Excerpt from Jewell

Jewell by Tina DeSalvo

Jewell

A Second Chance Novel


Available in e-book and print at Amazon, and on request at your local bookstore.

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From Chapter One

Cane, Louisiana
Fall

Hello God, it’s me, Mignon Duet. I hope You don’t mind me speaking to You in my head again, while the world is going about its business around me not knowing we’re having this conversation. I guess that’s what you do when you get old. Have conversations in your head. Come to think of it, I’ve heard some old people talk to You aloud, too. That makes them sound crazy though. And then their families try to excuse it by saying they got religion in their old age. I know the truth, just like You. They don’t even realize they’re talking aloud. They think they’re talking in their heads like I’m doing.

Hmm, I am talking in my head, right?

Yes. I am. Otherwise the people in here would be looking at me sideways instead of shopping in this old house looking for bargains. My only granddaughter is selling things for the family who owns this old stuff. Junk, mostly. Not that all old stuff is junk. Look at me. I’m quality, even though my brain isn’t so sharp anymore. I’m not junk to be tossed away, even though I’m old. My brain is rusty; the gears in my body don’t work so well. I have a cane and pretty beige orthopedic shoes to help me move along. And I have my granddaughter, Jewell, ma sucrée, my sweet. She helps me move along, too. Mainly, she shares her brain with me.

Jewell is never very far away from me. Thank God…er…Thank You. She reminds me of things I need to do and she finishes my sentences when I can’t. You know, she even takes me with her to work, like she did today. Not that this place is much of a job, if you ask me. She used to take me to mansions. Big New Orleans mansions. I liked going to big mansions. I felt special sitting on their fancy chairs, drinking sweet tea from heavy crystal glasses. Now we’re in a dusty bungalow in the country. Not that that bothers me much. I like the country. I’m from the country. At least, I think I am. No…I’m sure I am. Anyway, Jewell isn’t so sure I’m from the country—even though I told her I used to live on a plantation with Twinnie.

Ah, I sure miss Twinnie, God. When I talk about Twinnie, though, it seems to make Jewell sad. Ma sucrée looks sad a lot lately. Why is that? I don’t think it has to do with Twinnie or me getting childlike sometimes and needing her to hold me. I think it has to do with the legal problems she’s having. The ones she says I shouldn’t worry about. But I do. And it makes me scared, God. Really scared.

I don’t want anything to happen to her. It breaks my heart to think she has problems. When I see her eyes look so full and sad and troubled, my insides tremble. I’m so frightened for her that I cry myself to sleep at night. God, can You help ma sucrée not be sad? Can You make her problems disappear so we can be together…so that she doesn’t have to leave me…alone?

Oh, mon Dieu, my heart is pounding so hard now. My hands are shaking. I know that this is what “totally alone” feels like even though there are a few people nearby shopping in this strange place. I don’t know any of them. I don’t know where I am. It’s getting hard to breathe and Jewell’s big brown eyes lock onto mine. She smiles at me…and I feel relief, comfort.

“I know you,” I tell her.

“And, I know you, Mimi.”

I feel peaceful knowing I’ll always recognize Jewell’s chocolate colored eyes, her straight nose, her rosy lips and her café au lait complexion. I will always recognize her, won’t I?

Jewell looks scared, too, as she stares hard inside her open cash register as if she can make the money there multiply by sheer will. I can’t tell her how frightened I am now. She has her own problems. She shouldn’t worry about me. She’s young. She has her life ahead of her. Mine is over.

She needs to be free to find success again and to find happiness. Maybe even a good man. I should free her from the burden of having to take care of me. That’s the right thing to do…but, if I free her, dear God, I will be totally alone…

…and so will she.

***

Jewell pressed on the gas pedal of her old pickup truck a little too hard, throwing both Mimi and herself against their seats in an unexpected jolt.

“I know you want to get out of here in a hurry, but you don’t have to give us whiplash in the process,” Mimi told her, speaking the formal French that was her first language and the one she and Jewell preferred to speak to one another.

Jewell eased off the pedal. She drove with her Airstream camper in tow down the bumpy dirt road of the Simoneauxs’ property onto the smooth two-way state highway adjacent to it. She glanced at her plump grand-mère who was now staring out of the closed side window. White hair styled with a tight perm and dressed in her Sunday best, she sat on the clean but faded tan cloth front seat as poised as if she was seated on a satin Chippendale chair at a formal dining table in Commander’s Palace restaurant in New Orleans. She didn’t know how Mimi managed such perfect posture after two long days of sitting around the estate sale, especially when arthritis had set painfully in her worn bones years ago. Mimi might complain about a long list of things, but her personal aches and pains were not among them.

She was a remarkable woman. She had been when she was a young, energetic grandmother raising her unwed, rebellious teenage daughter’s child and now, as an elderly, frisky lady fighting to stay relevant in a confusing world. It broke Jewell’s heart to know that her time with the most important person in her life was limited both because of her age and because of advancing dementia. Once Mimi was gone, Jewell would be left alone with only her wonderful memories of this woman. She intended to have no regrets to mar their challenging but loving life together.

Mimi turned, looked directly into Jewell’s eyes. “You’re glad this job is over, huh, ma sucrée? I can see it in your troubled eyes.”

Jewell blinked, refocused on the road in front of her. “Yes, I am, Mimi.” She was glad to be leaving the Simoneauxs’ property where she’d worked for the last week. The minute she’d walked into the poorly maintained 1920s bungalow, she’d felt like a Civil War cannonball had hit her in the chest. This was not the type of estate furniture and household property she would’ve been called to appraise and sell before her career plummeted to the depths of the muddy Mississippi River.

“Me, too,” Mimi agreed. “You know, this was more like a garage sale than a pretty Magazine Street store. Or was this just a garage sale?”

“It was an estate sale,” she sighed. The worst estate sale she’d ever facilitated in her professional career.

“Hmm. I think it was a garage sale.” Mimi crossed her arms over her ample breasts and thick belly. “If you want to have a garage sale,” she insisted, “you can have one closer to home in New Orleans and save us the hour trip into the bayou country.”

“I didn’t want to have a garage sale, Mimi.”

“Then why did you have a garage sale? You don’t make any sense. I don’t understand.”

Jewell looked at Mimi. Her brows were furrowed. She looked confused. She really didn’t remember why they were at the Simoneauxs’. “I took the job here because no one will hire me in New Orleans,” she said, keeping her voice even as she started the GPS on her phone to direct them to their next destination.

“You have dirt smeared on your face, ma sucrée,” Mimi said, pointing to Jewell’s chin. “You always have dirt on your face. You did as a child, too.”

Jewell glanced at her reflection in the rearview mirror.

Nothing wrong with Mimi’s vision. There was a smudge of bayou dirt on the underside of her chin several shades darker than her complexion. She wiped it with the heel of her hand, quickly inspecting the rest of her face. No dirt. Just her dark hair, already coming out of the ponytail. “Did I get it all?” She lifted her chin for Mimi to inspect.

She nodded. “It’s déjà vu with the dirt.” She smiled. “And, with the way you look.” Mimi shook her head. “You wear your hair the same as you did in college. Maybe if you took it out of that straight ponytail and added that pretty royal purple streak that people are decorating their hair with today, it would be nice. You’re a pretty girl. A little color would look good on you. Change is good. If your memory is good, that is. Otherwise, change can be a confusing.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Now, you could get one of those trendy tattoos. That’s a change that isn’t confusing. It would follow you around. Especially if it’s on your derrière.” She laughed. “You’re too conservative for that. I’m not though. I should get one.” She pursed her lips. “Come to think of it, a tattoo wouldn’t be right for either of us. We’re not sailors. Sailors are the only ones who should have tattoos. Sailors and pirates.”

Jewell smiled. And, maybe an antiquities expert celebrating getting an advanced degree, she thought, placing her hand low to the side of her hipbone just below her bikini line. “You know, tattooing has been around a long, long time. It’s been in the Polynesian and Native American cultures and it was even found on the mummified remains of ancient Egyptian priests and priestesses.”

“I didn’t know there were Egyptian pirates.” She frowned. “You know a lot of things. You just don’t know fashion. Now, that’s something I know.” There was a twinkle in her eyes. “I can still sew well enough to make you a sophisticated white brocade sheath pretty enough to turn every grand Madame’s head for Friday lunch at Galatoire’s. You’d have to discard those jeans, that baby blue company golf shirt and the rubber boots you always wear, though. Wouldn’t hurt to wear pretty stilettos.”

“As a matter of fact, it might hurt. My boots are fun, practical. They make me smile. Stilettos make me wince.” Jewell tucked a long strand of hair that had fallen from her ponytail behind her ear. “I’m actually comfortable in my own skin just like this, Mimi.”


Available in e-book and print at Amazon, and on request at your local bookstore.

Buy "Elli" at Amazon