by Barbara Colley
Charlotte LaRue removed the large bowl of rice from
the microwave. Everything was ready... well, almost everything.
Now if only Madeline would show up.
No sooner had the thought entered Charlotte's head than the sound of the front
door opening and closing reached her ears. Seconds later, her sister breezed
into the kitchen.
"Here you go." She handed Charlotte a
loaf of French bread. "I figured one loaf would be enough,
and it's fresh. Still warm," she added.
"One should be enough," Charlotte murmured. "Thanks,
Maddie. You're a life-saver. I still can't believe I forgot to
Madeline shrugged. "No big deal." She
walked over to the stove. "Umm, that's gumbo, isn't it?" She
peered into the huge pot and sniffed. "Chicken and andouille?"
Charlotte nodded as she slid the long loaf of French
bread out of its paper wrapper. "Not exactly traditional Easter
Sunday fare, but I didn't get a chance to shop for a ham. Or bread," she
added with a grin. "And since I already had all the ingredients
for gumbo . . ." She shrugged. "Got it started before
church this morning. Besides, it seems to me, if I remember right,
chicken and andouille is your favorite."
Madeline laughed. "And seems to me that I remember
that's because it was the only kind of gumbo you ever made. Really
strange," she added, "considering we live in a city known
for its seafood."
"Only kind I could ever afford to make," Charlotte
shot back. Placing the bread on a cookie sheet, she began slicing
it into pieces, careful to only slice only about two-thirds the
way down. "The ingredients for the seafood kind--even in New
Orleans--were too expensive on my limited budget." She quickly
inserted a pat of butter in between each slice, then slid the bread
into the oven to melt the butter.
What she could have pointed out but didn't was that
the reason she'd had to be so thrifty was partially her sister's
fault. Years ago, after Madeline's first divorce, she'd become
so depressed that she'd been unable to function on a day-to-day
basis. She and her two young children had moved in with Charlotte,
and for months, Charlotte and her maid service had been the sole
provider for all of them as well as for herself and her own son.
"Whatever," Madeline quipped.
Charlotte glanced out the window into the back yard
where the rest of the family and their friends had gathered to
watch three-year-old Davy, the son of one of her employees, hunt
for Easter eggs. "Correction. Make that the only kind I can
still afford," she added with a grin. "Our family is
growing by leaps and bounds."
Madeline followed her gaze. "Bite your tongue.
Only my Judith and Daniel, and your Hank qualify as family." She
waved her hand toward the window. "Those others don't qualify--not
yet, thank God. They're just--just what? What do you call grown
girlfriends and boyfriends anyway?"
"I believe the term now is significant others," Charlotte
Madeline rolled her eyes. "Oh, pu-lease, give
me a break. Yuck!" She shuddered. "Anyway, whatever they
are, it looks like they all showed up today--all except for that
Billy character that Judith's been seeing."
"She could do worse," Charlotte pointed
out. A whole lot worse, she thought. But Charlotte didn't dare
say so. Madeline didn't know about Judith's affair with Will Richeaux,
thank goodness, and Charlotte wasn't about to be the one to tell
her, especially now that Judith had come to her senses and ditched
him. But if Madeline had known, Charlotte was sure she would have
changed her tune about Judith's relationship with Billy Wilson
in a heartbeat. Even now, months later, the thought of how Will
Richeaux had duped Judith still made Charlotte see red.
"Do worse?" Madeline repeated then made
a face. "I don't know how. This Billy character isn't even
a detective like Judith. He's just a plain old street cop. I tell
you, Charlotte, I shudder every time I think that she could end
up marrying another cop. One cop in the family is plenty, thank
you very much."
Though she was sorely tempted, again Charlotte didn't
dare comment. The last thing she wanted was to get into an altercation
with her sister, especially today. Along with Christmas, she considered
Easter to be one of the most important holidays they celebrated.
Besides, arguing with Madeline was like talking to a brick wall.
Madeline turned away from the window and walked
over to the oven to check on the bread. "By the way," she
said, "just why isn't this Billy character here today?"
"Judith said he had to work," Charlotte
Madeline grunted. "Just as well," she
retorted. She faced Charlotte. "Maybe Judith will come to
her senses. One can always hope. Besides, she can do a lot better
than someone like him." Without missing a beat, Madeline launched
into yet another complaint. "And then there's that son of
mine. Why on earth is Daniel still fooling around with--"
"Don't 'now, Maddie' me! Ever since he started
hanging around with that woman who works for you, I never see him
anymore, not without her and that brat of hers tagging along."
"Madeline Pate, shame on you. Little Davy is
a precious little boy. And 'that woman' has a name. Nadia--"
"Yeah," Madeline interrupted." And
that's another thing. both this Billy character and this Nadia
have the same last name. Makes me wonder if there's some kind of
weird conspiracy going on. Now wouldn't that be just my luck?" She
glared at Charlotte. "Well? Are they? Are they kin to each
Charlotte sighed. "No, according to Nadia they
are not related. Just because they have the same last name--"
"Yeah, yeah." She waved a dismissing hand. "Okay
"One more thing, Maddie. Nadia Wilson is one
of the finest young women I've had the privilege to come in contact
with." Charlotte grabbed an oven mitt. "And hard-working
to boot," she added. "Now here--" Charlotte removed
the warmed bread out of the oven, and gingerly placed it into an
oblong bread basket that she'd lined with a clean hand towel. She
folded the edges of the hand towel over the bread, then handed
the basket to her sister.
"Take this to the table for me and please try
to be nice. If not for Daniel's sake, for my sake."
"Well at least your Hank had the decency to
pick a woman who didn't already have a kid. I'm not ready to play
grandma--not by a long shot. And when I do become one, I'd rather
the little rug-rat was my own flesh and blood."
The sudden urge to slap the living daylights out
of her spoiled, selfish sister was so strong that Charlotte grabbed
hold of the cabinet. "What a mean, hateful thing to say. You
should be ashamed."
"Ashamed! For what? For telling the truth?
If you ask me, telling the truth is a lot better than being a hypocrite
"Nobody asked you," Charlotte retorted
through gritted teeth. "And if being charitable and kind are
hypocritical, then I'd rather be a hypocrite any day than a selfish
The stunned look on her sister's face would have
been comical if Charlotte hadn't been so angry. So much for avoiding
an altercation, she thought irritably, but then her sister had
always known exactly which of her buttons to push.
In an effort to calm herself, Charlotte breathed
deeply and counted to ten. Releasing her grip on the cabinet, she
turned to her sister. "Maddie, all I'm saying is--"
"I think you've said enough." Madeline
glared at her for several seconds. Then, she rolled her eyes upward
and shrugged. "Maybe we both have," she muttered.
Charlotte figured it was as close to an apology
as she would get. She sighed. Not only was talking to Madeline
like talking to a brick wall, but she could be every bit as unyielding
and as stubborn as one. "For once you're right," she
finally relented in an effort to keep the peace. "I'm afraid
we'll just have to agree to disagree. Truce?"
Albeit grudgingly, Madeline nodded. "Truce."
"Good. Now if you'll put that bread on the
table, and--" Charlotte motioned toward the refrigerator. "--get
the stuffed eggs out of there while I put the ice in the glasses
for the tea, I think everything will be ready."
Madeline headed for the refrigerator then frowned. "Why
haven't I seen these before." She pointed at the snapshots
that were held in place with magnets on the refrigerator door. "They're
from your birthday party, aren't they?"
"Yeah. I keep meaning to put them in an album," Charlotte
answered. "And you haven't seen them because I just got around
to getting copies made from Hank's negatives."
Madeline stared at the snapshots. "Well, it
took you long enough. Your birthday was months ago. Guess the wait
was worth it though. These are really nice, especially this one
of you and Judith." Madeline shook her head. "It's just
too weird though. She's my daughter, but I swear, the older she
gets, the more she looks like you."
Will wonders ever cease? Charlotte thought, too
surprised by Madeline's admission to do more than just stand there
and stare at her. Over the years, people had said as much. And
while it was true that she and Judith both had the same dark blond
hair, the same petite body build, and even the same sky-blue eyes,
the whole issue had always been a sore point with Madeline.
Secretly, Charlotte had always been pleased and flattered
by the comparison, but because Madeline had always been so touchy
about it, Charlotte had learned to hide her feelings.
A few minutes later, Charlotte called everyone inside,
and once they had all gathered around the table, she nodded at
her son. "Hank, would you please say the blessing?"
"Sure," he answered.
The second that Hank ended the blessing with "Amen," Daniel
cleared his throat loudly and held up a hand to get everyone's
attention. "Hey, everybody, hold up a minute." He stood. "We
have an announcement to make." Reaching down, he scooped little
Davy up into his arms, then held out a hand to Nadia as she pushed
out of her chair to stand beside him.
It was more than evident to Charlotte that 'we'
included all three of them. And from the sober look on her nephew's
face, she knew that something big was brewing besides the pot of
gumbo still simmering on the stove.
In Daniel's day-to-day life as a highly-respected
attorney, he was always serious and focused, but when he was around
family, it was rare that he was ever serious about much of anything.
He'd always been the clown in the family, and Charlotte had her
own home-grown philosophy about that. She figured that his clowning
around was his way of compensating for being so totally rejected
by his father at such a young age after his parents' divorce.
When Daniel pulled Nadia closer, a smile tugged
at Charlotte's lips. They made such an attractive couple. Nadia's
dark hair and exotic looks were a contrast yet a perfect compliment
to Daniel's dark blond hair and fair completion. They were both
tall, but while Nadia was model slender and feminine, Daniel personified
After all these months, was he finally going to
do it? Charlotte's insides suddenly felt jittery with excitement.
Had Daniel finally asked Nadia to marry him?
Charlotte's gaze slid downwards, seeking the ring
finger of Nadia's left hand. No help there though. Nadia's hand
was hidden inside the pocket of her skirt.
When Daniel cleared his throat again, it suddenly
dawned on Charlotte just how nervous he was. But why on earth would
he be so nervous if he was just announcing their engagement . .
. unless . . .
At the exact moment that Charlotte realized what
her nephew's big announcement was really all about, Daniel said, "Just
thought I'd better let you know that as of day before yesterday,
Nadia has become the newest addition to our family. She's now Mrs.
Daniel Monroe. And furthermore, just as soon as I can finalize
the adoption, Davy will become my son."
Charlotte heard her sister's horrified gasp of disbelief,
but thankfully, the cheering and clapping of the rest of the group
smothered Madeline's less than enthusiastic reaction.
Suddenly, Judith stood. Slapping her hands on her
hips, she faced her brother. "How dare you!"
The whole room abruptly grew quiet, as if, along
with everyone there, it was holding its breath.
"How dare you sneak off and get married without
me being there," Judith told him sternly. Then, she grinned,
and tears sprang in her eyes. "But even if you are a dirty
rotten sneak, I still love you and can't think of anyone I'd rather
have for a sister-in-law than Nadia."
"Thanks, Sis. And you'll be happy to know that
just as soon as we can arrange it, we plan to have a big blow-out
reception to celebrate with the family and our friends--probably
around the first of April."
Judith shook her finger at him. "Still not
as good as being there for the wedding, but I guess it will have
to do." With a big grin, she hurried around the table and
hugged Daniel first, then she hugged Nadia. "Congratulations,
you guys." With a teasing smile and a wink directed at Davy,
Judith reached up and gently pinched his cheek. "And I can't
think of anyone I'd rather have for a nephew either," she
Still beaming with genuine happiness for her brother,
Judith turned to Charlotte. "Hey, Aunt Charley, now I can
have a favorite nephew too."
Everyone roared with laughter . . . everyone but
Madeline, Charlotte noted. Daniel and Judith were Charlotte's only
nephew and niece, and for as long as any of them could remember,
it had been the family joke that Charlotte always referred to both
as her favorite nephew and favorite niece.
Hank, his friend, Carol Jones, and Charlotte quickly
joined Judith and offered hugs of congratulations. The only person
conspicuously absent from the group huddled around the beaming
couple and little boy was Madeline who had remained seated at the
Though Charlotte could understand her sister being
disappointed that Daniel had eloped without telling her, that was
no excuse for her being so rude and hurtful. She eased away from
the group and walked over to her sister.
"Don't do this, Maddie," she murmured. "I
know you're disappointed that none of us were invited to the wedding
ceremony--I am too--but I'm sure they had their reasons. Please
don't make a scene. Don't ruin this happy moment for them."
Charlotte might as well have been whistling in the
wind for all of the attention that her sister paid to her pleas.
Without a word to anyone, Madeline pushed out of her chair and
stomped out of the room. Seconds later, they heard the front door
slam, and within moments, they heard the roar of a car engine and
the squeal of tires.
Nadia stared up at Daniel. "I told you she
would be upset. I'm so sorry, honey." She buried her crimson
face against his shoulder, but not before Charlotte saw the tears
spilling down her cheeks.
After Madeline's abrupt departure, the food could
have been dust as far as those who were left at the table were
concerned. Little Davy's excited chatter was the only thing that
kept the meal from being eaten in complete silence.
As soon as the meal was over and the table cleared,
everyone said subdued goodbyes then left . . . everyone but Judith.
"Why, Aunt Charley?" she demanded as she
followed Charlotte back to the kitchen. "Why does my mother
have to be like that? Nothing's ever good enough for her, and nothing
any of us does ever pleases her."
Charlotte had begun loading the dishwasher but paused. "I
know it seems that way, hon, but--"
Judith threw up her hand and shook her head. "No
buts, Auntie. It doesn't just seem that way. It is that way, and
no use you making excuses for her."
As much as it pained Charlotte to admit it, Judith
was right. But an admission of the truth out loud would be even
more painful for Judith, so Charlotte lied. "To be honest,
hon, I don't know why she acts that way."
Long after Judith had left, Charlotte remained at
the open front door and stared at the empty driveway with unseeing
eyes as pangs of guilt about Madeline battered her conscience.
It had all started with the death of their parents.
Charlotte had been only twenty to Madeline's fifteen when their
parents had been involved in a fatal accident. She'd been much
too young to take on the responsibilities of caring for a teenage
sister as well as her own infant son. At the time, Charlotte had
been too overwhelmed herself to do anything but get through each
day as best she could, and she'd overcompensated by indulging her
sister and giving in to her every demand.
Charlotte stepped back inside the house. It had
taken her years to finally come to terms with the guilt she felt
about Madeline, years to finally realize that as a grown woman,
Madeline was ultimately responsible for her own spoiled, selfish
But old habits were hard to break, and even now,
Charlotte couldn't decide whether she should phone Madeline and
try to placate her or simply leave her sister alone and mind her
"Well, what do you think I should do, Sweety?" She
directed her question to her little parakeet whose cage hung on
a stand by the front window. "Should I call her or not?"
For an answer, the little parakeet gave a squawk
and pranced back and forth on his perch.
"Humph. Should have known better than to ask
you. Probably wouldn't do any good to call her anyway." Charlotte
closed and locked the door. "More than likely she wouldn't
listen. And that's a shame--a crying shame. Anyone with half a
pea brain could see that Daniel, Nadia, and Davy are a perfect
Still debating whether to call her sister, Charlotte
walked over to the sofa and sat down. Suddenly, she stiffened and
went stone still.
What about Ricco Martinez, the man Nadia had lived
with, the father of her son?
It had been a year since Ricco, without a word to
anyone, had simply disappeared one day. What if, after all this
time, he suddenly decided to show up? What then?
Excerpt from Polished
Copyright 2003 by Barbara Colley