Rich. dark chocolate melted slowly in her mouth as she read the note that she found under the candy kiss. I will be back by sunset, my love. Surprise! Have our bags packed. Tomorrow morning we will be in New Orleans where you will awaken to the aroma of fine coffee and beignet on the balcony overlooking Jackson Square. Our apartment awaits!
Dreamily, she packed the suitcase, reminiscing of he first time they were in New Orleans. The morrow would mark twenty years since she wed the most romantic man on earth. Though they had no children, their life was complete.
With their careers and active social calendar, they had always teased that they hadn't even had time to grow old! Actually, they kept so busy that children were never a thought until it was too late for her to have them. She had told him last February and saw the sadness come over his face at the news. At forty, they were finally ready to concentrate on something other than their careers. Both of their businesses were over the top. Now, ready to settle down and stop working so much, Dr. Clarkson gave her the disturbing news that broke her heart Her sorrow was magnified each time Stefan's family asked if the fertility drugs had produced news of a new Drake heir on the horizon.
It has been two years it has been since they were in their city of romance! Stephan wouldn't let her see their city in ruin after the hurricane. He had gone immediately to help out in the hospitals. Although a plastic surgeon, he was a fine all-around doctor. He certainly was not one to stay away while so many needed help. He closed his office within the week and left for New Orleans. Having grown up in the Garden district, he was devastated to find the family home was under water. It had been built by a relative, also named Stefan, in eighteen ninety-one and had been the home he was raised in. They had never lived in it because he and his uncle Art had never seen eye to eye on anything. So, after college, he left the family behind for the life they had made in Florida.
Finally, their French Quarter apartment was now revamped and ready for them to see. Being a decorator, she wanted to do it all herself, but Stefan' had insisted she have nothing to do with the plans at all.
At last, she would see her city and her apartment again, and she had a surprise of her own for her husband. He will get the news on the balcony tomorrow. She unwrapped another chocolate as she smiled, knowing she had pulled one over on him this time!
Looking out, watching the sun gloriously arise over Jackson Square, Stephan contemplated waking Dominique. Knowing well the third martini on the plane had wiped her out, he decided to bring her breakfast. He whistled softly as he started down to the Cafe Du Monde. Being back in his beloved New Orleans was like a magic potion bringing him back to life.
He had often thought of returning here to live. After Katrina, he almost felt it was his duty to help his beloved land regenerate. So many Doctors had left when their city was in peril that it hurt his very soul. The small clinic he had set up was running smoothly. They said he wasn't needed, but he would stop in tomorrow just the same.
Knowing that leaving Florida permanently would be too hard on Dominique, he would never let her know how much he missed the parish. After finding out that they would be childless, he sensed a sadness that seemed better only whenever Erica came to stay. Erica would be visiting there next week - an early birthday present he had given her. And, in a way, a present for his wife.
Erica coming would help three-fold. First, he wouldn't feel a bit guilty working on their long awaited vacation. Second, Dom would have a blast inserting all the pent up motherly loving. Third, and most importantly, Erica would get away from her drug dealing father and the hovel they lived in. Dominique had had a deep love for her best friend, and had promised to watch over her daughter after she died. Hal's decline into a life of drugs had made this a heartbreaking promise to keep.
Stephan, where are you? I smell the coffee, Love. Dominique held her head, frowning as she arose, remembering now why she should never have the third martini. She followed her nose to the coffee, which was on an alcove beside the veranda. Nice job, she thought, as last night she was far too intoxicated to see the marvelous job of renovating and redecorating her husband had overseen. She had been wary of letting him do this. After all, she was the decorator. He wouldn't let her try to fix a harelip, now would he?
Trailing though the rooms, she was amazed. In her dressing room, he had inset individual niches in the wall for her perfume bottle collection. They looked amazing there! She turned down the hall that went into the guest room, and tears welled remembering her thoughts on decorating this for their child.
It was all in lacy lavender - Erica's favorite color. Had someone told him the secret she had been keeping for weeks? Did he know this was a permanent move for their darling Goddaughter?
Five days prior - in Florida
Erica skipped to the beat of her made up song of joy. She was told Dominique was at the office waiting for her. She is early, Semester vacation is over a week off . All of a sudden she stopped skipping and singing. Dad is in trouble again she thought silently. That's why Uncle Stan took me to school I bet. If I have to go Stay with that house with all those other kids again I just wont eat! I wont talk. I won't do anything bad but I wont do anything good either.
By the time she reached her God Mother tears were running down her face, Dominique quieted her fears Telling her this would be a good surprise one that deserves a celebration while driving to Wolfy's for one of their famous sundaes. If you could eat a whole one you could get if for free, but no one ever did that she knew!
This is where she always went after a ballet recital or for Birthday Breakfasts. Erica knew something special was going one. When told she would be moving in with them for always, her green eyes were big as vanilla wafers and She dropped a spoon of chocolate Ice cream in her lap.
After a seemingly hour long minute she spoke very seriously. Is my Daddy going to jail again, or is he going to see mommy? If he is going to see Mommy Thank-you but no, I want to see mommy more than anything. Assuring her God daughter that daddy was fine and would visit often. Dominique thought of how like her mother Erica was, and choked back the sadness of the loss of Maria. The anger of knowing they never found the driver that left her to die with her daughter watching, would never go away.
It would be good for Erica Stan, great opportunity for the kid. I wont have to worry they will stick her back in that foster care. Damn Stan I am thinking its best thing could happen for the kid. I wont always be haven to get her clothes, and no getting her to school, and being home and awake to pick her up when she gets off. Yeah I think it will be best for me too. Stan I cant believe the luck seems to be changing ! Dominique has her attorney Taking my case. She said she would pay the bill even If I wont let them adopt the kid. shit I can believe they charged me with intent to sell ! Hell Stan I have only done a half a day. Well twice I messed up and did one extra.. I bagged up for me, not to sell it! There will be far less food. toys, and little dresses bought with that check now!
Hal slow down! Your talking faster than you think, and your thinking with you habit rather than your head. First off that big check is for Erica you won t get it if shes not here, same with the food card you get. Think this over, she is all you have of Maria, You cant give her up like you did the jewelry and stuff you pawned. These papers aren't like the ones for temporary care like on vacation, This is for real, for always! Hell Stan, Dominique would do anything for that kid and after they have her Stefan would give the moon with stars sprinkled on top for desert to keep her.
Erica was confused, happy, and sad at the same time. She was upset Daddy would give her away, and worried about who would take care of him with her not there. At the same time she was so glad to be with her God parents, and dad had been worse the past month, he didn't do anything but yell at her or forget she was around. She took her Chrystal and Jade Music box that played Greensleeves and wound it up. this really isn't the first one Mama gave her, but the memory of Mommy dancing to it put her into that happy place. Daddy had broken the first one, right after Mommy died. He broke a lot of stuff at first, then just started to stay in his room a lot. For her up coming seventh birthday she got this one to replace it. He also told her to pick some of mommy's paperweight collection. Wishing things were like they were, and Not understanding most of what happened from the time morning before her mother died, made life confusing.
All she knew was it changed her life for ever. Her Mommy belonged home with her, not in some heaven place with all the other dead people. She didn't care about seeing her again someday, she didn't want to wait any more. Erica had memories for the special times she received each of her music boxes. The ones From when she was too small to remember have cards with the special Thoughts on them written in her mothers hand. One day her penmanship would be that good, mommy had let her know how important it was. Thoughts of happier days filled her head, while she carefully wrapped them.
New Orleans Dominique's Suprise
Dominique realized no one could have re decorated this room this well, with only a four day notice, even her! Stefan couldn't possibly known! The aroma of fresh pastry's entered the room before Stefan. While pouring him a cup of the chicory infused coffee, She told him of the news starting with the Bonding Hal out again , and ending with there conversation resulting in the adoption to be. Then with giggles and laughter told him of how she thought someone had told him when looking in her room. " I Thought it would make her vacations nice having a place all her things would be in all year round. Also I felt would be best for you to have redecorating completed perfectly especially in the room that would be for Erica's I need to go immediately and call him my secretive wife. i want to make sure he knows HE will always be her daddy, and when sober he can see her any time. Also I plan to stress the idea of rehab, and we will pay the bill . Love, This is a wonderful surprise! I am glad Hal agreed to the adoption,
Now perhaps he could breech the idea of living in New Orleans after all there are the best Montessori schools here! Stefan reflected on the fact he wouldn't feel quite as guilty working in the clinic so much this vacation. Needing to be at the clinic was of utmost importance though. as most of the Doctors in the Quarter had not returned after Katrina, and those who did raised the rates so high to cover the damage that the ones who needed their care the most were needing his clinic more than ever. Being their Twentieth anniversary though, he had plenty of romantic plans though out the month . Sorrow invaded his happiness when he thought how much he could benefit and enjoy some help, and tips from Peaches right now. The fact that Barth sent word the family are fine, and the mansion was almost ready to be lived in was shadowed by the fact Peaches and her grand son were still missing.
Even though it had been two years he felt somehow, and some place she was alive. She was` strong of mind, body ,and spirit, even in her eighties. He drove by the house he had bought her when she was retired at seventy. Did she take it easy and relax? Not peaches, within six months she was caring for a set of twins, as well as growing the most beautiful garden Magazine street.
Peaches was as close to a mother he ever had. When at three his mother died being the Drake Family Nanny she took on all care. Often he would be taken to the family cemetery to visit the two large marble stone of his Mother and Father, and the small pink one of his sister who died with his mother during childbirth. His Grand father often told the story with such detail of the day his mother died. They put by the graves a stone bench that had a hidden door where pillows to sit on were kept. Memories of them always include the scent of roses. When they came large bouquets of pink roses filled with baby's breath were brought.
On Stefan's sixteenth birthday Peaches decided he was old enough to here the truth regarding his mother.