So, I am currently drawing to a close my massive revisions to the Orleans Exodus book two, titled On the Brink. In it, my characters–Hilaria, Anthony, and Job–face many exhausting challenges, all of which take an extreme toll on me as their writer…because I feel what they feel as I live it with them. That being said, I’m not a romantic…AT ALL, but Hill and Job and Anthony have this weird love triangle thing going on, and **SPOILER ALERT** it’s kinda off the hook in OTB. Of course, I’m totally emotionally taxed now writing and rewriting all this, and with Valentine’s Day being, well, today, I thought it would be good to go back to my roots…or my characters’ roots really and write a little something new between two of them to give us all a little break from **SPOILER ALERT** the tragedy that is On the Brink.
I put this to a vote on my Facebook and Instagram pages, and though the totals were close… a new scene between our two favorite love birds won out over a retelling of a scene from Job’s POV and a new one from Anthony’s perspective. Without further ado, here are Anthony and Hill in a new scene just for you who asked for it!
“Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way”
An Orleans Exodus Bonus
I found a little note on my bed this morning, written in Anthony’s scrawling hand. It was there, atop my pillow, when I rolled over and the Quarter sunshine peaked through my window, the holes in our walls. I picked up the scrap of paper, waiting for my eyes to focus, and rather than fixating on the fact he had somehow snuck into my room again last night to leave it behind, I concentrated on deciphering his handwriting. Even working with him every day on reading and writing and everything else he never learned because of his upbringing, Anthony’s words were still broken and jumbled…but none of that took away from the sweetness of his message.
Meet me at the old Two Sisters courtyard at dusk. Dress in something pretty…not that you aren’t always beautiful to me. Love you. –Anthony
So, as I am standing now outside of the Court of Two Sisters—a restaurant on our list of places to explore but that we’ve never ventured into—on a gallery that once served as a balcony for a window on the second story, I wipe down the front of the dress I have on. Yes, a dress. It is the only article of clothing resembling anything feminine that I own, and it’s not me at all. A hand-me-down from my mama, Cleo, it’s a green, lacy thing, topped up with tiny sleeves that barely cover my arms and a hem line that touches well above my knees. I tug at the sleeves and the ruffles at the bottom, trying to cover my freckled shoulders and thighs, but it’s of no use. I’m showing more skin tonight that I have ever before in my life. I push a piece of hair behind my ear and take a deep breath.
You’re doing this for Anthony, I think. You’ll do anything for him.
Before I step through the window, I guarantee that my boat is tied to the wrought iron railing. Green water, made brighter by the sun setting, laps at the gallery posts, and my dinghy sways with the gentle waves. The motion calms me, and I push open the floor-to-ceiling window panes and step inside.
“Anthony?” I call, but there’s no answer.
I take a last look over my shoulder and wander through what must have been the attic of the old restaurant. Yellowed table cloths litter the space, and a turned-over table or two rest in each corner. My feet are bare, leaving naked footprints on the dusty floor, as I press onward to find Anthony.
“Hello?” I whisper as I duck to move from the larger attic space into a smaller room just beyond. I cross the tiny room in just a few steps, and my head scrapes the ceiling above. I stoop when a final doorway comes into view, and past it, I see the distinct flickering of candlelight. When I pass over the last threshold, my breath is stolen from my chest by the sight before me.
The room, with its worn planks on the walls and floor, is washed pink by the setting sun. The three windows are thrown open, their sheer curtains billowing inward on a soft breeze. Candles line the floor, the shelves built into the walls, and a table set with two chairs. In the middle of it all stands Anthony, dressed in clean black pants—as clean as he can get them—and a black shirt, gathered up at the elbows. He holds a bouquet of yellow and pink wildflowers out to me, a smile plastered on his face.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he says with a little chuckle at the end as if the idea of saying such a thing is ridiculous to him.
“I wish I knew what that is,” I say back with a light laugh of my own.
“It’s a holiday,” Anthony says taking a step towards me, “that I read about once.”
I take a step forward, too. “How often do you do that—read without me, I mean?”
“Not often,” Anthony admits, “but when I do, I always learning something I want to share with you.”
“So….” I say, waving a hand around the room, “what is this Valentine’s Day?”
Anthony’s face grows serious in the candlelight. “Give me a kiss, and I’ll tell you all my secrets.”
Without hesitation, I leap into his arms, and our lips meet. He’s gentle at first, his hands wrapped around my waist, drawing me close, but after a few seconds, I can’t breathe, so I pull away and press my forehead to his. He presses a light kiss to my nose and exhales into my mouth, and I know once kiss isn’t enough to sate his hunger.
“Thank you for this,” I laugh, “whatever it is.”
“You’re very welcome, my lovely,” he says, letting me go. “Come. Sit, and I’ll tell you all about it. But food first.”
Anthony and I take our seats at the table, and he lays the bouquet in front of me. Without a word, he brings out a can-opener—a handy staple for any Quarter kid who eats his meals from a can like most of us—and a can of…pineapple. Its metallic surface is dented on one side, but the label is bright yellow and orange, obnoxious really, and I say the word aloud to feel it roll off my tongue.
“Yes, pineapple,” he says mocking my tone.
With little fanfare, he opens the can of fruit and pulls two forks from his back pocket. He hands one to me and moves his chair around the table so he’s as close to me as he can come while occupying the same space. The hand not holding his fork slips into mine, and we lock eyes.
“Have you had it before?” Anthony asks and purses his lips, teasing me.
“What?” I stutter when I realize my eyes have dropped to his mouth.
“That?” Anthony says swinging his fork to the open can, a smiling dancing in his words. “Pine. Apple. Had. It. Before?”
“No,” I say, clearing my throat. “What do you think it tastes like?”
“It’s sweet,” Anthony murmurs against my ear. “Like you.”
“If you don’t stop that,” I whisper, “we’ll never eat.”
“I’m okay with that,” Anthony concedes, and I feel his lips tickle my neck.
“Okay, okay, stop it!” I laugh and shove him away, but he doesn’t drop my hand. “Seriously. I want to try this pineapple of yours.”
Anthony straightens his back and eyes me. “Fine. Reject me. I’m wounded, but you’re gonna love that stuff.”
I lean forward and stab a piece of the fruit floating in its yellow juice. I raise it to my tongue and let it drip there before I take it into my mouth. Anthony is right; it is sweet. More tart than my mama’s rarely crafted desserts, and exotic, too. Somehow the pineapple’s flavor doesn’t match anything that you’d ever find in the Quarter today. Chewing, I relish the texture—crunchy yet soft—then, I swallow, and I feel the weight of Anthony’s eyes on me.
“You like it?” he asks, eyes glittering.
“Oh my god, yes,” I say. I snatch the can from the table. “You aren’t getting any. Sorry. Find your own.”
Anthony tsk-tsks at me. “Now, Hill, that’s not fair. I set up the fancy dinner for you, and you hog all the food. What kind of girlfriend does that make you?”
I stop, my hand frozen in the air, at the word girlfriend. Yes, Anthony and I have exchanged I love you more times than I can count because I think, on some level, we’ve always loved each other—saying it was only natural, a final stone set in place, solidifying the foundation of our relationship. But he’s never called me his…girlfriend before.
“What did you just say?” I ask, dropping my fork to the table, the pineapple forgotten.
“What?” Anthony teases, green eyes on fire. “Did you like that, Hill? Did you like being called my girlfriend?”
I flex the fingers of my free hand over my thigh, fiddling with the hem of the dress. All of a sudden, it feels far too short, and I feel far too exposed. Anthony must see the panic on my face because he backpedals with care.
“No, no, no, Hill,” Anthony says, cupping my face in his hands. “I don’t want to scare you away. Forget I said anything. You’re my friend—my very best friend who I happen to love like a mad man. I take it back. I swear. You’re not my girlfriend. You’re so much more than that. You’re my Hill.”
I press my face into his hands and smile, just a little, to let him know I’m okay.
“Boyfriend isn’t strong enough a word for what you are to me,” I explain to him, feeling tears burn at the edges of my vision. “I want to be your girlfriend so badly, Anthony, but moreover, I want to be your everything…because you are mine.”
A wide grin spreads over Anthony’s face, and he runs his nose down the length of mine.
“Say that again, Hill, please. I need to hear it.”
“You’re my everything,” I whisper.
“And you’re mine,” he whispers back. “Always and forever.”
“How long do you think this’ll last between us?” I ask for the thousandth time. “Surrender Day is less than two months from now… and I can’t help but feeling like something is slipping away—”
“Don’t think about tomorrow or the next day or the next,” Anthony orders with gentle persuasion. “Let’s think about here and now. You and me. Hill and Ant. The way life is supposed to be.”
Anthony winds his hands into the hair at the nape of my neck and brings my mouth back to his. We kiss, and we kiss. We only come up for air when the wind comes through the windows and blows out most of the candles set against the sills and drapes an early evening dew over everything within…a damp blanket, wrapping us up and hiding us away yet, all the while, reminding us time must go on—with or without us.
Before I can contemplate, once more, what Surrender Day means for us, a low grumbling escapes Anthony’s abdomen, and our eyes drop to his stomach.
“Hungry much?” I laugh and pat his belly which is firm beneath my hand.
“Of course,” Anthony says, eyes still lingering on my lips. “I’m always hungry when you’re around.”
“Could you be more inappropriate?” I ask and let my gaze wander out the window, where the sun has set at last, and the moon is making its slow traipse up the purple expanse of sky beyond.
“Is that a test, Hill?” Anthony asks, wagging his eyebrows up and down as I turn my eyes back to his.
“Hardly,” I say and give his cheek a light slap. “By the way, you never told me what Valentine’s Day is.”
Anthony rolls his eyes and picks up his fork. “It’s a stupid holiday from before NAP and the Wall…one when people sent chocolates to each other in heart-shaped boxes and bought lots of vases filled with flowers. There were balloons involved, too. It sounds hideous.” He stops, thinking for a moment. “And there were poems involved. Not my style of poetry, but stupid rhymes that offer nothing more than cheese.”
“Tell me one,” I say.
He clears his throat and levels his eyes on me. “‘Roses are red. Violets are blue. If you didn’t know, you’re stupid, but your hair is red, too.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I sigh.
“Not in the slightest,” Anthony says, grinning. “Like I said, it sounds lame.”
“So…why did you plan this?” I ask, waving my hand around the room again.
“It got me alone with you. Didn’t it?”
“I—” I begin to say; then, I change my mind. “You’re a genius. You know that? Manipulating me to visit you in a dark room, luring me in with candles, and flowers, and food… and kisses. Speaking of those….”
“You want more?” Anthony asks, his voice low and alluring, his green eyes dark in the shadowy room.
“Always,” I say. I lean towards him and slip my hands up his arms and wrap them around my waist. But he’s still holding his fork.
Anthony joins me, bending to greet my awaiting lips, but then, he stops. He smiles against my cheek.
“Woman, if we’re gonna keep this up, I need energy for all the kissing. Pass me the damn pineapple.”
I laugh out loud, holding myself together, as he releases me. He snatches the food from the table. Over the rim of the can, he smirks, pulls out a piece of fruit, and almost swallows it whole.
“You are completely ridiculous, Anthony.”
“You know it,” he says before popping another piece of pineapple into his mouth. “And you wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I meet his grin with one of my own, and I know he’s right. I wouldn’t trade this moment for the world…even the one NAP has to offer.
…………………and there ya go, y’all! Hope you loved it as much as I loved writing it. It’s feels so good being among my friends, my characters, when they are happy. 🙂 Maybe I’m weird, but that’s how I work.
Happy Valentine’s from me, Hilaria, and Anthony to YOU! Make it magical, but please, DO NOT touch the pineapple. I’m calling dibs.
P.S. Wanna read more about Hill and Ant and their adventures in the flooded Orleans Quarter…and the infamous Name Acquisition Program that rules them all? Check out the first book of the Orleans Exodus trilogy, On the Other Side now! The Kindle version is on sale for $.99 until tomorrow, 2/15!