Veiled eyes, p.14
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       Veiled Eyes, p.14

           C.L. Bevill
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  Anna didn’t even have to turn her head to see the sheen of the lake through the trees. The light was casting deep shadows over it, making it seem blacker and deeper than usual. She knew she could be looking at the exact spot where she’d seen the large splash of something big, the same night Gautier had warned her.

  They wanted her to give to them. Give what? Do what, prove myself worthy to be a member? And what about these mysterious elders? When do they show up and start inspecting me? Do they take out a checklist? Check to see if all my teeth are present? Make sure I can have babies? That I didn’t sully the family name? She simmered silently. Is it too much to ask for answers?

  Mathieu rushed the twins and toppled one into the deep grass and stole the Frisbee from the other. Both boys and the dog all wailed with protest.

  Then he was there. His physical presence was almost as apparent as his mental one. Gabriel was standing behind Anna with his gold eyes focused on her. She couldn’t prevent the rush of umbrage she felt, and she deliberately tried to concentrate on something else.

  Meg had said that someone among the family killed Gautier. She had said, “Someone has slaughtered one of our own. And worse, someone has done it without perception from the rest. Fear is what binds the family together. Fear and love.”

  And Gabriel had said, “Those with the strongest bloodlines are those with veiled eyes. Relatives and close loved ones are blessed with the strongest connections.”

  Fear and love. Fear had brought Anna to this place. Her fear had guided them to her. It had guided Gabriel to her. She understood that now. But she didn’t understand the rest. Too many secrets. Too much is hidden behind those veiled eyes.

  Anna took another pull at the bottle of beer. She could feel residual pain on the palm of her hand. It had faded and felt like it was rapidly going away, but it was tender, as though she had experienced Gabriel’s pain through their minds. Is that what it is?

  Gabriel answered her aloud. “Yes, that’s part of it.”

  “Do you know where I was this afternoon?” Anna didn’t turn to look at him. Why was it that he could slip so quietly into her mind? Without preliminaries or without her awareness, he was just there. The wall she constructed mentally didn’t seem to be such a barrier to him. She took a deep breath and watched Pierrot yelling happily at his father. Phillippe was on his father’s back, his little arms wrapped around Mathieu’s neck, and Gabriel’s dog was bounding around the group in happy-doggy circles of joy.

  “When you saw her marker, I felt it,” he said softly.

  Anna tried not to flinch. He was right behind her; his breath moved the curls of her hair. She tried to remember exactly how she’d felt when she’d read the name on the gravestone and failed. It had been a shock, something she knew she couldn’t have controlled. Without any kind of forewarning she had suddenly been standing on her mother’s grave. “How did she die?”

  “A sinkhole. They never found her body.”

  “That’s not her grave then,” Anna said the words but wondered at the odd relief she felt. She hadn’t been standing on her mother’s grave. Behind her she sensed that Gabriel shrugged his wide shoulders in answer. The air shifted minutely around them. Her skin prickled because of the fluctuation. It was as if his fingers trailed gently down her flesh, causing a storm of goose bumps.

  “Just a marker,” he replied. “Even if…”

  Anna spun around then. “Even if what? She was an outsider?”

  Gabriel’s eyes burned with some unnamed emotion. “There are outsiders who know us.” His mouth thinned. “Some of them have been very important to the family. They’ve married into us. They run in our blood. They’ve died for us. But…”

  “But you don’t trust them,” Anna finished the thought for him. “And I’m half of them, raised by them. I might as well be one of them. Isn’t that right?”

  “You’re not one of them, Anna,” he whispered. “You can’t be. You have the family coloring. You have the gift. You have…”

  Anna stared at him. “I have what? What is it you won’t tell me?”

  “You have to figure that out for yourself, chère,” he told her. “As for the elders, well, they don’t need to be in your immediate presence to judge you.”

  Anna was shocked. She was used to her three-dimensional world. Face-to-face contact had always been necessary in the past, and she had wrongly assumed it would be the case here. But the elders’ powers were the strongest, which was what Meg implied. Because they thought she was strong as well, that her gift might be something to be feared?

  “If they can look inside my mind,” she said at last, regaining her composure, “then they’ll know I’m a good person, and they have nothing to fear from me.”

  “If you could look inside mine, you’d know the same from me,” Gabriel barked.

  Anna glanced over her shoulder and saw Mathieu frozen in place. One twin was on his shoulders. The other was looped around his legs. All three stared at Anna and Gabriel as they stood on the patio. After a moment, the dog woofed loudly and swiped the Frisbee out of Pierrot’s hands. Pierrot yelled out something in French and let go of his father’s legs, scrambling after the thief. Then Mathieu and Phillippe looked away, resuming their sham struggle, a grin on both their faces.

  Gabriel rolled his eyes upward. He threw his hands out. “Oh Dieu. I didn’t mean to yell at you. I just wanted you to understand.”

  “Did he kill her?”

  “Huh?” The abrupt change in subject brought his eyes back down to Anna’s face. His hands came down to his sides.

  “Did Gautier kill Arette?”

  Gabriel studied Anna’s face intently. “Some have said so. Me, I think not. She lost her way in the darkness.”

  “So where was I?”

  “I was six years old, Anna. I don’t remember any baby. My mother, you remember her?” Gabriel went on after she nodded shortly. “She says that Arette left Gautier months before she came back. No one knows why she came back or where she’d been. But she came back and she died. They had men searching the bayou for a week. But there was nothing to be found. And then Gautier went away himself. He only came back after several months, his beard long, his eyes wild. Too long among the outsiders and people he didn’t know. Even before she died, before he left, he was isolated, a little strange. But afterwards, he was worse.”

  “You talked to your mother about Arette then?”

  “Oui, she can be trusted to keep that to herself.” Gabriel frowned. “But how did you know your mother’s name? How can you be so sure that Arette is your mother?”

  “There was a birth certificate hidden in the binding of the Bible which was in the bassinette I was dropped off in. Someone included the Bible. It must have been hers.”

  “And your father’s name?” Gabriel’s question was grim.

  “Blank,” she said. “A mystery. I assumed it was Gautier, but…”

  “He didn’t have the gift. Many of the Debou’s didn’t have it. It’s like some of the gene is missing from their line, even when they married with someone who did have it.” Gabriel was thoughtful. “Of course, you could be a throwback, but then why would Arette have left the name blank on the birth certificate?” He hesitated and then he added, “An affair with someone else?”

  “That’s what M-” Anna cut herself off.

  “You talked to the conja woman?” Gabriel became grim again. “Oh mon Dieu. What in the name of god prompted you to talk to that old rattletrap?”

  “She’s not a rattletrap,” Anna spit out. “What, because she’s an outsider, you want to talk about her like-”

  Gabriel put himself right in her face, bending his head to emphasize his point. “It doesn’t have anything to do with her parents,” he growled. “Meg Theriot does anything for money. Money is what she desires. It’s true she doesn’t live in a fancy house in the best part of the city, but she misers it away so that she can leave her grandchildren a fortune. She harbors dreams of things they can never have. You s
hould remember that, chère.”

  Anna put the half-empty bottle of beer on the patio table. “Would you tell Camille I decided I wasn’t hungry after all?” she asked politely. She shut the garage door on her mind again, and her lips flattened into a harsh line.

  “Anh!” Gabriel swept a lock of hair from his forehead. His gold eyes glared at her. “Never mind,” he said. “I will leave. You, you should stay and eat. Eat a full meal. You don’t need to lose any more weight.”

  He turned to go, but Anna was abruptly stricken with remorse. She saw a man who was being segregated from his own kin, something she would have hated to do to her worst enemy. She called, “Wait! Gabriel, don’t go.” She paused while he waited, and she stared at his broad back. He was wearing a blue shirt that showed off the breadth of his muscled form, and she suddenly appreciated how fit he was, how relentlessly he must work on his boats to keep himself this well-developed. If she looked at his hands she knew she’d see the same thing as on her own hands, the calluses of a blue-collar man, someone who wasn’t afraid of hard work. “I don’t want to chase you off from your family.”

  “And yours,” he said stiffly.

  “It’ll take a while to get used to that,” she admitted slowly. “I’m not used to having anyone except Jane.”

  “And Jane has been your friend,” said Gabriel. He still hadn’t turned around.

  “Yes. For a long time. My only friend.”

  “If we weren’t your family, Anna, we wouldn’t have gone after you…that night.”

  Anna sighed. “I know. Let’s have a beer, and you can tell me about your dog.”

  “Phideaux?” he said doubtfully. He turned back to her with one eyebrow raised in curiosity. His stern face relaxed into neutrality.

  “You named your dog Fido?”

  “Well.” Gabriel suddenly grinned and it was like a light was turned on for Anna. She caught her breath. It flooded through her body and centered on her womb, clenching and contracting with inexorable force. “It’s the Louisiana spelling, of course.”

  * * *

  Several times over the course of supper, Anna found herself looking at Gabriel. It was curious to her, this interest in him. She’d had boyfriends before. Most of them had been good men. But none had lived up to some internal expectation that she couldn’t even begin to describe aloud. But if Anna could have said one thing, it was that she knew none of them was right for her.

  And him. What made him so special? What drew her to Gabriel?

  It was true that Gabriel was good-looking. Anna knew that all the little bayou girls had probably thrown themselves at him more than a few times. But there’s the grabby part, she thought. Hasn’t repeated that, unless I count him chasing me in the woods. Worried about me or worried about me?

  He was laughing at some joke Phillippe had told him about two pirates in a pub when he glanced up and saw her looking at him. A little knowing smile licked across his face, and he winked wickedly at her.

  Anna could have cheerfully knocked her own head into a wall because of what she did next. She looked away and blushed. Then she caught Camille’s perceptive look, and Anna excused herself to go to the bathroom.

  When she returned everything had returned to normal.

  After supper Gabriel walked Anna back to the little garage apartment and did not do or say anything she could take out of context.

  But when Anna asked him who he thought could have killed Gautier, he wouldn’t answer her. He never noticed the history book in her hands that she had borrowed from Camille. She didn’t even remember to ask the other thing which had suddenly come to her. If Gautier didn’t have the gift, then how had he known Anna was there? Someone had to have told him.

  Someone like Meg Theriot perhaps?

  Gabriel’s last words as Anna let herself into the stairwell that led up to the apartment above the garage really shook her. They floated back to her, like Gautier’s words had the night she had been warned to leave. “No one is ever alone in the family.”

  The same words the mysterious person used in her mind earlier in the day. She turned to watch him, but his form was already lost in the darkness.

  * * *

  On Sunday Anna went to church. She wore her cleanest jeans, which were her only jeans, and a borrowed white cotton shirt. After all, she hadn’t had time or a vehicle to go and shop for something suitable. She was pleased to discover a few other people wearing similar clothing, although theirs tended to be newer.

  Anna wasn’t ashamed of her appearance. Her hair was combed. Her face was clean. She walked to the small white, spired church and made her confession to the priest before the Mass. The priest, she noted before she went into the confessional, had gold eyes. Despite that, she kept to the meager sins she had committed for which penance was required, sins that had nothing to do with the gift of veiled eyes.

  After mass Aurore waited for Anna and hooked her arm through the younger woman’s. Aurore was dressed in a tidy blue dress with matching blue pumps and looked very sophisticated to Anna with her hair twisted back into a neat chignon. “Oh chère, you look so much better today. Come and eat with us.”

  She led Anna outside to where Sebastien and his two sons were waiting. All three men were dressed in ill-fitting suits that seemed to make them uncomfortable. Sebastien smiled genuinely at Anna while Gaspard and Raoul watched expressionlessly.

  “You all must have a plan to fatten me up,” said Anna. Over Aurore’s shoulder she saw the priest speaking with Camille and Gabriel. Gabriel glanced over his shoulder, and their eyes caught for a moment. Anna blinked and looked away.

  The one thing she had noticed on this particular day was that the townspeople were looking at her a little differently. She caught a few errant thoughts but most were blocked by her or by their own protective features. No one glared at her back while she was turned. No one thought about her status as an outsider.

  “It’s true,” said Aurore, correctly reading Anna’s expression as the younger woman slowly looked around the people who were filing out of the church. Some stopped to speak with the priest or with each other. Sebastien had taken a few steps away to chat with Cecily Bergeron, who had waved at Anna with a look of dismay at the clothing the girl was wearing. “We are trying to accept you for who you are.” Aurore chuckled. “And to fatten you up of course. You look like a stick. C’est vrai.”

  Gaspard stared at Anna, and she looked him back in the face, squaring her shoulders. She thought how much he must have resembled his father when Sebastien was younger. But the son seemed to have a harder edge to him; something pricked at his thoughts while he looked at her. “Is there something wrong, Gaspard?” she asked.

  “Non,” Gaspard replied gruffly. His gold eyes glanced away and looked at the lake in the distance. “It’s nothing.”

  She caught his thought. At least, she thought it was his thought at first. It was the last half of a thought and something he didn’t want her to know. Anna abruptly discovered something else about herself. They didn’t know she could get as much as she had been receiving. She knew that if they understood that, then they would trust her even less, and she kept her face carefully blank. The thought was secrets in the graveyard, and it puzzled her.

  Then Gaspard laughed loudly at something Raoul said, and Anna doubted herself. It could have been Gaspard. But then she glanced around her again and saw other people she’d met over the last few days. It might have been any one of them.

  “You’ve been thinking about Dan Cullen again,” said Aurore softly.

  Anna looked at the ground and then said, “It’s hard not to think about him.”

  “You’re going to forget him,” said Aurore. She directed Anna to their car. It was a sedan a few years old. Sebastien followed them, and their sons went to Gaspard’s truck. “Gabriel’s such a good-looking young man, you know.”

  Anna wasn’t quite sure what to say.

  Chapter 15

  Sunday, December 21st

  When the moon r
eaches its fullest state, then a man shall go mad, for the moon affects the flow of blood just as it affects the tide of the sea.

  Sebastien boasted that he was the cook in the family and that he had cooked all morning before coming to Mass. He said to Anna, “It’s called Wife-Went-To-Bed-Sick-Chicken Dinner.” He chortled. “And she ain’t even sick. I show you how, oui? I bet you don’t know how to cook, and the good Lord above knows someone should know how to cook in a family, because—”

  “Sebastien,” interrupted Aurore. The food was good, and Anna enjoyed it, relaxing in the company of these people who had previously been strangers to her.

  “I don’t know how to cook much,” Anna admitted, wondering what Sebastien had been about to say. She looked around their house and saw that it was spotlessly clean. With three bedrooms and a spacious living room with a vaulted ceiling, it wasn’t as close to the lake as Anna would have thought. Like the rest of them. But next to a greenhouse with verdigris glass that revealed the colorful variety of hothouse flowers, there was a well-worn trail that led into the forest in the lake’s direction. If she looked hard enough, she could see the reassuring glimmer of the black surface.

  Gaspard and Raoul had eaten like men, keeping their conversation to a minimum, scooping up the meal with forks and sopping up juices with French bread. Then Gaspard had excused himself with, “Merci, maman and papa. Neither God nor man waits for a welding job in Shreveport. They want it done fast, fast, fast.” He glanced down at Raoul’s head. “You coming, little man?”

  Raoul shoveled in a last mouthful and chewed fast. Finally he said, “Keep your britches on, and who you calling little? You know, I got to call my wife. She spent last week with her mother in New Iberia. She thinks I’ve gained too much weight, oui.”

  They went out the front door arguing genially, and Anna helped Aurore clear the dishes away. When they were done, Aurore served café au lait on the back patio, and they watched the wind gently push the branches of the trees back and forth. The sun had come out, and only vague clouds in the east obscured the blue skies.

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