Until I'm Safe
by Jane Grace
Does she stay and possibly get shot by her crazed father or run into the storm of the century, Hurricane Katrina?
Marguerite Aucoin has no choice but to run! Like the fiction heroine she writes about, a teen named Toots Gentry, Marguerite must be brave, despite the fact she’s lost both hearing aids and is virtually deaf.
Amand rescues Marguerite from the swirling bayou waters. At his home, she awakes but doesn’t speak, writing her name, Toots Gentry. With time, he learns her secrets, and discovers someone’s trying to kill her. But’s he’s fallen in love with Marguerite and is determined to protect her.
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The waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Ponchatrain rise and roll over New Orleans. Horror fills the great city as the world watches. Lives are saved. Lives are lost. Moments of heroism. Acts of violence. Miracles. Mayhem. One teen discovers the courage to live another day and yet another until August 29, 2005 passes, and Hurricane Katrina leaves the Gulf Coast to rediscover itself.
The beginning of it all...
“This is so not how I planned on spending my seventeen birthday,” I grumble as I sit cross-legged in Daddy’s big recliner. Because the noise of the storm outside bothers me, I’d turned down the volume on my hearing aids. My laptop sits balanced across my legs, the first pages of my next short story started and saved. The electricity went out an hour earlier so I work by the light of a battery-powered lantern.
I type even as I conduct a decidedly pitiful conversation with myself. “Marguerite Aucoin’s big day and this is what happens. We were supposed to go to Pharo’s Place for dinner then to a movie. We were supposed to see The Island. Ewan McGregor is so hot!” I run my tongue over my lips, the mere idea of such a man making my mouth go dry. Unlike some of my friends though, I’d never do that in public. Gross. “Instead here I sit, in my best slacks and new blouse, bitching at my poor computer while this hurricane tries to make up its mind which way it’s going. Katrina sucks,” I add as I finish a short paragraph.
Mama and Daddy are upstairs somewhere. I have no idea where in the house my drama-queen of a sister is hiding. Misery washes over me. I silently curse the weather for destroying my party. I seldom ask for anything so the parents are good about giving me something special if I do.
“All dressed up and nowhere to go,” I mutter to the glowing screen. The battery will run down soon if I’m not careful. With that in mind, I return to the home screen, my mind a million miles away with my fictional heroine, Toots Gentry. A character so unlike me. But isn’t that what writers do? Create their opposites when writing?
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the flash of Desia’s bright colored blouse. The girl comes flapping into the front room like a ghost on steroids.
“We’ve got to get out of here, Marguerite!” Desia speaks only in exclamation marks, something that annoys the hell out of me. She latches onto my arm, trying to haul me out of the recliner.
“Duh, storm outside. Hurricane nearby. Not getting wet for anyone, thank you.” I push her hand away gently. Storms scare Desia so I figure this is her fear coming out. But no...
“Mama and Daddy are having a terrible fight upstairs,” Desia blurts out.
“What?” I hear the word fight but little else. “Wait a minute, will ya?” I adjust the volume control on both aids and suddenly am flooded not only with the noise of rain beating against the roof and walls like a million hammers but wind that howls around the corner of the house. Now I remember why I turned down the volume.
But Desia sounds more than afraid—in fact, once I stop being pissed and actually pay attention, she sounds terrified.
We play grab-hands as she tries to pull me out of the chair and I attempt to both peel off her hands and calm her. Once Desia realizes I’m not going to jump at her command, she collapses next to my chair, her dark skin glowing in the light of my lantern.
“Now, Des, tell me what you’re talking about.”
“Mama and Daddy are fighting. He’s gone crazy!” I fear my sister has lost it, given the severity of the storm. Daddy crazy? No way! He’s the sanest most stable man I know. He’d never let anything happen to his family, much less fight with one of us. Desia’s nerves are shot, affecting her imagination.
“Parents argue now and then. You know that. And this storm is making us all a little crazy.” I give Desia a sympathetic smile. One intended to ease the tension that seems to have her wound up tighter than a banjo string.
But she keeps on...
“You know how he’s been looking over his shoulders lately? Jumping at the least little noise? Staying home a lot more than usual?” Desia reminds me.
Yeah, Daddy has been acting weird lately. I’m not about to hurt his feelings though by asking what he’s afraid of. I mean, my daddy is a pretty big guy, Laurence Fishburne-sized. Desia and I secretly made up a story about the mob chasing him. Silly, I know, but for a nineteen year old, Desia loves my stories.
“Look, Desia, Daddy isn’t so crazy about storms either. Mayor Nagin said we could leave or stay if we wanted. He’s hoping Katrina will turn east and not bother New Orleans too much. Maybe Daddy’s just uptight about the weather even though he decided to stay and ride it out. I mean he has a lot to lose, with six convenience stores.”
“Maybe, but him and Mama are up there arguing about money. And...gambling.”
Thank goodness I can read lips because her voice dropped so low even my aids couldn’t pick up what she said.
“Gambling? Seriously? What do you think he is? A gangster?” I laugh off her concern. “Look, we’ll wait and see how this storm plays out then get with Mama and Daddy and see how things are doing around here. Maybe we can even reschedule my party,” I add.
“Will you forget about that damn party!” Desia has the nerve to shake me by both shoulders. “Something bad is happening upstairs, and you’re acting like an ostrich with your head buried in beach sand!” she screams; no need to lip-read those words.
Not about to fight my sister, I get in her face so she’ll take me serious. “Stop being such a drama queen. Everything’s going to be fine. Get a grip...of something besides me.”
Surprised by my verbal attack—I so seldom assert myself like that—she lets go. But not for long!
Desia snatches the laptop out of my grasp and jerks my arm, hauling me to my feet. The lantern falls off the table, and the light goes out. Without letting me go, she drags me across the small room to the table and hall tree stand next to the front door. With nothing around me to buffer the sounds, the noise rages worse so close to outside.
Desia snatches up my rain jacket and starts stuffing my arms in it. “We have to leave. Go to Uncle Juno’s house. It’s not safe here anymore.”
I grab her arms even as she sticks my cell phone and wallet in a pocket. “We are not going out in that storm! It’s dangerous!”
“It’s too dangerous to stay here, too,” Desia yells back as she pushes me against the wall. “Daddy went to his study upstairs and got his gun. Then he went into the bedroom where Mama is.”
Suddenly this isn’t my sister being theatrical. Daddy does have a gun—a .45—that he keeps locked up, in case of an emergency. He always tells us he’d never let anyone hurt his family. But now...now he’s pulled out that gun? What does he plan? My daddy would never hurt anyone.
“Daddy won’t hurt us. Or Mama. I trust him. He has a reason, Des.”
“We need to do something. Run or...call the cops,” Desia jabbers.
“Can’t. Cops are up to their eyeballs in busy with this storm coming.”
About that time the wind’s howl and the rain’s pounding picks up. Claps of thunder shake the house. Lightening pops in rapid succession. I long to turn down the aids’ volume, but there’s no time. Against my back, the wall shudders as storm winds pound the house. The neighborhood. The entire city.
Some birthday! Never have I experienced such a force of Nature. My hearing aids pick up and magnify the sounds of battering limbs, shattering glass, snaps and crackles as power transformers blow. My hand lays over the crack between the door and frame. With unexpected force, the door rattles, shakes in a frame that threatens to peel right off the wall.
Every muscle in my body winds tighter and tighter. Trembles shake me, my long curly black hair caught between my shoulder blades and the faded wallpaper. I can’t find a deep breath. Each draw of air seems to be the last. The only reason I’m not in a quivering heap on the floor is because my knees are locked. The pit of my stomach burns with acid, both from hunger and terror. Which is worse? The storm outside or the one inside?
Caught! Between a hurricane coming and sister who’s gone Looney-tunes on me. Reasoning with Desia’s useless. She imagines bandits where there aren’t any. As if I’ve caught part of her fear, I’m afraid. Nothing to do but talk her down before she gets us both soaked.
Desia works feverishly to get her raincoat on and essentials in the pockets. But her fear prevents her working fast enough.
Prayer comes easily to me. Born into a Catholic family and educated in a Catholic school, I pray for a higher power to save me from the beast-like storm on the other side of the wall, my nutty sister...
And the sight of Daddy...not ten feet from us, once hidden by the darkness, illuminated now by a flash of lightning.
Desia stands with her back to him, but she sees my eyes go wide. She turns and screams. Daddy looks like a wild man, his shirt buttons ripped off, a scratch on his face and a gun in his hand. He looks positively insane!
What can I do to defuse the strain? Given my calm nature, I do the one thing I’ve never done. I yell. Close my eyes. Suck in every bit of air I can then open my mouth and let out the loudest most unexpected sound I can muster.
The noise startles Daddy. For a few seconds the light of sanity returns to his eyes. But that clarity vanishes as his lips curl back over his teeth, and he bends forward.
What to do?
“Run, Marguerite! Run, damn it.”
I freeze, unable to believe this is my father. Where’s Mama? Is she hurt?
Desia throws the bolt lock on the front door. “Run!”
I moved only when I see Daddy step toward us, his eyes glazed, his big body graceful but his gun hand up.
Desia turns the doorknob. The wind blows it open, knocking me off-balance for a second. The fury simply sucks me outside before I can give leaving a second thought.
I reach back for Desia’s hand. But Daddy catches her by the hair and pulls her back inside. The last I see of the two, they’ve rolled around the back of the door, slamming it shut.
“Desia!” I scream and step toward the door.
The noise scares the crap out of me. Is that thunder or a gun shot?
Terrified I back up. Step by step until I almost run backwards. Then I turn to really run and smack face first into the trunk of the oak tree beside the concrete sidewalk. I bounce off the dripping bark like a ping-pong ball off a paddle. The hood of my rain jacket flies off as I land on the soaked lawn. One of my hearing aids flies off as well, the sound of the storm suddenly cut in half, now a dull roar of swirling sounds.
Boom! Another burst of noise filters through the remaining aid well enough to get me on my feet, the idea of looking for the lost aid blown out of my mind.
Maybe I can go back. Maybe I should—help my sister. But the eerie flashing lights, the branches blowing past, the utter darkness...the possibility of what might be happening inside the house frightens me more than the weather outside. And that’s bad enough.
Do I have a choice?
Desia said run.
Daddy leaves me no choice.