We had arrived.
Sitting alongside Michael, Kat, and Xander, I bounced in my seat. I couldn’t wait to disembark the airplane. I had waited my entire life to visit New Orleans, and we had finally made it. I was living a dream.
The Big Easy. The Crescent City. The Paris of the South. New Orleans was steeped in French and American history. The ambiance was mystical and distinctly supernatural. Despite the tragedies that had occurred there, such as Hurricane Katrina, the city had recovered and was thriving again, as if not even Mother Nature could hold it back. From the music and the food, to the bayous and the legends, there was just something so unique and otherworldly about NOLA, the City that Care Forgot.
Our plane hit the tarmac and bounced, coming back down with squealing tires. I reached over and grabbed Michael’s forearm, my excitement spilling outward. He looked over at me and smiled, and I could see my enormous cheesy grin reflected in his steel-colored eyes.
“Well aren’t you just a bouncy ball.”
“Do you have any idea how excited I am, Mike? Like super, super excited!”
“You don’t say…”
“After all this time, I’ve finally made it to NOLA!”
“Don’t explode yet. We still have to get to our hotel.”
“Ooh, the hotel!”
Michael laughed, then lifted my hand from his arm so he could kiss the back of it. I smiled again for him and began unbuckling and putting my headphones away. I was not going to let a little ‘clean-up’ derail me from getting off the plane as quickly as possible.
I reached over Michael to smack Kat on the arm. “Are you excited?”
Kat looked at me like I had grown a second set of eyeballs. “Duh! Absolutely!”
I grinned wildly and kept twitching in my seat, waiting for the flight crew to finish taxiing the plane. After another fifteen grueling minutes, they were done and began disembarking passengers. Xander and Kat headed out first, then Michael stood up and grabbed our carry-on bags from the overhead bin. Once there was a break in the line, he stepped out holding onto both bags and let me go in front of him like the gentleman he was. I exited as quickly as I could and began moving toward the front, turning back periodically to smile at him. My excitement was definitely not contained.
We moved fast through the air bridge until we were in the concourse, and I was hugging Kat. Then I took her hand, and we began leaving the guys behind as we made our way to the baggage claim area. Neither of us had been here before, and it had been years since we traveled anywhere (for fun). (Our mutual trip to Ireland definitely didn’t count.) Our matching energy was certainly a lot to handle. Xander and Michael both had to practically run to keep up with us, each of them taking extra long strides.
Once we had our bags from the carousel, we headed out the exit and found a cab to take us to our hotel off Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Roughly twenty minutes later, we found ourselves standing in front of the Hotel de Bordeaux, me with stars in my eyes. The breathtaking structure had been built after the Civil War but hadn’t become a full-fledged hotel until the early 1900s. Every ounce of the building held French influence and boasted the history of New Orleans.
“Have you ever… Wow.” I’m sure my jaw was draped across the sidewalk.
“You can say that again.” Kat didn’t take her eyes away from our amazingly beautiful hotel.
I caught our men looking at each other and grinning in agreement. They had done well in selecting the hotel. I was definitely going to thank Michael later, that was for sure.
We went inside and checked in with the front desk. The clerk was a sweet young girl, maybe twenty-three years old and petite, with light mocha skin and curly dark hair pulled back in a tight bun. She gave us our room keys and bid us all a good day, referring to me and Kat as ‘cher’. We each were given rooms on the second floor a few doors down from each other.
I said goodbye to Kat for now, knowing I’d see her again in a couple of hours, and slid my key into the door lock for my room with Michael. Hearing the ‘click’ of the door, I turned the doorknob and pushed it open, holding it for him as he was still carrying both of our bags. I was anxious to see how we’d be staying for the next four days.
Walking inside the room was awe-inspiring. There was a California king-size bed in soft, cream-colored cotton sheets and blankets on the far right wall, a sizable pale pink sofa and chairs in the middle, and an intricately carved oak entertainment center with a large flat-screen television was on the far left. Our bathroom was to the right just inside the doorway, and to the left was a mini-fridge and bar setup. Straight ahead were french doors lined with sheer, pale gray curtains, and each set of doors led to our double balcony overlooking Bourbon Street.
I spun around and flopped backwards onto the bed. “This is incredible!”
“I’m glad you approve.”
“No seriously, you did an amazing job.” I gestured for him. “Come over here, big fella.”
As he approached, I grabbed his hand and pulled him down on top of me, kissing him softly on the lips. He pulled his head back to look at me. “I’m guessing lunch will have to wait?”
“Oh no, we’re getting food. I’m starving.”
“Damn.” He pouted and rolled over onto his back.
I laughed and pushed myself up to sit on the edge of the bed. “Don’t worry. There will be plenty more where that came from. I can promise you that.”
Michael looked over at me and winked. I laughed again. Oh man, I loved him so much it hurt.
We unpacked our things, and I poured a drink for each of us. Fortunately, he had planned ahead and there was a bottle of Pinot Noir waiting for us when we arrived. I uncorked it with the corkscrew from the bar and gave it a few minutes to breathe. When it was ready, I poured us each a glass, and we stepped out onto the balcony. It was clear this was a special place. We clinked our glasses together, then simply people-watched for a while, standing there on the balcony, and holding each other.
I could feel the vibe in the air. The history of New Orleans and its magic was in every brick, every flower along the balcony, every jazz note that echoed down the street. I took a deep breath, as if I was trying to inhale some of that magic into my person. Very slowly, I exhaled, releasing it back into the ether.
Now that I was a vampire, the unknown held new meaning for me. I was more attuned to the unique and unexplained. There was an imperceptible draw, and it pulled at me to learn more, take in more. I had felt it in Ireland, and I felt it now, standing here in this mysterious place.
There was something New Orleans held for me. I could feel it coming, a sensation of something looming just behind me. Was it bad? Was it good? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I needed to be prepared for whatever it was.
After we finished our wine, we met with Xander and Kat in the hallway. Together we headed downstairs and began walking towards our desired lunch destination: Café Du Monde. I wanted some authentic, fresh beignets! Kat was also excited; she’d only ever seen them in cartoons. After we had our dessert, we headed over to Tableau, a Creole restaurant a few blocks down. I tried shrimp and grits, while Michael tried some authentic gumbo. We were both incredibly pleased with our meal (and stuffed) by the time we left.
Before going back to the hotel, the four of us walked to some local shops to get some souvenirs. More specifically, Kat wanted to stop at a hoodoo shop she had seen online that boasted tarot readings and crystals. Ever since the events in Ireland, Kat was more in touch with her Wiccan roots. Not that she needed permission, but she spoke with Xander about it at length to make sure he was comfortable with her further exploration of the occult and nature religion. Xander had no problem with any of it, as long as she didn’t try any negative spellwork. Naturally, Kat agreed. She wasn’t interested in the negative aspects, only the lightwork and naturally protective spells. Otherwise, the only additional spellwork she wanted to perform was shadow work, so she could try to lessen her own anger and improve upon her stubbornness.
As for the tarot cards and crystals, those were simply pretty, shiny things that her inner crow wanted lots and lots of.
The four of us approached the store, with Kat and I going inside while the men hung around outside. (Typical. At least they didn’t hold our purses for us.) In the shop, the atmosphere was warm, dark, and cozy. There were black-stained walnut cabinets and dressers with oodles of drawer space. The lingering scent of incense and its smokiness hung in the air. Every available space was adorned with crystals, sage, skulls, and trinkets to help with calling, seeing, or ridding oneself of something. Jars with teeth, salt, and dirt were plentiful, too. The walls held paintings, mirrors, and other witchy decor.
The bells on the door chimed and sang to us as the door closed behind us. Kat headed to the main counter while I looked around. After speaking with a lanky, Creole man with amazingly long locs, Kat came over to where I stood examining a book.
“She’s going to see us in a minute.”
“Who’s going to see us?”
“Who is that?”
“She’s a priestess. She’s going to do a reading for each of us.”
“I didn’t ask for one…?”
“No. I set it up ahead of time.”
“Yup. I think you could benefit from knowing some things in advance. Especially lately.”
I couldn’t help but agree with her. After a moment or two, Kat was called to the back to speak with Priestess Belliveau. I continued to browse the store, examining little trinkets and a ceramic skull embellished with runes and alchemical symbols. The Creole man behind the counter approached me and offered his help.
“Oh, no thank you.”
“Are you sure, ma petite (sweetheart)? I am sensing something…needful in you.”
“Erm…Nope. I’m just waiting. Thank you, though.”
He watched me for a moment, then walked back to his counter.
After 15 minutes, Kat came out from behind the purple curtains that led to the backroom. She looked perplexed but otherwise in one piece. She walked up to me, and her face continued to bear an expression of puzzlement and confusion. She said nothing until I held up my hand and snapped some fingers. Startled, she shook her head and gave me a sheepish grin.
“Sorry. I was lost in thought.”
“I could tell.”
“It’s your turn.”
“The way you look? I’m not so sure I want to go back there…”
“No, really, it’s fine.” I hesitated, but Kat just smiled. “I promise. She doesn’t bite.”
Sighing, I put down the pendulum I had been looking at and made my way to the curtains. The tall man pulled them back for me and gave a subtle bow. I nodded my thanks and proceeded down a dark hallway to a room on the right. It was dimly lit, with candles in each corner and a candelabra on the left side of the table in the middle of it all. A clear crystal orb sat on the table, which was draped in rich red brocade.
There, at the far side of the table, sat Priestess Belliveau. She had reddish brown hair in tight little curls tucked up under a scarf. A bit of curl peeked out and fell across her forehead, and she swept it back with her left hand. In the candlelight, her pale amber eyes seemed to glow against her mocha brown skin.
“Oh, cher, you can call me Gloria.”
I flinched. “How did you…”
“How did I know what you were thinking? Everyone that comes here wants to call me that darn ‘Priestess Belliveau’ business. I just don’t care for it, cher.” She gestured at the other side of the table. “If you please?”
I paused, then willed my body to move forward and sit down in the black chair with a gold velvet cushion. After setting my purse on the floor, I put my hands in my lap and looked around. The room was just as I had expected it to be for a fortune-teller, with drapes and wall hangings, the crystal ball, and ‘Gloria’ in her purple paisley shawl. She had begun to shuffle a deck of cards and stopped.
“I did that on purpose, you know.”
Gloria gestured outwards with her bejeweled right hand, holding a deck of cards in her left. “The room. I thought I’d play a bit into people’s expectations.” She resumed shuffling as I sat there dumbstruck.
How did she know what I was thinking – again?
“It’s, uh, it’s very nice.”
“Why thank you, cher.”
“So…how does this all work?”
“Oh that’s simple.” She continued to shuffle. “You’ll pick your cards, and I’ll read them for you.”
“Okay. How do I pick them?”
“Like so.” She stopped shuffling and spread the cards out in a line across the center of the table, going from left to right. Her hand paused on the last card, but then she took her hand away and placed both of them on the table, palms down. “Let your intuition guide you. Select three cards from the deck.”
Gloria nodded. Her curl fell across her forehead again, and her gold chandelier earrings swung forward, sparkling as they caught the candlelight.
I reached out to select my first card, letting my hand hover over the deck. I thought I felt something, so I pulled out a card beneath my fingertips. On the card was a castle turret being struck by lightning, the building crumbling all around.
“The Tower. Upheaval is coming. Something that will turn your world upside down.”
I didn’t like how that sounded, so I selected the next card. This time I went for the very last card on her right, the one Gloria had hesitated over. Flipping the card over, there was an upside-down picture of a lovely woman seated on a throne. She was wearing a crown and holding a sword. Her face was determined and serious. This had to be good, right?
“The Queen of Swords…reversed. You will face a formidable adversary. Someone cruel and cold of heart.”
“You have got to be kidding me…”
“The cards do not lie, cher.” She looked me deep in the eye. “Make your final selection.”
This time I really concentrated, focusing everything I could into my hand, as if it was a magnet that could select only positive things. When I reached a card towards the mid-left side, I felt something pulling at my hand. I quickly grabbed that card and brought it up to my chest, holding it there for a minute.
“Now, what happens if this card is also bad?”
“Nothing. But maybe something. It is up to you.”
“Well, that’s of no help.”
“The fates are often unkind. However, you have the ability to influence the outcome.”
I sighed, looked down at my hands, and slowly put the third and final card on the table.
“Oh, well that’s just freakin’ wonderful. Okay, c’mon, Gloria. I want you to give Kat her money back.”
“Death is not always the end of things.”
“Um, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what death is. Death. The name says it all.”
“Sometimes, death is the beginning of things.” Gloria eyed me, her one eyebrow raised as if she was trying to impart a secret meaning to me.
“What, like reincarnation?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps what is bad will end and something new will come.”
“Okay, now we’re talking. What new thing will come?”
Gloria closed her eyes. Her deep purple eyeshadow stood out beautifully against her mocha skin, and for the first time, I noticed her freckles. “Someone is coming, cher. They are evil, and they will tear things apart in your life. But it will not last forever. There is a happy ending coming for you, but you have to push through the darkness. You must never stop seeking the light.”
Her light amber-colored eyes opened, and she smiled at me. “This is how I know you are special.” She picked up a random card in the deck, and its picture was of a star, bright white and glowing. “Do you see?”
I didn’t see, but she did. “Can I stop the bad things from happening?”
“But I’ll make it through?”
“What about my fiance, Michael?”
Gloria pursed her lips. “Your vampire lover will come close to the edge, but he will not cross over.”
My eyes widened. “Vampire lover? Wha…what? C’mon Gloria. That’s just weird.”
Gloria smirked. “I know what you are, too. I don’t fear you.” Gloria’s eyes began to glow brighter and the room grew darker. “You are just like me, cher – different.”
On that note, I felt my breath catch in my throat, and the air seemed to leave the room. I heard a subtle growling, and Gloria smiled a wicked set of teeth at me. This time it was my eyebrows that went up.
“Well, well. Point well taken.”
The air returned, and I noticed her eyes dim as the candlelight grew brighter again. “As you can see, vampires aren’t the only things lurkin’ around New Orleans tonight.”
“Yeah, I can definitely see that.”
“Now go on, cher. Remember what I told you. Fate may have vicious things in store for you, but you can overcome it.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much.”
I quickly pushed my seat back and stood up from the table. Bending down, I grabbed my purse and gave a final nod to Gloria before high-tailing it back upfront to Kat. When I reached the store’s main area, I found that Kat had gone outside to wait with the guys. I thanked the man at the counter and rushed outside and right into Michael, bumping into him.
“Hey hey, slow down, Celie.” He must have seen something on my face. “You okay? What happened?”
“Yup, I’m fine. Right as rain. Uh, can we head back to the hotel?”
“Sure. Sure we can, right guys?” He addressed Kat and Xander, who both quickly agreed. “You sure nothing happened?”
“We’ll talk about it later, okay? Right now I just need to get back to the hotel.”
The four of us left the hoodoo storefront and walked back to Hotel de Bordeaux. I kept my hand around Michael’s arm the entire time, afraid to let go. I was spooked. I only hoped that the coming dark wouldn’t stay for too long.