The alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. and Jasmine’s eyes slowly fluttered open as she stumbled for the snooze button. Successful, she rolled onto her back and stretched, flinging out an arm as she reached for April. Finding the bed empty, she propped herself up on her forearms and looked around the room. She spotted April sitting in the couch, fully dressed, in front of a low burning fire; just enough to take the chill out of the room.
April stared blindly into the fire, lost in thought. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jasmine walk around the end of the couch. She watched her as she sank down beside her on the couch, curling her legs under her. Jasmine snuggled into the crock of April’s arm and tilted her head back, nervousness creeping in when the serious expression on April’s face didn’t change.
“Penny for your thoughts, cher.”
April sighed and rested her forehead against Jasmine’s, just enjoying the feel of her in her arms, saying nothing.
“Are you worried about tonight?”
Jasmine leaned back so she could see April’s face. “What’s the matter, April? I thought we had everything planned out.”
“Um hum.” April wanted to just treasure this moment, sitting here holding Jasmine in her arms; wanted to hold on just a little longer.
They sat in silence for a few moments before Jasmine’s impatience, and worry, won out.
“April, talk to me,” Jasmine pleaded.
April pulled her head back. It was now or never. “Angel, please don’t be mad at me, but we can’t go as a couple tonight. In fact, you can’t even acknowledge that you know me at all.”
Jasmine just stared at her for a few minutes, eyes blinking, before she found her voice. “What? Why? Honey, I don’t understand.”
April sucked in a breath. “I’ve been up all night thinking.”
“Didn’t you go to bed last night?”
“No. Now hold on, angel, hear me out. I’ve been thinking. I’m afraid Lonna won’t take the bait tonight, at least not from John, like we originally planned. I think Lonna’s too sharp for that. I’ve got a backup plan that I’ve been thinking through all night, but it won’t work if I walk in there tonight with you. The minute I do, the whole room will know exactly who I am.”
“April, they already do.”
“No, they don’t. They know of me, but nobody’s met me yet. They’re going to be looking for whomever you walk in with, and I want you to walk in with your uncle and Mama, and stick to them like glue tonight. No matter what you see, what you hear, do NOT acknowledge me. Just act like I’m just another face in the crowd.” April gave Jasmine a long look. “Can you do that for me, angel?”
April planted a kiss to her forehead. “Just trust me, Jasmine. I know you’re confused; that none of this makes sense to you, but it’s our only chance. If Jade doesn’t walk out of there with us tonight, we might never get her back, and I, for one, can’t live with that.”
She laid a finger to Jasmine’s lips. “Shush baby. I know, I know.” She forced herself to pry herself away from Jasmine and stood up. “Now, you have to go to work, and I’ve got some errands to run. We won’t see each other again until the party.” April walked around the back of the couch, heading for the closet to get her costume for tonight. She hesitated for a minute, a few feet away from the couch, then turned around and walked back. Leaning over the back of the couch, she buried a hand in Jasmine’s hair, angling her head up, and gave her a deep, passionate kiss. “After tonight, angel, it’ll be you and me, together forever. We’ll be a family, with Jade and John right beside us. Whatever happens tonight, remember that.” April sauntered off to the closet, grabbed her Zorro costume, and strode out the bedroom door; she had too many appointments and not enough time.
At 8:00 p.m., Halloween night, a black stretch limo pulled up in front of The Magnolia, one of New Orleans oldest, most prestigious, country clubs. The driver parked, leapt out, and opened the back door. Two women emerged; the first was dressed in a pin stripe suit complete with vest, a black pair of men’s dress shoes, a red handkerchief tucked into the front breast pocket of the suite, and a black fedora. Stepping out, she turned back towards the limo and reached out a hand. Those standing nearby only saw one slim, bronze hand as it accepted the first woman’s.
Slowly, a slim, gorgeous, raven-haired beauty emerged from the limo. People stared as multiple layers of tiered fringe, which made up the red flapper’s dress, swayed with the woman’s movements while the dressed hugged every curve. It was held up by the thinnest pair of spaghetti straps and she wore matching red gloves which ran up her arms, past her elbows, and ended halfway up her upper arms. The headpiece was just a thin red band that encircled her head, stretching across her forehead, and a little red feather stuck up on one side, her hair hung straight and long down her back. Her mascara was dark and thick, her lips ruby red, and the whole costume was casino siteleri set off with a pair of red pumps with stiletto heels, adding at least three inches to an already tall body.
The woman dressed as a 1920’s gangster, went to great pains to make sure everyone saw her and the incredible woman accompanying her. She barely contained her smirk as she saw men staring, their eyes bulging out of their heads, as they walked past them down the red carpet that snaked it’s way into the grand ballroom.
Inside, Lonna made a show of pulling out a chair for Jade. As she pushed it in, she leaned down to whisper in her ear.
“Oh look, darling! Your family is sitting at the very next table. How convenient.”
Jade tried not to wince, Lonna’s voice both smug and condescending. She’d already been given strict orders not to attempt to talk to her family; in fact, Lonna wanted her to make a show of snubbing them. She’d threatened retribution, once they got home tonight, if she didn’t do exactly what she was told, but it was killing her, sitting only a few feet away from Jasmine, who looked amazing dressed as a Spanish Countess. Jade could see her out of the corner of her eye, knew Lonna had seated her here just for that purpose, and she wanted to cry as she fought the urge to run over and hug her sister.
Their uncle sat to Jasmine’s left, going the safe route with an old fashioned Dracula costume, the same one he wore every year. Mama Dubois sat on the other side of Jasmine. She wasn’t really wearing a costume, just decked out as if she was going to some swank jazz club. Jade continued to scan the table, without actually looking at it, searching for April. No one else at the table even remotely resembled her, and Jade felt a moment of panic thinking April wasn’t here, and wasn’t coming. She had just been so sure that April would use tonight’s event to her advantage.
Lonna sat down beside her and gave the Dupree’s table her most sincere smile. Jade wondered if she realized how smug she looked. Knowing Lonna, she did, and had done it on purpose. Jade had come to know Lonna well enough to realize the woman’s every move was thoroughly calculated; to her advantage.
It was too painful to see her family and not be able to talk to them, so she twisted a little in her chair, towards Lonna. This gave her back to her family, which Lonna took as a public snub and grinned her approval, but Jade had done it out of a sense of self-preservation. She had to survive tonight’s party, and silently prayed that April really would rescue her. She just couldn’t take living with Lonna, practically in captivity, much longer.
Jasmine’s eyes darted from Lonna’s smarmy face to the back of her sister’s head. When Jade had walked in, it took everything she had not to jump up and run over to her, but April’s words from this morning kept ringing in her head, ‘We’ll be a family’. After tonight, they’ll all be together, she just had to keep calm and play along, just for this one night.
She felt Mama lay a reassuring hand on her arm. Jasmine covered it with her own and turned towards her, returning the smile. On her other side, she could hear Uncle John grinding his teeth together, the one sure sign that told her that he was barely able to keep his temper in check. For some reason, she found it more reassuring than Mama’s efforts, and felt her insides calm down a little. She started scanning the room for Zorro’s. To her dismay, there were quite a few of them tonight, more so than any other past party, that she could remember. Jasmine shook her head at the odd though. Lord, she was so nervous she had resorted to counting costumes!
Across the room, two particular Zorro’s were whispering back and forth to each other while they drifted around the buffet, trying to pretend they didn’t already know each other. A third stood somewhere in between, smiling into her cup of punch as she listen to the other two trying to play super spy. Bowing her head to take a sip, she whispered into the minuscule microphone clipped inside the neck of her cape.
“Sit tight a little longer, John, maybe another half hour, twenty minutes, then go over. I can see the bitch’s smug smile clear over here, so she’s really enjoying the show at the moment. Let her eat it up a little longer before you strike up a conversation.”
April heard John’s whispered, “Ok,” in her earpiece. Taking her time, she turned away from the buffet table and started to meander towards the two tables. “Pipe down,” she ordered Trina and Sam as she walked past. The two lovers’ conversation was starting to increase in volume, and she was afraid someone would soon notice their bickering and realize they were together.
They instantly shut up at her command and she shook her head, chuckling. Nearing the tables where Lonna, Jade, and the rest of the Duprees sat, she quickly grew serious as she concentrated on the business at hand. She stopped at the table in front of Lonna and Jade’s, at the farthest end away from them, and struck up a conversation with the middle aged couple occupying canlı casino the chairs closet to her. She had no idea who they were, but it didn’t matter. This was the kind of event that was chocked full of the upperly mobile types, who would rather die before they ignored a stranger, just incase it was someone really important.
The wife was something of a chatterbox, which suited April’s needs just fine. This way, she could watch the tables she needed, without having to put too much concentration into the conversation, just nod her head and agree at all the key points. Minutes later, she watched John get up from the table and walk towards Lonna. Glancing at her watch she noted that it was exactly twenty minutes from when she last spoke to him. He must have sat there and timed it.
As he came around the edge of the table, farthest from Jade and closer to her, she watched Lonna stand up and intercept him. She was being careful not to let John get too close to Jade, but thankfully they stood off to the side just enough to not block her view of Jade. She glanced briefly at Jasmine, watched for a moment, then tried not to smile when she realized Jasmine was scrutinizing every person in the room dressed as Zorro. The fact that Jasmine was looking for her gave her a warm feeling. Yeah, she was really getting used to this partners thing.
She and John were wired with the same equipment, so she could easily hear his conversation with Lonna. John was trying to play it casual, “Oh, Lonna, nice to see you again. It’s been so long. How are you?” He was doing a good job of it. April almost couldn’t tell that he was fighting the urge to knock Lonna on her ass, and she knew John to be the last man on the planet to ever hit a woman. Well, she was hoping one of them would get that treat later tonight.
April nodded at the woman she was chatting with, noting that Lonna was playing right along with John, but she could tell Lonna wasn’t buying any of it, not for a minute. This was what she had been afraid of. Lonna was too sharp to fall for something so simple, but April hadn’t realized it until after the party invitation had already been mailed out. It was ok though; this would work in their favor because now, Lonna would think this was it. The Dupree’s had played their hand, they failed, and she’d spend the rest of the night smug and happy in the fact that they hadn’t been able to trick her into confessing anything. Actually, everything was working amazingly well for such a last ditch, spur of the moment plan.
She heard John turning the conversation towards her relationship with Jade and was now actively trying to trip Lonna up, trying to get her to admit that she was blackmailing Jade and had set this whole thing up from day one. April had to give him an A for effort, but could tell it wasn’t working. Lonna was easily deflecting his attempts, steering the conversation away, onto other topics. April took that as her cue.
Saying goodbye to the couple she was chatting with, she walked past Lonna and John to one of several mini bars that were scattered around the room. She ordered a Jack with ginger ale for herself, and tequila with orange juice. Staying close to the wall, she walked back towards Jade’s table; careful to make sure she was behind Lonna, who was facing John and the rest of the ballroom. Lonna was too busy enjoying her little war of words with John, to notice her as she slid into the chair beside Jade.
Jade glanced up as she felt someone beside her. She looked up just as a woman in a Zorro outfit placed a mixed drink in front of her and slid into the chair.
“You’re way too beautiful to be sitting her all alone.” April gave Jade her best smile and she saw her eyes widen in recognition at the sound of her voice.
“You’ve never seen me before,” April whispered under her breath. Jade gave her a small nod, moving her head just enough to acknowledge she heard her, but not enough for anyone else to really notice.
“Thank you, for the drink. What is it?”
“Tequila and orange juice. You know, if you drink enough of those, they start to taste like Tootsie Rolls.”
Jade laughed and April smiled, putting on the charm, which really wasn’t all that hard. If Jasmine really hadn’t been interested in her, she probably would have stayed with Jade. The two of them had always found it so easy, and fun, to flirt with each other, so this would be cake.
Jade sipped her drink and studied April, looking her over as if she was a new, interesting prospect. “Mmmm. This is really good.” Jade took another sip. “I have to tell you, I’m not here alone.”
April made a show of looking around at all the empty seats at the table, then turned back to Jade and then arched a brow. “Who are you with? The Invisible Man?” she quipped.
Jade laughed and waved a hand towards Lonna. “No. And I’m with a woman.”
“Well,” April drawled, “that answers that question.”
“Wither or not you’re into women. Walking over here, I was praying pretty hard, hoping you wouldn’t turn out kaçak casino to be straight.”
“What if I was?”
April gave her a wicked grin. “I’d work it like a tent evangelist and try like hell to cure you.”
Jade’s burst of laughter had Lonna whipping around. “Who the hell are you?” she snapped.
“The woman taking your neglected date for a dance.” April stared Lonna down as she grabbed Jade’s hand and lead her towards the dance floor, mentally taking a snap shot of Lonna’s shocked face as she took off with her date. That would be a Kodak moment to treasure.
They reached the dance floor just as the band struck up a nice slow song. She turned around to face Jade and pulled her into her arms. The two of them glided around the floor in silence.
“Lonna’s madder than a wet hen,” Jade whispered in her ear. “You better damn well know what you’re doing, April, or I’m going to pay for it later.”
April tighten her hold on Jade, the thought of Lonna hurting her making her stomach clench. “Just play along, act like you’re enjoying all of the attention, and I promise, you’re walking out of here with me before the night’s over.”
The conviction in April’s voice strengthened her own resolve, and Jade let herself enjoy the feel of being in the arms of someone who cared for her. Seconds later, she felt April’s hand slide down, dangerously close to cupping her ass. She glanced back at Lonna as they turned, saw the rage on her face, and sent up a silent prayer.
The song ended a few minutes later and Jade started to step away, but April pulled her right back into her arms for another dance, the band switching to some Latin music. Expertly, she spun Jade around the floor, people stepping back out of their way. An audience was gathering to watch them and April was trying hard not to check for Lonna’s reaction. This worked only if Lonna thought she wasn’t paying her any mind, acted as if she didn’t even exist.
The song ended and the crowd began to applaud as April dipped Jade one last time. Swinging Jade back up, onto her feet, she bowed to the crowd, and then led Jade to the mini-bar farthest from Lonna. She ordered two drinks and turned her attention to Jade.
Jade narrowed her eyes. “For what?”
“Well, darling, the show, of course,” April answered with a smile.
It was the wicked gleam in April’s eyes that was making Jade nervous, or excited, she wasn’t sure which. The thought of getting away from Lonna, for good, was a joyous thought, but the consequences if April’s plan, whatever it was, failed, was something she didn’t want to linger on. Her smile faded and she grew solemn as she stared down at her drink.
April cut her off. “No, Jade, there’s only one way this will end. You, Jasmine, and I are walking out of here together. Then we’ll go home, sit on the porch and have a few shots of tequila. From now on, we’re family, and we stay together.” Jade’s fear wasn’t lost on her, and she could tell her words didn’t go far in the way of reassuring her. Leaning over, she pressed a kiss to her temple and, grabbing her hand, walked with her towards a deserted table.
“Now, we’re going to sit here and talk, share a few laughs, just relax. When I think Lonna’s good and mad, we’ll go back over and finish this.” April laid a hand against Jade’s cheek, cupping her face and guiding her head up so she could look her in the eye.
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” Jade whispered.
“Do you want to go home?”
“Yes,” Jade answered vehemently.
“Then stop worrying and ride with it, baby. I know you know how to do that.” April’s grin was wicked and she felt relief flood through her when Jade returned the grin with a sheepish one of her own.
“Jasmine’s not too happy.” Jade nodded towards Jasmine’s table. Following her gaze, April’s eyes quickly found Jasmine and could tell she was fighting to control her temper and tried not to stare at the two of them, sitting cozily at a corner table. Jasmine’s gaze flicked to them and their eyes locked for a split second. It was just enough for April to hear her own breath quicken, feel her heart speed up. She cared for Jade, a great deal, but there was only one woman who made her go from 0 to 60 with just a look.
“Jasmine will make me pay for this later,” she thought, and then smiled as memories of their lovemaking played through her mind.
“Penny for your thoughts, cher,” Jade quietly asked. April looked over to find deep blue eyes watching her every move. Jade was so beautiful, it was hard to imagine that she’d been so lonely that she’d fallen in with a viper like Lonna.
“What in heaven’s name where you doing with this bitch in the first place? Don’t tell me women weren’t lined up at your door to go out with you?”
Jade smiled weakly and went back to staring into her glass, “sad and lonely” written all over her face. “They weren’t, lined up at my door, that is. Jasmine and I, our family, have quite a reputation in this town, and a scandalous past that every single soul knows about. Women are either afraid that we’re both a mental and emotional mess, because of our parents, and don’t want to get tangled up in all that, or their afraid of our money, or interested in us just because of it.”