Lead Me Gently Home

Chapter 12
"A Crack in the Foundation"


(From Danisha's Journals)

"Danisha, I have a similar instrument, in the Palace of Justice, and it's gathering dust. I had hoped you would return to Paris, for I can't play the damned thing -- No one from my time can!"
He then laughed, saying, "My love, I bought that monstrous instrument especially for you -- You should've seen His Majesty when he asked about it. I, of course, had to explain that it was a 'fine musical instrument from the New World'!" Claude kept laughing while relating to me how the King was so impressed that "these New Worlders are sheer geniuses".
Claude Frollo stroked the black-lacquered top of the huge Steinway grand that dominated the small classroom. I had to laugh when Claude attempted to play along with me - Using one hand, of course.

"Claude, you seem in such fine spirits today. I watched you...uh...'work the room' after the performance. Everyone has favorably commented on 'Nisha's most elegant friend'."
I continued to 'tickle the ivories' while Claude softly laughed at my comment. He was in a good mood, and he relayed a little good news. "
My dear Nisha, for the first time in several weeks, I am happy. It should please you to know that I finally captured the last of those disloyal spies."
"Oh Claude, that is wonderful news, but not so good for those ex-spies."

Claude laughed again, then grew serious when he asked about "that procedure".
"I'm sorry, my love, but I happened to overhear part of your conversation with the youngsters. I trust it's nothing serious."

In a way, I was glad to inform Claude of this upcoming procedure; it was only fair to tell him my worst fears. Not that I was totally uneasy about the procedure itself, but I was somewhat nervous about the outcome. Then there was the added, and unnecessary, anxiety over BC's return and his stupid threats.
"It's just a routine procedure; I'm praying they won't find anything serious. But, whatever the diagnosis, I think I can handle it."
Claude took me in his arms, and kissed me deeply. He then suggested that I come to Paris with him this very evening, "To relax, regain your bearings. Although your quiet strength - and I admire your strength - has seen you through thus far, I still believe the few days spent in Paris will be most beneficial."
I only smiled, and sighed with relief. At last, I thought, I could finally get away from all the pressures - and away from BC. My mind was also fixed on telling Claude everything, from BC, to my parents, to my worst fears and nightmares. In that room, within those fleeting moments, I felt closer to Claude than ever.

I immediately closed the piano, and turned off the lights. Claude was right; it was late, and I was now anxious to go home - with him.
"Claude?"
"Yes, Nisha?" "Let me lock up, then we'll bust this joint."
His eyes registered puzzlement mixed with marked amusement. "Beg pardon, my love? 'Bust..'?"
"It's an old-time expression. You know, like 'split', 'book'...LEAVE!"

Claude laughed uproariously while I locked the door; then, linking my arm with his, we walked down the long corridor, still deep in conversation. I forgot most of our discussion, but I believe Claude mentioned how much I was missed. He then took me on a brief excursion down 'memory lane'.
"Everyone - Quasimodo, Jehan - has asked about you; they're more than anxious to see you again." He suddenly fell silent, then drew closer to me. I could feel his warm breath upon my skin as he sniffed my hair, my neck, my shoulders.
Claude stopped; then, upon ushering me into an unlocked practice room, kissed me with such abandon, that I nearly fainted from his fiery passion. Oh Claude! Not here...But...Oooh, baby...Hold me...Love me...

His eyes bored through me while his long fingers played with the scarf that tied my hair. Claude's face lit up with a delighted smile; his eyes glowed with a light that, to this day, I still can't describe. Within that tiny practice room, his voice resonated hauntingly as he allowed distant memories to engulf him - Memories of that first encounter, that summer.

"This is the very scarf", he murmured as he breathed in my perfume. "The same intoxicating scent - What do you call it?"
"Shalimar", I whispered.
"Yes, the very scent: Beautiful, compelling, unforgettable - Like the lovely lady wearing it."
"Claude, I didn't think you'd remember..."
"Hush, my love..."

Claude kissed me again, not as the hot-and-bothered lover, but sweetly and tenderly. He held me for several minutes, and told me not to worry.
"Where is that bright optimism? My love, you should take your own advice: 'Look on the bright side'."
I had to laugh when he said that. "I guess I have been a little down on myself lately. You're right, sugarbritches. I need to lighten up; I need to think happy thoughts, and believe everything will be all right."
Claude smiled, then tenderly said, "Now that's the Danisha I know and love." He gazed intently into my eyes; I felt that same twinge of desire stir inside me as it did during that first encounter.
He then laughed as he escorted me out of that room. "Now, my love. Let us...What is the expression?"
"Bust this joint!", came the quick reply.
Claude instantly burst into laughter, saying between throaty chuckles, "I'll have to remember that one."

As we neared the main hall, I noticed Marcus, sitting on a step of the spiral staircase, merrily eating an ice cream cone.
"Look at him, Claude. It's like he hasn't a care in the world", I said with a smile. Claude returned my smile, then said, "My dear, let us leave young Marcus to his childhood reverie." He kissed my cheek, then left to retrieve our coats; in the meantime, I sat down and talked to Marcus.

That ice cream cone piqued my curiosity - It triggered a frightening, and nearly embarrassing, altercation in the back parking lot -- It triggered a frightening encounter between me and BC.

Then the solid foundation of a special relationship began to crack...

++++++++

"Hey, little man", I said as I seated myself on the step next to Marcus, "Where'd you get the ice cream?"
Marcus Terrell, his mouth smeared with chocolate ice cream, smiled and told me, "That man gave it to me." Now I was more than a little curious. I knew ice cream wasn't served at the reception, and the only way Marcus could get ice cream was to go to...

I had to open my mouth and ask...Then I reacted, just as before...And it cost me...dearly...

"What man, Marcus?"
Marcus grinned as he took another big, sloppy swipe at the ice cream. "That man out there. He's in the back, with Daddy."

At that moment, Jacki appeared; she looked worried and upset. She approached Marcus and proceeded to gently wipe his face with a damp paper towel.
She then told Marcus to "Finish your ice cream, and don't go anywhere until your Daddy and Uncle Tony come back. I need to talk to Nisha."
Jacki led me to an upper step where we could talk in private and watch Marcus. She took a deep breath, and told me something that shook me to the core.

"Marcus almost went off with some rough-looking dude. He bought the kids ice cream; then he started talking to them..."
I had to stop Jacki. "Hold it. Did you say 'kids'?"
"Nisha, this man had Marcus and Tamara out in his car. Thank God Arletta's brother showed up -- And Sam."

I was shocked! Marcus, and Tamara, know better than to go off with a stranger, or accept a treat. Jacki then told me that Del showed up just in time; he arrived to take his sister and nieces home. It was Del who stopped Sam from this man a good thumping. Probably had it coming...If my suspicions are right...I have to know if it was him...

"Jacki, where's this man now?", I asked somewhat nervously. In the back of my mind, I knew that he was here; he's the only one capable of something like this.
Oh no! He must've followed me here...He knows I'm here...and Claude!

Jacki must've picked up on my jumpiness when she asked, "Nisha? Are you OK?" She then told me that Sam and Tony were still in the back lot, after they confronted this man.

"Jacki, did you see this dude?"
"Yeah. Big guy, wearing a suit and...get this...a big cross around his neck. I mean, can you believe that?"

Instantly, I got up and sped down the long corridor leading the back parking lot. From out of nowhere, I felt an arm grab me, then force me up a short flight of steps to an old classroom - I think it was the old ROTC room - now used as storage area. I wanted to scream, but a heavy hand clasped around my mouth.
Oh God...BC's followed me here...why is he tormenting me so? What's the deal with the kids? Why mess with Marcus and Tamara? Oh no! Claude! He must never...

"Hey, baby", he hissed through clenched teeth. "Thought you'd like a visit from your old man." BC's grip was so strong, I couldn't break away if I tried. His fingers tightened around my arm as he removed his other hand from my mouth.
"Let me go, BC! Let me go, or else..."
"Or else what, Nisha? You gonna call your fancy manfriend to save you? Well, Nisha, I got a little something for the good judge."

My eyes widened as BC slammed me against the wall, then removed a knife from his pocket. He drew the blade dangerously close to my face as he delivered his threat. This is almost like that time when Malus and that other guy grabbed me...in that alley...that summer...I was scared then...but this is so different...I know this man...He can easily snuff out a life...

BC looked menacing as he told me things I didn't want to hear.
"You see, Nisha. Kids talk. They seldom lie; that's how I found out about your boyfriend. Yeah, that little boy told me everything about 'His Honor'..."
I trembled, knowing that Claude was a few steps away; and, for some odd reason, I didn't want him to walk in on this.

...Not now...Claude, please stay away...Talk to the kids...Converse with my colleagues...Anyone...Maybe Ralph's talking to you right now...yeah...Ralph is known to engage in long conversations....Claude, please don't come in here....It could mean your life...

BC then laughed in my face as he drew the blade across my cheek; his words were like ice. I looked BC squarely in the eyes; and, as before, I could read no depth, no conscience, no soul... "

Nisha, I'm gonna let you figure out why I came back, but I want you to know now that you're my ticket out of here. You know why? 'Cause you know too much -- About me. I can't have you blabbing to everyone; it might violate my parole, and I ain't about to be sent back to no prison!"
"Bug off, BC. You don't scare me anymore. So take your sorry ass out of here." I tried to sound tough and brave; but, somehow, it all backfired on me -- Just like before...

BC twisted my arm; I could feel his massive body pressing in on mine as he held me fast against the wall. He went on to explain what could "happen" to me - and to Claude - if I talked.
"Oh Nisha, Nisha. Baby, I'd hate to waste your fancy manfriend, but looks like I have no choice. Yeah, I'll kill him right in front of your eyes; that oughta teach you to diss me. Then I'll cut up your pretty face -- NO man will want you then."
He taunted me again. "Go ahead, honey. Scream for help. Call your manfriend - 'Claude, come save me from this big ugly...' I bet he comes running, and I'll be ready for him."
He hideously laughed in my ear, then put his knife back in his pocket. Suddenly, BC released me, turned to leave, then repeated his threat.
"Remember what I said, baby. Keep your mouth shut, and yo' manfriend lives." Then he left, just like that.
I remained in that dim, dingy room, then sat down in a rickety desk and began to cry.

No...You're not going to do this...You're not falling apart...You've got to come clean...Screw BC and his threats...But what if he means it? What if he really hurts - even kills - Claude...Then what?

My protective instinct took over, much to the dismay of my more rational side. I had to remain silent for everyone's sake, no matter how much I had to suffer. No one's hurting the people I love...and if silence will keep Claude safe...

++++++++

"My love, what kept you?", asked Claude as he helped me into my cloak. He smiled when he recognized the stunning black mink that barely swept the ground.

"I see you have taken excellent care of this; I can still recall the look on your face when..." He paused to kiss me, then proceeded to recount our first Christmas together, while he escorted me to the front lot where my car was parked. Claude said little else until I had started the engine, then offered to take a "more scenic route".
"How about a nice little detour through Meridian Hills, then wind along Spring Mill Road..."
"Sounds lovely", came the quiet reply. What's eating him? He was in high spirits a few minutes ago...

I knew this 'detour' was several blocks - make that several miles - out of my way, but I didn't mind. Even I loved this area of town, with the stately mansions, the expansive, heavily wooded lots.
Somehow, I thought maybe that fool wouldn't follow me -- I didn't see him when we left, but it was Sam who told me everything after I emerged from that room. He told me how BC lured Marcus with ice cream, although Sam didn't know why. He also told me how he and BC almost got into it, and how Del and Tony had to stop a near fist-fight. It was after that altercation that BC sneaked into the building, then cornered and threatened me.

My mind was recalled to the present when Claude unexpectedly said, "My dear, Jacqueline informed me of young Marcus' encounter, and the resultant altercation between the boy's father and this villain."
I had to keep my eyes on the road - Spring Mill Road is difficult to navigate under the best circumstances - I didn't need the added pressure of....
"Claude, it was one of those things...", I paused then added, "Honey, it's all over now; Marcus is safe and sound..."
"Danisha, he was nearly kidnapped! Why, if it wasn't for Jacqueline and Madame White's brother..."

Now I was clearly alarmed. I remembered what Tom Benjamin said about BC: "There's a bad apple." I knew BC was up to no good, but to what extent I didn't know. All I knew was what Del intimated to me the night before, that taking on BC may have been a big mistake.
"He's not the role model I'd want for these kids. I suspect he's in this for his own gain. The man's not right, Danisha."
You better believe he's not right...The man cornered me...threatened me...threatened to kill the man Ilove...I can't take that risk...

My mind was numb; I tried to concentrate on the road, but it was of no use. I immediately steered the car into Holiday Park, drove to a secluded spot, and parked while Claude continued to tell me things I didn't want to hear.
"Danisha, are you listening to me? I said the boy could have been kidnapped." He grew silent, then, "I talked to Antoine after that little scene; he told me you knew the man."

I panicked! How can I tell Claude about BC? Oh God, what if that fool decides to...What if he's here?
I could only muster, "He was someone I knew from way back, Claude. Just an old high school buddy, that's all."
"Well, no matter", he replied. "The boy is safe, and has hopefully learned his lesson. But, my dear..." He paused to kiss me, then said, "Let's discuss this no further."

His mood changed dramatically as a slight grin appeared on his face. What he thought was an innocent request would soon preface a painful scene once we returned home.
Claude Frollo chuckled as he innocently asked, "My darling Nisha, would it be too much trouble to stop at - What is the name of that ice cream shop? - The one near that sweet little French restaraunt you and I love so much." I knew he meant Ben & Jerry's; and, somehow, I didn't seem to mind.
"Kinda like that ChunkyMonkey, don't you, sugarbritches."
Claude ran his tongue over his lips, then laughingly said, "My dearest, I had hoped for - What is the one with the cherries?"
"Oh no! Not... 'Cherry Garcia'!"
Claude laughed when I teasingly both, "What, no Butter Pecan?" I knew Claude had developed a keen fondness for pecans, but he said he was need of a change.
He then smiled, and sweetly asked, "Mmm...How about both?"
That said, I instantly wheeled out of the park, and back to Ripple, just to buy a 15th Century man a pint of ice cream named after a 1960s rocker.

++++++++

When Claude and I came out of Ben & Jerry's, armed with Cherry Garcia and Butter Pecan ice cream, I had no idea that we had an audience. I didn't notice the '78 Olds Cutlass parked across the street, but Claude did, and he recognized the car's driver.
"Danisha", he quietly said, "my love, that's the man -- I remember him from earlier, for I saw him, in the hall, talking to the children. That was when you were in the music room. I thought nothing of it, but when Jacqueline informed me..."
"Claude, let's go home; let's not stay here."
My heart leapt to my throat; I swore I saw BC look dead at Claude, and Claude stared right back at him. My chest pounded; my palms grew sweaty. Everything was just like in that dream, except...

No...not that...please, Claude...don't play hero..not now...

"Claude, let's go", I repeated as I tugged at his arm. "Honey, if it makes you feel better, I'll call my cousin, Nat. He works for the FBI, and maybe he can..."
"My dear, I am perfectly aware that, as a 15th Century man, I have to exercise caution whenever I visit your time. As Madame Fern says, 'Never affect the outcome'. But, Nisha, this man nearly harmed a child...Darling...You're trembling..."
Claude's graceful hand touched my face. In the corner of my eye, I could see BC get out of his car. Oh no...please don't let this happen...

Claude sighed, "You are right; I can't do much here. If he was in my time, I'd have him...."
Somehow, I wished BC was back in the 15th Century; that way, that thug would have to reckon with Claude Frollo -- On Claude's turf.

Once safely inside the car, I could still see BC standing beside his car. Claude's eyes never left BC's hulking form as we drove past. I saw BC looking at me with smoldering expression, and giving me a quick 'air kiss'. I'm sure Claude saw it, too, and Claude said nothing until we arrived home.

++++++++

Claude picked at the remains of his ice cream, while I endeavored to keep my emotions in check. I felt jumpy, and was on the verge of tears. Claude and I said very little to each other during the hour or so after we arrived home. I assumed he was tired, not to mention that he and BC had that little stare-down.

"Nisha" he finally said as he pushed the dish aside, "my dear, I believe we should talk. That man...You knew him before...I saw his expression...The..er...'air-kiss'? I want the truth, Danisha."
I didn't know what to say; I was certain Claude would do anything to pry the truth from me. Instead of answering right away, I immediately got up from the table and went to the front window. I frantically looked out, wondering if BC was out there.

...Did he follow me?...I don't see the car...What if he's waiting...I can't let this happen...

Claude stormed up form behind; his voice was harsh, full of fury.
"Don't you dare walk away from me! I want the truth, Danisha, and I want it now!" Claude forced me to face him; his hands firmly gripped my shoulders. At that moment, Claude Frollo was no longer the sweet, attentive lover; instead, he became the angered official, much like that of that summer, when an errant baseball shattered his window. I remember that look...
"Claude, please don't ask me to..."
"ASK WHAT?! Whether that man was your lover, and not the 'old school friend' as you described? I saw the way he looked at you...And you did nothing, said nothing!"
"Claude, please..He means nothing to me. It's you I love, baby...."
"THEN TELL ME THE TRUTH!" Claude's voice was harsh, rough, cold. I hadn't seen him so angry with me since that day, that summer.
..But he wasn't that....Not like now...
I trembled from head to toe; my vocal cords seemed to shut down. Once again, I let fear take over my usually rational mind, but BC's threats, plus Claude's present mood....

Suddenly, Claude released me; his eyes glowed like hot coals as he flat out accused me of lying to him.
"You were with HIM! That is why we couldn't find you! Damn you, Danisha -- How could you do such a thing?!"

My voice was weak; my mind failed to focus. I wouldn't permit myself to tell the truth - That BC Bell had threatened to kill Claude, and I had to protect Claude, no matter what it cost me.
"No, Claude, I wasn't with...I mean, Iwas only..."
"STOP LYING TO ME!"

He gripped me by the shoulders and shook me, as if he was trying to force the truth from my lips. But Iremained firm - No...I can't tell him..It's all too painful...
What I said next dealt the strong foundation of our friendship a crushing blow. "Claude, please understand. I love you, and I'm not lying...But...Claude, I can't say too much...I want to protect you."

Claude released me; his eyes burned with rage as he stormily paced the room. His very words cut me like a thousand knives.
"PROTECT ME?! From what? That man - the man who was your lover? Danisha..." His voice trailed off as he fetched his hat and cloak.

"W-Where are you going?", Iasked uneasily.
"I am leaving you, Danisha. Apparently, that little talk we had a few weeks ago has yet to sink in -- For you. Ican't have a relationship built on lies and secrets, and ours, I'm afraid, is over."
I was completely overwhelmed when he said that. Claude actually meant it...He's leaving me...I can't let him do this...

"Claude! Please don't do this -- Ilove you!"

"Then tell me the truth!"

I said nothing as the tears poured from my eyes; Claude glared hard at me as he flipped open his pager.
He then said to me, just before depressing the red button, "Your defiant silence speaks more than words. Goodbye, Danisha." In an instant, Claude Frollo vanished in a sea of white light.

He's really gone...Never to return probably..And it's all my fault...

Iremembered little else of that parting, other than collapsing on the floor, and sobbing unrelentlessly...

TO CHAPTER 13!

Copyright FrolloFreak FSM #14, 1998.


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