Authors: Charlotte Rose
The three of them fell into a heap, panting. Eventually, Nelson eased himself away, and then Narcisse rolled off Armand.
“Maybe this will work out after all,” she said with a giggle. “I could get used to this sort of treatment.”
“If that’s all it takes to keep you happy, I think we can handle that,” Nelson said.
“I feel like this whole situation would be easier if I could figure out how to use my shift, of course.”
“Hey, don’t worry about that now,” Armand said. “Ain’t like you’re gonna need to use it anytime soon, anyway. You just take your time. This’ll all work out just fine.”
“Are you sure?” Narcisse asked.
“I ain’t never felt so sure about anything in my life.”
One week later
Narcisse was bored out of her skull. Each morning, Nelson and Armand were up with the sun, typically out fishing, but sometimes taking care of other necessary duties. They were typically busy all day long, only coming back to the main boat for lunch, and then staying out on the water until the sun went down.
When she first ran into Adele, she’d hoped there would be a way to help with her former professor’s research. But Adele was currently adjusting to life with three new hatchlings, and she’d taken a hiatus from her research until she started teaching again in the fall. Nor did Narcisse have many other options. She didn’t know the first thing about fishing or boat repair, and those were the primary things that kept people occupied.
On an average day, those in charge of fishing went out early in the morning, when the catches were likely to have the highest yield, though the fishers could easily be out all day during the peak season. The shifters in charge of mechanical work typically woke up slightly later, and spent their days vacillating between general maintenance and major repair work on the boats used for fishing and travel. They also worked on the houseboats, doing whatever was necessary to keep them safe and comfortable.
Those who didn’t fish and who didn’t have mechanical training did a variety of jobs. Help in the kitchen was always appreciated, as feeding the entire congregation was a full-time job. And the fishing business always needed assistance, even when times were tough. Even the meager catch needed to be prepared for sale and distribution, and there was always bookkeeping work to be done, as well as reports about the fishing yields.
Although there was always something for Narcisse to do to help the congregation out, she wasn’t particularly satisfied with the work that she’d been doing. When she’d anticipated an adventure that would get her out of the rut of her office job in Houston, she hadn’t anticipated her duties would involve peeling shrimp, shucking oysters, and then cleaning up the mess. The congregation always needed extra help with data entry, but Narcisse found that completely monotonous. More often than not, there wasn’t even that to do. There was so little fish coming in that most of the business-related chores were finished early in the day. The entire congregation seemed restless, but Narcisse felt completely trapped. At least everyone there was family. Narcisse supposed she was family as well, by virtue of the fact that she’d mated Nelson and Armand, but she still didn’t feel connected to anyone yet.
It wasn’t long before Narcisse realized that she was starting to miss her old life, even the friends she’d fought with in New Orleans. She wondered if they’d given her a second thought, or if she’d been entirely forgotten. She wondered what her boss had done when she hadn’t returned to work. She wondered what she was missing.
Deciding that a night in the city would help, Narcisse decided to bring that up to Armand and Nelson when they arrived for lunch. Everyone had been stressed out about the ongoing fish shortage, and the fact that the problem still hadn’t been resolved. Adele had filed her report, but official action, either at the state or local level, had yet to be taken. Pomet was still operating in full-force, and the fish population was growing weaker by the day. Manuel and Andre were getting impatient, so much so that Manuel had been talking about trying to expose the operation to the local news media, even though he generally insisted that the congregation avoid contact with humans as much as possible. With all the stress they still had to deal with, she figured a night in the city would be good for the men, too.
The second Nelson and Armand walked in for lunch, Narcisse could tell that something was wrong.
“Bad day out on the water?” she asked as soon as they sat down to eat.
“We haven’t caught a single fish all week,” Nelson said.
“I’m sure everything will be worked out soon.”
“I ain’t,” Armand said. “This is bad. Real bad.” Narcisse could hear the pessimism straining his voice.
“Even if we manage to get Pomet’s boats to stop overfishin’, it’s gonna be a while before the population replenishes,” Nelson explained. “This could ruin our haul for the entire season.”
“I guess there’s nothing to do but wait.”
“This be our livelihood and our home.” Armand’s face went stony with frustration. “Sorry, I just can’t wait and see what happens.”
“Well, maybe we could do something special to take our minds off of things. Could we have a night in the city this weekend?”
Armand sighed. “I don’t know, baby. It would be fun, but I hate leavin’ with this big problem hangin’ over our heads.”
Nelson nodded. “Maybe we can hold off until after this all gets taken care of.”
“Oh, okay.” Narcisse turned toward the stove to get some more soup, trying not to let them hear the tears in her voice.
Nelson immediately stood up and rushed over to her.
“What’s wrong, baby?”
“Nothing,” she said, trying to ignore the tear rolling down her cheek.
“Come on, baby. You don’t need to keep things from us.”
“I was—I was just really hoping for a night out. I’m a city girl, remember? This—this hasn’t been easy for me. Sorry. I don’t—I don’t want the two of you to think I’m miserable or anything, it’s just that I miss city life, and shucking oysters wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Especially because there isn’t much to shuck.”
“You don’t like it here?” Armand asked.
“It’s not that. But I did sort of make a hasty decision, and now I’m having some trouble adjusting. I think a night back in familiar territory would do me some good. Plus, I think it would be nice for the three of us to have more alone time together. You two are gone before the sun comes up and don’t come back until it goes down. I miss you while you’re gone.”
“We miss you, too, baby,” Nelson said, giving her a kiss on the forehead. “But Armand is right. Now ain’t a good time to leave the congregation, especially overnight.”
“What could possibly happen if we leave for a night?” Narcisse tried to keep her tone calm, but couldn’t help feeling frustrated by their resistance. “It’s not like you go fishing late at night. And even if you did, it’s not like there are any fish to catch.”
“But what if somethin’ happens with Pomet?” Armand asked.
“What could happen at night?”
“Baby, we hear what you’re sayin’,” Nelson said, taking her hand. “We just really need to be here for the congregation right now. I promise, soon as this all gets worked out, we’ll take out for a night you’ll never forget. Okay?”
“I know it’s tough,” Armand said, walking up to embrace her. “But just be patient a while longer. It’ll all get figured out.”
“Okay,” Narcisse said, forcing herself to steady her voice.
Armand smiled and gave her a kiss. “We gotta get out and help Gabriel with some mechanical work, since it don’t look like we’re gonna get any more fish today.”
“We’ll probably work until supper,” Nelson said, rubbing on her shoulders. “We’ll see you then.”
“Yeah, see you then. Have fun and be careful.”
As soon as they had gone back out, Narcisse hurried back to Armand’s room so she could cry and let out her frustration in peace.
It’s not even my own damn room. I don’t have my own space anywhere. I don’t have any true privacy
Narcisse tried to shake the thoughts from her mind. She knew she needed to find a way to distract herself through the long afternoon. Although she easily thought of three books she wanted to read, she realized that, of course, none of them were on the boat with her. Instead, they were all back at her Texas apartment. She leaned against the wall, trying to contain her frustration.
I don’t even have my own stuff. It’s all back in Houston still. I have absolutely nothing. I can’t believe I gave up my whole life for this.
Narcisse sat down on the bed and stared at the walls. Then she closed her eyes and felt the gentle rocking of the boat back and forth on the water. After a few deep breaths, she made up her mind. She snapped her eyes open and began to hurry.
First, went to the small desk, pulled out a piece of paper, scrawled out a note, and then deposited it on the bed. Then, she found her purse and pulled out her wallet. Flipping it open, she discovered she only had seventy-five dollars in cash.
At least I have my credit card. Although it’s almost maxed out. Shit. Whatever I have left probably isn’t going to get me all that far.
Taking one last look around the room, she put a change of clothes into her purse, leaving the rest of the suitcase behind. She didn’t want to be encumbered if she was going to be walking. Then she picked up the spare keys to Armand’s boat. For a moment, she felt too guilty to go through with it and set them back down on the dresser. But she knew that without his boat, she would never be able to get out of the swamp. She snatched them back up and stuffed them in her pocket, as though they might escape if she didn’t act quickly.
Narcisse opened the bedroom door slowly and poked her head out to ensure that the hallway was empty. She paused, debating whether to take the front or the back entrance. Rather than venturing out and taking the risk, she went back into the bedroom, shut the door, and crawled out the window onto the deck.
Armand’s room was situated close to the area where they docked the smaller boats. Narcisse quickly sought out his boat and slipped into it, all the while making sure that nobody was around to catch her in the act.
Settling herself in, Narcisse took a deep breath. It had been a long time since she’d piloted a boat. She hoped it was like riding a bike.
Sticking the key into the ignition, she caught her breath when the vessel rumbled to life. Glancing around, she realized she was still alone. As Narcisse put the boat in gear, she realized it was just as easy as it had been a few years before.
She had no idea how to get out of the swamp. She didn’t have a map, and she certainly couldn’t have asked for one without someone becoming suspicious. Narcisse knew that Alligator Bend was east of New Orleans. She focused her gaze on the sunset and headed for the horizon.
* * * *
“Narcisse?” Armand asked, cautiously coming through the door to their quarters. He’d been eager to check on her all afternoon, but he sensed that she needed some space after their difficult conversation over lunch. He felt sorry that things hadn’t gone the way she had intended, and suspected she wasn’t entirely happy with the compromise they’d settled on. He just hoped Narcisse wasn’t too angry at the two of them.
When Narcisse didn’t answer, Armand stepped further into the room. The bed was pristine. It didn’t even look like she’d been there at all, much less gone to sleep like he thought she would. Walking closer, he noticed a folded piece of paper resting on the pillows. The second his eyes landed on it, he felt as though he had been punched in the gut. He didn’t know what it said, but he was sure it wasn’t good.
Dear Armand and Nelson—
I’m sorry to leave like this, but it’s for the best. I believe that I gave this whole mating thing a fair shot. But it’s become clear to me that I don’t really belong with the two of you, or with your congregation.