Chapter Twenty Two
They shed their clothes and took a steaming hot shower together taking turns gently bathing the other. They welcomed the soft bed. It was past nine when he rolled from the bed. He joined her once again for another hot shower to help relieve the soreness and stiffness.
“Stand on your good foot and stop trying to bend down. You will slip. That will not be a pretty picture.”
Shaun lathered the soap in his hands and scrubbed her like a baby. He then rinsed and dried her.
“I love you, Shaun. You treat me like a princess! Please never change.”
“You are my princess. I will never stop treating you as one. Now, get dressed. I will be down in a few minutes.” He stepped back in and showered quickly. He removed the bandage and carefully washed his face. He wiped the steam from the mirror and studied the wound. “Gonna leave a big, ugly scar. Oh well, can’t do anything about it now.”
After breakfast, Nicole and Cindy left for work. L.L. and Bonnie went to the study to go over the wedding plans again. Shaun and Jake built a roaring fire in the den fireplace.
“Tell me about the cattle thieves and everything that happened. I was curious last night but Bonnie rightfully intervened.”
“There was a prized bull stolen from this area a couple of days ago. We identified the owner as Mickey McGraw up by Caddo Lake. The bull has a serial number tattooed in his ear. This theft enabled the Tyler cops to get warrants allowing them to place tracking devices on the suspects’ trucks. When they all left their homes headed this way, L.L. was alerted. Our team was ready to respond. Not a big deal until things went bad during the takedown.”
James parked behind the house and found his way to the den. “Hey Jake, Shaun. How you doing, Shaun? We need to put a fresh bandage on that thing.”
“No thanks, James. I put ointment on it. I will not wear a big, thick bandage on my face any longer but thanks anyway.”
Jake cleared his throat as he looked to James. “Bonnie saved you a breakfast plate in the warmer. Get it and some coffee and have your breakfast in here with us. Shaun is giving me the rundown on the cattle guys. I believe he is holding back. I want to hear details not sugar-coating.”
James went to the kitchen returning with a large tray filled with his breakfast, a pot of coffee and more cups. He poured one for Jake and Shaun and then himself. James sat at the large desk to eat.
“Now, where were you? Oh yeah, things went bad.”
“OK, Dad, I will give you details.” Shaun took his father through every step of the case. Jake leaned back in the old, leather chair looking at the fire.
“Seems the Good Lord was watching over all of you. Anyone of you could have been killed. I know it’s too much to ask y’all to stop being on this team. I will ask you to train hard to be safe. By the way, son, congratulations on you and L.L. making captain!”
“Thanks, Dad. Reminds me of the old stories we heard about field promotions.”
James finished his meal and took the tray back to the kitchen. When he returned, he sat on the sofa with Shaun. “What are your plans till the wedding?”
“I’m not sure. I will climb the walls after a day or two of R & R. What about you?”
“I arranged for several friends to take my patient load starting today until I return from our honeymoon. I am still tense and on edge. My head is not into seeing patients right now. After the wedding and honeymoon, I’ll be ready to return to work.”
Jake stood and walked to the fireplace. He placed his cup on the mantle extending his hands toward the heat as he spoke with his back to them.
“I made arrangements for both of you young men. The nights of sneaking into certain bedrooms in this house are over for both of you. When you finish your coffee, James , go to your house and pack your bags for a two-week trip. Same for you, Shaun.”
“What?” Shaun asked.
“Let me make it clear to you two. In over 50 years, nothing in this house happens without Bonnie and me knowing about it. For weeks, you two waited until everyone was asleep before you crept into the bedrooms of Nicole and L.L. I’ve known from the first night. It was hard for me to keep my mouth shut. Being a man, too, I did. I want your weddings to be special. Those girls need to be left alone so they can do what women do at these times. You here places too much pressure on them. It is distracting and complicates matters.” James’ face was bright red as was Shaun’s. Jake turned to look them in the eye in silence.
“I am putting my foot down. You will do as I say. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes,” they both whispered.
“Good! Pack your stuff. Take all your personal items out of their rooms while they are busy. Be here and ready to travel in two hours. By the way, I’m coming, too. I would be crazier than I already am if I spent the next two weeks here with only women in this house.”
As he walked from the room, he glanced over his shoulder with a smile, “See you in two hours.”
They looked at one another in silence for a moment before James spoke, “I love your Dad! I miss mine so much. Jake brings so much to my life. He’s firm but understanding just what I want and need.”
“He is my father and best friend but still the boss of this home. I will always follow his orders. It does not surprise me he and Bonnie knew what we’ve been doing the last few months. He is right in everything he said. Wonder where we’re going?”
“I don’t have a clue, Shaun. Spending time with my two favorite buddies will be great! It does makes things less complicated here for the girls.”
James parked near the garage, unloaded his bags and walked to the kitchen where he found Jake and the rest of the family. Melissa and Julie were coloring at the table. Bonnie was cooking something on the stove that made his mouth water.
Jake turned to Shaun, “Can you and James take your truck? I will be riding with Marie.”
“Sure, Dad. No problem. Where are we heading?”
“South to Cajun country. Marie’s family has a place there you will love. She told me all about it. I can’t wait to get there. Are y’all ready?”
“Say your goodbyes and load up. We have a long way to go before sundown.”
The two couples hugged and kissed making Melissa and Julie snicker.
“I will have my cell, L.L. Call and text when you have time.”
“I will, sweetheart. Be safe and think of me.”
“Oh, that is easy. The hard part is not seeing you for two weeks.”
“Same here. It will make our wedding so special. Don’t you think?”
“Not sure it can be more special. I will be counting the days. I love you!”
“Love you too, sweetie! You know the cell phone thing goes both ways. Call and text me so I will know you are enjoying yourself.”
“I will.” He kissed her once more and headed for the truck with his bags in his hands.
“Nicole, I am going to miss you so much. I will call you on the way and once we get there. I will text you some pictures of Cajun country.”
“You better, James!” She pulled him into her arms placing her lips to his ear she whispered, “Think of me while you’re away. You will be on my mind constantly.”
“I promise. I will, Nicole. I love you so much.”
James loaded his bags in the bed of the King Ranch and climbed in with Shaun.
They drove south on I-49. Four hours later they turned on a sandy, dirt road following Marie’s small SUV. They traveled several miles deeper into the cypress forest and wetlands. As the winter sun was setting, the road ended at the water’s edge. They were deep within a Cajun swamp surrounded by giant, moss-covered cypress trees hundreds of years old. They stood looking at the smooth, glassy black water. James was first to break the silence, “Are we pitching a tent here?”
Marie smiled as she took his hand, “No, James. We have a house here. Too many snakes in these swamps to lay on the ground inside a tent. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. I have missed it so.” She looked to Shaun. “Will you hit your truck horn. My car’s horn is just a buzzer. They can’t hear it.”
Shaun looked puzzled but did as he was asked. He hit the horn three long blasts not knowing what to expect.
“Let’s get the bags out. They will be here soon,” Jake announced.
As the last rays of sun disappeared closing the swamp into a peaceful darkness, someone whistled deep across the water. Marie placed two fingers to her lips to return the call. Soon a single light flickered off the surface through the thick forest. The sound of a big V-8 motor rumbling at a slow idle was heard as the craft came near. There were actually several lights heading their way. Nevel shouted something to Marie in French. Using her French, she yelled back with a giant smile on her face. Nevel nosed the big flat-bottom boat to the sandy bank and bounced out to hug his sister. They exchanged French greetings then switched to English with the redneck Yankees from North Louisiana.
“Good to see you again, Jake, James, Shaun!”
“Good to see you, too,” they responded.
“It will take about 30 minutes to get back to the house.”
“Is the house a houseboat?” James asked.
“No, it’s the old, wood house our great, grandfather built. It’s on a small island deeper into the swamp. You’ll like it.”
“Sounds great!” they all chimed.
Nevel navigated the big boat with great skill working his way to the home. Lights appeared through the trees as they bumped against a long dock. Nevel killed the motor and tied off the bow as Shaun did the same at the stern. They stood quietly after Marie hushed them. “Listen,” she whispered. “You will hear the ole owls, frogs, night birds and occasional gator call or splash.”
The hair on the back of James’ neck stood as he heard the distinct sound of a gator tail popping the surface of the water. He would keep his eyes wide open until he was inside the house. Creepy, he thought, as he picked up his bags to follow the line toward the lights deeper in the woods. He made sure his steps were close to Shaun’s walking in front of him. The sandy trail was well used and easy to follow with the use of flashlights. As they broke out of the small forest, the home came into view. Marie stopped and so did everyone behind her. She looked at the old home still standing strong like a rock. It touched her heart. The old house stood on top of giant 10 foot cypress columns to withstand the numerous high water floods that attacked her over the last 90 years. She did not have a speck of paint on her exterior. The light gray, weathered board and batten siding was well suited for this setting. She appeared willing to face many more years of hurricanes and floods. There was a large 10 foot porch wrapped completely around her. During the summer nights, the porch screens kept the mosquitoes away. Marie’s heart swelled as the front door opened and her mother stepped out to greet them. She bolted up the tall, flight of wooden steps to take the little Cajun lady in her arms.
They kissed and whispered words of love to one another before Marie made the introductions.
“Jake, boys, this is my dear mother, Renee!”
Each stepped forward to receive a tender, welcoming hug from the little lady. They followed her in the front room where Marie assigned bedrooms. She instructed them to take their bags to their rooms and make their way to the kitchen for supper.
Charles DeBreaux sat alone at the table waiting for his daughter to come to him. He was in his late 80’s and had worked a long day. He earned the right to wait for his children to come to him. He stood for Marie’s embrace and gentle kisses as he surveyed the strange men surrounding his table. He looked each man up and down as his piercing, light blue eyes probed their souls. He too was short in stature yet exuded a commanding presence. Shaun recognized this powerful trait having met many leaders in the military. He instantly knew this was a real man. Charles took their hands firmly, but gently, conveying his welcoming of them into his home. Neither Renee nor Charles spoke complete English. He offered a few words to his guests in their native tongue but mostly spoke to Nevel and Marie in French. Everyone took their seats at the dinner table.
“The meal was unbelievable!” Jake announced as he patted Marie’s hand. Shaun watched Charles when this happened reading his expression of interest on his face. He smiled and nodded his head understanding what Jake had said but his eyes showed concern for his daughter. Shaun knew his Dad would prove to this man he was worthy to touch his daughter’s hand.
Marie caught her father looking at Shaun’s injured cheek. It was healing quickly; the stitches were still intact. She knew her father wondered what happened to him.
In French, she told him about the events relating to the wound, encountering the cattle thieves and both him and L.L. being injured in the process. A flash of relief came to his face when he learned the young man sitting at his table had not been in a bar fight. He was acting as a law man arresting criminals. He nodded that he understood.
In his broken English, he told Shaun he wanted to be a law man and arrest bad people. He was sorry to see the wound but pleased to learn of the arrest.
After supper, Nevel led the men to the back yard to a large, open air pavilion. It had a brick floor and tin roof. In the center of the room stood a large, above ground concrete box. Nevel pulled the large metal grate from the rim of the big box and placed several sticks of firewood inside. He lit the fire and soon the night chill disappeared. The thick smoke traveled upwards to the metal roof escaping through a raised cupola.
Nevel went to an old cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and glasses. He handed out the glasses pouring each half full.H e raised his glass and said some words to them in French. He then said them in English. “To my friends who traveled a great distance to stay with us. Know you are always welcome. Cheers!”
He stood with a boot on the edge of the firebox as he sipped his drink. “We built this when I was a teenager. We have a tradition that dates back as far and we can trace. We often cook outside by the fire playing music and dancing. It rains so much here, we often needed to move the event inside the house and abandon the fire. We designed this pavilion to cook under the roof during pouring rain. Tomorrow night this place will be crowded with our friends and family eating, drinking, singing and dancing. It will last for hours. We will sleep tonight and fish tomorrow morning. During the afternoon, we should take a nap to charge up for the night. I don’t want you to be sleepy and miss any of it.”
“How big is your island?” Jake asked.
“About 20 acres or so. Depends on the water level. In the spring, the water takes over most of the island except about three acres here by the house. We built the house on the highest ground along with the barn over there.”
Marie spent the evening in the house visiting with her Mom and Dad while the boys sipped their whiskey by the fire.
Shaun held her in his arms and kissed her deeply. They were still breathing hard from making love beneath the cocoon of the old, handmade quilt. Moonlight shone through the window making her blonde hair glow like an angel. He leaned back looking in those blue-green eyes that would hold his heart forever. Sleep took him under while he held his love next to him.
He opened his eyes to focus on his surroundings. The aroma of bacon frying drifted through his senses as he stretched underneath the old cotton blanket he was nestled under. His mind cleared as he recalled where he was. He reached for L.L. and found the other pillow pulled next to him. He realized he had dreamed of her as he did almost every night. He rolled from his single bed and padded down the hall to the bath for a wake up shower. It was five A.M. He knew L.L. would soon be waking. He took a quick shower in the soft, swamp water fascinated how he still felt slippery although the soap was rinsed away. After dressing, he went to the kitchen where Charles was at the table and Renee was in front of the large, old stove. He greeted them with a nod as he walked in.
“Good morning,” he said with a grin.
“Good morning,” she replied. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, Ma’am, like a rock.”
“Cups are by the pot. Help yourself.”
Charles joined him in a refill of his cup. The weathered, wooden door leading to the back porch stood open. They took their coffee and made their way to the porch.
Without a word, they stood side by side sipping the rich, black Cajun coffee as they looked through the screens. The swamp was silent before the sun rose but the rooster in the coop was on duty. The large flood light attached to the front of the barn illuminated the chicken yard. Shaun watched the rooster slowly walk the fence line as he cackled a couple of times. He stopped, quickly flapped his wings before taking in a deep breath and releasing his loud, shrill morning announcement. Several of the nesting chickens raised their heads as they opened their eyes to the call of reveille. They soon began walking down their small ladder ramps to the ground to join the rooster in another day. Charles walked to a large, cardboard barrel and scooped out a one-gallon bucket of chicken feed. He paused as he reached for the screen door leading to the steps. Still silent, he slightly raised the bucket offering it to Shaun.
Shaun took the offering and tread down the steps to the yard. Charles tagged along at his side. As they neared the pen, Charles took Shaun’s coffee cup to free his hands.
Shaun tossed numerous handfuls of feed throughout the yard as several more latecomers walked the plank for breakfast. When the bucket was empty, Charles opened the gate and nodded for Shaun to enter the pen. He stepped in dodging the flock of feeding chickens as he made his way to their nest. Using the bucket, he collected a dozen, freshly laid eggs and closed the gate behind him.
In his broken English, Charles thanked him as they strolled back to the kitchen. Voices could be heard inside the dark porch. Jake and Nevel greeted them as they reached for the door. Shaun took the seat next to his father.
“Well, good morning to you, too. How did you sleep?” asked Shaun.
“Great! This is such a peaceful place. It’s like going back in time. The quiet is like therapy. Reminds me when I was a little boy camping in our swamp. Getting away is good for one’s soul,” said Jake.
“I agree. This is a special place. I am happy you arranged for us to spend this time here.”
Marie leaned against the doorway sipping her cup. She smiled at Jake. “Y’all come in and wash up. Breakfast will be on the table shortly.”
The morning was spent fishing for “sac-a-lait” White Perch. They returned home when the stringer was full. Nevel suggested it was a good time to rest for the evening ahead. Everyone heeded his advice.
Someone was shouting in the back yard as Shawn awoke and cleared his head. He realized the sun was setting and he had slept for most of the afternoon. He got up, washed his face and quickly headed to the back yard concerned about the yelling. When he stepped on the back porch, he saw a crowd of 50 or so people gathered around the fire roasting a full-size hog. Musicians played guitars, fiddles and accordions. Women and children sang along with the music and some were dancing. As he stood on the bottom step, Shaun watched a little boy and girl about five years old dancing together. The tenderness and fun mixed together was a new sight to Shaun. Nevel stood by the fire holding a large, steel pipe crank attached to the massive hog. He turned it slowly over the hickory fire. He pointed to Shaun as he spoke to the crowd. “This is Shawn! He’s the one I’ve been telling you about.” Soon Shaun was surrounded by men and women. The men, followed by the women, took his hand to introduce themselves. Many gave hugs instead of shaking hands. In no time, he felt adopted into a large Cajun family.
The music, food and drinks flowed until after midnight. Shawn learned all the families in attendance were related by blood or marriage. Everyone lived in the swamp and traveled here by water.
James sat on a split log next to Shawn and Jake. “No cell phone signal here. I tried texting and calling Nicole but can’t get out. Our cell phones are useless here except as cameras. I feel like a tourist clicking shots and having people take our pictures. I haven’t seen anyone else with a cell phone here.”
“Me either, James,” said Shawn. “I look forward to the air boat ride tomorrow. Nevel will take us on a tour of the swamp. Momma gators are having little ones this time of year and he knows the location of a large nest.”
The following morning after an early breakfast, the men waited on the dock for the air boat to arrive. The sound approaching was a mixture of an airplane and a powerful race car. The motor and prop was heard well before it came into view. The big, flat-bottomed boat blasted out of the moss-covered tree line and pulled next to the dock. The boat had two, long tiered bench seats so the second row riders could see clearly over the front row. Perched high above the seats was the captain’s seat. He had a long shaft on one side to control the wind rudders and a throttle lever on the other side.
After meeting the owner, Terry Lejeune, first cousin to Marie and Nevel, they motored out into the vast swamp. For hours, they cruised through the boat lanes ducking beneath low hanging moss tails. When they hit the main open channel, Terry instructed them to hold on tightly. He shoved the throttle forward causing the big V-8 Chevy motor to bellow. The prop responded to the tremendous power as they skimmed smoothly across the water in excess of 60 miles per hour.
“I have never seen so many gators in my life!” Jake proclaimed.
“They gather back in this pocket every year to have their young. They are protected because no hunting is permitted in this section. Look to the far side. See that island. It’s about an acre and has about 10 momma gators living on it. The males are nearby but not allowed on the island for weeks. We need to keep our distance. Mommas are very protective of their little ones.”
Shaun, Jake and James clicked numerous pictures of the gators with each of them standing in the front of the boat with the gators in the background.
The two weeks in the swamp flew by for Shaun and James. As always, Jake was spot on when it came to such things. They were grateful to Marie’s family for their splendid Cajun hospitality. Driving north on I-49 heading home, they discussed how to reciprocate when her family joined them at the plantation during the wedding.
“It’s only four days until our weddings, Shaun.”
“I know. I thought it would never get here. Now, it’s just around the corner. Where are you taking your bride for your honeymoon?”
“I have us booked for two weeks in California. She mentioned once she wanted to visit Napa Valley. We are staying in a bed and breakfast located in the heart of wine country. We will spend a couple of nights in San Francisco also and tour the rest of the Valley. Where are you taking L.L.?”
“The Grand Bahamas. She got her passport a couple of years ago planning to go. Her Dad got sick about that time and she never made it. I am not telling her until we board the plane in New Orleans. I am flying us down to the Lake Front Airport. We will leave the Bonanza there and catch a flight out of Louie Armstrong to the Islands. We are booked in an ocean side cabana. She is a certified diver but has never dove in the ocean, only the local lakes around here. She is going to fall in love with it.”
“Man, that sounds great! Take a lot of photos. We will do the same and share our albums when we return.”
“We will. Nicole will love the wine country and Frisco. How are you traveling to the coast?”
“I chartered a small corporate jet. We stop once for fuel and the next stop is Frisco. It’s a Cessna Citation II. We will be the only passengers.”
“I know the type. The Citation is comfortable.”
After Shaun and L.L. finished unpacking his bags, they wanted to walk to the lake. With the soft cast still on her foot, Shaun drove the side by side instead. When they arrived, they found James and Nicole sitting on the old, wooden bench at the end of the pier.
Shaun and James felt slightly awkward the first few minutes the couples joined one another. Nicole stood taking L.L.’s hand as she instructed Shaun to have a seat.
“Shaun, James, while you were away, we were busy arranging all the details of the weddings. The forecast looks perfect! It will be in the low 70’s by noon with blue, clear skies. The house will be full of guests. We have assigned your rooms to them. You will bunk with Sam and Jimmy in the hangar apartment for the next few days. L.L. and I will stay in my room. Marie will take hers. Clear out the little things you have in our rooms, so we are ready for our guests. They start arriving this evening.”
Shaun looked at L.L. with a puzzled expression as did James at Nicole. Neither said a word. They knew the topic of sleeping together was off the table until after the wedding.
Shaun stood to hug L.L. “You two have done quite a bit of planning. I understand these conditions are necessary. James has his home. It is his decision where he stays the night.
“I can handle hanging out with the boys for a couple of days. No problem, Nicole.”
“Good! We have a list of things we need both of you to do now that your vacations are over.”
L.L. pulled two folded pieces of paper from her back pocket handing one to each of them.
“We know this is a lot of work. You have Jake, Jimmy and Sam to help. You guys are responsible for parking, portable restrooms and everything else on the list. We are handling the caterers, bartenders, music, florist and many other things. We need you to direct the workers where to place the tents. There is a drawing on the back. The bandstand and dance floor need to be installed along with the lighting and chairs. One tent is for the food and spirits. The other tent is for the ceremonies to start. While we are dining, the chairs will be moved off the dance floor and the band will set up. The weddings are combined. Both couples enter at the same time walking down the aisle step for step. We have one minister.”
They spent the next hour telling L.L. and Nicole about their trip to the Swamp. They learned how to hunt gators and turtles, roast a pig, the Cajun two-step thanks to Marie but their favorite was driving the big V-8 powered air boat. The girls scrolled through the many photos taken with the guys’ cell phones during their visit.
Riding back to the house, Shaun spoke, “One day soon, I want us four to go there for a long weekend. It is the most remarkable place. You will love it. How is your leg? What are you plans for it on our wedding day?”
“It is healing but not fast enough to please me. My dress touches the floor when I am standing. No one will see the cast during the wedding. After the ceremony, I will change into dress slacks. It will be visible then, but I really don’t care who sees it. Are you OK with it? I might can take the cast off temporarily after the wedding.”
“I am fine with it. Don’t take it off for appearances. I want you to heal properly so we will deal with it. I have an appointment tomorrow with the doctor to remove my stitches. You are marrying a guy with a big, ugly scar on his face like a villain. What do you think of that?”
“I want you to heal as well. The scar will fade and not be so pronounced over time. I think it makes you look sexy and a little rough around the edges, just my type. So yes, I am OK with it.”
“L.L., has anything changed about where we will live when we return from our honeymoon?”
“Not at all. The plan is still live here. We need to decide which bedroom we want, yours or mine. It does not matter as long as we are together. James and Nicole will stay in hers until their new home is finished.”
“Bonnie!” Shaun leaned over and kissed her squarely on the mouth. “Love you, Bonnie Whyte! Missed you!”
“Missed you too, Shaun. Sit down. Tell me all about it.”
“I will leave you two alone. Nicole and I have a meeting in the study. Catch y’all later.”
Shaun watched her disappear down the hallway. When she was out of sight, he looked back at Bonnie. Her chocolate eyes were locked on his and slightly moistening as she spoke, “Shaun, it warms my heart to see the love in your eyes every time you look at her. I can hardly catch my breath when I think about you two getting married and having a passel of little ones!”
“Bonnie, L.L. and I want to be married at least one year before we start our family.”
“Shaun, take all the time you need, son. Have you discussed this with L.L.? She seems ready now. I have grown to know her quite well, too. My instinct tells me she is ready to settle down with children. I notice the way she is with Melissa and Julie. She loves children and will be a great mother one day. If I were a betting lady, I would put my money on her wanting children right away.”
“Well, Bonnie, I thought a year of bliss was what we both wanted and needed. If you are right, I am fine with that, too. My goal is whatever makes her happy.”
“Keep that in mind from now on and you two will always be happy.”
When Nicole and L.L. opened the large pocket doors to the study, they found Jake sitting at his old desk. He had a large sketch pad open before him. He drew a line across the page using a ruler and a number two pencil. When he looked up, he quickly stopped his work and closed the book.
“What are you working on, Dad?”
“Oh, it’s nothing, Baby…just doodling here.”
“Looks more serious than doodling, Dad.”
A slow smile came to his face as he patted the book.
“OK, baby, you busted me. Y’all must swear an oath of secrecy.”
L.L. and Nicole rushed to him taking positions on both sides of his old leather chair.
“You two, young ladies have to promise you will not speak a word of what I am about to share with you until I give permission, OK?”
“Promise,” they said in unison.
He opened the sketch pad to reveal the floor plan of a small home. It had a porch wrapped around the building, a large kitchen/dining room, three bedrooms each with its own bath and a large family room. He turned the page to show the elevation of the house. The structure was designed to be built on 10 foot tall timbers. A wide-set of stairs made its way to the landing of the screened porch. Double, screened doors led to the porch. Directly across to the main entrance were double, French doors leading to the family room. Each bedroom had French doors connecting to the porch. The roof was recycled tin and the exterior wood siding would be unfinished, rough cut cypress. In time, the siding would turn dove grey.
“Daddy, is this a guest house for our visitors?”
“No, baby, it is a place for me to live out the rest of my life. Watching you and James build your new home next door stirred something deep within me. I often dreamed of building a Cajun cabin back in our swamp, just never got around to it. Once I saw the rapid progress in your new home, I staked out the place in the swamp before we went to south Louisiana. It is situated in the woods looking over part of the Oxbow lake.”
L.L. patted his shoulder as she asked her question, “Jake, while you and the boys were out-of-town, we noticed several large trucks drive by the house hauling building materials toward the lake. Is this project already underway?”
“Yes, dear. Before I left, I asked Jimmy and Sam to start construction. I went out there earlier and loved what I saw. They have made great progress. I can’t wait to finish it.”
“Dad, you’re serious?”
“Yes sweetie, very much so.”
He turned to L.L., “I will move out of this old house into the cabin as soon as it is finished. You and Shaun take the master after I am gone. As a matter of fact, take the entire house. I am giving it to you as my wedding gift. I have been here my entire life and I am ready for a change.”
“Dad, will you take us there now, so we can see it? James is moving into the bunk house right now and Shaun is hanging out with Bonnie.”
“Yes, my love. Let’s hop in the side by side and take a ride. Remember, not a single word of this until I tell you!”
A freshly laid, gravel drive connecting the lake road continued east into the swamp heading toward the river. It meandered through the thick, moss-covered cypress forest some distance from the lake. The backwater licked the edges of the drive where several turtles and a rabbit were spotted.
As the construction site came into view, Nicole exclaimed, “Dad, it’s perfect! You chose the high ground among the old, white oaks!”
They sat in the ATV and studied the progress. “My crew has been getting after it! You can see the support timbers are set. They augured five feet into the soil and poured concrete around them. They crossed braced and cut the tops level for the flooring framework. They built the large set of steps and have begun decking the flooring. The sub floor now runs throughout the place. As you can see, they have erected all the exterior walls. Let’s get a better look.”
“How high is the flooring from the ground, Dad?”
“It is 10 feet above the ground. Even in the wet season, water never covers this hill. I wanted Marie to feel like she was back home so we built it to withstand a deep flood.”
“Marie? You are building this for her?” Nicole asked.
“Well, that’s another part of our secret, Honey. She knows nothing of this cabin nor my intentions on a long-term level. I hope to complete this home in a couple of months without her discovering it. When it is finished, I will bring her here to ask her to marry me.”
“Dad, I knew you liked her but I had no idea it was more than friendship!”
He smiled as the three of them reached the main floor. He kissed his daughter and soon to be daughter-in-law on their cheeks as he took their hands in his. He walked them across the floor describing the floor plan.
“Here we are in the family room. It is 20 by 20 feet with 12-foot ceilings throughout the house. Over here are the bedrooms and there is the kitchen. The crew will set the porch columns next to connect them to the exterior walls. The porch is 10 feet wide and runs completely around the house. I plan to build a matching set of stairs off the back porch near the kitchen. The porch system will be screened. You know how bad the bugs are out here. After we move in, I plan to build an open-air deck with a heavy-duty hand rail for cooking out and enjoying the winter by a small fire-box.”
“Dad, sounds like you expect Marie to accept your offer.”
“I know I am assuming a lot. I have a feeling she will accept. Even if she wants to continue dating while she stays in town at her café, I will not be disappointed. I just want her to spend time here with me.”
They took a seat on the porch resting their feet on the lower steps as they looked through the swampy forest. Birds and squirrels scurried about as a gentle breeze swept through the wetlands swaying the Spanish moss.
“I have always loved this spot,” said Jake with a deep sigh. “It is untouched by man until now. I will only allow this little cabin and the small gravel drive. The rest will remain natural as it has for centuries. The power, water and services will be trenched underground. The vegetation will continue to grow undisturbed. No need for weed eaters or lawn mowers here, ladies.”
L.L. stood and stepped down turning back to them as she spoke, “Jake, you are such a romantic. I see where Shaun gets it. I hope Marie does not disappoint you. The day you share this with her, promise you will call us so we can join you on that special day.”
“I promise, baby. I am betting my heart on her. The day she sees it, she will fall in love with it. I will have chilled champagne here for us to celebrate together. Let’s head home before Shaun sends out the SWAT team on a search and rescue. I know he is missing us about now.”
Chapter Twenty Three
Over the next couple of days, Shaun and James worked their task list checking off each duty the girls assigned them. The tents, stage, bandstand and bar were erected. The florist and catering employees were due to arrive at four AM on their wedding day. Shaun woke that day to the sound of crushing gravel as workers rolled up the driveway. He quickly bounced out of bed and dressed. As he was walking to the door, he kicked the bedpost of James’s bunk with the toe of his boot. “Wake up, man! Today is our day! Time to make this happen.” James sat up and smiled at him.
“What time is it?”
“Four o’clock…the workers are outside unloading their vans. I’m going to the kitchen for coffee. I will see you there.”
“OK, see you in a few.”
Bonnie was sitting at the table reading her old Bible when Shaun walked through the door. “Morning, Bonnie.”
“Good morning, Shaun! Today is a very special day! One I have waited on for many years. Our prayers have been answered. You are about to marry the best lady in the world. We are blessed with a beautiful, sunny day for the celebration.”
He poured a cup of her dark coffee and joined her. He took her hand as he spoke in a softer voice, “I am so happy, Bonnie. I can’t believe she is marrying me. I feel unworthy of her love. I don’t know why she loves me, but I am so thankful she does. I can’t imagine my life without her.”
“Shaun, you took her heart the moment you two met. Jake and I knew all she wanted was someone like you to fall in love with and share the rest of her life. When you two got together, the fireworks went off as we had planned. I am so happy for you and L.L. It is exciting to see it happen today.”
Shaun swallowed the last of his coffee and set the cup in the sink. He kissed Bonnie squarely on the lips and walked out the back door. “Before you leave, I have something to say, Shaun. L.L. and Nicole want somewhat of a traditional wedding. Those two, young ladies laid down the law for you and James. They will have breakfast upstairs in their room and will not come down until it is time for the wedding. Breakfast will be served in the kitchen in a few minutes. I want you and James to honor their time by not pestering them. There are plenty of things for you and James to do around here this morning. Touch base with the caterers and make sure everything is set. Let me know so I can pass the word upstairs. OK?”
“I understand completely, Bonnie. James is getting dressed and will be here shortly. I will be back in a few.”
He knelt beside her grave and closed his eyes. “Momma, today is the day I get married. I wish you were here to be part of it. I know you are looking down from Heaven and are aware of today’s events. I hope I make you proud. I promise I will be the best husband I can be.”
As he stood and turned, he came face to face with Jake. He looked down and saw four roses in his father’s hand. Without a word, the two big men embraced. Tears came to the corners of his eyes as he walked away leaving his father at her grave, so he too could spend special time with her this morning.
Cindy and her girls came down just as the men took their seats. Bonnie handed each girl a tray of food to carry upstairs. “Y’all eat while it’s hot,” she instructed. “I’ll join the women upstairs. Leave the plates and dirty dishes alone, Jake. You hear me?”
“Good! When you finish eating, y’all get out of the house and hang outside with the people arriving and such.”
They all replied in unison, “Yes, ma’am.”
After breakfast, the men helped the busy workers cover the tables with white linen and set centerpieces.
The five car, Cajun caravan pulled in the parking area behind the hangar as Jake finished his conversation with some workers. He bolted across the dance floor to greet his guest. James and Shaun followed. Before Marie could get completely out of her car, Jake was on her. He took her in his arms and kissed her. The crowd of Cajuns reacted with laughter and a few French words shaking their heads in disbelief. Marie was caught off guard by Jake’s attention. Her face flushed as he carried her bags to the house. James and Shaun greeted the rest of the DeBreaux clan as they helped the men carry luggage to the main house. Jake instructed James and Shaun to place the bags in the downstairs hallway and go back outside.
The Cajun band began to set up. They connected microphones and speakers testing their equipment. Before long, they were playing music. More and more cars arrived. By mid-morning, the place was full of activity with over one hundred people. Women went to the house while the men gathered under the large tents to drink coffee and visit. Shaun and James met many new friends. They were consistently congratulated by the Cajuns and their lifelong acquaintances.
Time passed quickly. They showered and dressed in their black tie tuxedos. Shaun stood before the mirror to study the pink scar on his cheek. The stitches were removed and it was healing quickly. The swelling had receded, but the bright pink line stood out in contrast to his tanned skin. He took a deep breath and relaxed. If L.L. thinks it makes me look sexy, I will proudly wear it as a badge of honor. James came to his side to look in the mirror also.
“We don’t look half bad. Do we, Shaun?”
“Not bad for a couple of rednecks.”
Shaun had an uneasy thought. “James, we did not have a wedding rehearsal. How will this work? We could stumble and look like fools out there.”
“It crossed my mind, Shaun. I have faith Bonnie and our girls have worked it all out. We just go out and wait for them to come out of the house.”
“As you say, Bonnie has it planned to a T. I’m only going to do this once in my life. I don’t want to mess it up.”
“Have faith, Shaun. It will be fine, buddy.”
James reached out his hand and took Shaun’s. “Congratulations, my friend. Today is the day we wed our loves.”
“Congratulations, James! It will be splendid.”
Jake yanked open the door and smiled as he strolled across the room. He pulled the men into a big hug.
“This is a great day for all of us. I gain another son and a daughter! I have waited for years for this day to happen. It’s time for you two to go wait near the arch for this thing to start.”
The large, white lattice arch aligned with the aisle stood outside the far end of the tent. It was custom-built and wide enough for two couples. The florist had laced hundreds of yellow roses and baby’s breath throughout the arch.
Bonnie walked into their room as they finished dressing. L.L. was seated in front of the antique, French vanity that had wing mirrors on both sides of the center. She glanced over her shoulder as Bonnie approached carrying a small jewelry box in her hands.
“Nicole, please take a seat next to L.L. I have something to show you.” Bonnie turned placing the ornate box on the love chest at the foot of the bed. She raised the lid and reached carefully inside. “Nicole, your Momma wore this over 30 years ago the day she married Jake. I was there that day. It belonged to her grandmother. Here, let’s try it on.” Bonnie stood behind Nicole as she draped the pearl and diamond necklace around her neck closing the clasp. There were double rows of diamonds and pearls in the neck section with a cluster in the front center piece. The settings were planted in white gold pansies. The cluster was a five-pointed star of stacked half karat diamonds. Her mother’s jewelry, except this piece, had been given to her by her father when she graduated college.
“Where was this all these years?”
“Jake kept it in the den safe. He reserved it for you to wear on your wedding day. I am honored to present it to you, Nicole, on behalf of Martha.”
Tears appeared in Nicole’s eyes as she stood taking Bonnie in her arms. “Now girl, don’t you start! That is bad luck. I ain’t gonna cry today. You hear me? Stop it and take a deep breath!”
“OK, Bonnie, I will. Thank you for this! My father never ceases to amaze me!”
Bonnie reached in the box once again. She pulled out another beautiful necklace. “L.L., this is from us to you. Jake bought this one for Martha on their first wedding anniversary. It was crafted in Ireland centuries ago as part of the Irish crown jewels. It was not for sale when Jake acquired it. Somehow he made a donation to a certain church in Northern Ireland. A few weeks later, an Irish officer hand delivered it here the day before their first anniversary. The bright green gems are emeralds and the white ones are flawless African diamonds. The cross has 20 emeralds and 20 diamonds set in white gold. This too was kept in the safe all these years. He saved something special for each of his children for when they married. There is one more piece in the safe for Ray and the one he will marry one day. Until that day, it remains a secret. L.L., this necklace is yours. Perhaps one day you will pass it to one of your children on their wedding day.”
“Oh my, Bonnie! I can’t breathe! I will cherish this for the rest of my life!”
“Shaun, one hour before the wedding bells ring. The weather is beautiful, not a cloud in the sky!” James announced as he sipped a glass of lemonade under the food tent.
“I know, James. Bonnie and the girls picked this day using the almanac in the kitchen. I was hesitant but must admit they were right! The photographer is setting up. His assistant will video while he shoots still shots. We already have over 200 guests and family here. How many were invited? Do you know?”
“Caterers plan to serve at least 300. We have seating for that many and enough booze on-hand to float a navy ship.”
Six men with their wives or girlfriends walked up to Shaun. They were members of his SEAL team having spent years together on missions and training. Shaun introduced James to them as Jake strolled over. Marie, Nevel, Charles, Renee and at least 10 other family and band members joined them. Shaun, Jake and James were in constant introduction mode. Lines formed and soon hundreds of people were waiting to meet and greet the men. It distracted them from the countdown. Sam Massy pulled the hand rope attached to the old steamboat bell that sat on a single pole near the back porch. The signal sounded. Martha and Jake used this bell often to signal their children it was mealtime. Sam continued ringing the bell until the guests realized it was time to take their seats in the ceremony tent.
Shaun, James and Jake gathered near the rose-covered trellis. Bonnie looked out the upstairs window in the room where Nicole and L.L. waited for the bell to sound. All three men in unison inserted their right index fingers between their necks and the white, starched shirt collars attempting to stretch them to get a little relief. She wished she had her cell phone to take a quick shot. It would be priceless. She reflected over the months of planning this wedding day. L.L.’s mother, Sheila, and father, Rayburn, was here last week during the first rehearsal. Rayburn would walk his lovely daughter down the aisle. It was odd Shaun had yet to meet them. The Jacksons had been on an extended vacation in Australia and New Zealand for six months. Jake had insisted on giving both Nicole and L.L. $20,000 to cover the cost of their wedding gowns. He left the cash with Bonnie with firm instructions he would be insulted if they refused his gift. The girls wore matching gowns handmade by a renowned dressmaker in New York. She was reluctant to fly to Shreveport to meet the two brides. However, the wire transfer and phone call from Jake somewhere deep within a South Louisiana swamp convinced her. She boarded a chartered flight and spent a week with them at the plantation with four of her supporting staff members. They worked around the clock until the two custom gowns were finished. The gowns were full length with long, flowing trains and crossed lace fasteners that accentuated the tiny waist of both Nicole and L.L. The single layer of silk that made up their full length sleeves and bust lines were hand embroidered. The design included hundreds of small four-leaf clovers, butterflies and roses. The veils were made of a simple, padded head band covered in ruffled, white dress material. Attached to the band was the mesh netting made of sheer white linen with matching embroidery. Both gowns and accessories were hand sewn by the master dressmakers.
Bonnie took their hands and led them in a short prayer. “Dear Lord, thank you for this fine day. Thank you for the love that fills this home. Thank you for Shaun and L.L. and the love and happiness they have and the future of the same that is ahead of them. Dear Lord thank you for Nicole and James, may their love continue to grow and may you bless them with a full loving family for the rest of their lives.”
Sam ended the bell ringing and Bonnie glanced out of the window once again. From her vantage point she saw that every seat of the 300 beneath the large tent was filled. Some men stood around the perimeter of the tent after giving up their seats for the ladies.
She turned to Nicole and L.L. and whispered as the lovely smile came across her face, “It’s time my girls!”
Bonnie opened the door and walked behind both Nicole and L.L. carrying the long trains of their snow-white gowns. Down the stairs and through the den where the rarely used French doors leading to the patio and pool area were standing open. Once they stepped into the sunlight, a hush came over the crowd of guests. L.L. and Nicole looked across the vast audience to the front of the tent where their husbands-to-be stood alongside the Minister.
L.L. and Nicole walked to the trellis where they were greeted by Jake who took Nicole’s hand and Rayburn who took the hand of L.L. John White Jr. took the hand of his mother. The aisle was designed wide enough for both brides and their fathers to walk side by side. They were followed by John and Bonnie. Once they reached the front rows reserved for family, Bonnie and John took seats next Ray, Cindy, Melissa and Julie along with Sam and Jimmy.
All four to be married were positioned facing the preacher. Reverend Jeremiah Washington stood at the head of the gathering. He was a distinguished man standing 6’6” in his late 70’s although appeared much younger. He wore a burgundy double-breasted suit, white cotton dress shirt with a matching burgundy silk tie. A heavy gold chain hung from his neck. Suspended from it was a large, gold cross resting above the top button of his coat. His smile warmed every heart. His deep baritone voice was smooth to the soul and his words were crisp and precise.
With a large, well-worn Bible in his left hand, his index finger held the pages he was to read as the book remained closed. He lifted his hands before the people and announced to all.
“My brothers and sisters, Scripture clearly states where two or more are gathered in His name, He will be in thy presence and bless thee. In thy name we assemble, Dear Lord, and in the name of Jesus we ask you to bless us. Please bow your heads and close every eye as we approach the throne of God, our Lord and Savior.”
“Our Father in heaven, we have come to this place in your name. We are here today to wed these two couples. These men and women are your children and believe in your Son, Jesus Christ, as their Lord and Savior. We thank you Lord for bringing these men and women together in love. A love that comes only from you Father. We know that their meeting and falling in love was because of your divine spirit and not of man. We ask you to continue to bless these young couples as they commit their lives to each other while seeking your guidance in everything they do. Now, Dear Lord, I ask you to bless the words I am about to speak. May the promises made here today never be severed. I ask all these things in the precious name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.”
“Now, ladies and gentlemen, before we begin, I have something to share with you. For over 30 years I have been blessed to know Bonnie Whyte and her son John Jr. Bonnie has been a member of my church, Mount Zion Baptist Church of Cedar Grove, and has been a senior Sunday School teacher for over 25 years. Jake McVeigh, you have been a welcomed visitor for almost 30 years. I am honored you asked me to officiate the marriage of your children today. Let us get on with it.”
At the end of the ceremony, Reverend Washington announced each man may now kiss his bride. Nicole raised her veil and James kissed her. The guest audience sighed. L.L. left her veil down for a moment as she leaned over and whispered in Shaun’s ear. “It’s Lenora Lavonne, Shaun. I keep my promises. Now you keep yours if you know what’s best for you!”
He smiled and whispered back, “I will take it to my grave, L.L. I always keep my word. Now kiss me, my love.”
She gently raised her veil. He took her in his arms and kissed her deeply. As her knees began to wobble, he released her and they all turned to the guests in unison.
They walked back down the aisle to the trellis as husbands and wives. They waited for the hundreds of guests to find their way from beneath the tent to the lawn by the pool. Together, L.L. and Nicole tossed their bouquets high in the air toward the crowd. L.L. watched hers go high and crest. It landed in the hands of Cindy Easterly who was standing next to Ray McVeigh. They laughed a moment before he kissed her. Melissa and Julie laughed until tears came to their eyes.
Nicole watched hers fly high in the air. As it came down, a girlfriend of one of Shaun’s SEAL team members jumped to catch it. The bouquet hit the tips of her fingers bouncing over her head to the lady standing directly behind her. Marie DeBreaux looked at her hands with her mouth wide open. She shifted her eyes to Jake standing next to her. He took her in his arms and kissed her until she lost her breath.
Next came the cake cutting, photos, dancing and mingling with the guests. Shaun danced with Bonnie, Cindy, Nicole, Melissa, Julie, Marie and L.L. James and Jake danced until they could hardly stand. It was time for them to change clothes and take a short break from the guests. The two newly married couples excused themselves to go upstairs to change clothes. An hour later they returned wearing more casual clothing and partied until after midnight. The band was still playing and people below were laughing and dancing as the two couples went to bed with their loves to consummate their vows.
At ten o’clock the next morning, a select group of 50 gathered once again under the food tent for brunch with the two couples.
At noon, James and Nicole drove off in his bright yellow Lamborghini heading for the Regional Air Port.
By one o’clock, Shaun and L.L. had loaded the Bonanza and were boarding the plane as they extended their final goodbyes to their family and close friends. As Shaun fired up the large engine, through the windshield he noticed Ray holding Cindy’s hand with Melissa and Julie clinging to him. He watched Jake standing beside Marie with his armed tightly wrapped around her shoulder. Shaun paused for a moment as he scanned the pre-flight check list to give some thought to the two couples. He spoke to L.L. over the headset.
“Seems love is definitely in the air on the McVeigh Plantation. I bet before we return, or shortly thereafter, we will learn of more engagements.” L.L. looked at Shaun and followed his eyes to the two couples. She grinned as she buckled her seat belt.
“I will not take that bet, Shaun. Love is definitely in the air!”
Nicole learned of their destination when she and James arrived at the Shreveport Airport terminal.
“I have always wanted to go there. How did you know?”
“I will give you three guesses.”
“Right, honey. She told me, so here we go!”
When they landed at the Lake Front Airport and began loading their luggage into the limo, L.L. turned to Shaun, “Where are we going, my love?”
He walked to her pulling out an envelope to give her. She opened it and quickly scanned the contents to find two first class tickets to the Grand Bahama Islands. “Oh, Shaun! How did you know I wanted to go there?”
“Months ago you told me about taking diving lessons to prepare for a trip to the Bahamas. It was then your Dad became ill and you canceled your trip. I never forgot it. We will spend two weeks in a remote cabana on the beach. We have our own golf cart to take to restaurants located nearby. We’re located on a private point reserved for only you and me! I hear the diving is great!”
Five years later
Shaun and L.L. took the side by side to the oxbow lake to watch the summer sun set. It was part of their daily routine. She sat at the end of the dock looking across the dark brown water and pointed to the small, Cajun cabin nestled in the swamp woods. “Look! There he is! It’s Jake. He just walked out on the deck. Wave at him.” She glanced down to her right to watch the little, four-year old boy raise his hand and yell across the water to his grandfather, Jake.
“Hey, Paw Paw! I see you! Will you please come get us?” Patrick’s bright red hair glistened in the sunlight. His light blue eyes sparkled as he looked to his mother and then his father standing behind her.
“I love Paw Paw! He and Marie are going to let us spend the night and roast marshmallows on his fire pit!”
L.L. looked down to her left at the lovely little girl sitting next to her holding her hand. She too yelled out to her Paw Paw.
“Will you carry me on your shoulders, Paw Paw, and tell us stories by the fire?”
They called her Marty, short for Martha. Her long blonde, curly hair fell to her waist. Her crystal green eyes looked like emeralds. They reminded her of the necklace Jake gave her on their wedding day. L.L. flinched a little.
“What’s the matter, L.L.?” Shaun asked as he bent down wrapping his loving arms around his family.
“Jacob McVeigh is at it again! He can’t sit still. He is squirming and kicking like mad. He wants out and now. I don’t know if I can wait for him four more days!”
Marty asked, “Can we listen to him again? I can’t wait to see him and hold him!”
“Why yes, my loves. You can visit with your little brother.” Marty and Patrick leaned next to L.L.’s large belly placing their ears next to him. Moments later they both raised their heads and looked up to their parents. “He hit us!”
“Play nice, Jacob. Hitting is not allowed, my dear,” she said as she rubbed her unborn son.
“Shaun, remember before we were married I told you about a dream I had? The one with a little a red-haired boy and his sister with long, curly blonde hair running toward me with flowers in their hand down the path near the barn?”
“Yes, my dear. I remember.”
“I never told you but in that dream I was holding a little red-haired boy in my lap on the old porch swing. I love you, Shaun!”
“I love you too, L.L., and always will!”