Blue Autumn in the Bayou (Gumbo Love) (8 page)

Autumn opened the flap to
her phone case and placed the phone to her ear. “Don’t tell me you’re still ordering me around at three in morning, Pic-Wic,” she groaned into the phone. But Autumn sat straight up in bed when she heard the concern in Reggie’s voice. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. This might sound silly
, but Trae is not home yet, and I’m a little worried.”

“Didn’t you say he was hanging out with his brothers?” Autumn stifled
a yawn, and pushed back the layers of covers. She’d driven to Mona’s house shortly after dropping Mer Drace off back her house after mass. Mona kept her house cool, so she supplied Autumn with several quilts to make her comfortable.

“Yes, but if I know Trae, he had no plans to be out this late.”

“Did he drive?”

“No
. Travis and Michael picked him up.”

Just hearing his name made Autumn’s pulse accelerate. The more time she spent on the island, out on the beach, the more her thoughts
wandered back to Travis. She remembered how vulnerable he looked at his great-uncle’s casket, and the sight of him in his mother’s backyard preparing the crab boil he’d shared with her and her friends.

“Well, Regg, honey, did you try to call him or Michael?” She dared not call Travis’s name for fear it would reveal just how much she ached to see him again. She
strongly anticipated her return to the city. She had yet to figure out how to approach him, but she decided she had plenty of time to figure things out during the long drive back to New Orleans.  

“Yes. I called all three of them, left messages, and have gotten no callbacks. Where can they be?”

“I’m sure they’re fine, Reggie. Maybe the boys threw him a bachelor party. I can’t imagine anything has happened to them. You would have heard by now from his parents.”

Reggie knew
Autumn was right, even though the revelation didn’t sit well with her; Trae’s parents would have called her if something had really happened to him. An hour later, Trae fumbled with the key in the doorway. Reggie had camped out in a parlor chair to wait for him, and quickly went to the door to snatch it open. She glared at him. “I’ve been worried sick!”

A stumbling Trae looked at his angry wife-to-be and grinned from ear to ear. “Hi
, beautiful.” He slurred the words.

He watched
Reggie turn on her heel and bolted up the stairs without saying a single word. Her quick movement made his head spin. “Whoa, not so fast, babe. I can’t see you. Ohh. Not so loud either, baby. My head hurts.” He managed to close the door behind him, and stumbled up the stairs. He couldn’t quite make it to his master bedroom, so he pushed opened the door to the first bedroom up the stairs and crashed facedown onto the bed.

* * * *

Autumn had talked to Reggie when she was about forty-five minutes west of the city. “Are you okay, sugah? Don’t be so hard on him. Trae has never done anything like this before. Surely he has an explanation.”

“What I know is that he’s hung
-over and didn’t even make it to the room last night. After I’ve slammed every door, cabinet, and whatever else I could in this house, I’m certain he’ll think twice about the next time he decides to stay out all night. Hell, there better not be a next time, or I’m taking him out.” Reggie fumed.

“It sounds like our groom had a huge bachelor party. So you can’t blame
him, but you can blame the hosts. And we know who those are, right?”

“I’m sure I can think of a few names.”

“Well, listen. I’ll be pulling up in less than an hour. We can figure out what to do when I get there, okay?”

“Okay. Be careful. I’ll see you soon.”

* * * *

Trae slept a drunken sleep, even through
the door slamming, pot rattling, and music blasting. He was unaware that Autumn was in the house and had begun to help Reggie with the food preparations for the evening meal. The smell of the food was what pulled him from his stupor. He slowly sat up on the edge of the bed, hoping to dislodge the eighteen-wheeler that had fallen on his head. The lingering throb started from the back of his head and continued through to his temples. With measured pace, he pulled up from the bed and staggered straight to the shower.

After a long shower, Trae slipped into a pair of running short
s and a shirt. His stomach growled as loud as rumbling thunder, so he padded down to the kitchen. He vaguely remembered the scorn on Reggie’s face. He knew he was in trouble, but hoped with some fast sweet-talking he would be able to defend himself. Just as he stepped off the last stair, Autumn rounded the corner.

“Well, I’d say. It’s the night crawler. I hope you feel better than you look, because you’re going to get your ass chew
ed this afternoon.” She smiled and kept on moving.

Trae groaned. “Can you not yell so loud?”
he mumbled at her retreating back. If Autumn heard him, she ignored him and kept going. So, he shuffled into the kitchen. “Hi, baby. How are you?”

Reggie didn’t face him at first. Instead she continued to stir ingredients in the oversize
d pot on the stovetop grill. When she finally faced him, Trae knew with certainty that he regretted the night before, not just because of the hangover, but also because of the disappointment he saw on Reggie’s face. He moved farther into the kitchen and stood several feet away. “I’m sorry about last night, baby. They kidnapped me, took my phone.”

Reggie
had yet to utter a word. She just looked at him with contempt. He speculated that once she got over the fact that something horrible had not happened to him, her worry had turned to frustration and disappointment. He knew she’d planned everything to be perfect for their wedding. He could tell by the look on her face that his late night partying was not a part of her celebration plans. He would do anything to change that look right now. “Say something, Reggie,” he pleaded.

Autumn walked
back into the kitchen at that moment. “You’re lucky.” She walked past him and slapped him on the back.

“All you had to do was call me.”
Reggie finally caved in.

“I know
, sweetie. That’s just it, not only did they kidnapped me, but my phone as well. Forgive me?” He closed the space between them. “I love you. I love you so much, baby.”

“Oh, Lord.” Autumn slapped the towel on the counter and left through the patio door. “I need some air.”

Trae lowered his head and trailed small kisses down the sides of Reggie’s face. “I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you, sweetheart, I promise.”

“You stink.” She pushed from his embrace.
“Even after a shower you reek of stale alcohol.”

“Sorry. Do you forgive me?” He lifted her chin with his fingers. “Please.”

“Tell me this is not going to happen again, because if it is, we can save ourselves time and money by forgetting about next Saturday.”

“It won’t happen again, I promise. So how about it? Did I tell you how much I love you?”

“That’s your only saving grace!”

“Thanks, baby.” He pulled her into his embrace and kissed the top of her head. “Now do you think you can fix your man something to eat?”

Without a single word, she pointed to a covered dish on the warmer. Trae squeezed her tight. “That’s my girl, thanks.”

“Hurry, we’re expecting company in a couple of hours and you still have chores to do.” She pulled
away from him and continued with her task.

Reggie was still in the kitchen when
Travis arrived shortly after everyone else had gathered in the family room with a keg of beer in tow. She’d called him shortly after her conversation with Trae, and he told her that he, too, had just a little too much to drink; and that he had no intentions of drinking anything today. Still she reminded him that he was designated to bring the booze and had to pick up the wine and beer. When he arrived, Rykard trailed closely behind him with the case of wine snuggled up against his chest.

“Rykard!” Reggie leaped toward him. She’d not seen him since their trip to Atlanta nearly a year
before. However, she’d talked to him over the last couple of months. Rykard assured her that he wouldn’t miss their big day for nothing in the world. Reggie worried that his involvement in their wedding would drudge up hurtful memories of Valerie, his college sweetheart, but they hadn’t thus far.

“Hi
, Reggie. It’s great to see you, Lil’ bit. You look fabulous.” He hugged her snuggly.

“I’m so happy you’re here. Trae didn’t tell me you were here. I’m going to skin him alive.”

“He was just as surprised. I got here late yesterday afternoon. I hope you didn’t rag him too badly for hanging out last night.”

“Well, I should have, but you know he’s got a way of making me really sweet on him.”

“Yeah, I know, but it’s mutual.”

“Thank you for sharing this time with us, Ry.”

“Like I said, I had to be here, not just for Trae but for you too. Val would want it that way.” He looked into her sweet brown eyes.

Reggie tipped up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “Thank you. I know she’s here with us in spirit. I feel it.”

* * * *

“What’s all the fuss about?” Travis
’s voice vibrated throughout the entire room.

Autumn’s body stilled as the sound of his voice reached her; the low
timbre flooded her senses with anticipation. She fidgeted with the tray of deviled eggs to keep her mind from totally betraying her overwhelming desire to turn and wrap her arms around him. Energy beamed between them, so much so that she fought to control her now trembling hand. She could smell his aftershave lotion the moment he stepped into the room. The chitchat of the others was lost on her–she didn’t hear anything they’d said. Her attention centered on him exclusively. When she couldn’t stand it any longer, she turned to face him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER
10

 

 

Travis’s voice trailed off when he caught a glimpse of Autumn at the counter with her back to him. His control nearly slipped but he quickly reined it in.
His dark eyes narrowed as he watched her stand with her back to him.
So she wants to be off limits, she can be just that.
His expression hardened to indifference. When she turned to face him, instead of meeting her gaze, he turned first to Reggie and then Denise. “Hey lil’sis.” His kissed them both on the forehead. “Where do you want me to put this?”

“Down here.”
Reggie led the way to the sunken den. “Here would be fine.” She pointed to an empty spot behind the bar. “Did you see Autumn in the other room?”

Travis didn’t answer immediately. He connected the hose to the keg before he looked up at her. “Yeah, I did. What’s up?”

“What’s up is that you’d been asking about her. Now she’s here and you didn’t even speak to her.”

Travis sighed heavily before his hands
got busy once again with hooking up the keg. “Your friend wants me to stay away. That’s exactly what I plan to do. We’re going to march up that aisle together on Saturday, and we’ll each provide a notable toast, and then we don’t ever have to see each other again.” He paused to acknowledge her.

“She needs a little time, Travis. I think she likes you.”

“I’m not interested anymore, Regg, okay?” He wasn’t surprise when Reggie’s mouth dropped open and she looked at him as if he was suddenly a stranger.

“You’re serious?”

“Yes, I am. I don’t have time for the games. It’s probably better this way.”

“Okay,” Reggie’s hands dropped to her sides and she back
ed away from the bar. “Maybe you’re right.”

Travis nodded at her without a word. When she turned to leave the room, he just stood there for a moment. He laid his hand on top of the bar and didn’t move. Deep in thought
, he contemplated his decision. He decided to stick with his choice. If she went out of her way to avoid him, it was best if he kept his distance. Apparently she did, and he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.

Travis went back to finishing his chore. Michael came in just when he ran the first tab. “You’re just in time.” He handed the cold draft to his brother.

“Thanks, TK. You’re not having any?”

“Hell
, nah! I had way too many last night! I still have a headache.” He nodded.

* * * *

Autumn’s senses went into overdrive. Not only did Travis ignore her, but everyone in the room knew he had. The tremble rose up past her neck and her body felt wobbly all over. She grabbed the back of a chair to keep erect.
This is what happens when you leave yourself open to people.
She berated herself silently. The reaction did not slip pass Trae or Reggie. Trae came to her side. Reggie led Travis into the den, but she looked back at her friend and saw the devastation on her face.

“Are you okay?” Trae whispered closed to her ear.

“Yes.” She faked a shaky smile. “I guess I should have eaten something. I’m good. Who’s your friend?” She attempted to take the attention away from her.

“Ry, come meet Reggie’s friend
, Autumn. I don’t think you got to meet her when she came up to Grambling.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Any friend of Reggie must be alright?” Rykard smiled openly at Autumn and stuck out his hand.

Autumn ignore the extended hand and reached up to hug Rykard instead. “The pleasure is mine. It’s great to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“And
it’s all lies!” He pulled back and smiled down into her beautiful face.

“Really, it’s been all good stuff.”

“Well, in that case, it’s all true.”

They all laughed.

Reggie reentered the room at the sound of everyone’s laughter. She moved next to Autumn and stuck her arm through her friend’s. “I see you met Rykard. It really feels like old times.”

“Excuse me, I better go and check on the food. Be back in a
bit.” Autumn slipped from Reggie’s embrace and went back into the kitchen. The food was done and ready to eat. What she needed most was a place to pick up her bruised feelings. Tears stung the backs of her eyes, but she refuse to let them come forward. She was ready to open up to Travis, but apparently, that was a foolish notion on her part.

Autumn offhandedly snatched up a top from a pot when someone walked in. It was Travis. She could tell without turning around. She stirred the contents but didn’t look back or acknowledge him.
She heard the refrigerator door open and close, and could sense that he was watching her. However, she refused to give into this game he was playing with her.  She waited, hoping he was say something, anything that would force her to turn to face him. A moment passed and then she heard his footsteps leave the room. Autumn dropped the top back onto the pot and then walked out the patio door. The humid air gave her no reprieve. She leaned on the overhang and closed her eyes. When she felt more in control of her emotions, she returned to the house and joined everyone in the den. The conversation was lighthearted and jovial. 

“Do you remember the halftime show you did?” Rykard got up and imitated some of Reggie’s old dance moves. Everyone was close to tears in laughter.

Autumn looked from one to the other as they all tried to mock Reggie’s college dance routine. She did smile a little when she saw Reggie egg on Trae. “No, that’s not how it’s done. Bust a move Traekin. Nobody does the dance better than my baby.” Her smile grew a little more when Trae stood and did a few moves, and then wiggled his tail for emphasis.

“Nah
-ah, I didn’t do all that!” Reggie slapped his shoulder.

Autumn stood
, and didn’t linger long in the background. Her smile soon faded and didn’t quite reach its fullness. Sadness lurked in the corners of her eyes. And although neither had said one word to the other, she knew Travis watched her. She sensed his eyes on her even though she refused to look at him. They played that game the entire evening. So she decided to leave the room again.

*
* * *

Travis
detected that something wasn’t right. He had to decide whether or not it was worth his while to find out. He’d told Reggie he was no longer interested in Autumn, but that was a lie. He pretended not to give a damn about her, but something inside of him wouldn’t allow him to continue to deny his true feelings.

The ladies set the table, which gave them a chance to catch up. They all sat down for gumbo and more conversations. Autumn made and served coffee
with dessert. The conversation slipped from one story to another as soft jazz purred in the background. Autumn had said very little. She eventually stood and went to the kitchen where she started cleaning up.

Standing over the sink full of sudsy water, the same sensation came over her the last time Travis entered the kitchen. “Want some help?” His voice
, low and seductive, rose across the short distance between them.

“No, but thanks for asking. I got it
,” she replied just barely looking over her shoulder.

From her side glance, she watched him move
closer; she felt the heat of his body even before he spoke. “My mother taught me well, so I’m actually pretty good in the kitchen.” His voice vibrated against her.

“I’m sure that’s true. I’m just about done.”
She concentrated on her task but dropped the dish into the sudsy water when he, without warning, touched the side of her face and turned it toward him so they were staring at each other. She trembled beneath his touch.

“What is it about us
, Autumn, that has me crazy and you running?” He lowered his lips to her ear.

Autumn succumb
ed to Travis touch. The gentle way he coddled her sent fire straight to her core. She was out of her league. No one had touched her that way before. She lowered her gaze. “I’m not running.”

Travis stuck his finger beneath her chin and lifted her gaze to his again. “Yes, you are. But you don’t have to.” He placed a kiss on her left brow and then released her. She instantly felt the void, but the heat of his touch and his kiss still simmered within her. “I’ll let you finish your dishwashing. Call me if you need help.”

Autumn smiled. And that time it reached to her ears. She watched the smoldering in his gaze and knew he could be the end of her.

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. You wear that well.” He turned and left the kitchen
.

* * * *

Autumn stood over the sink, only this time she made no effort to wash a dish. She bathed in the aftermath of Travis’s sweet embrace and kiss. Her smile widened.

“What are you grinning at, girlfriend?” Reggie walked into the kitchen with a carafe and several empty cups.

Autumn whipped around to face her friend with a saucy grin. “Nothing.”

“Nothing my tail, girl. Did Travis come in here?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

Reggie smiled back at
her. “You know this is the first time I’ve seen this look on you. Even when you dated Paul there wasn’t this glow that I now see on your face.”

Autumn’s smile faded and she stood up straight from her lean on the counter. “We’re not dating. We just talked for a few seconds. And Paul was so long ago. I don’t even think either of us knew what love was.
I think Paul felt like he was deprived of love. I also think he was with me because I was the only person to show any interest in his wellbeing.” She sunk down in a chair near the bay window. Reggie followed her and sat across from her.

“What happened to Paul had nothing to do with you. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”

“That may be true but the fact remains that he looked to me for help, and I wasn’t there for him when he needed it the most.”

“Trust me, sweetheart, the outcome would have been the same had you been there. I’m just afraid that you wouldn’t be here either had you been there.” Reggie stroked her arm gently.

Autumn sucked in a deep breath and held it. Tears welled in her eyes; tears she thought had been done with years before. She brought her hands up to her face. How could she be sure the curse of her great-grandmother, grandmother, and her mother not be hers too? She had walked in the shadows of their curse, skirting life so that their fate didn’t become hers. She didn’t want to take that chance with anyone, not even Travis.

“I can’t
risk losing someone else, Gina.” It was on her pet names she called Reggie.

“Then how can you ever get anything
, Autumn, if you’re afraid to lose it? You can’t possibly believe any of the tales those bayou people have told you. What happened to them has nothing to do with a curse. They were just bad decisions; simply bad life decisions.” She pulled down Autumn’s hands and stared directly at her. “Travis is a big boy. He can handle himself. And as for you, it’s time you start living your life. Take it from me, it’s too short to ignore.”

Autumn stared at her friend. Everything Reggie said was
true. They’d had this conversation so many times before, so she knew better. She allowed herself to be spooked every time something good began to happen to her. The one thing that seemed to thrive in her life now was her dancing career. She guarded it with reverence because one day it, too, would leave her.

“Mer Drace told me the exact same thing.” Autumn squeezed her friend’s hand. “I want to try. I just don’t know if I’m ready.”

“Sure you are. Trust what’s here.” Reggie pointed to her heart.

“Okay.” Autumn said it but doubt still seemed to
tug at her spirit. “I better go wash my face.” She stood and headed down the hall. As she passed the den, she just happened to turn and look directly into Travis’s face. She quickly moved and went straight to the downstairs bathroom.

Alarmed by her distress, Travis stood and followed Autumn. He stopped at the bathroom door. Without thinking twice
, he turned the unlocked knob, and pushed the door opened. He found her hunkered over the sink with a damp towel to her face. He pulled her up and turned her toward him. “What’s wrong, baby?” He studied the redness in her eyes.

She pulled away, but Travis pulled her back. “Talk to me, Autumn.”

“I think I got dust in my contacts,” she lied as she looked away.

“Here, let me see if I can help.”

She moved once again. This time Travis allowed her to move from his embrace. “I’m good. It’s these new colored contact lens.” She paused. “I got them last Saturday and I’m not sure they’re the right size. My prescription ran out before I got here, so I got a new prescription from a local optometrist.” That part was not a lie, but it didn’t make her feel any better. Now he knew she was hiding her true eye color.   

Autumn fidgeted beneath his brief scrutiny because she feared that h
e didn’t believe her for a moment. Even as she looked in the mirror, her swollen eyelids betrayed her story. However, it was the story she was sticking to, and was relieved when instead of further questioning, he leaned down and kissed her ear. But the pleasant surprise took a sudden twist when he whispered, “You can trust me. So don’t ever lie to me, Autumn, please.” And before she could react, he turned and left the room.

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