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Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Pre-Katrina New Orleans: In FATE, you met Vanessa Lewis, a young woman destined to fall in love with Scott, a man so different, yet so perfect for her.
CHANCES, continues this family's story with Vanessa's no nonsense sister Monica. After losing the man of her life she was determined to bestow her love and attention on her children. Until her new neighbor became an honorary member of the family. Everybody loved Devin. Could she?

MISCONCEPTIONS, brings the family together to support Daniel and Cassie as they fight a persistent thorn in everyone’s side.

IRONIC brings them all together once again as the family’s nemesis unexpectedly falls for a member of this strong family united in love.

Post-Katrina New Orleans : In STORM experience the aftermath of the worst natural disaster to hit the Gulf Coast through the eyes of the Lewis’s as Sabrina Adams and Josh Lewis find and preserve love in the midst of devastation.

An Excerpt
by Pamela Leigh Starr

Saturated With Katrina

Everywhere I go,

Someone’s life is on the sidewalk

My face curls up,

A flimsy attempt

To prevent

The stench from entering my nostrils

The speech in my periphery

Of losses, lies, dreams halted

In their tracks

Causes my ears to vibrate

A sadness that plunges into my spirit like a torrent wave

My town! My Town! My Town!

My People! My People! My People!

My mouth curls up

My fingertips warm, in the sweet grip of reunion

By Angela Foy Thomas
My sister and ONE of MANY Hurricane Katrina victims still rising

Chapter 1

It was no use.

It was dying.

Dreading the only decision left to her, Sabrina Adams guided the car to the shoulder of the road, moving faster in her sputtering twelve-year old Corolla than the stalled traffic she’d sat in for the last ten hours. The narrow shoulder was not quite wide enough to accommodate her compact-sized car. Coming to a complete stop partway on the shoulder and partway the grassy field running parallel Sabrina threw her car into park, shut the engine off and stared out the windshield as the radiator released its last, fiery breath with a tremendous puff of smoke.
She had been warned that the radiator was on its last leg and that her Band-aid approach of periodically adding water would one day fail. The radiator needed to be replaced and she had planned on getting it done one day last next.

Which was exactly what she had said the week before. And she had meant it, had even put money aside for that exact purpose, but a more pressing matter had derailed her.
Sabrina got out of the car and stared at the bumper to bumper traffic stretching as far as se could see. Thousands were fleeing New Orleans, heading for higher ground.
A hurricane was headed toward New Orleans again, like the year before with Hurricane Ivan, it was a snail-moving-through-molasses evacuation, nevertheless, people were taking the threat of Hurricane Katrina seriously.
Despite the inconvenience…
Despite the traffic…
Despite last year’s memory of a fifteen to twenty hour drive that would normally take no longer than two to five hours…
Katrina could be the one the entire population of New Orleans had been warned about for as long as she could remember, all her life probably. “New Orleans is a bowl,” she had heard over and over again. With Lake Ponchartrain to the north of the city and the Mississippi River running through it, if the city got a direct hit there would be no place for the water from the storm surge to go. It was a bit hard to imagine, but who would dare to be stuck in such a situation?
Not her.
Which was why, having a car, slightly handicapped as it was, she was evacuating. A little late but that couldn’t be helped. A steady, constant breeze washed over her, a heavy scent of rain in the air. She needed to find some shelter. According to the radio report the storm would be making landfall in a matter of hours. Pulling her cell phone out of her pocket she dialed her uncle’s house for the twenty-fifth time. Her grandmother was safe. She had already been picked up, transported and made comfortable by her uncle who lived in Lafayette, Louisiana, about one hundred forty miles from New Orleans, and where she had been headed there herself. That is, until she found herself in the wrong lane for the contra-flow designed to help relieve traffic. It had steered her northeast toward Hammond and no one, instead of northwest toward Lafayette and family. If she didn’t show up, her grandmother would worry and wouldn’t sleep, which would keep her Uncle Darren from sleeping. He needed to sleep, because storm or storm, he had to go to work the next morning. Uncle Darren was one of Lafayette Police Department’s finest. He would be preoccupied with dealing with the influx of people evacuating from New Orleans. There would be thousands of people simply coming through or looking for a safe place to stay for a while. Sabrina knew from Uncle Darren’s muttered complaints during and just after last year’s mandatory evacuation, that dealing with the effects of such a large mass exodus, for even a brief period of time, stretched the resources of all nearby cities and towns.
“Can I help you ma’am?” A young state trooper mercifully interrupted her rampaging thoughts.
Turning to fully face the officer, Sabrina snapped her cell shut to the recording she had heard over and over again, informing her that she, along with and because of thousands of other customers who were calling their loved ones, could not get through to the party dialed and should try again at a later time.
But voila’, she had the next best thing: a handsome state trooper, well, not exactly handsome, but definitely cute, but nowhere near as cute as John, especially when he—
“Ma’am, can I assist you?”
Pulling in her wayward thoughts, which always ran wild when she was nervous, Sabrina smiled and nodded at the cute trooper who could never compare to John, but who could direct her to the nearest police station or shelter where she could use a phone.
“Your car?
“It died.”
“So I noticed.”
“It’s the radiator.”
The trooper nodded. “Can I give you a lift, get you out of harm’s way? The highway is closing as soon as the traffic dies.”
“I know. I just made it out a couple of hours before the highways closed in New Orleans.”
He nodded again impatiently. He probably thought she was nuts standing in the middle of nowhere conversing on the topic of road closures when she should be jumping at the chance for help. The leery look that crept onto his face confirmed it. But Sabrina wasn’t nuts, just worried about her grandmother. She had had a heart attack a few months ago and though mild, the possibility of losing her had scared Sabrina enough to keep her at her grandmother’s side until two days ago. At that time she had had no idea that Hurricane Katrina would decide to make her way to New Orleans. The hurricane had been heading to Florida as most of them did. And the only thing that had torn Sabrina away from her grandmother’s side was the old woman’s insistence that Sabrina celebrate her twenty-first birthday. Which was what she had been doing with her best friend Kara. Celebrating her adulthood and her decision to tell John Lewis exactly how she felt about him. That of course turned out to be a disaster. She had been so wrapped up in said disaster and Kara was so knocked out from too lack of sleep due to Sabrina rehashing her most recent embarrassing encounter with John that Sabrina had not noticed the increasing amount of traffic leaving New Orleans as they headed back to the city. It wasn’t until Sabrina pulled into the driveway of her friend’s home to find, Kara’s sister storming down the steps, her arms overflowing with luggage. She informed that there was a mandatory evacuation and that Kara had better pack and be ready to leave in the next half hour. That was the first inkling Sabrina had gotten that Hurricane Katrina was headed their way. prompting her to race home, gather Grammy and a few basic needs to begin their own evacuation, only to find a curt note from Uncle Darren telling her that he had collected Grammy that she should “--call and get your butt to Lafayette ASAP!”
The cutie interrupted her thoughts once again. “Can I escort you to a shelter? I have a few other motorists in your predicament.”
“Yes, of course, I’d appreciate that.”
Sabrina followed the trooper to a police van, nodding to the handful of passengers as she took a seat. Instead of pulling into the congested highway, the van moved across the field and onto a small dirt road. Sabrina tried to relax against the warm vinyl, assuming that this was some sort of shortcut.
“All this traffic and bother for nothing,” a nasty voice said behind her. “Watch, we’ll all be back in a day or two, three at the most, having evacuated for no good reason. The hurricanes always miss us. Watch and see.”
Sabrina turned to see a middle-aged balding man with a huge belly taking up most of the seat behind her.
“If it wasn’t for you I’d be in my own house relaxing with a couple of beers,” he told a scrawny blonde women sitting on what was left of the seat. The woman ignored the grouchy man and Sabrina’s look of sympathy, staring straight ahead.
“The traffic and the situation have made us all irritated,” the trooper was saying, “but in the long run you’ll be glad you listened to the authorities and evacuated.”
“I doubt it,” the man grumbled before falling silent.
Turning away from the disgruntled passenger, Sabrina noticed a frail, elderly man sitting next to a middle-aged one who could be nothing other than his son. She remembered seeing them on the highway a few miles back. The sweltering heat of August in southern Louisiana had looked as if it was draining every bit of energy from them as they sat in the barely moving traffic with windows rolled down. Sabrina understood their predicament. Her air conditioning barely functioned, blowing only semi-cool air, but at least she had that much. And she was young to boot. She smiled at them. They mustered a smile of recognition and a quiet hello.
The sight of them brought her grandmother to the forefront of her mind again. Trying to clear her head of worry, Sabrina allowed herself to relive part of her birthday adventure, only the good part. After all, it was because of her adventure that her uncle had had to travel to New Orleans to take her grandmother to safety. Because of her adventure, she had left the city just before the highways were closed and long after her grandmother. And it was because of her adventure that she had embarrassed herself more than she had ever done in her life, a major feat in and of itself.
“John.” She sighed his name, wallowing in her infatuation. No, not infatuation. Her grandmother thought it was infatuation, and maybe at one time it had been. As a teenager she had sighed and mooned over John Lewis and his identical twin brother Josh every time she saw them and every hour in between. But then, one day she’d found herself mooning over John and only John. He was somehow the more handsome of the two, even taking into consideration the identical twin thing. John was the one she had fallen in love with.
John, so sweet and talented and probably still completely mortified and mad as hell that I made a pass at him, Sabrina pressed her face into her palms. She lifted her eyes a moment later to stare at the lights of a three-story building that looked like a school, situated on the side of the dark highway. A lone figure was walking toward the building, carrying what looked to be an instrument case. The deceptively slight build, the straight, confident walk… It couldn’t be him. But as they drove closer Sabrina had no doubt that it was.
It made perfect sense. They had both left from the casino hotel where he had played a gig with his jazz band. John had been loading his car when she and Kara had pulled off. Of course she had avoided him. She couldn’t avoid him now. John was walking toward the same shelter where she would probably be spending the next two or three days if the grouchy guy’s prediction was right.
Sabrina’s heart beat double-time.
She’d get to see him again.
But she didn’t want to see him.
She’d feel awkward, but what was new about that?
But then, he’d feel awkward.
Now, that would be new.
Before she could decide how she would deal with the awkwardness that they
were both bound to feel, the other passengers were getting out of the van.
Sabrina hopped out behind them, turning in the direction she had seen John walking. She took a deep breath in an attempt to calm her nerves.
“Woman, just what did you pack in this big old suitcase. Don’t you know we’ll be back in the city as soon as this thing passes?” the loud, rude man yelled at his wife as he hefted the suitcase out of the rear of the van.
“Pictures, important papers and some personal things—”
“I don’t know why you packed all that,” the man went on as Sabrina turned to catch up to the state trooper.
She reached a hand to his shoulder to get his attention. “I forgot my suitcase in my car. “Can we go back?”
“Sorry, ma’am,” he turned to say, laying a hand on her shoulder when disappointment took over her face. “It’s after midnight and not safe to be out. Perhaps tomorrow, after the storm has passed.”
At that moment Sabrina felt John behind her, his eyes boring into her back. “Shooting for more attention, Pest?” he paused to say before continuing toward the shelter.
No-he-didn’t! Sabrina’s worry about any potential awkwardness dispelled with his words. Her eyes locked onto the firm behind and broad shoulders of the man walking away from her as if he barely knew her, as if he’d never kissed her, as if she had never thrown herself into his arms, pressing her body against his hard chest, savoring the heat and scent of him while her mouth had its way with him. Well, exactly who did Mr. John Lewis think he was! Implying that she was after this cute trooper, who still had a hand on her shoulder. A warm hand that didn’t pull the least bit of yearning or excitement through her the way a simple glance from John created overpowering feelings of longing and a heart-pounding thrill at being near him.
“I’ll see what I can do about your bag tomorrow, ma’am,” the trooper said before heading back to the van.
Life would be so much easier if she could do something as simple as fall for a guy like the trooper. But no, she was destined to find herself panting for Mr. Nose-Up-in-the-Air Lewis.
Yes, girl, that’s what you’ve been doing, but not any more. Gusts of wind pushed her toward the shelter doors the name above them confirming that the shelter was indeed a school.
You’re twenty-one now, not a silly teenager. Act like an adult! She had gone to Mississippi for the purpose of watching John play in a band at one of the casinos. And most importantly, to tell him how she felt about him. Which had pretty much amounted to throwing herself at him, only to be tossed aside.
Gently, but firmly tossed aside.
Sabrina grimaced as she remembered exactly how firmly she’d been tossed aside. Entering the well lit foyer of the school-turned-shelter, she walked down a hall toward the sound of people. In a large gymnasium where of people clustered in small family groups. Sabrina made her way across the crowed floor, finding a small entrance to the stands of the middle school gym that were sparsely occupied. Spotting the elderly man and his son across the gym Sabrina changed directions and walked over toward them.
“Are you two okay? Can I get you anything?”
“What a nice girl,” the old man said barely, making it into the folding lounge chair with the help of his son.
“That’s nice of you,” the son said, “but I’m sure you have things you need to do. The director just warned us that the lights would be turned off soon.”
“I’ve just got me to take care of,” Sabrina told the man, her heart going out to him. “Just tell me, is there anything I can get for you before I settle in?”
“Some water would be nice,” the old man said. “I can’t seem to get that parched feel out of my throat after staying in the hot car all day.”
“Water coming up!” Sabrina dashed away in search of water, wishing that she had remembered her bag.
She’d had a twelve- pack of water and a ton of snacks and fruit. Before she could make it too far, the lights flashed on and off and she heard an announcement. “Second notice. Lights out, ladies and gentlemen, in five minutes. Remember, we’re safe from the storm. Tomorrow will be a new day. We again apologize for the lack of supplies. The Red Cross will be sending in cots and blankets as soon as they can.”
People moved about restlessly, settling down for the night. The tension in the air was tinged with the hope that the woman who had made the announcement was right about them being safe. Sabrina glanced over at the younger man, an apology in her eyes as she wondered if she had enough time to catch the woman who was heading down the hall.
“Here you go,” John said, slapping a bottle of water into her palms. “You better find a place for yourself before the lights go out. You might end up stepping on somebody, maybe even accidentally cuddling up to someone you don’t know.”
Before she could respond, he had moved into the bleachers directly above the old man and his son. Sabrina handed the water to the man’s son and turned to pick her way across the gym floor, making it into the bleachers on the opposite side just as the lights were flashing for the last time. She stared across the gym at John. He’d stretched his long body across one of the bleacher rows using his backpack as a pillow. He wore a hard piercing look as the lights went out for the night.
Tired, achy, and disgusted with herself, Sabrina sat Indian style, her back against the row behind her. This was as comfortable as she was going to get. Her suitcase would have made a wonderful pillow and the blanket she usually kept in the trunk of her car would have added a bit of softness to the hard wooden bleachers, as well as providing a decent layer of protection from whatever might have been left on the surface from the many fans who had sat here.
“Oh well, there are worse things in life,” she sighed, knowing that sleeping on the bleachers in a shelter was better than being stranded on a dark highway in the middle of a hurricane. Digging into her pocket, she pulled out her cell phone once again. When she tried to call her uncle’s house, she received the same recorded message indicating that the call could not go through. Feeling frustrated and helpless, Sabrina flipped the phone shut but kept the power on. She slipped it back into the pocket of her pants in case her uncle or grandmother tried to call.
Leaning away from the light that filtered in from the foyer, Sabrina didn’t expect to sleep. The threat of rain and tropical force winds, even a few hundred miles inland from where the hurricane would make landfall was very real. Despite her worry for her grandmother, and the storm, however, she eventually fell asleep, knowing that even though John had been rude he would make it up to her. He always did. It was because he loved her too. He just didn’t realize it yet.
In the soft light easing into the gym John watched her.
And he noticed.
He noticed her shapely form, though it was a mere outline in the diminished light. He heard a deep sigh from across the gym or maybe he had imagined he had heard it because he could see the way her rounded breast moved with each deep, long breath. Sabrina seemed almost a part of him.
John shook his head!
Rounded breast.
Deep breath.
A part of him?
This was wrong!
All wrong.
He couldn’t think of Sabrina like that, not like a women. She was “the pest.” The little
girl who at one time was the next door neighbor and sometimes babysitter for his sister Ness (short for Vanessa).
But it was too late now. He’d noticed her. She was a woman and she was interested in him. From the way she’d pressed herself against him the night before, he had no doubt about that. This was all so very wrong. He didn’t have time for a woman in his life. His career was just taking off. He had landed a temporary spot in a well-known brass jazz band because their trumpet player got busted for drinking and driving and then held for the many parking and speeding tickets in his name. The player’s tough break had been a good one for John.
He had tried to let Sabrina down without hurting her feelings. She needed to understand that he wasn’t interested in her that way. But now he was coming to understand that he was interested in her that way. But he didn’t want to be, which was why he had been so nasty to her earlier today. That, and the fact that he had been jealous of that trooper, who’d had the nerve to put a hand on her.
His eyes having fully adjusted to the sparse light in the gym, John couldn’t keep them off Sabrina as he puzzled over his new feelings for her. Staring at her, he finally noticed a few other important things. She didn’t have a thing with her. No blanket, no suitcase, no pillow. Her head lay across one long outstretched arm. She seemed to be sleeping but how that was possible he didn’t know. He couldn’t leave her to sleep in such an uncomfortable position all night long just because he was leery of how she was making him feel. Ness would never forgive him, he told himself, using that excuse to justify the decision he had already made.
John scanned the gym floor, trying to gauge the best way to get to her. The floor was literally littered with sleeping bodies exhausted from the long hours spend on the congested highway. So, going across the gym floor was out. He’d have ended up waking half the people down there. His only other option was to stay in the stands and make his way around to the other side. He would have to make the journey without much light because the far end of the gym was pitch black.
His instrument case in hand and a small backpack on his shoulder, he slowly made his way across to the rounded end of the gym, banging his shins a time or two, hoping he was able to avoid encounters of the sticky kind. Coming around to the side of the stands where Sabrina had settled, John kept his eye on her sleeping form as he got closer and closer, refusing to consider that his decision to make her more comfortable was anything more than an act of kindness from one friend to another.
John stopped a few feet away, taking in the sight of her. She had a dancer’s body, which made sense. She was a dancer and at one time had been a gymnast. He remembered her trying to impress him by bragging about her skills. He also remembered her wearing braces and worrying about breaking out if she ate too much chocolate. The memories of a younger Sabrina were all overridden by the sight of her shapely form perfectly accented in a tank top that hugged her breasts and ended just above the waist of the white Capri pants she wore in deference to the hot August heat. Thankfully, the shelter had an efficient air condition system that gave them all a bit a relief. Wondering if the air was too cool for the tank top she wore, he placed a hand on her shoulder. That was a mistake. She was warm. The soft smoothness of her skin was a contradiction to the firm muscle beneath his hand, gained from her active profession as a dance teacher. Despite the warmth he felt, she shivered beneath his touch. Pulling his hand back, John stared at it as if to extinguish the tingling sensation simply touching her had left behind.
Placing his trumpet case next to her, he eased the backpack off his shoulders and found one of his cotton button-down shirts. It was the closest thing he had to a blanket. Sitting on the row behind her, trying not to think about how close his hands were to the rounded breasts that were now up close and personal, he laid his palms under her arms and carefully lifted her into a sitting position, gently easing her upward until her head and arm rested on his upper thigh. Too late he realized what a mistake that was. Shrugging his shoulders, John was suddenly too tired to do anything about it. The gig, Sabrina throwing herself at him, the sudden mandatory evacuation that he hadn’t known about until he was on his way back home, running out of gas and walking a mile to get to this shelter before the storm hit, all the events of the last twenty-four hours had taken their toll.
Using his backpack as a pillow John drifted to sleep, knowing he had to find a way to deal with Sabrina.

Monday, May 19, 2008

EXCERPT: Release Me

Farrah Rochon


Fake right.

Dribble left.
The ball left his hand headed in a graceful arc towards the net.
Sinking the game-winning shot in the championship game was the only feeling that could compare to the rush that zipped through Tobias Holmes' veins as the crowd rose to its feet. The cacophony of applause, foot stomping, and catcalls played like a raucous melody in his brain, stoking the excitement already roaring through his body like an uncontrollable forest fire.
Toby joined in the ovation, placing his index and middle fingers in his mouth and releasing a high-pitched whistle.

Aria Jordan, the hidden talent he’d stumbled upon only a few months into his new career as a record producer, received the accolade with humility and grace, as she always did after performing. Toby still was not sure if the innocent, almost timid acceptance of her rising fame was an act or not, but he wanted her to stick with it. It was a nice touch. The crowd seemed to cheer even more every time that bashful blush rose to Aria’s cheeks.

Their applause continued, making him as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. Others on the club scene talked about how tough it was to win over the crowd at the popular nightclub, The Hot Spot, saying it should be called The Cold Spot instead, to reflect the supposedly frigid response the audience bestowed to newcomers. The atmosphere was not cold tonight. The place was practically on fire.

Toby ushered pass the horde of club-goers making their way to the bar and restrooms during the short intermission. He intercepted Aria as she descended the short staircase behind the stage.

“You kicked butt up there,” he greeted her.
A shy smile broke out on her face. “You really think they liked me?”

“Think? Didn’t you hear that a minute ago? They were shouting for more. If I were tonight’s headliner I’d be afraid to come out on stage.”

“Thank you, Toby.” Aria crushed herself to his chest, practically knocking the air from his lungs.

“Whoa,” Toby chuckled, bracing himself after nearly losing his balance from the force of her hug.

“Come on. I don’t want anyone to take my table,” he said, unfolding Aria’s arms from around his waist.

Ever since his older brother, Eli, had questioned his relationship with Aria, Toby had been cautious of rumors concerning him and his client. He was determined that people see him as a professional, and knew better than to start something with one of the performers he managed. Besides, Aria wasn’t really his type.

He was still trying to figure out what exactly was his type. None of the women he’d dated over the past couple years appealed to him enough to consider developing anything serious. Then again, he wasn't looking to start a serious relationship. He needed to focus on his new career.
He guided Aria back to the prime table he’d secured.

“I’ll get you a drink,” Toby said, after settling her at the table. He headed toward the chrome-lined bar that spanned the entire right side of the club. “Can I get a Bud Light and a Strawberry Daiquiri?” he asked the bartender.

“Tobias Holmes?”

Toby turned. An older man, almost equal to his own impressive 6’ 9” height, stood not even a foot behind him. It was hard to keep much of a distance in the packed club.

“Do I know you?” Toby asked.

“Not yet.” The man extended his hand. “Marshall Kellerman.”
Where had he heard that name before?

“I represent Over the Edge Productions,” the man continued.

Ah, that was it. The television production company.
Production company?

Toby’s antennae perked up like a foraging ant’s. He clasped the man’s outstretched hand. “Hello, Mr. Kellerman. What can I do for you?”

“Actually, I want to talk about what I can do for you. And call me Marshall.”

The bartender delivered his drinks. Toby paid for them and picked both up from the bar. He turned back around and said, “Okay, Marshall, what can you do for me?”

“I hear you represent that amazing talent that just captivated everyone in this club a minute ago.”

“I'm her manager." And producer. And songwriter. And the only person she knows in the city.

The smile that drew across Kellerman's face was wide enough to park an Oldsmobile inside of it. That feeling of excited anticipation that used to come over Toby before the start of a basketball game skirted down his spine. It had been a long time since he'd felt the sensation. And, man, did it feel good.

Marshall Kellerman wrapped his arm around Toby’s shoulder. “Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We definitely need to talk.”

Toby returned his smile. “Call me Toby.”

“Mom, where are the silk scarves you ordered last week?” Sienna Culpepper asked as she straightened a faux pearl necklace in the glass étagère filled with expensive costume jewelry.

“I’m still waiting on the order.”

"Do you want me to call the company? The Southern Christian Women Leadership Convention starts next week. You'll need to stock items that are going to appeal to them,” she reminded her mother.

"I know how to run my own store, Sienna," came her mother's reply. "I've been doing it successfully for the past twenty years."

Sienna willed the impending headache to take a backseat. It was far too early in the morning to start popping ibuprofen. "I was only offering to help, Mother."

"Since when have I needed your help?" Sylvia Culpepper asked as she rounded the étagère, a collection of earrings hanging from a mahogany and cream velvet display shelf in hand.
Why did she even bother? Sienna asked herself for the four hundred thousandth time. This sadomasochistic ritual of helping out at her mother's French Quarter antique and high-end gift shop had occupied practically every Saturday morning since she was eight-years-old, and she had never receive as much as a simple thank you. She felt more like a bother than the asset she knew she was to her mother's business, yet Sienna found herself coming back every weekend. Even negative attention was better than none at all.

Preparing for an argument, Sienna broached the subject she had been thinking about all morning. “Mom, have you given anymore thought to the advertising ideas I mentioned?”

"Mother, did you hear me?"

"You're standing right next to me. I'm not deaf."

The headache was coming on despite her best intentions to curb it. She sprayed glass cleaner on the inside of the étagère's glass door and wiped it off with a lent-free towel.

"So, have you thought about it?" Sienna asked. "You could do so much more business if you put a little more effort into getting the name out. A few ads on the St. Charles Streetcar Line and you can double the foot traffic in here.”

“My business is still open, isn’t it? You girls never went hungry. And you? You didn’t have to pay a single penny for that fancy education that you're wasting. I’ve never had to advertise before, and I don’t have to do it now, especially not on a gaudy streetcar sign."

"It is not gaudy, it's smart business. Some of the top restaurants in this city advertise that way."

"Do not stand in my establishment and tell me how to run it, Sienna Elaine! What do you know about any of this anyway?”

"Oh, I’ve only spent the last six years studying this very thing while getting my fancy education".

Sienna couldn’t help rolling her eyes. Most parents would be overwhelmed with pride if their child attained a graduate degree--with honors, at that--and landed a good job by the age of twenty-eight. Not her mother. It had taken her too long to finish school, even though she'd held a fulltime job while attending one of the most prestigious historically Black colleges in the country. Being picked out of a pool of over two hundred candidates for the only junior associate position offered with the leading marketing firm in New Orleans was only mediocre in her mother's eyes, as well. Accomplishing her careers goals meant nothing if she were still unmarried and not producing grandchildren her mother could brag about to her friends.

Sienna had resigned herself to the fact that she would never be good enough. No matter how hard she worked, or what she accomplished, her mother would always find her lacking.
And just how long will the pity-party last today?

God knows she could stand here berating herself well into next week if she didn’t get a handle on it. Sienna retrieved a pink and white feather duster from the janitorial closet and went over to the shelf that held an array of African sculptures.

“Are you going to the Holmes’ today?” her mother asked after several long, uncomfortable minutes. “Margo invited us to a little get-together they’re having for Alex’s baby. She graduated from kindergarten.”

Little get-together? Sienna knew the Holmes family well enough to know nothing they did was ever little, especially where the only grandchild, Jasmine, was concerned. Sienna expected nothing short of a full-blown carnival, complete with dancing bears and a fire-eating lion tamer.

“I guess I can stop by," she answered her mother.

“Good," Sylvia said. "Somebody needs to represent the family. I don’t even know where Ivana is these days, and Tosha’s busy packing up for her move back to Atlanta. Besides, she doesn’t need that anyway.”

Sienna agreed. Tosha should stay far away from the Holmes family, especially the middle son, Elijah. Seeing your ex-fiancé madly in love with another woman could not be an easy thing to witness. Even though what they had shared had been over for more than fifteen years, Sienna knew her sister, and Tosha had a big heart. It was easily broken. They were definitely alike in that regard.

Let it go. The pity-party ended five minutes ago.

“After I finish up here I’ll go home and change, then I can head Uptown to the Holmes’s."

"What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?" her mother asked.

"I plan on just relaxing a bit if I can get the work I brought home with me this weekend completed after I get back from Margo's."

Her mother turned, her eyes holding the stare that dared its recipient to refuse whatever she was about to ask. "Millicent Perkins has Sunday Tea at her home. I want you to come along."
Sienna paused, the feather duster hovering over a carved father and son statuette. A chill traveled down her spine at the thought of Millicent Perkins and the world she represented. The pomp and circumstance of New Orleans' high society, with its teas and debutant balls, had been a part of her life she'd vowed never to return to for reasons she could never bring herself to voice out loud. Sienna's eyes shut tight as she attempted to bite back the memories that begged to surface, memories she had buried in her subconscious. She clamped down on the bile that threatened to rise at the thought of that horrible night nearly eleven years ago.

"You know," her mother's voice propelled Sienna to the present. "Millicent's youngest daughter, Danielle, is expecting her second baby," her mother said.

"I'm surprised her husband stopped beating her long enough for her to even get pregnant," Sienna muttered under her breath. "Really?" she said loud enough for her mother to hear.

"That's three babies in just over three years, isn't it?"

"Um hmm. I also heard Aldonia Lewis' daughter did such a good job planning her wedding that she decided to start her own wedding consulting business. She isn't anyone's assistant."

"I'm not an assistant, mother," Sienna ground between clenched teeth. "I'm a junior executive. If you cared enough to pay attention to anything I told you, you'd know there is a difference."

"Well, Aldonia's daughter owns her business.”

"Ivana’s business is very successful, or have you forgotten that you have a daughter with her own business only steps away from this store."

Her mother pierced her with another of her infamous looks, turning her nose high enough in the air to smell the exhaust fumes of the airplane flying overhead.

"You need to get over to the Holmes's," Sylvia said with cold finality, grabbing the duster from Sienna's hand.

Sienna stepped away from the display, questioning yet again why she put herself through this torture on a regular basis. She never asked, nor expected, monetary compensation, but a little appreciation wouldn’t hurt.

She looked over at her mother, who kept her back rigid.

Appreciation? Right. She was not holding her breath.

But she wasn't giving up, either. Her grandmother had always told her family was the most important thing. Her mother and sisters were all the family she had and Sienna still held out hope that she and her mother would eventually have the mother and daughter relationship she had always dreamed of. There had to be something she could do to finally make her mother proud.

She knew one way she could start.

Sienna brought her hand up and kneaded the spot between her eyes; her hand shaking as the implications of what she was about to agree to began to sink in.

Her hand on the faux crystal door handle, she said," I'll see you tomorrow at Mrs. Perkin's tea."

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