Doce, Twelve

Teresa Marionneaux, formerly Mrs. Thompson, whipped the new Charger up to the small-scale French villa. The quiet gated community on the outskirts of town sold itself when she checked it out.The school district topped all others in the city in quality. The crime rate was practically nonexistent. She hadn't seen any neighbors during her three trips to check the place out, but she had seen their children. She hoped that meant they weren't overly nosy. That helped convince her the place was acceptable.

The unpleasantness of work that week spilled over into Terry's home life. She couldn't help but be irritable when everything seemed to go wrong. She tried to make it something Robbie would never notice, but she wasn't always able to. Sometimes an edge crept into her voice.

The garage door closed as the nose of the car reached the limit of the space. The overhead light came on by itself. Boxes and odds and ends still cluttered the space. A boys bicycle leaned near the gear box for the automatic door. An oversized hard plastic bin with grates for sides sat not far behind the bike. It contained sports equipment, a couple of bats, a basketball, a soccer ball, a catcher's mitt, tennis rackets, roller skates and other things Mark only occasionally spent any time with. Teresa hated the mess, even as contained as it was.

She unlocked the back door and went into the small house. The interior contained a minimum of furniture. It all exuded a sense of good taste, even though a few things did not meet with Terry's approval. Her tastes exceeded her budgetary limits.

Once her purse and keys met the counter top in the kitchen Teresa walked into the living room to check the answering machine. There was one from Emmett. He rarely called on Sunday, and she wondered what it was about. She quelled the beginnings of a fierce animosity when she heard the tone of his voice.

Her son's father talked briefly about Mark being falsely accused of something at school. She noted a veiled tone in his voice, likely a subconscious desire on his part to make her feel guilty. It didn't sound like a major event. She made a mental note to go have a sit down with the principal. There was nothing she could do about it on a Sunday though. She filed the thought away for future reference. The next message was from Reynold.

Reynold hadn't been anywhere near her home or her family life, especially not Robert. Terry endeavored to keep romantic involvement separated from her stable life. She viewed romance through wary eyes, warranted unstable and temporary by personal history. She prevented unplanned impact on her little boy's awareness by fully segregating her parental role from her life as a single, sexual woman. Of course she hardly needed create rules about dating or seeing men, as her sex life had slowed to a standstill before Reynold.

Teresa as a rule kept the phone number to her home a secret. She broke that rule with the new beau. Reynold made her feel safe. She found herself trusting him, against her better instincts. She found him irresistable, and because of that fretted about her own reaction to him even more.

Reynold Chambers was a little over six feet tall. Terry endured the derision of schoolmates because of her own height, until nature ran its course and she filled out. He resembled one of the rugged, outdoorsy types she fantasized about when she was growing up. He had hair on his chest and wound up with a beard if he didn't shave. Reynold wasn't one of the short, pretty, golden boys so common to their sun baked neck of the woods. He also happened to be her employer's brother.

She loathed fond memories of her marriage, but the complications of her current involvement evoked nostalgia of her simple travails with Emmett. Motherhood changed everything. She worried constantly after getting together with the handsome businessman. She chewed on one index fingernail and pondered what might happen to her job if she and Reynold broke up. Vestigial concerns about male gossip never vanished after she sat through character witness testimony during court proceedings with Robert's father.

Less ominous and stressful were the mundane aspects of her relationship. She faced introducing her new love, as she considered it, into her home life. Teresa distinguished that event from overall matters as less ominous and stressful, but still troublesome. She strived to be optimistic, but that did not prevent her from worrying that Robert would dislike Reynold. The onerous idea chipped away at her well intentioned positivity. She could only dispel the unease by having the event, the meeting of her son and her boyfriend. She shuddered.

Teresa's salary working for one of the city's premier architects covered all of her bills and allowed her to set aside money for Mark's future education, or an emergency, the unknown factor could never be discounted. Phillip Chambers compensated her well financially, and included a winning benefits package. In return she took care of the crucial aspects of his business: staffing, customer relations, and the bottom tier of all accounting. Any ideas Terry had about building something with Phillip outside the office evaporated early on.

Her employer invited her to a party at his Destin condominium one weekend. Over 20 guests were in attendance. The architect rented out the entire floor from other owners so the guests could enjoy the weekend. Terry made the four hour trip for the evening, but refused to spend the night there. She balked at being unavailable to assist her son should something come up; Emmett would allude to it eternally.

Phillip introduced Teresa to Reynold at the soiree, as the architect called it. The younger Chambers looked out of place there. All of the other guests dressed up in fancy attire. He dressed in expensive clothes, but the pieces of his assemblage did not interlock like designer ensembles. Terry continued talking with the man after Phillip turned and pulled away to greet a newcomer at the door. Within two weeks she and Reynold had become an item.

The expansive tub with whirlpool jets, one of the selling features of the home, called to Terry from beyond the master bedroom. She couldn't wait to boil off the residue of the outside world and soak away some of her troubles. She didn't go through an elaborate bathing ritual, like some women did. There were no lit candles. No somnabulistic new age music would drop birds from their perches outside the window. She only spent time getting clean and relaxing in the water.

While undressing in front of the mirror Teresa scowled ever so slightly. She had not been able to carry Mark to term without any stretch marks at all. They were minimal, and she had worked to reduce their visibility. The little lines didn't irritate her so much as the recollection of the years wasted leading up to that miracle of childbirth. Although she was only thirty-three years old their appearance caused her to think of those years as: THIRTY-THREE -- 3rd-Dee-Three -- 30-Three. She had yet to find anything good about getting older.

The previous month Terry located and pulled out several gray hairs. From that moment on she hunted for them whenever she brushed her hair. Their forces had thinned out and her full hair had regained color safety due to her attentions. She stayed on guard though, on the lookout for a rear vanguard of the gray. She had vowed not to use hair dye until all hope was lost. Au naturel had always been her strong suit, and natural blonde her Alamo.

Steam condensed on the mirror. A droplet of water slid down across the fogged surface here and there. The marble and porcelain surfaces in the room became damp and slick. Teresa almost fell asleep, but then the bath cooled off. It was time to dry off and check out the world again.

The dense fibers of the Yves St. Laurent terrycloth towel soaked up the moisture. The linen set had been a guilty pleasure. Nobody needed expensive towels, considering soft, thick generic ones could be purchased for a fraction of the cost. Teresa wanted Robert to grow up with nice things around him, so she sporadically broke her budgetary rules for that purpose.

As Terry slipped into tennis shorts and a lime green t-shirt she thought about distinct difference between communicating with Reynold and the few other men she had known well. For all of the relationship baggage between she and Emmett, his normalcy stood out starkly. The boredom factor, as she thought of it, troubled her less. She knew someone complicated and interesting, and that didn't necessarily mean wonderful.

On their fourth date Reynold reeled off a story from his distant past. While in his twenties he ran into some trouble with the law. He became the black sheep of the Chambers family for a reason. It had taken considerable resources for Reynold's name to remain legally unblemished. The way he told the tale indicated he had done so many times in the past.

The younger Chambers brother found out about a house college aged men used for discreet meetings with girls. The property belonged to the University of New Orleans, but was unattached to the campus. Inside, fraternity members kept dozens of cases of hard alcohol. Although labeled as a periphery classroom of the School of Business, the small old mansion also contained sofas, a big screen television and audio video equipment. It contained no desks.

Reynold broke into the place to steal the whiskey. He was a block away when his car broke down. Two fraternity members with dates rolled up to do some late night studying, at 11:30 Saturday night. They stopped to check out the broken down car. When they saw their cases of alcohol in the backseat Reynold tried to run. He failed to escape, having been drunk before he set off.

If he hadn't been a person of obvious pedigree and her bosses' brother, Teresa would have dropped Reynold like a hot potato without listening. She was absolutely adamant about keeping someone with a criminal history or alcohol problems from entering her private world. She suspended judgment, however. By the time he finished talking her stance softened. The way he explained the story gave her insight into moral issues she had never considered.

The break-in had not been a noble action, but likely made a positive impact nonetheless. It turned out that more than once men sexual assaulted young ladies in that house. The victims never knew the place had a darker, hidden side. They had not embarked on a night out strictly for study, but visiting a disguised party house definitely eluded premonition.

Reynold's arrest never made the news, nor did the location of his crime reach the ears of the broader public. The details of the event arrived on the desks of a couple of regents though, and somehow reached the ears of the victims. The good-old-boy nods and winks in the School of Business came to an abrupt halt.

Nobody ever faced any criminal charges. The grand jury refused to issue any indictments, for lack of evidence. The only path to redress left to the victims became pursuit of civil cases against the State of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans.

One of the victims chose not to get involved with any further proceedings, preferring to put the incident behind her and move on with her life. Her grandmother advised her that the case would cost her more in social standing than she could collect monetarily. One of the young women involved got discredited by city investigators for promiscuity. Her name got dragged all through the mud.

Two young ladies walked away with an undisclosed settlement, and smelling like roses. The house stank to high heaven. Reynold inordinately shut down a center of iniquity, and in some way brought a greater level of justice to the world. He never credited himself with such a thing.

Teresa inferred a number of things that night during Reynold's talkative mood. He categorized and detailed his faults with exquisite, painful detail. He glossed over his better qualities. He listened attentively to what she said when she spoke, but failed to notice furtive nudges to steer the conversation to higher ground. During none of the other times that they spent together had he opened up the same way. That evening caused Terry to hypothesize about his openness and his frame of mind, but no easy answers popped up.

The coming weekend was the one set aside for her. She usually drove Robert to Pascagoula to see his grandparents. The car ride granted freedom to converse with the child sans any outside interruptions for longer than possible at home. She reconciled the loss of exercise and time spent outdoors with the liberating feeling of growing closer to her baby. The ride no longer required a car seat, but Teresa never stopped thinking of Markie as her baby.

The Marionneaux residence survived Hurricane Katrina nicely. The fiercest part of the storm passed to the west, but damaged numerous estates in the community anyway. On August 30, 2005, the aging couple intended to take a ride to view the damaged Mississippi coastline. They never made it through the first National Guard checkpoint at Fountainbleau on Highway 90. It wouldn't have mattered if the rode was clear. The storm surge gnarled the bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs into a mile long mess that looked like a concrete and steel snake run through a garbage disposal. The Marionneauxs gave up.

During the troubles that followed Katrina, frustration mounted for inhabitants of the Mississippi Gulf Coast region. Stories of New Orleans blanketed the news coverage. The nation's eyes mostly turned to Louisiana while the folks coping with near total devastation of their entire physical histories got a mention or two. Volunteers and charity efforts eased the burden somewhat, and eventually the square stone wheels FEMA was known for at the time positioned assistance in appropriate locations. Insurance companies compounded recovery difficulties at every level, fighting tooth and nail in resistance to paying their share. Nobody in the area, with the exception of relief assistance workers, missed 2005-7.

The two story house sat on three acres. Oaks shaded the front porch and the walkway leading to Beach Boulevard. Short but rotund sago palms lined the front lawn beside the road. The builder used a subdued derivative of Greek Revival as the model for the home. The ceilings of the first and second floor verandas were only twelve feet high. Instead of boisterous Corinthian or even Ionic columns the front displayed the plainest supports imaginable. They weren't decorated at all, and were skinnier than the traditional Dorics. The windows stood three feet off of the floor when they could easily have been constructed in the traditional French style and supplied more air. That no longer mattered with the advent of air conditioning.

Terry scarcely visualized her town of origin or the home she grew up in. Whenever she reminisced about adolescence or childhood, people garnered her focus over locations. The way places echoed in her memories owed greatly to the company she kept while there.

Thinking about her parents dredged up political and religious arguments, during which her mother and father frequently sided against her. Throughout Teresa's life they managed to find ways her lifestyle did not match up with their conservative expectations, especially during her marriage to Emmett Thompson. Eugene and Billie Pearl Marionneaux considered an Irish Catholic from New Orleans the worst possible choice for their daughter, and they never forgot about it. The Marionneauxs, although the name would have been French Catholic in some parts of Louisiana, were descended from a long line of proud Southern Baptists. Terry finally decided their attitude about Emmett derived more from jealousy than doctrine or tradition, but she never dared utter a hint of such a theory.

Eugene and Elizabeth Marionneaux were the salt of the earth, despite their bluster and fussing. They doted on Robert, forever lavishing attention and gifts on "the little man." Terry stopped them from buying him an actual pony the previous Christmas. Robert never voiced an interest in a pony. She was the one who wanted a pony throughout childhood. "At least they caught up in the next generation," Teresa thought to herself.

The computer hummed to life as she pressed the button with the dash through the circle. It had begun taking longer to boot up since she switched her Internet Service Provider. The computers at work never had any problems. Chambers Architecture employed the services of a firm that provided remote back-ups and storage, and on site maintenance if the equipment needed it. She had antivirus and antispyware software and used her computer for nothing but work and emails, and still it managed to slow down like clockwork every couple of months after she had it checked out. Terry hated the thing.

Teresa wanted to be an artist. She fell in love, and put a lot of faith in the man she was with. She dropped out of college to help support Emmett while he finished school, thinking that he would help support her when the time came. Emmett graduated, but no breakthrough in the city's job opportunities ever appeared. She knew he really did try, but trying just wasn't enough. She painted and drew pretty pictures, and kindled passionate images with chalks and pastels, but all of her dreams about making a living from it went up in smoke.

When she got pregnant the entirety of their existences changed direction. Money problems grew in magnitude. Even the smallest issues of home life underwent a variance in perception and could no longer be ignored. They had to settle down, and they found each other to be quite different in such a setting.

The days came and went peacefully and happily at first. The joy of having a baby overrode all negativity. As Markie grew their needs as a family grew. They skimped on gourmet meals and nice things for themselves. They did not skimp on their child. The lack of economic breathing room wore on their nerves and turned them against each other.

Terry convinced herself Emmett was seeing someone else. Looking back she knew that wasn't the case. Their interactions became contorted and convoluted. They both initially scoffed at the idea of a marriage counselor. Then they tried counseling. Thatmade it hurt even worse when they still couldn't make things work. She hated to think about it.

The first two emails were from clients. The first was a simple message demanding a different kind of glass in the windows of an upstairs bedroom. Teresa marked it as unread and moved on. The second was a lengthy letter praising Phillip Chambers as a genius, an unheralded and triumphant breath of fresh air in New Orleans architecture. He designed a replica of a Creole Cottage for a kindly widow in her eighties. The widow wrote very eloquently of her fondness for Chambers work. Terry printed it out on vellum to be framed and placed beside the other twenty-four like it at the office. That it was only one of many made it no less heartfelt.

The third email was from the janitor at Robert's school. Alarm bells sounded in Terry's head. The incident Emmett brought up couldn't be as minor as she thought it was. She couldn't fathom how the janitor got her email address, and what she read concerned her even more.

"Mrs. Thompson," the message started. Few people knew she restored her maiden name after the divorce. "I am William Davis, the Supervising Janitor at Tangiers Elementary School. Your son was accused of a minor breach of discipline at the school. I know something about what happened, but can bring it neither to the attention of the faculty nor the administration. If you are interested in what I have to say, then perhaps we could meet. I would suggest the School Board office building. Please get back to me with your response."

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Related written works at Angelfire, Sex Symbols, Cymbals of Silence.Repent or Die