"It's getting late, Claude, and I think we really should call home. Everyone's probably frantic by now, not that I blame them."
Claude Frollo and I strolled, arm-in-arm, through darkened neighborhood streets. Ever since he led me out of that church, I'd never felt more happy, more at peace with myself. The foundation of our relationship was at last repaired, and Claude and I vowed to each other never again to let anyone or anything tear us apart. Funny thing though, as we walked down towards 10th Street, no one seemed to bother us. I knew very well that this wasn't one of the safest areas in town; but, somehow, Claude and I were not once accosted, much less approached. I never felt safer.
Claude put his arm around me, and held me tighter, as he comforted me
with tender words. "My dear Danisha, your - No, our - long nightmare
is over. We said things that never should have been spoken; yet, unfortunately,
those words cannot be taken back. My love, I care about you far too much
to let what we share die so quickly. You do understand, my dear."
All I could say was, "Claude, I understand completely. I was so foolish, so blinded by my own..." I grinned when I added, "...My stubborn pride. Everyone -- You, my parents, Fern -- have told me that I don't know when to quit once I 'get my back up'. Baby, I'm sorry about everything I put you through."
The tears once again trickled down my cheek; Claude paused to kiss me. It was a slow, lingering kiss - A kiss that would've been longer, if it wasn't for the interruptions. For as soon as I responded to Claude's kiss, I heard a high-pitched tenor from behind. The voice sounded rather familiar; the playful words were couched in delighted laughter.
"Hoo-whee! Go for it, brother!"
We wheeled around to see a short young man approach us from behind.
At first, we thought this man would mean us harm, but we were wrong. He
looked vaguely familiar when he addressed us, "Excuse me, ma'am."
He tipped his hat to me, then acknowledged Claude's presence. "Excuse
me, sir. But I believe the young lady dropped this back at the church."
Now I remember this man...he was at the church....he played piano...
The man handed over that sterling silver key; it must have fallen out
of my pocket.
"Whew!", I sighed with relief as I took the key, "I would've never heard the end of it if I ever lost this." I glanced at Claude, who, to my surprise, wasn't angry at all, but partially amused at my words. He just looked at me with narrowed eyes, as if to say, "You had better not lose it!" I didn't have the heart to tell him that I nearly threw both key and pager into White River.
The man said, at last, "I hope you folks aren't plannin' on walkin'
home. Not through this area at least."
I really hadn't given it much thought, but my elation over reuniting with Claude - I believe Claude was just as ecstatic - that I never considered how we'd get home. I mean, we both had the power to return to medieval Paris; but, with Jehan at Jacki's, and my family frantic over me, I felt it best to just go home, to my house on the Northside.
I pulled the remaining bills from my pocket, then turned to Claude,
saying, "Sugarbritches, I don't have enough to take a cab home. We
really should call my folks, or Jacki, to come get us." Claude thought
this over, but nixed the plan; he then said he had another idea.
"We could, take your...hmm...'public transit'...to town, then perhaps..."
"Wait a minute, Claude. Did you bring any cash with you?"
Claude admitted that he was so pre-occupied with finding me, that he gave Jehan just enough to take transportation to Jacki's. "I never realized that I myself would be in need of..." He sighed, then said, "All I wanted was to find you, my dear."
I looked at Claude, then at my watch. "Well, sugar, if it's gonna be the bus..."
The man, listening to all this, spoke up. "Sir? Ma'am? If you want
to catch the next bus, I suggest you better high-tail it to 10th Street.
'Cause the next bus leaves in the next five minutes. I oughta know, 'cause
I used to drive that route."
I looked at Claude then said, "Honey, we might as well take the bus; after all, Jehan did it. Besides, even if I did have the money, no cab's gonna come down in this 'hood."
Claude Frollo laughed heartily, saying, "My darling, there are parts of Paris that are far rougher than this!" He smiled, kissed me, then added, "Besides, the time spent travelling will allow for some insightful conversation."
Who'd have thought! The Minister of Justice - a man of the 1480's - riding a 20th Century American urban bus! This is too much...
"I can't believe this!", I exclaimed as I snuggled next to Claude. We had barely made the next-to-last bus, or else we would've had to wait for another hour. I didn't have enough cash for a cab, and we didn't want Jacki or my mother to drive all the way out here. So there we were, riding a Metro bus towards Downtown. We agreed that once Downtown, we'd call Jacki to come get us.
"Claude, this is the one time I wish I had my camera. I mean, a
15th Century man - a high-ranking public official at that - riding 20th
Century American mass transit!"
I laughed so hard and so long, that Claude wasn't the least bit perturbed by my newly-regained levity. "My love", he said as he glanced around the nearly empty interior, "this is a treat! Why, it's another facet of your time I've yet to experience."
He chuckled when he related how Jehan had to learn - in a matter of minutes - all about public transit. "You should have seen him! He was bewildered enough when we landed in...'Speedway'."
I had to stop him; I was so astonished that Claude walked all the way
from Speedway, just to find me. "Claude, I had no idea you
walked all that distance, for me." I glanced out the window, then
said, "Honey, I guess I have been taking everything for granted
- You must really care that much, or else you wouldn't have taken the risks."
I sighed, and nearly cried again at the thought of Claude Frollo walking across town - He could've been mugged, or worse. I took his hand in mine, and studied the over-sized gems that adored his beautiful hands.
"Sugarbritches, these rings alone would've earned you a trip to the emergency room. Why", I added as I lightly kissed his hand, "anyone could've knocked you in the head, took a shot at you..."
Claude put his arm around me, then our conversation centered around
my former boyfriend. Now I felt that I didn't have to hide my past from
Claude; he said he perfectly understood why I remained silent all these
"Nisha, I know all about your tragic affair with this Bell fellow, and I know how he mistreated you, threatened you." He kissed my cheek then continued, "My dear, you knew perfectly well that I would protect you, yet you chose to suffer in silence." He paused briefly, as if to regain his composure - I knew what he was thinking.
"Claude, I knew it wasn't wise to play games with my health, or my life; after all, I lost a baby - your baby..."
I felt a tear trickle down my cheek, then said, "Baby, I never want to hurt you ever again - All that mess with BC..."
Claude drew closer to me; I could feel the warmth of his breath against
my face. He said to me at last, "My dear, I understand that your police
have yet to find this man. If only he was there - in my time - I'd have
"Honey, you know you can't 'change outcomes'. Let the police and prosecutor handle this..." I paused again; I glanced out the window and recognized the Downtown skyline looming close.
"Claude, I want BC to pay for what he did, and I want him to pay dearly. But, baby, let the police handle this. The detective heading this case told me, just a few days ago, that BC was spotted down near Bloomington - Maybe his car broke down in Martinsville. Then I know what score will be..."
I broke out in smiles and soft giggles, then added in my best urban drawl, "'Cause those good ol' boys down there don't play!"
He knew what I was talking about -- I had told Claude much about the 'Martinsville Mystique', and the town's reputation for "Not being too friendly towards 'outsiders', if you know what I mean."
Claude joined my good humor as we neared Downtown. It was agreed that as soon as we disembarked, Claude would contact Jacki and my parents - Someone had to drive us home,and taking another bus was out of the question. I was tired, hungry, and extremely anxious to go home. I was also broke; after paying the fare, I was left with less than three dollars and some change.
Claude and I walked down the now-quiet streets of Downtown, It was nearly
midnight, and much of the mid-week evening activity had ended. Nearly everything
was closed, and the streets took on an eerie silence. We walked down Meridian
to Monument Circle. There we sat down on the steps of the Soldiers and
Sailors Monument and talked about nearly everything.
Claude noticed Christ Church Cathedral across the the street - A small, yet imposing structure dating back to the early 19th Century. I knew Claude wondered about all these different churches - different denominations at that - but I never pressed him on religious subjects.
But after tonight, and especially after he appeared in that tiny neighborhood storefront church, I had to ask him something.
"Claude, I didn't know what to think - I mean, the way you walked into that church - And you're so used to..."
Claude silenced me with a kiss. "My dear, I was at first hesitant, but when I realized you were there...Danisha, my love." He kissed me again, then laughed and said, "Darling, I had absolutely no idea - I had nearly forgotten that I was in 1990's America, with all your varied churches. As a man of the 1400's, I'll admit I was quite bewildered - No, make that...'totally blown away'! Ah, the march of history..."
Claude then focused his attention on another, more pressing matter - Getting me home!
"My love", said Claude as he reached in pocket, "allow
me to contact Jacqueline; she'll need a precise location. I suggest we
find shelter soon - You, my dear, are in need of warmth and comfort. This
cold night air..."
"Claude, stop spoiling me! I'll be fine - really!"
Claude laughed as he flipped open his pager and coded a message to Jacki,
while I began to fumble around in my jacket pockets. He's right...I've
been out in the elements too long...I'm exhausted..I'm cold...I'm hungry...I'm
broke...I'm...hey, what's this? I thought I left this at home!
...All right! Maybe Claude and I can get something to eat...Maybe we don't have to go home...Wonder if there're any hotel rooms available...
Claude then handed his pager to me; he wanted to make sure he had the location exactly right.
Happy to report that Danisha and I are reunited...She is well, although tired and hungry...We had a lovely talk on the way to your Downtown...Which reminds me...My dearest in low on funds...would you be so kind as to drive down to...I have to locate a street sign...Ah yes, The Circle and Meridian...We'll be sitting on the steps of your monument, across from the Columbia Club...
"Sounds all right to me, sugarbritches. But I don't think Jacki
should waste a trip, because look what I found!"
I waved my credit card before his eyes; then, before I could say anything else, Claude took me into his arms, and kissed me with such passion and relief - Yes, relief - that I couldn't help but respond with equal passion.
"Oh, Nisha, my love", Claude whispered, his arms still holding me tightly, "I thought I'd lost you forever. My dear...my sweet, wonderful darling..." He kissed me again, oblivious to the scanty traffic that whizzed by.
There, on the limestone steps of the monument, with only statues of
dead war heroes and statesmen looking down on us, we embraced each other
and stared up at the starry March sky. Claude then smiled when he remembered
seeing the monument the first time. It was that summer after I rescued
him from his own dungeon, and we both suffered through the fallout of that
plot to overthrow Claude as Minister of Justice.
Claude had spent part of his summer with me; and, I, being ever the entertaining hostess, gave him the Grand Tour of my hometown. I remembered the look on his face when he saw, for the first time, all the historic landmarks that I knew he'd love. He liked the monument for the historic angle, but ever really cared for the design. "It is rather busy, but given the time-period in which it was erected..."
Nonetheless, Claude seemed just as intrigued this imposing monument
now as he was then. "That's your President Harrison", he said,
raising his eyes to the towering bronze statue of William Henry Harrison.
Now I glanced up at the statue, my eyes taking in every detail of this
man. This was not the aged and ailing man in the White House, but the dashing,
vigorous Army hero, resplendid in the uniform of his rank as major-general.
Claude then surprised me with a bit of American historical trivia.
"M. Harrison had contracted a cold, which developed into pneumonia.
He died nearly a month after his inauguration."
He smiled again, then added, "I know, because..."
He paused to kiss me again. "Because I had an excellent teacher. Nisha, had you forgotten what we said to each other, long ago, that we learn from each other? My love, I would've never known about this man, nor any of your illustrious Americans, if I had never met you."
He's right...Claude learned a lot from me...I learned a lot from him...maybe we were fated to meet...After all, we're good for each other...And I nearly threw it all away...
Claude then mentioned that, perhaps, we should contact Jacki - Claude
had suggested that he and I make a hasty exit to the 15th Century.
"My dear, it is late, and we are both tired. I see no reason why you should remain out in this night chill." I was ready to code another message to Jacki when, all at once, my pager went off.
Nisha...First, I want to say...THANKS TO GOD THAT YOU ARE ALL RIGHT!...Your
folks are here...Jehan is here...You and Claude should hear all this cheering!
Now, the bad news....If you guys are thinking of taking a time trip - DON'T!
There's a quirk in the system...It's why you guys ended up in another area of town...I've called Kyle...He lives near Downtown...He said he should be there within ten minutes...Stay put!
"Well", I said, "I guess that means no snuggling
in front of your big fireplace. But..."
I sighed, looking at my credit card. "I'd hoped that we'd find some place to stay the night, get some food -- I'm hungry."
Claude chuckled good-humoredly, put his arms around me, then told me
not to go into debt because of him. "After all, young Kyle is on his
way...then again..." His eyes twinkled when he suggested that we contact
Claude drew his black velvet cloak around him, then said, at last, "Call Kyle on the 'telephone', and tell him to cancel the trip. Then call Jacqueline, and tell her there has been a slight change of plans."
He smiled when he added, "I'm confident we'll be able to secure a room for the night."
Hmm...Wednesday night...Not much going on in town...Pacers are out of town...Well, it is after midnight, for crying out loud...We can walk down to the Radisson...Should be no problem getting...
Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain - far more excruciating than before -
I fought to ride it out, but it was no use.
...Ooh...I'm really hurting again....I don't think I can stand up...I must've torn those stitches...I can feel myself...bleeding...Oh God...I can't stand this...this pain...
Claude drew my attention to another structure located across the street from where we sat. It was the Columbia Club, a private social club for the city's upper echelon. Nearly all the club's members were quite wealthy, and very Republican.
"Danisha, have you ever been inside this Columbia Club? The exterior is impressive enough, but I wonder about the interior...Nisha? What's wrong, darling?" Claude held me close as I tried to ride out the pain. I feebly answered his question, "I went inside once - ten year high school reunion - It is very elegant inside. Too bad I'm a Democrat...or else I'd be in there right now..." My laughter was weak; I couldn't help but wince in pain.
"Danisha, are you in any pain? And don't tell me 'I'm fine', because it is clear you are not 'fine'."
I reached in my pocket, and pulled out a quarter. I handed it to Claude, saying, "Claude, call Jacki, and tell her and my parents that you're taking me to the hospital. Tell Momma to call Wanda Rescott - she's my doctor. Then call 911, 'cause I think I need an ambulance -- Right now!" My breathing grew more labored; I felt weakened, debilitated. I knew I was dying.
Claude cradled me in his arms, and I felt his tear-streaked face close to mine. He sounded so grief-strickened, so vulnerable, so devastated.
"No, I will not leave you! Nisha, please..."
I tried to stand, even managed to take a few steps, only to fall into
Claude's arms. I suddenly realized that Claude was determined to remain
by my side, even if it meant letting me die. Well...at least I'll die
in his arms...
...What a cruel twist! We just made up, only to have me die here on the steps of Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the middle of the night...
"Claude, yell at someone...scream at them...tell them to call the paramedics...Please..."
Poor Claude! All he could do was to cradle me, love me, cry over me...
Did I hear young voices? Can't see too good...Who's this? Two boys....Rodney! Josh! Oh, Praise The Lord! ..Everyone's hovering over me...I hear them....the kids..and Claude...lots of other people, too...
"You're gonna be all right, Ms. Wood. Hang on!"
"Ms. Wood? Can you hear me? I'm gonna call 911"
"Darling, you'll be all right...Hold onto my hand, dearest..."
I heard another voice...very familar... "Hey, Your Grace! It's me, Kyle! Oh Lord, what happened?"
Then I heard someone say, "We don't have time to wait for an ambulance! We gotta get her there now!" I think it was Kyle.
Where're the sirens? Why don't I hear sirens? Where am I? In a....van? Kyle's van... ...Claude is here...holding me...the kids are here too...What were Rodney and Josh doing out after curfew...Oh yes...they have jobs...Must've been quitting time...Thank God they showed up...
"Darling, can you hear me?"
"Yeah, I can hear you. Did you call my folks?"
"Yes, Nisha. Your parents know, and they are on their way."
"I forgot to tell you...Umm...Kenya's in the same hospital....I don't know why I didn't tell you...That's one tough kid..."
I heard frantic young voices saying to Kyle, "Man, can't you make this thing go faster? Come on, we gotta save Ms. Wood!"
"Did you hear that, my love?"
"Yeah, I heard it...That's why I teach..."
I felt myself fading fast, then said, "I have over one hundred kids...They're my babies..For five days a week, seven hours a day, they're mine...Claude? Why can't I see anything? Have I gone blind? I'm so cold...I feel so weak..."
The last thing I heard was a chorus of young voices, and a deeper, more mature voice, all trying to keep my life from slipping away.
"She's goin' into shock, man!"
"Damn, look at the blood! Gimme that towel, Josh!"
"We're almost there, guys. Your Grace, how's Nisha doing?"
I felt myself slipping away.
"Nisha! Nisha!", I heard Claude Frollo tearfully say over
and over. I felt his hand gently stroke my face, his lips touching my lips.
"Please, don't take our Danisha away from us -- Please, hear my prayer -- Let Nisha live."
Where...What...hands grabbing me...lifting me onto a table...Doctors and nurses all over...Why can't I fight this?
I heard my doctor's voice, and another surgeon's voice, saying things like,
"Can't stop the bleeding! She's going into shock! Vitals are dropping!
We're losing her!"
Then, "Type AB, Rh factor negative -- Do we have enough?"
After that, I knew no more.
Oh Claude...I never got to say good-bye to Claude....
Go To Chapter 19 (I)
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