She rose early the next morning soaking in peace and quiet on the porch step. Isidora could only have this much peace when she closed the doors behind her in her home. Her cellular was the only way to contact her in the dead of night if it was for emergencies. But for now, she just wanted to listen to the hidden bird’s sing. Her skin dampened at the low humidity but she was certain temperatures were only going to get more stifling by sunrise. There were a few things she loved about NOLA, one was its spiciness, whether Cajun or Creole, everyone had this certain vibe, spice of life about them, the other was the dialect she’d come to understand and fall in love with, especially if a smooth talking ragin’ cajun was pulling out all the stops to rope her in.
Normally she could pinpoint southern accents but somehow she had missed Xavier’s. It could have been that she’d written him off, not wanting to spend another second in his presence. But here she was, slightly annoyed yet moved that Xavier had the guts to face his unwarranted fear, albeit, he was motivated to know her “deep, dark secret”. Isidora hadn’t viewed it as much a secret as she did pain. Even the thought of failure and her name in the same sentence reminded her of the one time she hadn’t covered all her bases. For the sake of her kids, she did her best to turn over a new leaf, but there were times she caused warranted mayhem when adults tried taking advantage of them. Yes, she got a little violent, and yes, she made promises of death because threats were for amateurs.
If she had done what she set out to do when she busted out of Mercy-River Psychiatric Hospital, she’d still have her kids. Had it not been for Black’s son, she would have put a bullet between his eyes with his wife and son watching. Instead, Black’s son, Phoenix somehow cut through her insanity and made her promise she wouldn’t lay a hand on his father. She’d had many years to think about her actions, what had pushed her over the edge and Isidora was certain with the help of Phoenix, she’d done the right thing walking away. Isidora kept her word but she never promised to stop the people who sought to claim Black’s life. No, she wasn’t that big of a person, nor had she forgiven him for his treacherous lies! It was only a matter of time before someone took him out.
“What are you doing up so early in the morning?” Armande whispered behind her.
“Oh, just thinking.” She hadn’t heard him behind her and thankfully her thoughts hadn’t been carried on the wind since sometimes she talked out loud when she was lost in memories.
“Are you okay?”
“I have breakfast burning. Xavier should be rising soon. Come on in and help an old man out.”
“There’s nothing old about you.” she smiled.
“Now that there is kind of you to say. My son wouldn’t be the brightest if he let you slip through his fingers.”
Where did that come from?
“Trust me, you wouldn’t want me with your son.”
“Because of your past? You looked real familiar to me and I had to sleep on it. You’re the woman the whole United States either loves or hate. Some support your alleged vigilante actions, while others say you’re a cop hating criminal who should be gassed.”
“Ah, I’ve heard worse. I can leave if my being here will cause you trouble.”
“I don’t believe everything on that idiot box nor do I believe police are always innocent. We’ve had some incidents in NOLA that make one question what they thought they knew. I have some beignets ready for the oil, care for one or three?”
“One is fine. So, you’re not going to ask me if I’m a cop hating criminal who needs to be gassed?”
“Nope. The fact my son brought you home tells me everything I need to know. He’s always been good with making wise choices. But I have to admit, you do look like you’d castrate a man without batting a lash.” Armande grinned.
“All I can say is I do the best I can protecting my family.”
“Like those kids you and organization help turn into good citizens? Seems you’ve done fine work in your community.”
“Did you Google me before you went to bed?”
“You just said you trusted me.”
“I said I trusted Xavier’s choices.”
“So you don’t trust me?”
“Didn’t say that either.” he smirked.
“Like father, like son.”
“Can’t argue with you there. Now we do breakfast a little different from anywhere else, but I think you’ll like it. Have you ever tasted cajun fried rice with crawfish and green onion sausage?”
“Well, get ready to give your palate an experience it’ll never forget and don’t forget the beignet. How about a cup of café au lait?”
“I’m not a fan of coffee.”
“No one ever tell you never to turn down good southern hospitality?”
“Plenty of times but I never listen.”
“Hmm, I see. Looks like you won’t be my pushover. Welcome to the family!”
“Whoa! Time out. ” she put her hands up and crossed her wrists in an x.
“There’s no getting out now ‘dora.” he teased with mischief glinting in his eyes. Suddenly, a yawn brought their eyes to a decending Xavier. Stubble marked his jaw and his warm gaze met hers and he smiled.
“Morning dad, Izzy.”
“Figured you’d be up soon.”
“Food called out to me in my sleep.”
“You still look tired.”
“I am.” he lamented planting his radiating body beside her. “Dad harassing you?”
“Of course not.”
“Of course not.” she said in a light tone.
“I don’t believe it for one second, but I’m not alert enough to argue with you-yet.”
“Smart man.” Armande grinned giving Xavier two thumbs up. “Never argue with a woman on an empty stomach.”
“And we were just becoming close, dad.” Isidora exaggerated.
Xavier coughed, “Dad?” he asked astounded.
“I’m affixed to the Laurent family. Thank your-I mean our father. Say hello to your stepsister.” she held out her arms taunting him.
“No way! Where’s breakfast?”
“Come on, give your sister a tight hug.”
“How can you reject me like this?” she went on earning a snort from Armande. Soon enough, food was plated and a comfortable silence swirled around the table. Occasionally, Xavier looked up from his meal and eyed Isidora’s profile. He mentally sighed, even at the crack of dawn she still looked impeccable. Not a hair was out of place, her skin looked dewy and lips begged to be kissed. She was perfect save her glitchy temperament and headstrong ways, but those were the things he liked and disliked about her. Never did he want to break her, just bend her a little, tugging her away into his arms where she was sure to be safe from any harm.
“Do you plan to stare a hole through my face?” agitation itched. “You’re being obvious.”
“I wasn’t trying to hide it sweetheart.” he challenged. Armande just sat there sit inwardly taking in the blazing atmosphere. Young love, he thought to himself. It can be lethal and all too consuming. Personally, he wouldn’t have it any other way and it seems his son had taken after him in that area, not caring who was around when he was transfixed on what he craved. “And for the record, you’re not my sister. Got it?”
“Don’t you love your sister?” she mocked.
“I wouldn’t love my sister the way I love you.”
With that, Isidora turned her eyes back to Armande, “I’ve lost my appetite so I’ll be on my way out.” Pushing up from the table, she left her food behind and exited out into the warm, sticky weather. Anyplace had to be better than in his presence. When she heard the door slam after her she quickened her pace.
“So I can’t love you? You have a problem with that?” he inquired after catching up and settling in a comfortable stride.
“Do what you want.”
“I don’t need your permission. And by the way, you owe me.”
“I don’t owe you anything.”
“I’m here to collect on your word. You said you’d tell me what’s got you so spooked if I came home and settled things with my family.” Isidora’s lips curled into a snarl. “Yeah, I thought you’d remember.”
“Yet you’re here with me.”
“Admit it, you like me.”
“Now is not the time to piss me off.” she warned.
“Well when is a good time?” he picked and prodded hoping to strike a nerve. “You want the truth, fine. What I’m so afraid of, what I don’t want to happen again is to have children in my care and have them ripped away from me because of people like you. Cops think they can get away with anything, use their badges to wreak havoc on innocent civilians.”
“Shut up, I’m not finished. I’ve been forced into a nuthouse by a corrupt judge, I’ve been setup numerous times, though this is the first time headway has been made. I have cops thinking they can bust into my community center whenever they want. So many times I’ve filed police reports over children I knew were missing and found their whereabouts. Do you think the cops moved a muscle? Of course not. Not until I promised anarchy on the monster who molested, beat and starved them. I even found a little girl tied to a tree, shoeless, only wearing a tattered gown in the middle of winter. I knew that man, he was the same monster who beat me and the other girls the were kept prisoners in his house. The one time I got out a police officer just happened to be driving past. I flagged him down and told him everything a seven-year-old could tell and do you think the made a difference? I was caught outside and wouldn’t you know it, he took our abuser’s word over mine. And now this, I have to deal with this nonsense about a “terrorist attack” on a police station that I supposedly had something to do with. So, excuse me if I don’t have time for love or trust especially from a cop like yourself!”
There weren’t many times he’d been left speechless, but what Izzy just shared with him left him silent. He wanted to defend his brotherhood but came up short.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t hurt your brain trying. Save it for the dead kids that’s been tucked away in the walls of my childhood home or the one buried in the backyard that I’ve been trying to get the cops to comb through. Their parents deserve to know what happened to their children. They deserve a proper burial not an eternity behind cold wood covered walls.”
He hadn’t been ready to hear what she had to say. He’d pushed too much but what made his heart ache wasn’t just those child victims but the fact she’d been living with burdens she never asked for, wounds she didn’t deserve. Xavier didn’t want to believe any local police department had knowledge of missing children and never acted despite who the information came through. But looking at what’s currently swirling in the media, even he was suspicious of their behavior, Black’s as well. He needed to find out more about Isidora’s life and put pressure on his former boss to obtain a search warrant to see if there is in fact, remains of children hidden in the walls and backyard of Isidora’s childhood home.
If what she said turned out to be true, the already brewing storm will turn into a full blown hurricane where the department is concerned. Police have been under a ton of scrutiny practically in every state and with fresh wounds of grieving families still trying to heal, riots are sure to break out. Xavier didn’t want to witness anymore destruction but he had a grim feeling this was just the beginning of many horrors to come.