The news came swiftly after the sirens sounded the warning. I tuned the radio to the local all-news station; the news was welcomed as the location of the storm was far from my part of town. The announcer droned on about, "State Police reported a tornado on the ground near the Camby area, which is in extreme southwestern Marion County. This storm is moving east northeast at approximately thirty miles per hour, so if you're in the path of this storm, seek shelter at once . . . "
Claude and I were safely tucked away in my brand-new basement hideaway -- a much larger space given that I now that I had a much larger home. It was all there: the kitchenette, the dance area, the bar, the jukebox, the spare bedroom and bathroom, only there was a lot more room. But I wasn't thinking about entertainment centers or how many people could actually dance on my new parquet-tiled floor. All I wanted was to let Claude cuddle me while the storm raged outside.
Through the basement windows, I could see brilliant flashes of lightning. Even though the basement muffled most of the sound, I could still hear the crash and boom of thunder. I always hated the lightning and the accompanying thunder. When I was a child, Daddy had to pull the blinds so I wouldn't have to look at the lightning--I still hid under the covers, cowering in fear and praying that God would let the storm be over. 'Cause I'm scared . . . and I remember what happened that time, when the tornado tore up Grandma's house . . .
"Danisha, you're shaking. My love, come here . . . Come here and let me hold you. There, there, dearest." Claude's comforting words and welcomed embrace helped to put my mind at ease but he could tell that I had more than the weather on mind. We stretched out on the big overstuffed couch and I let Claude cuddle me while the storm continued to rage outside. The portable radio was now emitting pleasant music, which was interrupted every now and then by a weather update. The lights flickered a bit but I was prepared with nearby flashlights and candles scattered about the room. If the power goes out, I can live with that. After all, I spent an entire summer in the 15th Century; I can live with a power outage. Besides, I have this wonderful man with me; I don't have to ride this out alone.
Suddenly, Claude asked, "My dear, whatever is troubling you? I know you too well, Danisha, for you seldom allow yourself to display such agony." He kissed me tenderly, again asking what was wrong. Now I knew I had to come clean--I learned my lesson after all that mess with BC. There are only two men I adore and trust above all others, and that's my father and Claude Frollo. I knew I could always turn to Claude and share my worst fears and nightmares.
So I told him everything: the car in need of a tune-up; the walk through a strange neighborhood; the chance encounter with an old school chum, and his bitter, words hurled at me. When I finished, Claude couldn't believe this; he asked, "Darling, am I hearing this correctly? Did he actually say these terrible words to you?" I could tell Claude was fairly livid that someone had dared to hurl such hurtful words at me. But, as I told him again and again, I've heard such talk before; I've learned to live with it. But this was . . . different.
"Claude, I know I've told you all about my experiences
growing up . . . "
He interrupted with a kiss, then gently said, "My darling, I'm perfectly aware of your country's, and of your time's, treatment of persons of color. However, horrible as it is, nothing would give me more satisfaction than confronting this 'old school friend' who so briefly and so thoughtlessly tormented you."
Of course I had to stop him. "Claude, you don't always have to play my keeper. You do forget that I'm a big girl; I can take care of myself. Honey, I've put up with this garbage all my life, and if Phil wants to go throughout life with that permanent chip on his shoulder, then let him. Hopefully he'll find out that he can't blame outside causes on an inside problem."
Claude sighed while I lit the many candles I had scattered about the basement. The lights had flickered again and I wanted to be prepared. "Danisha, has it ever occurred to you why I am so protective of you? My dear, you do remember that disgusting scene last winter, when you came to Paris on a whim." Claude walked over to the bar, poured wine for both of us, then continued to recall a particular incident that proved to me, once and for all, that Claude Frollo truly cares for me, regardless of my color.
I accepted the cup of wine, joining Claude in his
reminisce. "I remember what happened all right.
A surprise visit, then I end up in a totally different part
of Paris. It was snowing and I got lost."
Claude put his arm around me as I laughed upon recalling
how I got lost in a strange part of
Paris. As I recounted to Claude, I had sent a frantic
message and Claude responded, telling me to
"Stay put." Claude burst into hearty laughter when he
recalled, "I was safe and warm within the
Palace of Justice when I received your call. Then I
had to search for you because I suddenly
realized that you never 'Stay put'!"
I joined him in his good humor. "You do know me all too well, Claude Frollo! I'm just like my mother and my father -- Stubborn!"
To this, Claude laughed again but grew serious when he recalled the reaction of two new servants once we returned to the Palace of Justice. The minute Claude ordered this new chambermaid to take me upstairs and draw a hot bath for me, this girl responded by refusing to touch me because I'm Black. I remember her words: "A Blackamoor? In the Palais?" The young man who, for this evening, acted as sort of footman, also reacted badly upon seeing me.
I don't remember all that was said; I don't even recall exactly what Claude said to these two greenhorns, but I do remember that those two didn't linger long after that. What I vividly recall is little Alain d'Arques, the eight-year-old boy who worked in the Palais stables, telling me that there are several Parisians who still, "Don't know you at all, mademoiselle. Thank Madame Fern for telling us what a wonderful lady you are. Minister Frollo must be very fond of you, or else he wouldn't have berated those two so harshly."
When we floated back to the present, Claude said to me,
"My love, I am extremely fond of you
and . . . Didn't we have this conversation a few years ago?
I told you that I saw through that
lovely brown skin and discovered the beautiful lady inside.
Danisha, have we not promised each
other that we would never doubt each other's feelings again
. . . Oops!" His words were
interrupted by sudden darkness. Claude Frollo picked up a
candle while I, armed with a
flashlight, tested all the lights and electrical
"Well, sugar. It looks like the power's out. Hmm . . . seems this storm's lightening up; let me go upstairs."
Claude raised an eyebrow. He appeared rather worried when he replied, "My dearest Nisha, I do not think that is wise . . . "
I shot Claude an anxious look.
"Claude, I have to unplug all the electronics: the TV, the stereo, the computer . . . Honey, if the power's to be out for more than a day, a sudden surge can blow out all my stuff. Besides, I want to check out the damage, if there's any."
The storm had ended and the sun managed to peep through the dark gray clouds. I looked toward the eastern sky just in time to espy a colorful double rainbow glowing iridescently against the darkness. After all that heavy downpour, hail and wind, the area took on an air of renewal; it even smelled clean, fresh, invigorated. I remembered what Daddy said long ago, about respecting nature: "The natural world can be cruel sometimes, but the storms are necessary because they keep everything beautiful."
It was amazing that the area suffered very little
damage. Oh, there was the occasional limb or two
in the street, the huge puddles of water, but nothing of
any significance. Claude and I walked through
my front yard and surveyed the aftermath, and that yard was
littered with twigs and the remains
of hailstones. I had to laugh when Claude picked up a
hailstone the size of a robin's egg; he had
never seen such a thing.
"Nisha, is this a hailstone?"
"And did I understand correctly that some areas received similar stones?"
"And that some of these stones were the size of . . . er . . . 'baseballs'?"
"That's right, sugar."
He reeled slightly when I told him that.
Poor Claude! He never had to endure such violent weather in his 15th Century world. The look on his face as he examined the hailstone, and his visualizations of the damage baseball-sized stones can inflict, were just too much for him to fathom. Uh, Claude? You do remember how a baseball can shatter a window? Imagine hundreds of these things pelting a house or car or . . .
I took advantage of this opportunity. Taking his hand
into mine, I said, "Sugarbritches, let's go
inside. The whole neighborhood's power is out and it may be
days before the light company
comes out and . . . Claude?"
His eyes scanned the house, the grounds, the trees. Claude sighed, took me in his arms and said, "Nisha, it could have been much worse. This magnificent house could have been damaged. You . . . my dear . . . gravely injured, . . . "
We stood right out there in the front yard and kissed again and again. Now I knew this was hardly the time nor place, but I let him hold me, I wanted him to hold me. Oh Claude . . . You were truly worried about me . . . Baby, are you crying?
Now my tears started falling from my eyes; I tugged at his sleeve. "Baby, come on inside. We can cuddle in my basement hideaway. Besides, I have this fridge full of food that should be eaten because I spent too much money on all that . . . "
Amused by my words, Claude Frollo laughed then led me through my front door and down the steps to my basement hideaway deluxe.
The phone rang just I was pulling food from the fridge. I explained to Claude that as long as I had matches, I could always use the cooktop. "But don't expect any home-baking for a while. This oven operates on an electronic pilot." He only replied that he understood completely, adding, "Now you understand what I said about 20th Centurions being too dependent upon their conveniences." I shot back, "Honey, I've lived through an entire summer in the 15th; I can do without lights, indoor plumbing, TV, radio. . .Well. . .To a certain extent." Our laughter filled the room; then the phone rang. It was my mother.
"Nisha? Did your lights go out?"
"Yes, Momma, but I'm OK. I have flashlights and candles and..."
This was the gist of the conversation: Did I have enough non-perishable food; did I get frightened ("Nisha, I know you're grown but you know how unglued you get..."). When she asked if she should come over, I glanced at Claude who was presently helping himself to a light supper of chicken salad and fruit. He then said, in a very audible voice, "My love, tell your mother that she shouldn't worry so. Her darling daughter's in safe hands."
"Danisha, was that Claude's voice I heard?"
"Yes, ma'am, he dropped by just when the storm hit. He made that trip just before Jacki dismantled the time traveler, so I'm glad he's here and..."
Momma paused, then said before ending the conversation, "Well, baby, I guess you are doing all right. Say 'hello' to Claude for me, you hear?" My mother tried to stifle a laugh; I knew exactly what was on her mind.
"I'll let you go, baby, now that I know you're OK."
After I hung up the phone, I started laughing because,
"My mother is just like that -- A mother!
She's called me three times today, worrying about me.
Claude joined my laughter as he savored his chicken salad. "Mm...Do I detect pecans in this salad? These are quite delicious. My dear, I remember when I first tasted these lovely little nuts; I do believe I was the first European man to taste them. Others should be so fortunate."
It was over a pleasant candle-lit supper that Claude and I began to reminisce over that first encounter those many years ago. The subject of Fern came up in conversation.
"Danisha, how is Fern? I haven't seen nor heard from her
in several weeks."
"She's fine, Claude. It's just that she and Dwayne have gone to...get this...Branson, Missouri to see all those old-time country music singers."
Claude raised an eyebrow at the mention. "Branson, Missouri? What is so special about Branson?" When I explained how this tiny town in the Ozarks had made its mark by becoming the 'Las Vegas of the Midwest', he fell out laughing, his body convulsing in marked good humor.
"So," Claude Frollo said at last, "M. and Mme. Grigsby are indulging their tastes for the music of the American Heartland." Claude kept laughing when he added that, "Fern's...How do you put it? Oh, yes...'down home'...mannerisms became quite an asset. I've always liked her, even more so when she finally revealed that she was from the future."
I said nothing as Claude continued to heap praise on Fern Grigsby, the woman who was not only my mentor, but one of my dearest friends. She, among others, changed my life forever, and to her I'm forever grateful. But there had always been that nagging question: What did Fern do to prepare Parisians, and Claude Frollo, for my initial arrival. That question stuck in my mind all the way home, after Phil verbally assaulted me with his hate-filled poison.
"Claude, I know I've told you much about my life and how
it was for me growing up here, in the
Midwest. I told you -- Heck, my parents told you -- much
about growing up Black in Indiana.
You know what I had to go through: I'm a child of
desegregated schools; my family was among
the first to live above 38th Street -- a big
fine house on Washington Boulevard at that! I mean,
most of the neighbors seemed friendly enough,
Claude put his hand in mine, squeezed it tightly, then leaned over to kiss my lips. He knew exactly what I was talking about when he said, "Darling, I'm perfectly aware of the indifference heaped upon you, but Nisha, you've always managed to rise above it all..." He let out an audible sigh then arose from the table.
"Fern would have never invited you to Paris, to my time, if she knew without a doubt that Parisians would give you...as you put it...a 'hard time'. Of course, if you had known of your..." He paused to emit a deep throaty chuckle. I really love that sound...His deep, sexy laughter...Tell me, sugarbritches, tell me more...And keep that laughter coming!
Then he continued, "...hmm...'special destination', you never would have come to 15th Century France."
"Because," I replied between bites of salad and sips of lukewarm tea, "I was aware of the conditions for people of color. Looking back on it, though, I'm glad Fern prepped folks for my arrival, 'cause a lot of folks seldom gave me a hard time. I guess all those Sunday Masses and just being myself paid off...Hey, Claude Frollo! Fern never told me everything; I mean, how did she get everyone ready for my arrival? And it's just as you said: Fern wouldn't have asked me to accompany her to the 15th if I wasn't welcomed."
Claude Frollo sat down again, sipped his wine then began
to recount the events that led to our
initial meeting. "Of course, dear Danisha, this is Fern's
story as well. But you finally need to
know this: What exact thoughts raced through my mind the
moment I laid eyes on you." He
chuckled again, adding, "And I don't mean the obvious!"
I shot back, "And I thought you said you felt tropical heat hitting you in..."
Claude replied, his words couched in delighted laughter, "Well...that too, but you affected me in so many ways long before I ever touched you, embraced you, kissed you."
As I listened to Claude's recollection of those few days
prior to our initial meeting, I began to
think back to Fern's invitation and how I reacted
when I first set foot in medieval Paris.
It wasn't easy at first, but when that little boy approached me...then came Jules and Renée...then I met Pierre Mannette, Fern's next-door neighbor. He was wonderful; he made sure my stay would be as comfortable as possible. Then the ice was broken...Then I met Claude. And that was all orchestrated for my benefit. Fern knew I had -- well, we both had a rough year what with BC and all. I'm forever grateful to her...She made it possible to find that good man Momma said would come along...
"Claude, tell it like it was, and don't leave out a thing. Then I'll tell you how things went through my mind before I embarked on this 'Summer-Romance-in-Medieval-Paris' adventure."
Claude Frollo emitted another of his famous chuckles;
his mouth broadened into that familiar
toothpaste smile, then he began his recollection.
"I believe it was a month before your arrival. Fern had helped me...'bust'...several young thieves who had terrorized citizens traveling in and out of the city. It was her last day before she left for the 20th Century, and she had asked my opinion on a rather delicate matter."
I smiled and asked, "Was that 'delicate matter' me?"
Claude nodded and returned the smile, saying, "Exactly, my love. In fact, the entire conversation centered around you; and, as I said to you those many years ago, I was thoroughly intrigued..."
To Part 3
©Copyright FrolloFreak FSM #14, 1998.