HO SPRINGS
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72. CORA: The End

eady?” Cora asked Juliette.

The girl hoisted her suitcase and gave a wan smile.

Cora gave up. She would have guessed that Juliette would have been delighted to go back to France, but instead the girl had been sullen, even weepy, all week.

“Is there something wrong?” Cora asked. “Something you’re not telling me?”

Juliette shrugged and blinked harder against the tears that seemed always to be lingering in her eyes.

Cora sighed. She’d been so full of doubts leaving Paris and coming here, so wracked by misgivings through all the weeks of dealing with her brother and her father and George and the family business and especially with Juliette herself. But she never expected she’d feel just as conflicted — more conflicted — about going back.

“It’s time,” said Medhi.

Hugo took Juliette’s hand and led her toward the stairs.

“Did you say goodbye to your grandfather?” Cora asked.

Again, the only answer Cora got from her daughter was a shrug, though this time it was more understandable. Cora’s father, Juliette’s grandfather, sat dim-eyed on the sofa beside his girlfriend, Jimmie Sue.

“Goodbye, Pop,” Cora said, crossing the room to kiss her father’s grizzled cheek.

He looked up at her, confused. “Who are you?” he asked, sounding almost frightened.

Would this be the last time she’d see him? At least with Jimmie Sue here, she could be sure that he’d eat and not drink himself to death. But even without the bottle of bourbon each day, some light had gone out behind his eyes.

“Remember what I told you,” Jimmie Sue said.

Jimmie Sue had told Cora not to go. She’d laid out the cards the night before and advised against the trip, against Cora getting back together with Medhi, against taking Juliette across the ocean.

“Your destiny is here,” Jimmie Sue had said, talking about a man in Juliette’s future who could only be George.

But Cora couldn’t let herself make decisions as big as how to raise her daughter and whether to reunite with her husband of 20 years based on what some old cards said, could she? She might be impulsive, she might be ambivalent, but she wasn’t a complete fool.
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71. DWAYNE, DaSHAWN, LaTONYA: Let Us Pray

DWAYNE

e raised his hands to the congregation.

For the brothers and sisters in need of divine intervention, let us pray!

Amen.

For those, who have lost their way in the sight of the Lord, let us pray!

Amen.

For the thieves, for the flesh peddlers, for those who have turned away from their families, let us pray.

And let us pray, oh Lord, for our own souls, for who among us is without sin, or without earthly hopes and heavenly dreams? Give us your aid, sweet Jesus, in achieving our goals, in purifying our intentions, and in casting out the devils who walk among us and live within.

DaSHAWN

Suitcase in hand, pockets empty, he stood before her door for a long moment, head bowed.

He never thought he would be reduced to this, not since he was 17 and left home for the last time. His fortunes had been on the rise ever since. At least until recently.

After a long moment, he lifted his hand and range the bell. He could hear her footsteps in the apartment, see her eye on the other side of the peephole. At last, she opened the door.

“Mama,” he choked out. “I want to come home.”

She didn’t move from the doorway.

“Ma, please. I have nowhere else to go.”

At this he nearly coughed out a tear, it was so close to being true. I have nowhere decent to go, was a hard fact. I have not enough money to do anything impressive and no one who loves me, including maybe you.
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69. TARYN: Queen of the World

ou go on out to the field,” she told him.

“But….”

“You want me to send  you back to that sorry-ass farm where I found you?  Now get.”

She had his number, all of their numbers.  She knew how bone-numbing the work could be on a grim silent farm like the one where she plucked him from his bed, and how lost a boy like him would feel without any work to do.

She knew what it was like for the girls, too, the ones who’d been pawed and fingered from the time they were young enough to equate such attentions with love.  Love was what they wanted, what they’d work for above money.

And for the Mexicans, those who were here without papers, who couldn’t speak English beyond their big grinning bowing Thank yous.  They were out in the fields right now, working under the cover of darkness, building the massive tent that would be sheltered beneath the stand of trees between the fields. She understood them too, how marginalized they felt, how powerless, because that’s what life was like for an uneducated female of any race.

She didn’t need DaShawn.  She’d never needed him.  That was the old Taryn who’d gone to him, offering a partnership.  But he wasn’t capable of partnership, he just wanted to be boss.  And that’s what she wanted too.  What she was going to have.

“Mercy,” she called to one of the girls from the Go Go.  “Get me that pink polka dot dress, that one with the ruffle at the neck.  And that big ass white hat.”

This was her ladylike outfit, the one that, like magic, made people give her what she wanted.  That’s how she got the retired racehorses for practically nothing, taking a certain satisfaction in knowing George had plowed his sweat into caring for them.  How she’d gotten that shithead dentist, Wade, to fix her teeth.

But today she was after something more important than horses or teeth or anything else money could buy.
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68. JAMIE: New Man

t took him at least ten minutes lying there, listening to the silence, to believe that he really might be home alone.

No babbling in French. No female voices nagging him to clean something up. No Jimmie Sue woo woo or Senior dementia. Just…..silence.

He turned over which nudged Iggy awake. The iguana lazily opened its jaws and then snapped them down, more quickly than Jamie might have believed possible, on a beetle or maybe that was a cockroach scrabbling over his covers.

He’d been working hard to lure the bugs and the dust and the chaos back into his room, just to show his sister who was boss, if only of this 12 by 15 foot patch of ghetto. Let her scrub the cracks and align the corners of the rest of this dump; she wasn’t going to get the better of his room.

Jamie got up, brought Iggy into the shower with him, then let the animal perch on his shoulder while he gulped a cold cup of coffee left from the pot and ate the ends of all the food on the plates piled near the sink, ranging from peanut butter and jelly crusts to what tasted like a roquefort and leek omelet.

Where was everybody? What time was it? What should he do, now that he could do anything?

He flipped on the TV, but it seemed as if somebody had disconnected the premium cable: No more porn on demand. He considered jerking off anyway, but he’d done that already last night. Somebody had cleaned away all the magazines and newspapers. He had the feeling he’d been reading a book, and that he’d even liked it, but he couldn’t remember what it was or where it had gone.

There was nothing left to do but go out. At least there was nobody to stop him. He went downstairs, Iggy still on his shoulder, leaving the door open since he’d long ago lost track of any keys. His poor melted crotch was feeling a bit better, he noticed, though he still limped a bit taking the steps.

The streets seemed strangely empty. Now that he was outside, where was he going to go? His default destination, the Go Go, was shut down. There were other bars in town, but not ones where he knew anybody, and besides, he hadn’t had a drink in — he couldn’t even remember how long. Plus, he had no money. No girlfriend. No friends.

No friends except the miracle of Iggy, that is. He stopped in front of the MAL, giving his pet’s hide a proprietary pat, and that’s when he noticed it. The old place looked different. Cleaner. He pressed his forehead to the glass of the front window and peered inside. Damn if it didn’t look like somebody was fixing the place up.
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64. TARYN: Candy

ou could tell without thinking who was at the festival.

Car gone. Lights thriftily turned off. Dog tied up.

Everybody piled into the vehicle and went together, and nobody locked their door. Or if they did lock it, they left the key under the mat or above the doorjam.

She didn’t even try sneaking, just made DaShawn sit scrunched down, as a black man would be the one thing that would arouse suspicion out here, with the engine idling, then walked right into the house and took what she wanted.

Not the jewelry. None of these dowdy farm wives had anything worth stealing.

Not the money. Money here had already been converted into combines, or livestock, or soybeans.

It was the guns she wanted.

Some kept them displayed in the living room, in a shiny walnut and glass case. If the case was locked, she had no problem grabbing a pot from the kitchen and smashing the case, grabbing all the guns and walking out the door.

If they weren’t in the living room, they were in the basement: red tile floor, pool table, makeshift bar, a couple of stools with black leatherette seats. Her stepfather had set up a bar in their basement like this, spent all his time down there.

That was one thing she’d loved about the houseboat: no basement.

This was the first house she’d been in where she hadn’t found at least one gun proudly displayed in the living room or perched on a rack in the basement.

She might have just walked out but now it was a challenge. There was nothing obvious about this farmhouse that made it any different than any other farmhouse. So where else might they be keeping the guns?

She checked the pantry and the coat closet but didn’t find anything there, which left the second floor. Wooden stairs creaking as she climbed, she stood in the second floor hallway and took in the layout.

Master bedroom, sun streaming in the windows, girly pink and white coverlet neatly on the bed. Sewing room with daybed pushed against one wall. Dinky little bathroom. And room with its door shut tight.
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63. CORA: Love Is All Around

edhi wanted to see more of Ho Springs, so Cora decided to take him to the festival. Like most residents of the town, she hated the jamboree, which drew denizens from the hills and the surrounding towns, invited mayhem along with its pleasanter pursuits. But she knew Medhi would be amused by the American-ness of it all. And now that the crisis with Juliette was past, she wanted to get out of the house and do something fun.

Indeed, there were throngs of people everywhere they went, ringing every musical act, queuing up for every fairway ride, clamoring for hotdogs and cotton candy and especially beer.

Medhi bought himself a towering cone of cotton candy, blue and high as Marge Simpson’s hair, and then walked along grinning at it, tickled by the way it looked.

“Aren’t you going to eat it?” Cora asked him.

He made a face and shook his head. “Never.”

“Can I have a bite?”

“You’ll get fat.”

“Do you think I’m fat?”

With his free hand, he hugged her to him. “I think you’re delicious.”

Despite his reassurances, that was enough to set off the old paranoia, the too-familiar alarm bells. After she hit 40, as her body accommodated the inevitable ripples and sags, was when Medhi’s eye started to wander. More than his eye. The younger women, the thinner women: They were everywhere, all the time.

“I wish I could believe that,” she muttered.

He stopped walking, handed the cotton candy to a stunned teenager who happened to be passing, and took her in his arms. “You’re the love of my life,” he said. “You know that.”

She’d been so sure she wanted to leave him. But it had been so much harder than she’d anticipated, moving here, being a parent to Juliette on her own, being alone. She wanted to believe they could be together again, the way she always wanted it to be, the way it had been, for a little while, anyway. Yet she couldn’t help but note the caginess of his statement.
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61. JULIETTE: Let’s Play Kidnapper

abysitting was not how she wanted to spend her day. Hugo, who was at this very moment snoring on the couch across the room, was sure to be leaving very soon, and Juliette might never see him again. And after all their efforts to be together last night were foiled — well, she felt she had to spend every single available second with him.

And if not with him, at least with her dear Papa. And if not with Papa, at least in bed, unconscious, trying to sleep away what had happened to her in the woods.

And now here was this spooky little girl, dumped just about literally in her lap, staring up at her with eyes big and blue as robin’s eggs behind those weird thick glasses.

“Wanna play horsies?” the girl, Beth, asked, holding up one of her mangy plastic horses.

“Ummmmmmm…..no,” Juliette said.

The kid blinked.

“How about CandyLand?” she asked, her voice so soft it was almost a whisper.

Juliette examined the child. She might have been cute, if somebody had taken the time to fix her hair and get her some chic little clothes. Plus she definitely needed cooler glasses.

“How about kidnapper?” Juliette asked.

“How do you play that?” Beth asked shyly.

“I hide behind the couch, and you walk by, and then I jump out and kidnap you.”

They both looked over at the couch, where Hugo snorted and flipped over so he was facing away from them.

“I don’t know,” Beth said, sticking her thumb in her mouth.

“Come on,” Juliette said. “It’ll be fun.”

She stood up and, taking Beth’s hand, walked her over near the couch and positioned her in front of it. Maybe Hugo would hear them. Maybe he would wake up and join in the game. Maybe he would see how great Juliette was with Beth and want to marry her for real and have babies with her.

“Okay,” Juliette said. “Just walk like this, like you’re little Red Riding Hood on your way to grandmother’s house.”

“Are you the grandmother?” Beth asked.

The grandmother? This kid really was funky. “No! Can’t you see I’m young and pretty?” Juliette said.

Beth nodded, but then asked, “Are you the wolf?”

Juliette clucked impatiently. “I’m the kidnapper,” she said. “Now walk, back and forth, in front of the couch.”
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44. CORA: French Diplomacy

ora was awake, daylight just beginning to sift through the windows, though she was not sure she had ever fallen asleep.

She could remember sitting alone in the living room, feeling so restless and helpless knowing Juliette was out there somewhere. Finally, she’d lain down on the sofa, her mind alive with images of her little girl in the woods, or on the dark streets: Somewhere beyond Cora’s reach. Or were those dreams?

Now she was awake, itchy to get out there and find her daughter.

She heard voices, male voices, heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs. They seemed to be speaking French. She shook her head, wondering if she was hallucinating. Or hallucinating again.

Then the door banged open.

There stood Medhi, her ex. With him was Hugo, Juliette’s ex. Or current: Cora never could keep that straight, and suspected Juliette couldn’t either.

At any other moment, Cora would have started screaming at Medhi for all his sins, would have pushed him back down the stairs or run out into the street herself.

But now, after only a moment’s hesitation, she walked straight into his arms.

Letting her forehead rest against his shoulder, breathing in the starch of his shirt, the musky scent of his neck, feeling the tickle of his hair against her cheek, feeling herself release all the worry and all the tears, brought back every moment she’d spent like this with him over all the years. Weeping for joy when he asked her to marry him and when she found out she was pregnant with Juliette. Crying in pain when she lost pregnancy after pregnancy and later when her mother died. Medhi’s steady strength, his warm shoulder and his hand on her back had been the constant through all the most important events of her life.

“It’s all right, I’m here, we’ll find her,” he said, and she let herself cry harder, collapse into him more thoroughly.

I was such a fool to ever leave, she told herself. I never should have taken Juliette away, never should have left Paris, should have learned to live with this man, my husband, no matter what.

“What I don’t understand,” Medhi said, gently stepping away from her, “is how our daughter got lost in the first place.”

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43. JULIETTE: Savior Behavior

t last, the American monsters were asleep.

The lights still blazed overhead, but Juliette could hear both of them snoring like pigs. The bed above sagged in the middle so low to the ground that she and Darrell were forced to opposite sides of their hiding place. If one of the disgusting snorting hogs had needed to reach under the bed for a dropped nipple clamp, perhaps, he (or she: the woman seemed the worse of the two) would surely have discovered Juliette and Darrell cowering there.

But they’d had desultory sex with no climax, they’d tossed and turned and muttered, they’d farted and fought, and now, miraculously, they were asleep. It was time for Juliette and Darrell to escape.

Darrell had kept his eyes squeezed shut for much of the ordeal, but now Juliette snaked her hand over and tapped him, pointing over her shoulder to signal that they should make their break.

She was astonished to see him shake his head no.

No? NO???? Was the boy an idiot? Did he plan to lie there all night, perhaps get up in the morning and cook the druggie murderers above them some breakfast?

But he was still shaking his head, looking terrified.

She made a face that was meant to signal, What the fuck? But his only response was to keep shaking his head and to look even more scared.

There was no arguing. And she certainly did not plan to lie trapped beneath the monsters’ bed one second more than she had to. Let Darrell be too frightened to move. She was not going to let him keep her imprisoned there with him.

With a little Heidi Klum wave and smile, she slid back and got swiftly to her feet. God, that light was so fucking bright. She couldn’t believe she was standing there fully exposed in the room, the monster couple — not so very large, now that she was looming above them — curled back to back beneath a rag of a blanket.

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41. DaSHAWN: The Bitch’s Bitch

aShawn gazed in Taryn’s direction as she talked, trying to keep his face composed in what he guessed might be a posture of listening. He nodded slowly and steadily, like a fucking Emmitt Smith bobblehead, and held his mouth slightly open and relaxed, and stared with wide eyes at her pretty little white face, all juiced up like fucking Hillary Clinton or something, but much much hotter. And DaShawn kept listening, like he was fucking Obama with the TV cameras turned on.

She had big plans, this little girl. Was talking about starting a crank factory, but major league, not some little one-pot meth kitchen where you save up your piss to reclaim the one molecule that might be left that could make somebody high.

No, she was talking a proper fucking plant, like Tyson’s, so efficient they take you from egg to KFC in 18 days. She’d recruit workers, runners; she’d buy land, a farm, camouflage everything beneath bona fide crops; she’d keep horses as a cover, even race them.

Not she. We.

“What do you want me in this deal for?” DaShawn asked.

She smiled, sweet as when she was asking for another hundred dollar advance.

“Why, DaShawn,” she said. “Because you’re the only man never tried to fuck me.”

He looked away at that, the memory of what he’d done that night on the houseboat pressing down on him. More than once over the past weeks, he’d thought of that incident and wondered whether that was the cause of everything going wrong. It wasn’t like him to dwell, but he found himself waking up out of the deepest sleep and reliving that moment when he’d slipped his finger inside her, worrying it over and over in a way he didn’t replay Tiff’s murder or the cops shutting him down, moments that by all rights should have worried him more.

But he had not been responsible for those other events, he told himself. And what had happened with Taryn, that he’d done.

“What would my part be?” he asked her.

“We’d work that out as we go along,” she told him. “Security. Personnel. Community relations. Whatever I need you for, I guess.”

He’d never worked for anybody before, never mind a bitch. And now was she saying he’d be the bitch’s bitch?

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