joe. He had put his hat back on and was gesturing to Mason. “His brother is a different story though. A party animal, been with too many women and broke too many hearts. Mason though, he just kinda stays. After his mother died he didn’t really move on.” Evangeline knew there was something different about Mason, just the way that he treated her opposed to Chase showed this difference. “Now, if you don’t mind, I need to be getting back to work. Nice meetin’ ya.” Joe made his way back to the edge of the dock near the where the alligators were. The Louisiana heat was beginning to settle in as the sun continued higher and higher on its path. Mason had looked over, as if to check to see if she was still there. When he saw she was, the made his way back over.
“You havin’ any bit of fun yet?” His accent just as thick as before. He was smiling, probably because he knew that this was not fun for Evangeline.
“Yeah, lots of fun.” Sarcasm was thick in her speech. “I met Joe. He seemed really nice”.
“Yeah, he’s a nice guy if you are nice to him. Few years back he lost his son in da’ swamp. He was out late one night and never came back. They finally found his boat but they didn’t know what happened to him. Ever since then, Joe’s been here every day. Real nice guy. What did ya’ll talk about?”
“Nothing really. He just wanted to know who I was.”
“Yeah, I keep forgetting you are a new face here. Did you tell him?”
“I told him I was with you.”
“Oh great, now I will never hear the end of it.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing bad. He’s just been watching out for Chase and me. He doesn’t really like Chase though, not many people do.”
“Chase the bad boy of town.”
“He’s just got a lot of history around here. Not good company.” Mason turned back to the dock and watched the last of the alligators being packed into the back of a truck for transport. The people were starting to scatter and another boat had just come in. In the distance, a shrimping boat was making its way closer to the dock. Time passed so slow out here; the water weighed the time down and made it craw by. “You ‘bout ready” Mason questioned as his brows rose. Without a word, Evangeline nodded her head and started back to the truck. On their way out, Joe caught sight of them and waved goodbye, which Evangeline returned with a sweet smile and Mason a gentle tip of the hat. As Evangeline climbed back into the truck he caught sight of the clock in the dash, it read 3:34 pm in bright green numbers.
“Where did the day go! It’s almost four already.” She looked over at Mason to see if her hint had been received. So far, it looked good.
“You’re a smart one aren’t ya’.” Mason looked across the empty space between them with an almost quizzical look in his face. “Fine, but tomorrow will be the last” murmured Mason as he inserted the keys into the ignition. The truck turned over smoothly on the second try and Mason began to drive away. The sun was still in the sky, but not as high. It’s rays were starting to become obscured by a few clouds that began to dot the sky.
“I didn’t mean to stay another night. I hadn’t intended on staying here at all.” Evangeline’s face was honest but doleful at the same time. Her steel-blue eyes were darker than normal. Mason glanced over and watched her for just a second as she stared out the side window, watching the grass zoom past her. He realized that she was upset about something, but he couldn’t remember saying anything to her. Maybe Joe had mentioned something to her at the dock.
“Where you from?” Mason’s voice was clear and cut through the thoughts welling up inside Evangeline’s head. She looked at Mason with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, what?” Mason raised his shoulders and slowed the truck to a stop. “I don’t even know you. I think if people are going to start talking then I need to have some details.”
“How do you know people will be talking?”
“Because they will. They started talking as soon as I started talking to you at that gas station yesterday. Trust me, I know.” He unbuckled his seat belt and open the truck door. “You comin’?” Evangeline did her best to follow suit as quickly as she could.
“You do this often?”
“Stop on the side of the road in nowhere and take a walk.” Evangeline noticed that he was starting towards some tall stands of trees. She quickened her pace to follow; she didn’t want to be alone out here as dark was trying to set in. “Where are we going?”
“Can’t you just wait ‘till we get there?” Mason grumbled playfully. “It’s not like you have anywhere else important to be. You’re on my time now.” Evangeline smiled, she liked the way this sounded, to be on someone else’s time, not her own. She had been looking for a way to break away from the life she was living and just be completely free. Down here, right now she felt that she could do that. Mason caught her smiling and stopped to let her catch up to him. Unlike him, she was not accustomed to walking in the woods, but it felt good. Before she had a chance to ask him again where they were going, she caught sight of something white in the woods ahead of her. As her eyes adjusted to the falling light of summer, she noticed that it may be a small house in front of her. As if Mason had seen her figuring it out, he took off ahead of her again but this time with her hand in his.
The knock on the door was loud; hopefully Mason knew who he was visiting. Upon the second rapt, a petite woman with curling white hair to the middle of her chest peered out the screen door. She was dressed simply, in an old cotton dress with a thin sweater over her shoulders. Her eyes were bright blue and cloudy. She had to be at least 80 years old, the wrinkles on her delicate face proved that to be true.
“Oh, mon ‘tit garcon! How are you cher?” The little old lady’s voice was steeped even deeper in the Cajun accent that Mason had. Her voice was loud and clear, not what would be expected out of such a small lady. Mason gently embraced her and kissed her on her cheeks. She was so vivid with excitement and happiness that her hands began to tremble.
“Grand’Mere, I brought a friend for you to meet. This is Evangeline. Evangeline, this is my grandmother, Odilia.”
“Please, you two come on in now, it’s trying to get dark on us.” Odilia’s house was tiny and had dark lighting. The front door brought you into the living and dining area, in the back was a tiny kitchen equipped with the newest stove in 1966 and a yellow-tinged refrigerator that made a very audible buzzing. On the wall hung at least 50 photographs in plain frames. Some were in black and white and others in color. This must have been photos of the family since Odilia was a child. Evangeline scanned the photos for a face that looked familiar, finally near the end of the line was a photo of two young boys with what seemed to be their mother. The oldest of the boys was very obviously Mason, his dark eyes and boyish face stuck out against Chases’ blond hair. The boys were complete opposites. Their mother however, was beautiful. Her hair was long and a deep shade of chestnut brown. Chase had her deep blue eyes but Mason inherited every other beautiful quality about her. Her smile was like sunshine; it showed the best qualities of her and the way she had her hands on the boys shoulders demonstrated her pure love and protection for the two. She was a mother that would have never left her children alone. This realization caused a pang of emotion to rise up in Evangeline. She caught herself and snapped back into reality.
“Evangeline is a beautiful Cajun name, where you from chere” asked Odilia as she motioned to a sitting chair.
Evangeline paused, not really knowing how to answer this question. Her past was a secret to her, she didn’t even know much about where or what she came from. She only really knew her father, since her mother died so early. He never talked about her, or let Evangeline know anything about that side of her. Her mother’s family lost contact with her, and she never bothered to reconnect either. She was just a sort of lost.
“My father is from Kentucky.”
“I didn’t ask about your father honey. Where are you from?”
The question still tripped her up. “I don’t really know. I was raised in Kentucky by my father; my mother died when I was two. Never really knew her.” At that time, Mason was coming back from the kitchen with three tall glasses of iced tea. He handed Odilia a glass first and then Evangeline. He sat with ease, trying not to make too much noise as the women talked.
“I met her at a gas station grand mere. She was lost.”
“You’re a very pretty young lady, dear. Why were you alone at a gas station down here for?”
“I was just traveling through. I always wanted to see these parts of the country. I am going to school up in New Orleans and had a break off.”
“What are you studying up there?”
“History. I’m studying colonial times in North America, my emphasis is architecture.”
“Well that sounds nice. History is good, all people have history somewhere.” Odilia’s face had a sly expression; she was a very cunning woman and beautiful even in her age. “Are ya’ll hungry? I can make something right quick now.”
“Nah grandmere, I was going to show Evangeline the diner downtown.”
“Oh yes! It is beautiful at this time of year. How long are you going to be in dear?” she turned to Evangeline with life in her eyes.
“Just until tomorrow, I think. Mason has to take me back since my car broke down. He doesn’t seem to like the idea of me staying with him another night.” Evangeline turned to look at Mason, who looked like a deer caught in headlights.
“Mason Raymond! Didn’t your mama and me raise you right! Did you tell her she couldn’t stay another night with you? You have plenty of room out there in that old house; it could probably use a woman for a few days anyways! Look honey, if you need a place to stay, you are welcome here for as long as you need. Don’t worry about him, he’s a little rough around the edges sometimes. He doesn’t know good if it’s looking him in the face.” Mason’s face turned a violent shade of red; Odilia had clearly embarrassed him more than ever.
“Merci Madam Odilia. I’m sure Mason didn’t mean anything mean by it all.”
“Oh my! You speak French honey?” Odilia’s face was full of surprise and excitement.
“Just a little from school.” Before she could say anymore, Mason stood up from the sofa and put his hands in his pockets, like a young boy.
“Well grandmere, I think we might need to be going now. It’s getting dark faster and I’m sure Evangeline wants to get back to the house soon to get some rest.”
“I’m fine really. I would love to ask you some…”
“Oh honey don’t worry, you can go on. I am sure we’ll be seeing more of each other later. You have tired written all over your face!”
“Okay,” said Evangeline, giving into the two of them. She and Mason walked out the front door as Odilia followed them out onto her weathered porch.
“If ya’ll need anything, just stop on back by my little place now. Maybe next time I’ll have you some nice dinner fixed and we can talk some more.” Mason and Evangeline smiled as they began to start back into the woods to find the truck they left on the side of the road. Before they were fully in between the trees, Odilia called out faintly.
“Evangeline, you’re gonna find it soon honey.” Evangeline heard Odilia and her face was fully flushed with heat. That little old woman was smart and could read people very well. Without a word, Evangeline smiled again, but this time it was full of love and thanks only for Odilia. She turned back and began to follow Mason out of the woods.
The trip back to the truck took a lot less time than it did getting there. Mason was silent until he slipped back into his seat and started driving.
“What was that!?” he asked Evangeline.
“What was what?”
“That! Back there. You two talked like you had grown up together. And then, you speak French to her. That’s like making her coffee and pouring it too! She loves you now!”
“I’m sorry your grandmother likes me. I didn’t do anything wrong, I was just being nice.”
“Yeah well, your nice won her over.” When Mason looked into the seat next to him and all he saw was Evangeline beaming.
The clouds began to roll in faster than the truck could drive, under the supervision of Mason of course. “Why don’t you let me drive” asked Evangeline. Mason said nothing but gave her a look that would accompany a joke. “Come on, I didn’t wreck my car, it just broke down. I’m a good driver. I promise.” Mason said nothing, but this time just shook his head from side to side. The radio was playing softly, some type of country ballad that sounded like every other song out there. “I’m not going to quit asking”. Mason pulled into a brightly lit gas station that had an ‘open’ sign flashing in the front window.
“I’m going to get some gas, do you want anything?” Evangeline shook her head no. As Mason made his way into the gas station, she quickly unbuckled her seatbelt and slid over to the driver’s seat. The stirring wheel seemed enormous in her hands and the seat smelled musty and woodsy like Mason. She was just tall enough to reach the pedals under her feet. Mason exited the gas station and unnoticingly proceeded to pump that gas. When he reached his fill, he returned the nozzle to his home and opened his truck door. There sat Evangeline smiling from ear to ear.
“Just get in Mason.” Mason stepped back from the door.
“You have got to be kidding me. You can’t drive my truck!”
“Because.” Mason was without a reason. “You just can’t.”
“Well, I’m not moving.”
Mason stood there for a minute longer waiting for her to give in and scoot back over. Of course, she didn’t. “Fine!” Mason sulked around the front of the truck and got in on the passenger side. “Happy?”
“Very much so.” Evangeline slid the keys into the ignition and the truck started perfectly. The motor hummed quietly and the radio starting playing a slow country tune. She put the truck into drive and pushed the gas pedal.
“Easy, okay. She’s picky.”
“She? Your truck is a ‘she’?” Mason’s face flashed red with embarrassment, but it quickly faded when he realized that Evangeline was beginning to pull out onto the road.
“Watch out for those holes up there and that…”
“I know how to drive okay. So just relax a bit.”
“You remember where I live?”
“Well, no, but I can find it. Would you put your seatbelt on please.” Mason decided that it wouldn’t be worth a fight so he obediently pulled it over his chest and buckled it. Evangeline was a good driver, maybe a little slower than he would have driven but better safe than sorry. Without help, she located the long driveway to the house and pulled in next to Chase’s truck. Without a word they both got out of the truck. Before they could say anything, Chase was already at the door.
“So, you lettin’ her drive your truck now huh. What’s next, movin’ her in?” Mason didn’t find his comments worthy enough to respond to. He turned to Evangeline who had a disturbed look on her face. He could tell that she didn’t like Chase anymore than he did.
“Hey, if you want you can go get ready or whatever and I’ll take you downtown to the restaurant I was talking about. I think you’ll like it.
“Sure. Are you going in?”
“No, I’m fine. Just gonna wait out here for you.”
“Okay” said Evangeline. She walked between Mason and Chase, cutting the tension and causing Chase to break his eye contact with Mason. His eyes followed her into the house, as did Mason’s. She figured Mason wouldn’t mind if she revisited the room where the dress had come from so she did, spotting a thin sweater hanging on the back of the door. She figured she wouldn’t change out of the dress since it looked nice already. She walked to the bathroom and ran her fingers through her hair; she wouldn’t have time to do anything to it so she just left it as it was. She found some eye shadow, a deep brown color and used it sparingly on her upper lid just to give some dimension to her steel-blue eyes. She applied a light coat of mascara and just to keep things even, a thin coat of some red lipstick. She stepped back and looked at herself; her natural beauty was peeking through and enhanced by the little bits of emphasis she had placed on her face. The red lipstick really made things pop, her skin brighter, and her eyes bluer. She readied herself and made her way back down the hall and out to the porch. As both men saw her step into the harsh porch light, they both wore a slack-jawed expression on their faces. Without a word, Evangeline made her way back to the truck, opened her own door, and climbed up into the seat. Mason followed suit and before they knew it, the truck was speeding towards town.
“You look amazing.”
Evangeline blushed, “thank you, I didn’t have much time to really do anything better. I hope people won’t think I’m a slob or anything.”
“I’m sure they won’t.”
“So where are we going?”
“Uh, there’s a little place down near the square. They open up for dinner and its run by a couple who run the newspaper here. Real nice people and the place looks real nice at night.” Mason leaned over the seat a few inches toward Evangeline and whispered “it’s sort of a little secret that we keep here. Most outsiders never see it, so you’re pretty lucky”. Evangeline giggled and moved her eyes to look out the window as they drove. The truck began to slow as more lights became visible up ahead. The town was tiny; she had driven through it yesterday before her car decided to die. It looked different at night, more alive and beautiful. Old historic buildings that at one time probably housed general stores and pharmacies circled the square. There was a healthy amount of trees lining the street and sidewalks, tall live oaks draped in dry Spanish moss as well as tall and hearty magnolias with delicate white flowers blooming in between the thick and waxy leaves.
Mason found a parking space tucked between other vehicles, in front of one of the old storefronts. “It’s around back,” he said as he was pushing his door open. Evangeline took her time unbuckling the seat belt and before she could open the door herself, Mason had already done so, like a true gentleman. As they made their way around the side alley, the sound of sweet piano music started to flow and grow louder as well as lights that lit a small path. The sweet smell of night-blooming jasmine was thick in the air along with broiled sugar and dark red wine. The small path led to an open patio-like spot dotted with black wrought-iron tables and chairs. Most were filled with people but a few still sat empty. There were small lights around the edge of the floor. The light spilled over the area and out into the small green grassy spot just adjacent. This led out to what appeared to be a small grove of trees and a weathered wooden bench.
Mason made his way to an empty table in the corner. The table was covered with an elegant white tablecloth. They sat eagerly. A short man with a thick mustache walked over to the table. He shook Mason’s hand and offered wine. Mason rejected the offer but Evangeline did not. Without much talking, they both ordered their dinners and began to eat when a large man began to make his way over to their table. “That’s the owner.”
“Well hello there Mason, so good to see you out and about again. Who is this lovely lady you have here. I don’t think we have met before.” He took Evangeline’s hand and kissed it.
“Evangeline. I’m new here. Just in town for a little bit.”
“Oh, just visiting eh. I see Mason has brought you to the best place in town. Our little secret too, so don’t go tellin’ everybody okay. What do you think so far?”
“It’s wonderful really. And so beautiful. I really wasn’t expecting something so beautiful.”
“Well, we work hard to keep it this way. It was really nice meeting you Miss Evangeline and Mason, I hope to see you around more often.” With that, the large man walked off to greet the next table of people. They finished their dinners quietly and decided to leave rather than linger around. Mason guided her back to the truck, this time there was no conflict with driving; Evangeline gladly took the passenger’s seat. As Mason guided the truck down the right lane of the road back to the house, Evangeline unbuckled her seatbelt, slid over to the middle of the truck seat and laid her head on Mason’s shoulder to catch a few quick minutes of sleep.
Clattering dishes was all she heard. The sharp ting of pots and pans being banged together was loud and it rang in her ears. She didn’t know how or when, but Evangeline was lying in bed, still with the dress from yesterday on. She started to think back to yesterday; going to help with the alligators, meeting Odilia, and having the nice dinner downtown with Mason. After that, the rest of the night was a blur. Hopefully she hadn’t talked to anyone, especially since she didn’t remember getting back to the house. The clatter of dishes emanated from the kitchen. Is someone trying to wake me up! Thought Evangeline. She picked up her body and made her way to the kitchen to see what was going on. The lights were all off, but the sun was shining through the windows; it looking like the room was on fire with brightness. The kitchen was also bright, and smelled like burnt toast.
“Do you need some help?” asked Evangeline. Mason was holding a plate with a couple of pieces of black toast and a glass of water.
“Breakfast” Mason smiled as he lifted the plate and pushed it toward her.
“Good, I like my toast with a little color”. She could see that her comment hit him a little harder than she has expected. “I’m joking. It’s okay.” Evangeline scraped some of the black off and attempted to eat it. Mason followed suit.
“So you excited about going home today?” asked Mason.
“Why not, its home! Everybody loves home.”
“Well, New Orleans is not my home. It’s just where I live right now.” Evangeline placed the plate in the sink and went back down the hall to the bathroom. A clean towel had been laid out on the vanity for her, as well as a bar of rose-shaped soap. It smelled thick with perfume, but still a light delicate scent. She took the ‘gifts’ as a hint and let the bathtub fill up with water. She poured in a bit of the bath oils she found in the ancient drawer and slid into the hot water, careful not to scald herself.
The day hadn’t even began yet, and she was already tired. Just thinking about going back to the bustle of the city made her tired, she felt it in her body and in her heart. It just wasn’t the place for her but there wasn’t really anything she could do about it. Her mind wondered and she mindlessly thought about called up Miss Odilia. She was sure that she would let her stay, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing. That old lady seemed to know all the secrets of the world, you just had to ask her to spill the beans. She wished she could have stayed longer yesterday and really talked. She had missed talking to another woman. She had never really had that privilege with her own mother, and her own grandmother had already passed as well.
The bath was soothing and hot, but the heat soon faded the water cooled down. She figured she had already been in the bathroom way to long, so she decided, against her body’s wishes to slowly climb out of the scented water and wrap up in the fresh towel. She had forgotten to borrow some clothes before her bath, so in the towel she tip-toed down the hallway, trying to make anyone notice. Chase was still asleep, or not home so that was not a worry to her. Slowly, she made her way to the small dark room where Mason had found the dress and opened the closet door. More sundresses like the one she wore yesterday hang in the closet, each a different color. She pulled out a pale yellow dress, with intricate crochet work around the neckline. She slipped it on and walked back to the bathroom. The color did magic to her eyes and hair, all the color in her face seemed to just pop with brightness next to the pale yellow. He hair was still damp, but she pulled it back anyways into a loose ponytail. It would dry during the day anyway.
Mason must have dressed while she was in the bath, when she went back into the living room, he was sitting in a side chair looking over an old book.
“Oh”, he stopped and looked at her eyes. He was quiet for just a split second, but long enough for Evangeline to see it and for himself to see it. “an old book.”
“Yea, I could tell. Anything good?”
“No, not really. Just old stories. My mom’s favorite.” He sat the book back down on the side table and stood up. “So, is there anything…”, the telephone cut in before he could finish his sentence. He swiftly picked up the receiver and answered.
“Mason? This is Odilia. Your Grand Mere.”
“Yes, Okay. I know who you are Grand Mere.”
“I need some help cher, I need you to help me with my roof today! I just know there is a rain coming and my roof is going to leak and I need it fixed. Could you come by today?”
Nervously, Mason looked over to Evangeline who looked just as puzzled as he did, and she didn’t even know who was on the phone. “Of course Grand Mere. I’ll be right over.”
“Oh, and Mason, make sure to bring that Evangeline over. I need to talk to her. Merci cher.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Mason hung the phone up and pointed at Evangeline. “You have to come with me.”
“Why, what did I do.”
“Nothing yet, Miss Odilia needs me to fix her roof and wants to talk to you about something.”