CHAPTER 12

Several days passed before I ventured outside. I barricaded myself in the house, cried all the time, and could not stop thinking about Claude Frollo. I never quite got over that kiss -- that spontaneous, wildly passionate, oh-so wonderful kiss. Oh Claude! I didn't want things to get this crazy; Iáreally loved you! But I didn't care if I ever laid eyes on Claude again.
I made arrangements with a young man who was organizing a trip to the East, a trade expedition in search of spices and fine fabrics. I was a little nervous about going to medieval Persia and Arabia, but I didn't care.
Besides, Fern was still in Texas and wouldn't be back for several weeks; I decided not to wait. I had to get out of Paris as soon as possible.
I knew good-byes were in order, and I didn't have the heart to tell the children I was leaving. I gathered them in the square those last few days and played games with them as if nothing was wrong. Looking into those little faces made me re-think my decision, but no, I wouldn't give Claude Frollo the satisfaction of thinking he'd "won". Saying good-bye to a certain bellringer, however, would be even more difficult.

******

"Oh Nisha, do you have to leave?", Quasi asked as we packed the now-finished Civil War battle set. "I'm sorry, Quasi, but let's just say your master and I don't exactly see eye-to-eye", I said, admiring the amazing accuracy of Quasi's work, even though the events depicted would not happen for almost 400 years. Although I never told him of my latest stormy encounter with Frollo, Quasimodo became strangely defensive of his guardian.
"Look, just because he said some things that rubbed you the wrong way....", he said with a sigh, "Frollo's not the easiest man to get along with, but I'm grateful to him...I mean...Don't leave because he got on your nerves." Quasi then gave me a big hug. "You've been a wonderful friend, brightening up my days. You don't know what it's like up here, all alone with no one to talk to." He then grinned broadly, saying, "Thanks for reading to me and telling me those wonderful stories. You know, I sometimes recite those poems to my gargoyle friends." He nodded to the three funny-looking stone figures nearby.
I mulled over his words, then told him, "Quasi, how can I leave such a good friend. I promised I'd stay the rest of the summer, and...well...I not the type to break promises." We hugged each other again, and, just before Quasi headed downstairs, he said, "Just say you'll stay."
When I told him I'd stay for the rest of the summer, Quasimodo was elated. "Great! I KNEW you wouldn't go! I've got chores to do downstairs. When I'm finished, could we read some more of those poems?"
"Sure, Quas, take your time. I'm not going anywhere", I replied with a smile.
He was right, I just couldn't leave; Claude and I will just have to keep our distances.
After Quasi left, I settled down with a delightful little volume of James Whitcomb Riley's poetry. I got lost in the words; Riley's Hoosier homespun rhymes, written in that wonderful Indiana dialect, made me so oblivious to my surroundings that I almost didn't feel the tap on my shoulder. Quasi finished his chores already? I turned around and looked dead into the eyes of Claude Frollo.

I immediately got up and headed for the steps, but he caught me by the arm, and tenderly said, "Please, Nisha. Don't leave, my dear. There is so much we need to say to each other." I was getting ready to slap him, but his manner was so unusually gentle this time, Iásat down again and listened.
Claude sat across from me, took my hands into his, and began what sounded like an apology. "I did not come here in search of a fight, but forgiveness. What happened those few days ago..." His voice began trembling with emotion. "I shouldn't have let things get so completely..."
I finished his sentence, "So completely out of hand, Claude?...No, Claude. I was the guilty party. I said terrible things to you, not to mention causing all that mess in the first place...." The words came tumbling out of my mouth.
Claude sweetly kissed my hands, his voice still quavering. "Don't put all the blame on yourself, darling."
He then got up and knelt in front of me. What was to come out of Claude Frollo's mouth would change my life forever. Claude's graceful hand gently caressed my face as he gazed into my eyes. "My dear Danisha," he began, his voice breaking with emotion, "you know I've grown quite fond of you..."
He stopped himself, rose to his feet and paced the room. His turned and covered his face as if he didn't want me to see the depth of his emotion. Then Claude wheeled around to face me. His eyes were hot with passion, tears streamed down his finely chisled cheekbones.
"Why don't I just come out and say it!", Claude bellowed in a voice choked with anguish, "For the past few days I have thought of nothing but you!" I felt as if shot a hundred times. I sat riveted to my chair, unable to move or speak.
He continued, "Night and day, I longed to feel your silky honeyed skin, gaze into those enchanting brown eyes. Oh, to hear your voice, that gloriously musical voice, saying you love me." Claude then knelt before me again, caressed my hands, face, and hair, then finally confessed, "I love you, dear sweet Nisha, I love you." My eyes were still locked into his; I had to say something.
"Claude...did you say...what I think you said...You love me?"
"Darling, what more is there to say?", Claude gently replied, as he drew closer to me and tenderly, yet passionately, kissed my mouth. My arms enfolded him and I, without hesitation, responded to him with equal passion. It was a long, slow kiss that rivaled the sultriest and steamiest of Indiana summers; it was that intense.
Afterwards, Claude said to me, "There, my love. Now...how can you leave Paris? I was so looking forward to spending the remainder of summer with you."
"Ooh Claude", I cooed back, "I'm so glad I decided not to..." I suddenly stopped myself.
Hold on! Time out! HOW did he know I was leaving town? I told no one except Quasi, and even then I didn't reveal any details.
Claude looked at me half-amusedly. "Quasimodo is not the..what is that phrase your friend uses...'tell-all'?...sort, my dearest. But you really should be more careful with whom you make travel arrangements."
Claude Frollo, his mood now changed to full-tilt hilarity, continued laughingly, "My dear! The young "organizer" of that little expedition is one of my best spies!" He was now on his back, rolling and convulsing with uproarious laughter. I was livid! The man who just poured out his heart and soul to me, with whom I shared the sweetest and hottest of kisses, was getting a kick out my naivete.
"How'd I know that dude was a spy?", I spoke sistah-style. "It's not funny, Claude."
"Oh, yes it is, dear heart. And it's not just with WHOM you are travelling but to WHERE!" He sported a wide, evil grin as he continued his digs at me.
"Honestly, darling, for the life of me...I can just visualize you in the wilds of Arabia." Claude words were punctuated with his deep, throaty laughter as he continued, "You, ending up in some sultan's harem, and the poor man putting up with your ever-changing moods and saucy tongue!" Still grinning, he sat in the chair across from me and looked at me in earnest.
"I'm sorry, darling, but I needed the laugh after...If I offended you...I'm sorry, but...it's all so funny." He was still amused, and I was still smarting from the levity enjoyed at my expense. Out of some sense of false, wounded pride, I immediately got up and headed for the steps.
Claude, his amusement now turned to serious concern, caught me from behind. "Don't tell me you're still leaving, after all that was confessed here tonight."
I pulled away from him, gave him the look that I reserved only for men who did me wrong, and told him, "It appears YOU did all the talking, confessing your 'love'. And I really wanted to believe you." Claude looked at me in disbelief, but I kept on, "Then you have a laugh at my expense, poke fun of my...What did you mean my 'changing moods and saucy tongue'? Never mind, I'm out of here."
As I turned to descend the steps, Claude came after me, pleading, "Please, Danisha, don't leave me. I love you!"
"What do you want from me, Claude?", I asked.
Claude Frollo gave me that same little-boy look I beheld after our first encounter. "Just tell me you love me, and that you will stay." He reached out for me, but I stepped back.
"Claude, there're only two things that'll keep me here", I began, "and that's Quasi and the kids, but I think they can get along without me."
"And what about ME?", Claude emotionally asked.
I sneered back, "What about you? You say you love me, but what'll happen down the road? You'll just turn around and treat me like yesterday's garbage." Claude's eyes were bright with emotion.
"I'd never do that, my dear. I'd never mistreat my sweet precious..."
He had his arms around me, and began kissing me again. Oooh, how I loved the way his lips caressed my face and neck. Mmmm...this feels so wonderful! I was really enjoying this, so much I wanted to melt with him, be his woman forever and ever...
But something inside me snapped. I withdrew from his embrace, faced him with hellfire and fury. "No! I don't want this! I'm sorry, Claude, but I got to get out of here."
Claude again pleaded with me, "Why can't I make you understand? Don"t you want to be with me, to love me?"
I edged my way to the steps. "Save your sob story for someone else, baby. I'm outta here! And for what it's worth, I may not end up in Arabia, but I'd rather slog through the Louisana swamps, take my chances with the 'gators and snakes, than be stuck in Paris with the likes of you!" And with that, I stormed down the steps.
He didn't even try to follow me. Good! I don't need him, don't want him, don't love...

I was halfway down the steps and Claude still made no attempts to pursue me. I stopped, sat down on the step, and couldn't believe what I just did.
I threw it away! A once-in-a-lifetime chance, a golden opportunity at happiness was handed to me, and I blew it!
All at once, Claude's words of love finally seeped through thick layers of my stubborn pride. I actually loved him! I wanted him, needed him... Maybe it's not too late!
Tears rolled down my face as I raced back up the steps. It's now or never, girlfriend, if he changes his mind, you'll know who to blame.

I stopped in the doorway and saw Claude Frollo, the esteemed Minister of Justice, a man of power and control, huddled on the floor, sobbing softly. I tip-toed up to him and lightly stroked his now-disheveled gray hair. "Claude", I said sobbingly, "I'm...I'm sorry." Claude raised his eyes to me, and stretched out his hand.
Without hesitation, I fell to my knees and embraced him. I felt his arms around me and heard him say to me over and over, "It's all right, my love. I understand, my sweet Nisha. You are forgiven, darling."
We kissed again and again, sweet, passionate kisses that would be exchanged countless times to come. "I love you, Claude Frollo, I love you. I didn't mean to hurt you", I tearfully confessed. There! I finally told Claude I loved him, something I should have done days before, but did not have the courage. We kissed again and held each other a long time.
At last, Claude stood up, and helped me to my feet. He neatened his hair and donned the famous triangular hat. He then embraced me again and tenderly kissed my a41 face as if to erase my tears. "Come along, my love, I'll take you home."

******

Claude and I walked arm-in-arm down the long corridor of Notre Dame. Our eyes were locked on each other; we almost didn't notice Quasimodo, who was heading for the belltower steps.
"Master...Mlle. Nisha...I thought...What's going on here?", he asked confusedly.
Claude Frollo turned to his young charge. "I am seeing this young lady home, Quasimodo. I will visit you tomorrow. Good night, dear boy."
"Good night, Quasi", I echoed.
"Good night", replied Quasimodo as he scratched his head in puzzlement.

Outside, Claude boosted me up into the saddle. Iánever rode such a fine horse!
Claude settled himself behind me, and, with the reins in his right hand and his left arm around me, guided Snowball towards the little house Fern and I shared.
I softly sang that old Etta James song, "At Last, my love has come along..."
"What are you singing, sweet darling?", Claude chuckled in my ear.
"Oh, just a love song that was popular when I was a child." I then grinned and said playfully, "I'se Min'ster Frollo's woman now."
Claude chuckled again, his lips grazing the back of my neck, "You certainly are, my dear. You are finally mine, and I am yours."
He softly sang a sweet French love song in as we neared my Parisian home.

Claude saw me to my door. He kissed me good-night,saying, "Pleasant dreams, my love". I was a little disappointed.
"Oh Claude, I'd thought you'd come inside for a few moments."
Claude just laughed and said, "Now, my dear, we both know we had a very emotional evening..." He flashed a broad smile. Oh, he has the sexiest smile!
"All right, honey", Iásaid, "I'll get some rest. Will I see you tomorow?"
Claude kissed me again and playfully replied, "Oh, my dear Danisha, you'll see me in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and the next day, and the next..."
I joined in Claude's hearty laughter and kissed him again. "This is definitely turning into a summer to remember", I said.
We finally said good-night and I watched him ride away.
I was right; Claude was right. We finally found each other.
But the summer was not over and the fireworks were just beginning.

Go to Chapter 13!

Copyrightę1997 by FrolloFreak


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