No. I had to get that journal back. I found my knuckles rapping the wood. “Hello?”
The door groaned open wide.
“Mr. or Ms. Deveaux?” No answer. “I need to talk to Jackson,” I called as I stepped into the house.
I saw no one inside but still got an eyeful. Just as bad as the outside.
The main living area was cramped, the ceiling hanging so low I wondered if Jackson had to duck to walk around. Dangling from it was a single lightbulb, buzzing like a bee.
The sole window had been boarded up. The door to a room in the back was closed, but I heard a TV blaring from inside.
On the left wall was a ridiculously small kitchen. Six fish lay cleaned beside a sizzling pan. Some kind of game was chopped in chunks, already breaded in cornmeal. Had Jack angled, trapped, or shot everything on that counter?
Why leave the stove on? “Jackson, where are you?” With a despairing eye, I took a closer look around the room.
Lining the wall to the right was a plaid couch, with cigarette burn holes pocking the arms. Frayed sheets had been spread over the sunken cushions.
His boots sat on the floor at the foot of the couch. This is where he sleeps?
My lips parted. He didn’t even have his own room.
A Spanish for Beginners book lay on the floor, spine cracked and opened in the middle, with a worn copy of Robinson Crusoe beside it. That novel wasn’t on our reading list. So he read for enjoyment? And wanted to speak another language?
I felt something tugging inside of me. As much as I thought of him as grown, he was an just eighteen-year-old boy who would have a boy’s plans and dreams.
Maybe he imagined running away to Mexico or sailing away from this hellhole.
It struck me how little I really knew about him.
As my anger faded, I reminded myself that what little I knew, I hated. Still, I found myself trudging forward to turn off the stove before the place caught fire.
I nibbled my lip. Where is he? What if my sketchbook was at Lionel’s? I didn’t see any of the phones here either.
After I turned off the burner, I heard yelling from the back. Not the TV?
Suddenly a harsh drumming pelted the tin roof. I gave a cry of surprise, but that noise drowned it out. “Just the rain,” I murmured to myself. “Drops on tin.” Finally!
Water started beading along bulging seams in the ceiling, dripping down to the floor, over the couch. Jackson would have nowhere dry to sleep tonight.
I jumped when stomping sounds shook the house, as if someone was bounding up a back set of stairs. When a door slammed in the back, the connecting door creaked open.
Morbid curiosity drew me closer. One peek and I’ll slip out. . . .
On a stained mattress, a middle-aged woman lay sprawled unconscious, her long jet-black hair a tangled halo around her head. She was nearly indecent, her robe hiked high up her legs. A rosary with glinting onyx beads and a small gothic cross circled her neck.
Her arm hung over the side, an empty bottle of bourbon on the floor just beneath her fingertips. A plate of untouched scrambled eggs and toast sat atop a box crate by the bed.
Was that Ms. Deveaux?
A tall, sunburned man in wet overalls came into view. He started pacing alongside the bed, yelling at her unconscious form, gesturing with one fist and his own liquor bottle.
Was the man her husband? Her boyfriend?
I knew I needed to leave, but I was riveted to the spot, could no more look away than I could quit breathing.
Then I saw Jackson on the other side of the bed, pulling her robe closed. Shaking her shoulder, he urgently muttered, “Maman, reveille!”
She slurred something but didn’t move. The way Jackson gazed at her face, so protectively . . . I knew he’d cooked her that breakfast this morning.
When the drunk lumbered toward her, Jackson smacked the man’s arm away.
Both began yelling in Cajun French. Even with what I understood, I could barely follow. Jackson was trying to kick him out, telling him never to return?
The man reached for Ms. Deveaux again. Jackson blocked him once more. Then the two squared off at the foot of the bed. Their voices got louder and louder, bellows of rage as they circled each other.
Did the idiot not see that glint in Jackson’s eyes? The one promising pain?
Instead of heeding that warning, the man clutched the neck of his bottle, busting the end on the windowsill. With surprising speed, he attacked with the jagged end. Jackson warded off the blow with his forearm.
I saw bone before blood welled. I thrust the back of my hand against my mouth. Can’t imagine that pain!
But Jackson? He merely smiled. An animal baring its teeth.
At last, the drunk clambered back in fear. Too late. Jackson launched his big body forward, his fists flying.
A stream of blood spurted from the man’s mouth, then another, and still Jackson ruthlessly beat him. The strength in his towering frame was brutal, the wildness in his eyes . . .
Why couldn’t I run? Leave this sordid place behind?
Leave these horrific sounds behind—the angry rain on tin, the woman’s slurring, the drunk’s grunts as Jackson landed blow after blow.
Then . . . one last punch across the man’s jaw. I thought I heard bone crack.
The force of the blow sent the man twirling on one foot, drooling blood and teeth as he went down.
With a heartless laugh, Jackson sneered, “Bagasse.”
Cane pulp. Beaten to a literal pulp. I covered my ears with my forearms, fighting dizziness.
Now that the man had been defeated, Jackson’s wrath seemed to ebb. Until he slowly turned his head in my direction. His brows drew together in confusion. “Evangeline, what are you . . . ?”
He swept a glance around his home, as if seeing it through my eyes. As if seeing this hellhole for the first time.
Even after Jackson’s display of raw violence, I couldn’t stop myself from pitying him.
He must have seen it in my expression, because his face reddened with embarrassment. His confusion evaporated, that rage returning. His gaze was almost blank with it. “Why in the hell did you come here?” The tendons in his neck strained as he stalked toward me. “You tell me why you’re in my goddamned house!”
I could only gape as I retreated. Don’t turn your back on him, don’t look away. . . .
“A girl like you in the Basin? C’est ça coo-yôn! Bonne à rien! Good for nothing but getting yourself in trouble!” I’d never heard his accent so thick.
“Wanted a look at how the other half lives? That it?”
I backed across the front threshold, almost to the porch steps. “I wanted the journal you stole!”
Lightning flashed, highlighting the lines of fury on his face. Thunder boomed instantly, shaking the house so hard the porch rattled. I cried out and swayed for balance.
“The journal with all your crazy drawings? You come to take me to task!” When Jackson reached for me with that injured arm, I recoiled, scrambling backward into the pounding rain.
That loose step seemed to buckle beneath my foot; pain flared in my ankle.
I felt myself falling . . . falling . . . landing on my ass in a puddle. I gasped, spitting mud and rain, too shocked to cry.
Strands of wet hair plastered my face, my shoulders. I tried to rise, but the mud sucked me down. I swiped hair out of my eyes, coating my face with filth.
Blinking against the rain, I shrieked, “You!” I wanted to rail at him, to blame him for my pain, my humiliation. And all I could say over and over was “You!” Finally I managed to yell, “You disgust me!”
He gave a bitter laugh. “Do I? I didn’t last night when you were wettin’ your lips, hoping I’d kiss them, no. You wanted more of me then!”
My face flushed with shame. Then I remembered. “You tricked me so your loser friend could steal our stuff. You acted as if you liked me!”
“You didn’t seem to mind!” He raised his uninjured arm, shoving his fingers through his hair. “I heard your message to Radcliffe! You goan to kiss me? Then let that boy have you just days later?”
“Give me my journal!”
“Or what? What you goan do about it? The little doll got no teeth.”
Frustration surged, because he was right. The Cajun had all the power; I had none.
Unless I could choke someone in vine or slice them to ribbons?
As my nails began to transform, I felt something akin to the blissful unity that I’d shared with the cane. I was awash in an awareness of all the plants around me—their locations, their strengths and weaknesses.
Above Jackson’s house, a cypress tree shifted its branches over me. In the distance, I sensed kudzu vines hissing in response, slithering closer to defend me.
And for a brief moment, I experienced an urge to show him who really had the power, to punish him for causing me pain.
Punish him? No, no! At once, I struggled to rein back the fury I’d unleashed.
“You want your drawings?” Jackson stormed inside, returning with my journal. “Have them!” He flung the notebook like a Frisbee. Pages went sailing out, all over the muddy yard.
“Nooo!” I cried out, watching them scatter, about to hyperventilate.
By the time I’d managed to crawl to my hands and knees, I was breathing so hard I choked and coughed on raindrops. I reached for the pages nearest me, but every handful of paper made a vision sear my mind.
Death. The bogeymen. The sun shining at night.
With each page, I jerked again and again, yelling up at him, “I hate you! You disgusting brute!” His handsome face hid violence, seething ferocity.
Even though he’d been protecting his mother, he’d liked beating that man unconscious. Jackson had just proved how heartless a boy he truly was. Bagasse . . .
“HATE you! Never come near me again!”
He blinked at my face, his expression turning from murderous to disbelieving. He shook his head hard.
What was he seeing?
“Evie!” Mel cried. She’d come for me!
As she looped an arm around my shoulders to help me stand, she yelled at Jackson, “Stay away from her, you lowlife trash!”
With a last dumbstruck look at my face, he turned to stride away.
Just as he slammed inside that shack, my vines reached his porch. Mel was too busy checking me for injuries to see, but I watched them sway upright like cobras, waiting for me to command them.
I whispered, “No.” At once, they raced back into the brush like plucked rubber bands. Then I told Mel, “I-I need these drawings. All of them.”
Without a word, she dropped to her knees beside me.
Both of us in the mud, collecting my crazy.
“You’re being so quiet,” I told Mel as she helped me up to my front porch. The rain was receding, the screen door open to the night breeze. We were both still coated with mud. “I hate when you go quiet.”
On the way here, I’d told Mel about CLC, my visions, my mom, my gran—though not about the plants—finishing just as we’d pulled up.
Now, after my confession, I felt battered, like one of those dolls that always bounces back up when hit. But here’s the thing—those silly dolls get hit all the more for it.
When will this day end? My bottom lip trembled as I fought off tears.
“I’m waiting for you to tell me what happened in the Cajun’s shack,” Mel said. “I mean, your expression was unforgettable—you were all like, ‘Pa, I seen something behind the woodshed.’ ”
“Maybe one day I’ll tell you.” Right now the memory was too raw.
“How come I’m, like, the last to know you have visions? The woman who spawned you knew before me. And that hurts.”
“I didn’t want you to look at me differently.” When we reached the door, I said, “I understand if you don’t want to be friends anymore.” I motioned for my backpack, stuffed full of sodden pages.
With a roll of her eyes, Mel handed over my bag. “And miss my opportunity to sell your disturbed little drawings on deviantART.com? No way, my freaky, cray-cray minx.” She curled her arm around my neck, dragging me down so she could rub her knuckles in my muddy hair. “I’m going to be rich! So get me some more drawings that aren’t soaking wet with Cajun funk all over them.”
“Stop!” But amazingly, I was about to laugh.
“You sure you don’t want me to come in?” Mel asked when she finally released me.
“I’ve got it,” I told her. “I’m probably about to ugly-cry.”
“Look, grasshopper, we’ll figure out all of this tomorrow,” Mel assured me. “But check this—you are not going back to that CLC place. Ever. If we have to, we’ll run away together, get married in a civil union, and live off your art.”
And there went my bottom lip again. “You’ve always been there for me, putting up with my crap.”
Mel glared at me. “You’re being wank, Greene. Cut out all this sentimental b.s. and ask yourself: What choice do I have? Hellooo. You’re my best friend. Now, get inside before I take off the filter.”
With a grave nod, I limped into the house, turning to wave as Mel drove off with her iPod blaring and her signature three-honk salute.
When I hobbled into the kitchen, Mom was making popcorn. “Hi, hon,” she called over one shoulder, her tone cheerful. “Can you believe it rained—” Her eyes went wide at my appearance. “Evie! What happened to you?”
“I tripped in the mud. It’s a long story.”
“Are you hurt?”
I shrugged, gripping the strap of my backpack. Define hurt. “My ankle’s a little sprained.”
“I’ll get some ice and Advil.” Had Mom’s attention darted past me to the door? “And then you can tell me what happened.”
While she wrapped ice in a dishrag, I plunked myself down in a chair, keeping my bag of drawings close. “It’s not a big deal, Mom.”
As I debated how to explain away this mishap, the winds picked up, blowing through the screened door.