Two Ladies of Honfleur
Marguerite hadn’t patronized many businesses in Honfleur as yet, having been busy putting the finishing touches on Poplar Grove and seeing to her business interests in the city. She’d made a point to be visible about the hamlet through her evening walks however, and attend Mass at St. Celestine’s. It was all part of her plan to establish herself in the community and eventually insert herself in the local power structure. The vampire was under no illusions that the little town was important, but it would contribute toward the persona she wished to project: a wealthy southern belle returning to her roots in southern Louisiana.
It wasn’t entirely a lie, after all. There were simply fewer generations involved than the locals realized.
The thought caused Marguerite to smirk slightly to herself as she stepped through the entrance to Homespun. She’d seen the boutique eatery on her trips through town and had made the decision that an iced coffee and a muffin would be a pleasant treat toward the end of a long day.
After a transaction closed, the proprietress spoke to the next woman in line. "Good afternoon, Hazel." She lowered a glass dome onto a cake. "Your mother was by earlier to try the lemon pound cake." She smiled pleasantly.
"Was she?" Hazel asked, guarding her interest. She approached the counter and set her purse there. It was small and beaded, a multicolor splash against her white peasant blouse. Her dark hair was swept into a bun. "Who was with her?" She fished out her wallet and waited for an expected answer: Grandma Bellamy. It would mean she was in good health.
"Oh, she came in by herself." The proprietress had long, auburn hair with silver streaks. She swept an errant piece of it back with her wrist. "But she bought two pieces of cake."
Hazel nodded. At least the old woman's sweet tooth was intact. "I'm here to collect my money for the herbal teas." After a seller's fee, the tiny items Hazel was allowed to sell in Homespun only earned a pittance but every dollar helped. She was famous around town for any business venture that made ends meet, a habit that began with roadside vegetable carts and spun out of control. She had been lectured by two fisherman this year for buying up the colorful lures to make and sell hair pieces.
Thirty-two dollars were counted into her palm.
Marguerite listened to the conversation between the woman behind the counter and the customer ahead of her with half an ear while she surveyed the selection of baked goods. So this Hazel made herbal teas did she? That tidbit was filed in the back of her mind as one never knew what particular piece of information could present itself as useful in the future.
She paused briefly, pretending to pay the contents of the glass cases more attention as she pondered whether to engage either woman in conversation beyond placing her order. As she was returning from a business meeting in the city she wore her cream colored skirt suit, tailored like all her clothing to flatter her form and just within the bounds of what was considered proper business attire in terms of hem, neckline and heels. It made her stand out in a town such as this, but truly she would have stood out regardless. After a moment the vampire gave a mental shrug and decided it couldn’t hurt her plans to at least pretend to be friendly.
She stepped to the front once Hazel had moved aside and graced the two women with a pleasant smile. “What would you recommend with an iced coffee? I haven’t been in before so I’m afraid I don’t know what’s best.”
"Try the citrus cake," Hazel said, folding the bills to place in her wallet. She spared a glance to the stranger, struck momentarily by the wealth of her suit. Hazel owned a skirted suit from a department store. It had been used only once at her grandfather's funeral. It was navy blue and the buttons had to be reinforced with additional thread. This woman's looked individually tailored.
The cake maker nodded. "A little taste of lime is refreshing on a hot day," she said.
Hazel zipped her purse and eased away from the counter. However, she didn't leave. Her head tilted and she studied the brunette's pumps. If she wandered away from Main Street, those shoes would be full of gravel and covered in dust. "Are you in town on business?" Which business wasn’t clear to her. The town's primary export was gator leather.
Marguerite considered the suggestion for a moment, then nodded in assent. “That sounds delicious, I’ll try it.”
She turned at the question and studied Hazel in return while she waited for her order to be fulfilled. “Returning from a business meeting in the city actually.” A hand was extended. “I’m Marguerite Dufoix, I took over my family’s old property across the creek.” Considering how many contractors she’d had working on it during the restoration and upgrade of the property she was certain that at least the proprietress knew of the place. An establishment like this would draw anyone with a sweet tooth like flies at the end of a workday or on their lunch break.
Recognition flashed in Hazel's eyes as she shook the woman's hand. "Poplar Grove... it's a beautiful house. My grandmother told me that a member of the Dufoix family had come back to town. My name is Hazel. I'm Nadya Herne's great-granddaughter, but she's long passed." There were a handful of families that had been in Honfleur for generations and Hazel knew this one well. The name Dufoix was associated with money and authority, and the plantation at the end of Moss Lane was a local landmark. She had played on its grounds as a child.
The name ‘Nadya Herne’ didn’t ring any bells with Marguerite, but perhaps the woman had arrived shortly after Marguerite herself had left. If this woman before her now was Nadya’s great-granddaughter then she’d likely been around the same age. “It is a lovely place, I can remember my great grandmother talking about it when I was a little girl. I’m glad I was able to have a chance to come here and make it my home.” Maybe she was laying it on a tad thick, but none of what she’d said was untrue.
She paid for her drink and treat, then gestured toward a nearby table. “Would you like to sit?”
Hazel looked at her watch. She was on a break from her job at Tall Tale; a few minutes remained and she had no desire to return early to the dueling smells of hardware, fertilizer, and fishing supplies. It led to her accepting the invitation. "Sure," she said. It couldn't hurt to be friendly with a member of the Dufoix family. She had no doubt her relatives on the Auton side would hasten to make themselves known. They could teach lessons on brown-nosing. Hazel slipped into a chair by the window. It afforded a picturesque view of Main Street. “May I ask where you lived before?”
“Officially?” Marguerite shrugged slightly. “The family relocated to Florida back in my Great Grandmother’s day, around Miami, but I’ve been all over. My father generally took us with him wherever he was posted when working elsewhere for the company, and I was sent off to boarding school once I was old enough.” A blatant lie, but there was no way Hazel could know that. She couldn’t exactly tell the truth. Besides, the lie was a well established cover story she’d used in various persona for years. “I guess you could say that choosing Honfluer and New Orleans was my way of returning to someplace I felt I had true roots.”
She took a bite of the citrus cake and decided she did enjoy the taste. Once she’d washed it down with a sip of the coffee she returned her attention to Hazel. “So what about you? Have you lived here all your life?”
“Every day,” Hazel returned. “Well... when I was younger, I flirted with living in the city. I slept on a few couches, spent another month in an RV that never made it to New Mexico, but this has always been home. I feel restless when I’m away.” She flicked her fingers. “Rootless.” The proprietress brought over a glass of ice tea, which Hazel acknowledged with a look of appreciation. It had always seemed to Hazel as if she was waiting for a day of great importance to arrive, or even a sign that no such day would come and it was time to move on. In paranoid times, she felt as if the soul of her witchcraft stayed behind when she ventured away, like a reprimand from spirits who knew her place better than she.
“I’ve had my fill of living in cities.” Marguerite told the shorter woman honestly. “I prefer a small town not far from a city, to be honest. Cities can get confining, and there’s too much concrete and steel and not enough growing things.” They were ideal places to hunt for food that walked on two legs, but Marguerite preferred to lay her head down to sleep in someplace smaller and quieter. “I think that is probably one of the things that drew me to Honfleur after I did more research on the family history. Like you said: roots.”
“I also think it’s important to lead a simple life,” Hazel said. She looked at the general store across the street with its coin-operated hobby horse and trays of potted plants. “To stay connected to the earth and our guiding spirits.” She had taken a sip of the tea and now the sun glinted in it, turning brown to amber. “So many people have gone to the city and been hollowed out. Not me.” Hazel looked at Marguerite, who had the eye contact of a woman with supreme confidence. Hazel had it, too, but hers was rooted in defiance rather than life successes.
“Spoken like a woman who knows what she’s talking about.” Marguerite sipped her coffee and regarded Hazel curiously. There was a hint of steel underneath the woman’s frayed exterior, this one might bear watching. “I don’t think I’d be interested in too simple a life, the Amish for example, but there’s something to be said for trying to keep from being swept up by the pace of modern life.” Things had sped up so tremendously from when she’d been a child Marguerite scarcely would have believed it if she hadn’t lived through the decades that shaped the accelerated pace.
“Well, I don’t know your business,” Hazel said, “But you shouldn’t be in any danger of it here.” A woman came into the store and purchased a pair of brownies. While she waited for change for her twenty, she gazed in their direction, most pointedly at Marguerite. A change of pace, thought Hazel. “You’re the newest curiosity,” she said, eyes averted. “They’ll want to know everything about you. I hope you’re used to prying eyes.”
“I’m a Dufoix,” Marguerite replied simply. “Being the center of attention is nothing new to me.” There was nothing in the open that would give reason to disbelieve she was anything but what she claimed to be. The woman at the counter was briefly examined, and then dismissed as unimportant. If the locals wanted to gossip about the latest resident well that was hardly unusual, was it?
“So what do you do now that you’ve returned and deepened your roots here in Honfleur, Hazel?” She assumed the other woman wouldn’t mind being addressed as such, considering she’d introduced herself by that name and added the family name only as a point of reference.
"I sell hardware and hunting supplies," Hazel said. No bother glamorizing what was plain. "And I make odd money on the side." That last bit would explain the tea transaction and many others Marguerite would witness if she frequented the town shops. Hazel's stamp was on anything she sold, a little white tag with a maroon insignia. "School was never my strong suit," she added. She wasn't ashamed of her job, but often found it paid to head off questions about her aspirations, which didn't include text books. "I don't think I could love any profession for a lifetime."
“School isn’t for everyone I suppose.” Marguerite nodded, her fork scraping against the plate as she realized the treat was finished. “I’ve heard of several business owners who made successful careers without going to college.” She’d never attended college either and had done quite well for herself over the past century, but she also had the head start of being born to money and other assets that the typical human did not.
Career. Even the word smacked of a permanence that made Hazel uncomfortable. Perhaps it was in her blood to want the freedom to uproot and flee, and the only thing holding her to Honfleur was spirituality. “As long as I have food to eat and a roof over my head, I’ll be satisfied,” she said. She took in the state of Marguerite’s plate and checked the time, finding she had sufficient time to linger outdoors on her walk back to Tall Tale. She thought about the arrival of the wealthy woman and wondered what changes it would mean for Honfleur. In a town so small, every person made an impact and the presence of someone from a powerful family might make waves, especially political ones.
“Then I suppose it doesn’t much matter what you do, if that’s your only concern.” Marguerite felt slightly disappointed in the woman’s response. Didn’t she have any drive? Any goals in life that she wanted to accomplish? Merely existing was not enough for Marguerite, and she couldn’t imagine why it would be for anyone else.
Hazel’s glance at the time hadn’t gone unnoticed. “If you need to go I’ll not keep you.” Despite Marguerite’s disappointment, she decided that Hazel was still was one to keep an eye on. Time would tell if she were mistaken in her initial assessment.
The darker-haired woman gathered herself in preparation to leave. “Trust that it’s a need and not a desire,” she said. “The world of tackle and bait awaits me, in specific a boss that wants his own lunch.” She stood alongside the table and eyed Marguerite. For a reason Hazel couldn’t pinpoint, she seemed larger than life, separate from her surroundings. It puckered her brow, but she said nothing of it, save, “I’ll be interested to see how town life treats you.” And you, it. “Have a good afternoon.”
Hazel carried her glass to the dish return and walked into the bright sun.