Disclaimer: My disclaimer was talking back to me so I decided to make it run laps around the track a couple of times. It's got about a hundred or so more to go, so I wouldn't expect it back any time soon.
A/N: For those of you who have never read any of my previous posts, I warn you I'm a bit insane (For proof of this just check out my penname). Consider yourselves forewarned, so no complaining when you realize that the insanity has slowly seeped into your own brain at the end of this chapter.
* I realize this is a bit unorthodox, but I just couldn't resist replying to the people who were nice enough to review the last fic I posted (It's a tradition of sorts. Here's hoping you all are reading.) If you're the impatient sort, you can skip on ahead to the next asterisk, though I promise to make it quick.
~ Chez, Mag Carter, T. -- Thanks for the kind words and good wishes!
~ Christy S, JADEOBLUE -- You two got me. I started thinking about continuing that fic with Remy's POV when I was posting it. Maybe when I get stuck again with this one.
~ ishandahalf -- Followed your advise and became one with the keyboard. Now I can't the damn thing off me!
~ Rupeshwari -- I honestly never thought of Rogue's mindless wanderings from that angle, but now that you mention it that could explain the direction her thoughts were heading!
~ Disturbed Courtney -- *slowly and carefully pushes story within fellow author's reach* Okay, I'm backing up now, niiiicccceee and easy; no reason to get violent. Everything's cool... everything's fine. : )
~ V -- Merry Christmas to you, too! : )
* I've had this idea bouncing around in my brain for the last five months now, but didn't want to get into it until I'd wrapped up the other fic that was in progress at the time. It's plot is based on a song I was listening to while working on a chapter of the aforementioned story. Once we get to the last part, I'll attach the lyrics so you can see where it originated from.
When I Was Just Seven
"Mornin', Remy. Mind if we have a word with you?"
Nothing good ever came from those words. But having no other choice, Remy LeBeau opened his front door wider and let the town sheriff and his deputy enter.
"Somet'in' de matter, Sheriff?" he asked, once he had closed the door and turned to face his early morning visitors.
Instead of answering immediately, Sheriff James Miller strode casually around the small living room, looking over the personal trinkets and framed photographs that littered the various surfaces. His associate, Kyle Stephens, stood a few feet away, absently twirling his deputy's hat in his hand.
The forced casualness of their stances set off a number of different alarms in Remy's head. While it wasn't uncommon for the local law enforcement to check up on the residents every once and again, it was odd that they did so at the crack of dawn. They normally opted to settle whatever mini-drama had gripped the town at a fairly decent hour.
With that in mind, Remy tried to decipher the expressions on their faces. Both were unreadable. That did nothing to ease the slow tension that was creeping its way along his body.
Sheriff Miller picked up one photo in particular and stared at it. He then turned to the young man and said, "You really do look like your mama, Remy. 'Cept for your eyes." He returned the frame to its place among its peers. "I 'member the day you two moved into town. Not everyday we get new folks 'round these parts. You tend to remember the new faces pretty good; small town an' all. How long's it been now?"
"A while," the young man replied vaguely, though he could recall that day as easily as he could recall what he'd eaten for dinner the night before.
- oOo -
Remy jumped down from the old pick-up truck and helped his mother with what meager luggage they had with them. Susanne politely thanked the truck's driver for allowing them to catch a ride before watching him speed off out of town.
Surveying their new surroundings through his dark sunglasses, and with the curiosity of innocent, seven-year-old eyes, Remy asked, "Is dis our new home, Maman?"
His mother tried to muster up an encouraging smile. "Dat's right, petit. We gon' stay here f'r a li'l while, see if it don' grow on us a bit."
"We gon' stay here longer dan dose other places we been?"
Inwardly, Susanne grimaced. It bothered her deeply that she had to uproot her young son from whatever home-for-the-moment they'd made for themselves. In the past year alone, they had moved four times, and across the span of half the continental United States. At first, Remy seemed to thrive on the 'adventure,' the sights and sounds of the places they'd seen outside their native New Orleans. But it slowly began to wear him down. He would attempt to put up a brave front for his mother's sake, but Susanne knew her son longed for the security of a stable home.
"You ask too many questions, petit," she scolded affectionately. "Come over here an' help me wit' dese bags. We got an appointment wit' a lady 'bout a job."
It took them all of five minutes to locate the modest-sized diner down the road, along Main Street. As they entered the establishment, several of the patrons looked up from their afternoon meals to openly stare at the new arrivals. Once again forcing a smile -- this time for the benefit of complete strangers -- Susanne gestured for Remy to precede her on their trek toward the counter.
"Bonjour," she greeted the plump, middle-aged woman who was busily running a clean towel over a number of glasses and plates. "I am lookin' f'r Margaret Smith."
"And who might you be, honey?"
"My name is Susanne. I am a friend of Emily's," she replied, though she wasn't sure how accurate that statement was.
Emily Smith had been one of the bargirls that worked in the Boston nightclub across the street from Susanne's old job. She had barely known the girl, but when Emily learned that Susanne was looking for some place 'quiet' to live, she'd suggested her hometown of Hazard, Nebraska.
"You can't get any more quiet than Hazard," Emily had said with a touch of disdain in her voice. "Main reason why I left that two-bit town."
And so Susanne packed their few belongings and brought Remy from the East coast to the Midwest, where Emily had instructed them to seek out her Aunt Margaret for a possible job opening.
The older woman set down the last dried plate and turned to smile warmly at the young mother. "I was just testin' you, honey. I know who you are. Li'l Emmie called 'bout a week ago. Said she was sendin' a friend over. She didn't mention that there'd be two of you." As she turned to Remy, her smile made an appearance once more. "What's your name, sweetie?"
"Cute li'l devil, ain't ya? Though those glasses are a bit too big for you."
"I got a problem wit' de light," he answered a little too quickly, as she reached over to remove them herself. "Hurts m'eyes."
Margaret's expression softened even more. "Poor thing. Let's get you outta the sunlight then. Follow me."
She led them through a doorway just beyond the end of the counter and underneath a flight of stairs. Stopping at the farthest door, she took out a key and unlocked it, before stepping over the threshold and gesturing around the room.
"It ain't much, but it's a start," Margaret stated. "Originally, it was a storage area. 'Til my oldest boy wanted to get out of sharin' a room with his brother so many years ago. We even put in a decent bathroom here in the back." She walked over and opened another door, revealing the white and blue tiles of the washroom. "Ol' Phil came by the other day and reconnected the plumbing. We didn't think of puttin' a kitchen, though." She smiled wryly. "Seemed like a senseless thing to do, considerin' there's a kitchen out there for the diner already."
"Merci, madame," Susanne said. "It is more dan generous o' you."
"It's not a problem, honey. Had too much space 'round here anyway since all my li'l ones moved out and my husband passed on."
"I am sorry t'hear dat."
The older woman nodded, accepting the sympathy but brushing the topic aside. "Well..." she said, expelling a deep breath and flopping her hands against her sides. "I hate to do this to you, Susie, but I think you're gonna haveta unpack a li'l later. I need your help out there with the customers, while I take care of the kitchen. I'm sure Remy can find somethin' to entertain himself with on the TV while we work."
"Don' worry, Maman," Remy put in, "I'll take care o' our stuff. Promise t'be real neat an' ev'ryt'in'." He grabbed a hold of his mother's bag and struggled slightly as he attempted to set it on top of the room's only bed.
Margaret nodded over to where he stood. "Got yourself a sweet one there."
"Oui," Susanne replied. "I do."
"I'll see if I can't get one of the boys to help me bring down another bed for li'l Remy."
The younger woman smiled in gratitude. "Merci."
- oOo -
Margaret looked up from the money in her hand and over to where Susanne was busy refilling the condiment dispensers. The last patron had left a few minutes before and they were in the process of closing up for the night.
It had been a week since mother and son had moved into the spare room, and Margaret had to admit that it was one of her wiser decisions. Not only was Susanne a hard-worker, she was also a quick learner. Within a few days of starting her job as a waitress, she had picked up the routine and the 'rhythm' of the diner quite easily. Not to mention the fact that, despite not being asked to, Remy would find little ways to pitch in. He would stand beside Margaret in the kitchen while she fixed a customer's order, watching intently on how she prepared the food. He'd make himself useful by fetching her spices, ingredients, or pots and pans that she asked for. He would take order slips from his mother and dutifully recite them to Margaret before going about retrieving the items that she would need to fill the order. He would even pull a wooden stool over to the sink when he saw that the stacks of dirty dishes were getting too high; being extra careful that nothing would accidentally slip out of his soapy, little-boy hands.
Margaret was very much impressed with the young boy's efforts to help his mother out. When her children were Remy's age, she had to practically bribe them to do their chores. If not bribe, then threaten with a none-too-pleasant voice.
"Remy," the proprietor called to the little boy, who was busily maneuvering a mop around the tables and upturned chairs. "C'mere a second, sweetie."
Remy complied, leaning the mop against a nearby wall and making his way to Margaret's side. She took hold of his thin wrist and pulled him around to the other side of the counter where the large cash register blocked them from Susanne's view. Quietly, Margaret pressed a five-dollar bill into Remy's small hand. He opened his mouth in surprise and lifted questioning eyes to her.
"It's for all the work you do around here, sweetie," she said in a hushed tone as she knelt down to his level. "Your mama doesn't think I should pay you for everythin' you do 'round here -- some nonsense 'bout your free room an' food -- but I can't let ya work so hard an' not give you anythin'." Ruffling his hair, she added, "Jus' don't tell your mama. It'll be our li'l secret. Okay?"
Remy nodded and then grinned as he looked at the lone bill in his hand. His young, child's mind began to think of all the sweet treats he could buy from the general store just down the street.
"Merci," he whispered to Margaret.
"You're welcome, sweetie. Now you go finish up with your moppin'. An' remember, our li'l secret."
Margaret smiled as she watched him go about his earlier task. She almost chuckled at the way he made sure every nook and cranny was clean, as if knowing that he was now being paid made him all the more diligent. She then straightened and turned to his mother.
"So, Susie," she said, walking toward the other woman while picking up a table rag along the way. She methodically began wiping down the counter. "You gonna tell me what it is you're runnin' from?"
Susanne nearly dropped the large jar of sugar she was propping up, the question taking her completely off-guard. "Pardonnez-moi? [Pardon me?]"
With a quick look of annoyance at what was obviously a stalling tactic, Margaret expounded, "Small towns like this, in 'Nowhere, U.S.A.,' are known for havin' most of its young run off in search of a more 'active' lifestyle. They go travelin' over to the coasts, lookin' to never come back." The rag in her hands ceased its circular motions. "You're a pretty li'l thing. Young, too. An' despite havin' a baby boy, I'm willin' to bet the money you made in the city was far better than anythin' I could ever pay ya." The wiping motion began once again. "You're the only person I've ever heard of that's run away from a city. Sounds to me like you're lookin' to get yourself lost out here."
The astuteness with which Margaret appraised her situation was shocking. There was a part of Susanne that desperately wanted to confide in her. She seemed warm and caring, concerned and genuine enough to trust with the truth. Still, there was another part of Susanne that was hesitant to do so. In their current situation, it was safer to trust no one.
When she failed to answer, Margaret attempted to press her again. "Is it because of a man?" The younger woman's hands stilled in the process of tightening the lid of the sugar jar. Margaret saw the battle of emotions playing across her face, as if she was unsure of discussing her ordeal. Softening her voice to a soothing pitch, Margaret asked, "Is he Remy's father?"
Susanne turned her gaze to the older woman, looking for any sign that would indicate a confession was not the most prudent of decisions. But there was nothing but unadulterated concern reflecting back at her, and for the first time in a little over a year and a half, Susanne felt safe enough to share the truth.
"Mon fils [My son]," she called, turning to where Remy was just finishing with the floor. "It's late. Get ready f'r bed. I'll be dere in a li'l while."
"But, Maman," he protested, "I haveta clean up de mop first, else it'll be all yucky t'morrow."
"Give it here, sweetie," Margaret instructed, stepping in. "I'll take care of that. You go do what your mama says."
Almost reluctantly, Remy did as he was told, handing the mop to Margaret and shuffling off toward the backroom.
Once the little boy was out of sight, a hush fell over the two women. Susanne realized that although she'd made the decision to open up to Margaret, she wasn't entirely certain of how to go about it. Fortunately, Margaret chose to break the ice for her.
"Remy looks exactly like you, Susie. I'm guessin' there's not much of his daddy in him."
"Non. Not much."
A pause. "You wanna start at the beginnin'?"
Susanne nodded slowly, and then took a deep breath to calm her nerves. She reached over to her right and extracted a plastic straw from the dispenser, idly fingering the paper wrapping. "I... I was very young when I became pregnant, barely out o' high school. Remy's poppa didn' believe me when I told him dat Remy was his. He left Nawlins shortly after; haven't seen or heard anyt'in' from him since den.
"It was diff'cult havin' m'son an' raisin' him wit'out a poppa. Truth be told, I was scared outta m'soul. I had no idea what I was doin'. Up until a few months before, I wasn't even allowed t'decide who was gon' run de country. Now suddenly I was responsible f'r makin' de decisions in someone else's life.
"But I knew dat I loved Remy wit' all m'heart. I had t'make t'ings work, f'r his sake alone. It took me more dan a year t'do it but I got m'life t'gether. I had a steady job -- not'in' too fancy, but at least it took care o' de bills -- an' a place t'call home. Ev'ryt'in' was workin' out pretty good.
"It was 'round dis time dat we met Jean-Luc LeBeau. By den, Remy was eighteen months old an' still masterin' de art o' walkin'. We were makin' our way t'rough de streets o' de French Quarter, havin' jus' come from de market. De bag I was carryin' was gettin' heavy in m'arms, so I let go o' Remy's hand f'r a second t'adjust it. When I reached out f'r Remy again he wasn't dere. I looked up jus' in time t'see m'baby step off de curb an' inta de street. I couldn't even scream as I saw de car speedin' 'round de corner.
"Out o' nowhere, a man came runnin', snatchin' Remy up an' out o' harm's way. I was so relieved dat m'son was safe I completely f'rgot 'bout his rescuer.
"'I t'ink he's all right, madame,' he said t'me. T'ink he was amused by de fact dat I had jus' checked Remy over f'r de fifth time, makin' sure dat he wasn't hurt. I picked up m'son an' kissed his cheek before turnin' t'thank de man who'd saved his life.
"Now dis may sound cliché, but de world seemed t'stop when m'eyes met his. Dere was somet'in' dat drew me t'him, like he had an old soul -- an old soul dat I'd known intimately in a past life or somet'in'. T'say dat I was enchanted wit' him would have been an understatement.
"It wasn't until two months o' seein' each other dat I learned he was de head o' de Nawlins T'ieves Guild. De t'ought o' becomin' involved in deir lifestyle frightened me. You see, de T'ieves Guild were de rivals o' de other powerful fam'ly in de city: de Assassins Guild. De feud between de clans had been goin' on f'r centuries. I wasn't sure if I wanted t'bring m'son inta dat. But I loved Jean-Luc. Even more importantly, Remy loved Jean-Luc. An' I knew, wit'out a doubt, dat he loved us jus' as much. In de end I let him convince me. We were married a year after our first meetin'. Shortly after dat, Jean-Luc legally adopted m'son so dat his name could officially become Remy LeBeau."
For the first time since beginning her story, Susanne lifted her gaze from the straw in her hands and looked over to Margaret. The older woman gave her a warm smile and a reassuring pat on the arm. Encouraged by the simple gestures, Susanne continued.
"I have t'admit, de adjustment was a bit strange f'r me. We had gone from livin' a quiet life in a small home in de city, t'enterin' de 'first fam'ly' o' de T'ieves Guild an' movin' inta an estate dat had a livin' room bigger dan our entire apartment. But Remy seemed t'have taken t'de change well. Jean-Luc's older son, Henri, adored Remy an' t'gether dey got inta all sorts o' mischief, along wit' de rest o' deir cousins.
"If I had t'ought t'ings were good before I met Jean-Luc, den t'ings were even better after I met him. We were happy t'gether, jus' de two o' us an' our boys. I had even gotten used t'bein' part o' such a big fam'ly. O' course, I'd worry each time de assassins started a ruckus, but I was more or less confident dat de Guild's defenses were strong enough t'stand against dem."
Susanne laughed bitterly. "Dat was our mistake -- focusin' so much attention on de outside attacks dat we didn' even suspect de ones from de inside. Dere was a mutiny among de T'ieves. A group o' Jean-Luc's distant relatives believed dat dey should've been in charge o' de Guild an' not m'husband. Dey entered our home unexpectedly an' killed our fam'ly. Jean-Luc forced me inta de tunnels dat ran under de house an' told me t'take Remy an' run. I stood not ten feet away, hidden in de shadows o' de catacombs an' frozen t'de spot in horror, as m'husband an' stepson were murdered. It was only when I heard deir leader order de men t'search de house f'r survivors dat I snapped out o' m'shock. I couldn't let dem get deir hands on Remy. Wit' Jean-Luc an' Henri gone, he was next in line as patriarch o' de Guild. Even t'ough he wasn't o' Jean-Luc's flesh, his adoption was as bindin' in de eyes o' de Guild as if he were born o' deir own blood. If deir plans o' overtakin' de clan were t'succeed, m'son would have t'be eliminated.
"From dat day f'rward, runnin' seemed t'become a natural instinct t'me. At first, I t'ought Remy an' I would be safe as long as we were out o' de city limits, but de murderin' bastards weren't takin' any chances. Dey came after us an' we had no choice but t'run from dem.
"Dat was a li'l over a year an' half ago. Deir pursuit since den seems t'have waned as de months pass. We prob'ly could have made a good life if we had stayed in Boston, but dere's no denyin' de fact dat it's a big city -- an' big cities would be one o' de first places dey'll look if dey continue searchin' f'r Remy."
"And so when Emily suggested you come to Hazard, you figured they wouldn't search for you this far from Louisiana?" Margaret estimated.
"Oui. Dey have no reason t't'ink we would come here."
Margaret leaned over and gathered the young woman into her arms. "I'm so sorry, Susie. I had no idea you've had such a hard life."
Still somewhat lost in memories, Susanne could only nod silently. She had seen a lot in her twenty-five years of living, and she was more than ready for a simpler, quieter lifestyle. Hopefully one that would last longer than a few sparse months at a time.
Both women turned to the archway that lead to the back of the diner. Remy stood, clad in dark blue pajamas and a brow-creasing frown.
"Maman, are you cryin'?" he asked.
Susanne straightened and discreetly wiped away the tears that had somehow escaped. "Non, petit. 'M fine. Go slip inta bed. I'll be dere t'say good night in a minute. Jus' let me finish dis." Before she could react, a hand came down and prevented her from picking up the sugar jar once again.
"I'll finish cleanin' up, Susie," stated Margaret. "Spend some time with your son."
The smile on Susanne's face was tentative but grateful. "Merci, madame... f'r ev'ryt'in'."
"Go on, off to bed with you," Margaret chided gently, watching as Susanne met her son in the doorway and wrapped her arm around his small shoulders. Together they made their way back to their room.
Oh, sweet Jesus, she thought as she rested her elbows onto the counter and brought a hand to her mouth. It seems so unfair; to be so young and to go through so much. How does a person survive all that?
Just then, Margaret felt a distinct pull on her skirt. Looking down, she caught sight of her own image reflecting in Remy's sunglasses. She still found it odd that the young boy wore them even at night, but dismissed it as being a part of his eye condition.
"You should be in bed, Remy, it's late," she told him, leaning down to his level.
"I know. Jus' wanted t'say good night." He threw his arms around her neck and kissed her soundly on the cheek. "Bonne nuit, Maggie," he whispered before bounding out of the room again.
Margaret Smith smiled. She now knew the answer to her earlier question. He was walking away from her, wearing blue pajamas and dark sunglasses.
~ Just a little background information on how and why Remy came to this small town.
Next up *
Where's Rogue? And what does the sheriff want with Remy?