Epilogue

The statue in the corner is the most reassuring thing of all in this place of cool stone and stained glass. She was just as beautiful now as when I first saw her. She had brought me my Ben and maybe that was why I could love her so much. And in this place, it was the only time I could safely think about the life that I had lost. She was what I needed so that I could be comforted and not go crazy at the thought of who and what I had once upon a time.

Nobody suspected. A little over a year had passed since that night in New Orleans, ten months since I had come to Miami. I wasn't expecting to hear from Zack and he hadn't disappointed me. Of anyone, he would be the only person that would be able to find me. So he would be the only one to let the world I now inhabited know that there was something about me different, something from an "old life". But I hadn't seen or heard from him. Manticore either, for that matter. Maybe with Lydecker gone their desire to search had ended. Or maybe it was true and he was the only person truly capable of finding us. In any case it didn't matter. I was safe enough. Alone, but safe.

I wasn't dancing either. If they were looking for strippers, they wouldn't be finding me anywhere. And I could make myself tone down the accent, sound like I was just another southern girl. There are a few million of us out there. That's a lot to go through. Instead I was working as an office girl for a small group of dentists. There were three of them and I did their typing and filing. Got the paperwork over to the accounting people and kept to myself mostly.

The admiring second looks that I had always gotten and accepted as inevitable were gone as well. Nothing exotic about me anymore in my conservative suits and sensible shoes, with my hair drawn back neatly. I would have worn it up in a bun had I not let my barcode come back. That was another thing. I no longer wanted it gone. Now that I had accepted it in my life, as just another part of me, I didn't hate it like I used to. No makeup, quiet in my little cubicle, typing in files and taking care of the little things that the dentists always seemed to need, nobody would ever associate me with the hottest strip club owner in the French Quarter. If someone had even suggested it to one of the doctors or Darlene, the office manager, they would have laughed themselves sick.

The last year had been about healing for me, so I didn't give a damn if they took me for a mouse. I didn't want any more confrontation; couldn't handle it to be honest. I wanted some downtime to heal. Traveled around for a while, knowing that I had to go to a big city to blend in a little easier, but I never felt comfortable anywhere. I even spent a day and a half in New Orleans about two months after I left but I couldn't make myself leave the hotel room. I would have attracted too much attention since I was crying pretty much the whole time. It was an odd sense of nostalgia and sentimentality that led me to Miami. This was where I had met with Ben. Only good memories lingered in Miami and I found myself smiling occasionally those first few critical days. And then I got a job and things seemed to be getting better. It was slow, but it was getting better.

Money hadn't been a problem while I was traveling. I had hid some cash in various places long ago. Now that I needed it, I grabbed it and ran. And ran and ran and ran. But there was only so much running you can do. Then it's time to settle down and trying to rebuild on the ruins. That was what I was trying to do. Not rebuild my old life, but to simply feel like I was part of the human race again.

And coming to this church was helping me with that as well. The ceremonies were strangely comforting. If anyone from my old life had seen me in a church, they would have thought I was making a movie like "Naughty Nuns" or something along those lines. But I really felt like this was the right place for me to be. It wasn't painful like I thought it might be. It was soothing. Much like the waters of the Mississippi had been to me when I leapt into it at the last second before the explosion a lifetime ago.

I thought I wanted to die there. But the thought of dying in that place was reprehensible to me. So I ran and let fate decide. The explosion behind me was tremendous, huge, something to engulf the world. I had jumped at the last second and landed in the river, letting it carry me along. I didn't drown like I thought I might. Didn't even get hit with debris. I scratched my foot on some rocks. I had managed that night to kill my one of my closest friends, possibly both of them, but I had a scratched foot. Also ripped three nails down into the quick. Hurt like hell for a week. No wonder I was going to church. I needed an act of absolution.

The mass ended and I got up to go back to my small apartment. I was in no way living a grand lifestyle. Quiet and simple. That's what I needed. Lately I had begun to think that it was time to move again. Someplace else where life would be quiet and simple. I couldn't stay here much longer. The urge for loud and grand would become too much for me if I stayed too long.

I slipped out the door quietly into the bright Florida sunshine. It was a good place to be. But I needed to get moving soon. The heat and humidity reminded me too much of New Orleans. If you thought about it, Miami was a modernized version of my city. Too much temptation here. And I was getting tired of living below radar. Not that I had a choice. And even if I did want to get back into that life...it wouldn't be the same. Not anymore. Not without...without...without the man that was staring at me, wide-eyed in shock.

"Topaz?" Vic gasped. How he recognized me, I'll never know. To say the least, I didn't recognize myself most mornings.

For a minute I was torn between pretending I didn't know whom he was talking about and just taking off. How could I face him after what I had done? But I heard myself saying, "Hello Victor."

The sheer joy killed any reservations that I had anymore. I practically jumped on him, a huge grin on my face. My smile felt strange and familiar all at the same time. It was the old one, that "damn I'm good" grin that had been my trademark smile everyone had loved at the club. We were on the steps of the church, hugging and laughing and I was glad, so very glad that he was there. I didn't care what had made him walk down that sidewalk in Miami at that moment. I was just glad he was there.

"How long have you been here?" I asked as soon as I could talk.

"We've been here for a few months," he replied.

I blinked. "We?" I questioned, not daring to hope.

He laughed. "You really think that bitch is so easy to kill? She was up ready to kick some army ass a couple of days later." Still always able to read my mind and moods he took my hand. "She's not mad. Matter of fact, she's glad that she stood up for you. You did that enough for her before."

"I never got shot either," I said quietly, looking away.

Vic was quiet until I finally looked back at him. Son of a bitch was smirking. "Honey, I saw you move. I don't think there's someone that could hit you."

I shrugged, feeling vaguely embarrassed. Didn't think I was capable of ever feeling that emotion. "It's not all that impressive. Unless I'm on stage."

"And you haven't been there in a while."

Another shrug. "It just doesn't feel right, you know? What about you two?"

His smile became more thoughtful. "Maybe we've been waiting to get you back."

Our eyes met. I knew what he was saying. I looked over the city; it's skyscrapers peaking into the air, suburban sprawl wrapped around it. A glint to the east was the Atlantic Ocean and a layer of hot air spread over it all with a sensual stickiness. It wasn't New Orleans. Could never really be New Orleans. But with Vic and Onyx with me, it could be home. Quiet and simple was good. It was comfortable. It wasn't Topaz Dieudonne. And it sure as hell wasn't a bitch named Terran either.

I smiled wider at Vic. He grinned back, knowing that smile meant we were in for some wild times. "Vic?"

"Yeah?"

"I think we need to get my sweet bitch in on this, or neither of us are ever going to hear the end of it. We got plans to make, you know."

He laughed and we linked arms as I strolled away from the church and an imposter life. You can only fake yourself for so long. That was part of the restlessness I guess. Ask any hooker. You can only fake it for so long before it really gets frustrating. Look at what happened to Max. You fake it for so long, you start to believe it's true and your whole world gets shattered. No more faking for me. It was time to embrace all parts and enjoy what I had. Fuck Manticore. Fuck the rest of the world for that matter.

I had my best friends, partners, lovers by my side. With them at my back, it was my city, my rules. And God help anyone in my way.

As they have said many times, many ways, the bitch...was back.

THE END