“A dog is the only animal that will love someone more than it loves itself.”
Dedicated to rescued dogs and Schnauzers everywhere, in particular the ones who left paw prints on my heart, Cricket Ann, Madchen Mooney, Kugel, Tara Strudel, Schnitzel, Schatz, Earhart, Meaux Jeaux Mooney, MoonPie Mooney, Mauser the Schnauzer, Frederick and Tweezer. Special thanks to those of you who have opened your hearts and homes to help me rescue them, because without you, I’d have 1,000 dogs!
Go Cups, or Geaux Cups are plastic cups stacked at the end of all bars in New Orleans near the door. They are for patrons to empty what is left of their alcoholic drinks and take it with them. This allows the party, your friends and drinks to move with you.
The night of the shooting was a good one to catch pneumonia, but instead of staying home, I was at a Mardi Gras parade trying to catch beads. Julia took out a bottle of wine and two plastic wine glasses from her enormous leather shoulder bag and poured a drink for each of us. Suzanne, my childhood friend, held out a plastic go cup she just caught off a float for Julia to pour some wine into.
I was in my four-inch heels, and was still about six inches shorter than Julia. She had Dallas hair and wore big flashy gold and diamond jewelry, all of which were real. She took an inordinate amount of time to make sure her outfit was 100 percent coordinated, accessorized, pressed, or steamed. She spent forever getting dressed. It took her an hour to put on her makeup, and another hour to make sure her hair was just the right height. A wedding took less preparation than it took Julia getting ready to go, well . . . anywhere.
Julia purchased what nature failed to deliver. Those guys up on the floats looking down Julia’s blouse were in for a treat. She was a stunner before her recent boob job, or, as Julia referred to it, augmentation. Now, all heads were turned toward her, all except my mother’s. “Suzanne, you wanna drink outta something that has been rolling around on the ground before you wash it?” Julia hesitated for about a blink before pouring. Julia’s Baton Rouge accent added an “r” to wash making it sound like ‘warsh’.
“The booze will kill any germs,” Suzanne answered, seemingly unfazed.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” I toasted, and we bumped glasses.
My name is Brandy Alexander, and I am twenty-six years old still living at home with my parents. I’m tall, thin, and God gave me the girly attributes Julia had to pay for. My hair is shoulder length, straight, and blonde. I wear it down or pulled into a ponytail on top of my head. I love King Cakes, and I’m a sucker for an abandoned dog, especially if it’s a Schnauzer. Dad says these dogs find me; it’s in my aura. And, just ask my Mother; I’m personally responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world and at home. She’s Catholic, southern, and responsible for my biggest phobia, the cockroach. And, here in New Orleans, they fly at you.
I live in a New Orleans neighborhood known as the Irish Channel, and a relative or lifelong friend lives in every home on our block. I have known the family of five boys who live next door to us since I was born. Dante is a year older than me, and we have been childhood friends and pseudo-sweethearts since we could crawl. Both our families expect us to set a date for the wedding any day.
It was the first parade of the Mardi Gras season, and I stood with family and friends in the same spot where we had watched parades for the last twenty-six years. My boyfriend, Dante, is a New Orleans cop. He and his partner always arranged to get their police parade assignments at either end of the block closest to this spot. Everyone came out and stood near them for protection. The only protection any of us needed was from each other.
Between the floats and bands, the members of the gentlemen walking clubs, often inebriated, marched along. Their objective, fueled with liquid courage, was to coerce a girl for a kiss in exchange for a flower they carried with them on a walking cane. It was lighthearted foolishness. The gentleman got a kiss, sometimes a peck on the check, or the fella kissed a girl’s hand presented in exchange for a homemade paper carnation. These kiss-flower negotiations were nothing serious—except with the man I kissed. New Orleans parades provide a decadent experience for every one of the senses. Bands passed, and their bass drums pounded in my chest. Vendors pushed carts of candied apples, cotton candy, peanuts, corn dogs, and popcorn. Smells of swirled cotton candy and peanuts mingled with whiffs of whiskey and marijuana from the crowd as they played, bumped, and pushed into each other and me. The yelling, laughing, and screaming died down after each float passed. When I looked back to the parade, my eyes locked onto those of a man with black, piercing eyes, a swimmer’s body, and James Bond good looks. He was standing still and staring at me. I have a weakness for the tall, athletic type with a great tan. The formal wear was a bonus.
He wore a tuxedo like all the club members and he stood in the middle of the street, not at the curb working the women for kisses. He didn’t have a drink or carry a cane of flowers. He held a few paper carnations in one hand. His confident demeanor and blatant attention caused me to catch my breath.
We stood there looking at each other for what felt like an eternity. I have no idea how much time passed from this moment on.
I knew I was going to kiss him. He never waved or gestured for me to come over. He just stood there, staring. He never took his eyes off me. No one had ever looked at me with such intensity. I didn’t remember handing my glass to Julia. I didn’t remember my feet moving. I glided in a trance. Some invisible force locked onto me and transported me to him, into the street, the noise, the music, and yelling—away from my parents, friends, boyfriend’s parents, and Dante. I moved along a straight line in the direction of his face. People moved out of my way without bumping or touching me.
Everything around me—people, noise, music—faded away. I felt alone with him in the middle of St. Charles Avenue. Everything went silent as I glided up and stopped toe-to-toe, face-to-face with him, in the middle of a parade with people teeming all around us. In our quiet space, I could hear him breathing. I could smell him, not his cologne . . . him. The way he smelled made my skin tingle. He never unlocked his eyes from mine as he put his right hand around my waist and pulled me into him. I ran my hands up his arms and rested them on his shoulders. He moved his face to me and put his mouth on mine. Our bodies melted into each other, a perfect, comfortable fit. I don’t know how long it lasted. It was long, slow, hot—unlike any kiss I have ever had in my life.
My right leg bent up at the knee all by itself. I don’t know how long I stood there in the street, in a bubble, in the kiss, on one foot. It could have been a minute or an hour. Everything stopped. We were alone in a world that belonged only to us. The rest of the parade—bands, floats, revelers, everything—just disappeared.
Then, I felt his face moving away from mine. He placed his warm giant hand behind my neck to turn my head. His lips brushed my ear and he whispered, “Meet me at the end of the parade.”
His warm breath in my ear sent a heat wave down to my toes. As our faces moved apart, he pressed all the flowers he held into my hand with the intensity of his look. The kiss ended and the parade, with the thousands of people and noise, began to fade back into my awareness. The sounds and movement crescendoed until it resumed its original pitch. I could hear a policeman saying to him, “OK, lover boy, let’s keep it moving, before I have to call a fire truck.” The same policeman said to me, “You have to get behind the curb, Miss.” He moved The Kisser along, grabbed my elbow and guided me to the curb. I knew the cop’s voice and he knew my name. Why was he calling me “Miss?” I looked around as I left the bubble. The voice belonged to Dante’s partner, Joe.
When I got back to my spot standing next to Julia, my mother leaned over and said to me, “Brandy, you made a spectacle of yourself.” What an accomplishment—since my competition was a Mardi Gras parade. Then she turned and walked back to stand with my dad. Dad was smiling at me until my mother gave him the look.
“Brandy, are you OK?” Suzanne asked. “You look like Dante popped you with his stun gun.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.”
Julia started prying to find out what he said in my ear. I told her. Ignoring the disapproving looks from my mother, Dante’s parents, and all the neighbors who came to the parade, I decided to meet him. Normally, I don’t believe in a kiss at first sight. But, as I was drawn into the street for the kiss, I felt similarly drawn to go to the Municipal Auditorium where the parade would end to find him. Dante didn’t look at me. I had already forgotten his instructions from earlier in the evening to go straight home after the parade. He told me the police had it on good authority that there may be problems tonight with the crowd.
I had to find out why I had connected so intimately and without hesitation with the man I had kissed—in front of a thousand people, no less. I couldn’t blame my actions on drinking. I didn’t taste liquor in his kiss and Julia took my untouched plastic flute from me when I started moving to the street. What are friends for, if not to hold your drink while you make a spectacle of yourself?
Before the last float approached, Julia and I left so we could make it to the Municipal Auditorium, where the parade would disband. Where the parade ends always looks like a scene right out of a Godzilla movie, with the Japanese fleeing the monster in mass hysteria. The traffic, people, animals, police cars, floats, bands, equipment and riders all scrambled. Everyone was pushing, shoving, and cursing to get to the next party, a carnival ball, or home. A free-for-all didn’t begin to describe it.
I found him. I found him right away. The necktie he wore with the tuxedo hung untied around his neck. He looked at me at the same time I spotted him and he broke into a heart-melting smile. He was even better looking when he smiled. I couldn’t stop the heat rising up my body to my face or the smile I felt spreading from ear to ear. He was walking away from me at a 45-degree angle, and without losing a beat to change direction his next step moved in the direction of my face. This was easier than I thought. It felt as if the cone of silence that enveloped us while kissing was going to work again.
Julia stood right next to me and pointed over my shoulder saying, “There he is!” She sounded as if she were off in the distance.
Our eyes remained glued on each other as he continued making his way toward me. Again, I didn’t need to push and shove. People just moved out of the path we made to each other. As we came face-to-face, we both reached out our hands to take the others. Just as we touched hands, and before I could even ask his name, or tell him mine, a shot was fired. The sound of the gun exploded next to my head.
Everyone went berserk, running into us from every direction. We never lost eye contact as he went down to the ground. When he pulled me to my knees along with him, I saw the blood all over his shirt. He pulled me in close to his face, squeezed my hands and gasped, “Please, help me. Please save Isabella.” Then he passed out.
The police were everywhere.
Copyright © Colleen Mooney 2014
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the publisher. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is an liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained here.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.