(From Danisha's journal)
Claude and I quickly composed ourselves, both of us somewhat embarassed. The woman looked at me, then eyeballed Claude. She spoke again, in a voice full of sass and spunk.
"Nisha, how come you never told us about yo' man-friend?" She smiled at Claude Frollo, who, to my total surprise, returned the smile. He turned to me, and asked, in a playfully scolding voice, "Yes, my love. Why haven't I met this charming young lady?" I quietly laughed, then introduced Claude Frollo to Arletta White.
Arletta and Cherie, my youngest sister, had been best friends, ever since fourth grade. "Arletta is a classroom assistant; she helps out with the slow-learners", I explained as I gathered my purse and briefcase. All three of us talked as we made our way downstairs. It amazed me how quickly Claude and Arletta drummed up a friendly conversation.
Hmm..is he foolin' me? Or is he for real? Everyone...from Jehan, to André d'Arcy, to Quasimodo, to the Archdeacon...has commented how more personable...how more calm...Claude's become...Am I the cause of it? Because, when he's with me, an odd change comes over him...Oh yes...He's for real...I think I like it!
Arletta, a five-foot-one, one-hundred pound, dynamo, had taken the afternoon
off ; she had a job interview. She told us that she had just picked up
her kids from school, then dropped by to pick up her check.
She then had to stop by her room to get a few things. That's when Tamara, her five-year-old daughter, supposedly went for a drink of water. And that's when Arletta had to stop Tamara from getting an 'advanced education'. Claude and I had to laugh; we had no idea that we nearly had a young audience.
"You all should be more careful", Arletta playfully warned us.
Claude couldn't resist this. He turned to me, and said with equal teasing, "Yes, my love. Why didn't you stop me? Why, anyone could have barged in on us." Claude rolled his eyes in mock-outrage, when he added, "My dear Nisha. How embarassing...For a child nearly walked in, right in the middle...It's simply not done, my love."
"I'll shall endeavor to contain myself in the future...Honey." I showed him that I could play his game. In an instant, all three of us laughed in relief.
Arletta told us she hastily sent Tamara and her oldest daughter, Kenya, aged ten, downstairs. "I told them to wait for me", Arletta said, as we reached the first floor. "Kenya's really good at watching her sister, and Tamara's at that age..."
Just as Arletta said, her children were waiting patiently in the main floor hall. Kenya and Tamara rushed to their mother, and greeted her with excited expressions. Then Tamara saw Claude and me. "Hi, Nisha!", she greeted me in her cute little-kid voice. I embraced this little heart-breaker, who I had nicknamed "Chocolate Cheeks". She then innocently asked, "Who's your friend? I like his clothes."
To my surprise -- again -- Claude knelt down and introduced himself. When he told Tamara he was from Paris, Kenya's face lit up. "We've studied France in school", she offered. Arletta and I just stood back and watched this middle-aged city magistrate engage in lively conversation with these kids.
Arletta then took me aside, and quietly asked, "Girl, where have you been hidin' him? I mean, he's damn fine!" She tried not to laugh when she said, "I guess I should've said nothing and kept on walkin'."
"Oh, honey, I wished you did."
Claude then approached us; Tamara held onto his hand. He smiled at Arletta. "My dear madame, you've done wonders by these children. They are polite, well-behaved, brilliant, and..." Claude paused to smile at Tamara, who by now was studying Claude's rings. "...and extremely curious."
He chuckled as he knelt down to Tamara, and answered her unasked question. "Yes, my dear. That is a ruby", he said, pointing to the large, red, diamond-shaped stone that adorned his right hand.
"Arletta, where are you parked?", I quickly asked, still watching these kids become increasingly fascinated with Claude Frollo. Arletta replied, "Out in the back lot." Arletta and I immediately looked at the kids. Tamara was still holding onto Claude's hand; Kenya just stood there, admiring Claude's fashionable outfit.
"I think we better split", I whispered to Arletta. "They'll be crawling all over him before you know it."
"Delightful children", Claude commented as he settled into the passenger seat beside me. "Did I hear you correctly, that Mme. White is not married?" "She was married, albeit briefly. Her husband skipped out on her shortly after Tamara was born."
Claude looked at me, then watched Arletta and her girls get into their car. "He left them? Alone?", he asked disbelievingly, and disconcertedly.
I sighed, strapped on my safety belt, and proceeded to tell Claude about Arletta. She was a straight-A student in high school, star of her track team, and all-around nice girl. Of all of Cherie's classmates, I liked Arletta best, with her smooth espresso complexion, big eyes, and her tiny frame. "I'm little but I'm mighty", was her motto.
And nothing seemed to stand in her way; Arletta won several scholarships, as near a 'free ride' to college as one could get. She finally decided to attend Purdue and major in forestry. Why forestry? "I like the outdoors", was Arletta's response. I supposed it had a lot to do with all those Girl Scout camping trips. She also participated in several science projects; it was her idea to plant trees in Forest Manor School's courtyard. Of course, her favorite arguement was, "How many Black people you see tramping around in the woods?" Little Miss Arletta Davis was determined to see her name in Ebony Magazine, as the best in her chosen profession.
But mistakes were made along the way. I told Claude how Arletta, just one year shy of her bachelor's, became pregnant by a local boy Arletta met while a sophomore. From that union, Kenya was born; Arletta had no choice but marry the young man. Of course, with a husband and baby, she had to drop out of school. Nothing hurt my father more.
"Here is a smart, savvy, young Black woman. Someone, please, tell me, how can this 'intelligient' woman with so much to live for, wind up in this situation?", Daddy raged at us, when the news of Arletta's pregnancy reached home. Then Daddy looked straight at me and said, "Danisha, I'm so glad you, or your sisters, had the good sense not to take up with no-count hoodlums." When Daddy said, "No-count hoodlums", he was dead-serious. Years later, those very words would come back to haunt me.
Then Teddy White, the young man Arletta married, drifted from job to job; he had barely made it past high school. Arletta had to take on two jobs, just to provide for her daughter, while her marriage to Teddy fell apart. He split right after Tamara was born, never to be seen nor heard from again. It was rumored that he had gone to California, since he had family there. But as far as Arletta was concerned, Teddy never existed.
Things did start to look up for Arletta. She moved back to Indianapolis
when Tamara turned three. She decided that she owed it to herself and her
daughters "To finish that degree, get a career started, and show my
girls that they can be just as successful."
And she did just that -- Arletta returned to school and secured the classroom assistant job. She told me, while the kids were entertaining Claude, that she had several job offers lined up.
"One's in Seymour, right in the heart of Hoosier National Forest -- I'll be working for the Department of Natural Resources."
She seemed contented that, once and for all, "I can finally get my girls out of the city, and into an environment where they can grow up safe. I hate where I live now -- all that violence and gang stuff."
After I told Claude all this, he sighed and watched the girls. "Well, at least she has learned from her mistakes. I do wish her well in her future endeavors." He then looked at me, and repeated my comments on a few past, more tragic mistakes. "I remembered what you said, when you wrote that exposé. 'Certain actions and decisions can affect so many lives.'"
Claude was, of course, referring to Jules, Malus, and that whole mess surrounding the conspiracy to overthrow Claude as Minister of Justice. How ironic, that I would hear those very words nearly two months later.
I tossed my briefcase in the backseat, then switched on the ignition. I paused long enough to see Arletta and the girls drive past us; Tamara waved and smiled to Claude. I had to laugh when, just as we were saying our goodbyes, Tamara clung to Claude's hand, and said she wanted to go "with Nisha and 'Judge Frollo'."
Claude, charmed by this little cutie, gently told her to, "Be a good girl, and do what your mother tells you." He then promised that he would visit her again, that is, whenever he visited me. Arletta took me aside, and quietly told me that, "He's a mighty good man, Nisha. Not too many men take to kids right away." She looked at me; I could tell she was thoroughly impressed with Claude. "Honey, a man like that comes along once in a lifetime; don't let him get away."
"Claude, I think you've won her over", I said as I pulled out of the parking lot and headed south down Crestview Avenue. "Tamara's quite taken with you, and Kenya...Sugarbritches, I think that one has a crush on you." At once, Claude burst out laughing. "A crush? Danisha, dearest, the child is only ten..."
"Claude, we -- Arletta and I -- watched her. She didn't say much,
but the look on her face --- Honey, Kenya's eyes followed your every move."
I then glanced at Claude's attire, adding, "I think those tight leather
pants have something to do with it."
My eyes remained focused on the sleek leather stretched over his long, lean legs; I grinned and said, "'Cause they do it to me everytime."
Claude said nothing, but pursed his lips in an air kiss, performed a cute shimmy, and flashed his sexiest smile. He leaned back in the seat, then frowned when he recognized the route I was taking.
"Why are you going south on Crestview? You know perfectly well I hate looking at these cramped boxes that pass as houses."
"But Claude, I always go this way. I go west on Kessler, south
on College, then west on 46th to Illinois.This is my usual route"
Claude frowned again, and looked at me squarely in the eyes. He was adamant that I take "a more scenic route".
"Now, Danisha. Listen to to me. You will go back through the parking lot, then turn north on Compton. You will then turn west onto Broad Ripple Avenue."
He started grinning as he continued playing my 'navigator'. "You will then proceed north on College Avenue, then turn north onto 71st Street." Claude couldn't resist laughing in triumph as he proceeded with precise instructions.
"From there, you will travel westward on Meridian Hills Boulevard, then south on Spring Mill Road. Then onto Kessler until you reach Meridian Street. Proceed southbound on Meridian."
I stopped the car; I looked at Claude in exasperation. "Claude? Are you serious? You know that's several blocks out of my way."
Claude Frollo emitted a wicked chuckle, then told me in his sweetest voice, "Darling, of all the many places in your city, I love that area best. All those impressive mansions, the gardens, the greenery, the quiet elegance -- It's all I ask, my sweet Danisha."
A wide, evil grin spread across his face; that 'do it for me, darling' look was in his eye.
All I could do was shoot back an equally smoldering look, and coo in my best Lena Horne, "Will there be anything else, Admiral Frollo?" Claude leaned back, sported a self-satisfied smirk, and cooed, in a voice that made me tremble with ecstacy, "Drive on, my love."
Look at him...being all cute and sexy...thinking he's got me in his pocket...that I'll do anything he asks -- or demands -- without question...and he KNOWS I fall for that 'Oh please, darling' every time! And somehow, I don't seem to mind...And I don't seem to mind buring the extra gasoline...
As soon as I turned south on Meridian, Claude started in on his, 'I'm determined to buy such a house for you' routine. His eyes took in every mansion, every expansive, well-manicured lawn. "Claude, how many times do I have to tell you? I love where I live; in fact, my home is practically in the same neighborhood."
"Danisha, you deserve the best of everything", he stopped
himself when I passed the turn-off to my house. Claude laughed and practically
accused me of kidnapping him.
"After all", he said between laughs, "you've passed 46th Street. Isn't that where you turn to get to Blue Ridge Road?" I was so tickled that I almost couldn't concentrate on my driving, but I had my reasons for whisking Claude Frollo to a night on the town.
"Damn baby! You know this town better than I gave you credit." I cast him a sultry, hotter-than-Hellfire look as we waited out the light. I could tell, just from his surprised expression, that I had his curiosity piqued. I then sang my little song:
Just got paid
Gonna treat you good
Gonna treat you right
"Claude, this has been a long week. I don't feel like cookin'; I don't feel like cleanin'." I leaned over and kissed his cheek. "I feel like treating you to dinner, and then, maybe a little shopping."
Claude Frollo returned my kiss, leaned back in his seat, and crooned love songs all the way downtown. He made battling the late-afternoon Friday traffic a lot more enjoyable.
However, I had no inkling that, this would probably be one of the last pleasant evenings we would share.
For a series of unexpected events, and someone from my past -- an unwelcomed person, would nearly destroy the special bond I treasured with Claude Frollo.
© Copyright FrolloFreak, FSM #14, 1998