House of Imperial

By: Jaymin Eve

Secret Keepers Series #2


1





The French Quarter was a place I wanted to tell my children about – not that kids or family were an actual possibility in my life – but this city … it was a world worthy to be passed on, to be spoken about in stories and song. There was something special here. I had felt it the first moment we arrived.

As I strolled along the colorful street that led into Jackson Square, I wondered what my life would have been like if I’d been born here. I mean, not right here on this somewhat grimy pavement, but in New Orleans. Maybe I would be reading tarot cards like the woman on my right, set up at her small white table, long dark curls spilling out from under the jeweled headpiece adorning her forehead, purple nails flashing as she placed cards down for an eager tourist.

Or maybe I’d paint. That always looked like a fun way to tell a story. Street artists were everywhere, expressing their creativity in a way that I couldn't imagine doing. I’d never held a paintbrush, not even as a child. Circumstances from before my birth dictated that my life would never be my own.

Something I’d grown numb to over the years.

As if to prove me wrong, a haunting saxophone tune started up from a jazz musician leaning close to the wall of a café; the low reverberations hit me deep in my soul, in the place that had been cold and dormant for a long time. I basked in that feeling for a moment, closing my eyes and letting the music take me away.

I probably looked like a crazy person, standing in the middle of the Quarter, face lifted to the sky, shoulder-length ash-blond hair sticking out in a million directions. Okay, so it was NOLA, I no doubt fit in perfectly, but for someone who had always tried to blend, being in public like this was making me uneasy. It was just that for the first time in a long time I felt alive. I wasn’t sure if letting myself feel things was a good idea, but I couldn’t seem to stay away. I kept coming back here, to experience this world filled with life and vibrancy, watching the tourists as they took their spooky tours and filled their bags with fancy masks, religious trinkets, and hot sauce. I envied their laughter, and ability to afford copious amounts of beignets. Those puffy balls of magic were everything. I'd had one my first day and since then I must have thought about their deliciousness at least seven times a week. I was addicted … and totally okay with it.

Mostly, I envied them their happy moments and families. That existence was not for me, but at least by being here I got to experience a small sliver of that life. Glancing at my watch, I stifled my groan: 3:50 P.M. I’d already been gone for two hours, wandering the streets.

It was Wednesday. I was supposed to be at the farmers market on Peters Street. My mom allowed me to make this once-a-week trip from our tiny condo in the Marginy to gather some groceries. I’d be punished for taking my time today. We had strict rules in my family – my mom and me – and one of the most important was that I never put us at risk of exposure. We were to always stick to the shadows and live like ghosts.

Most days I felt about as substantial as a ghost, so she had achieved one of her goals.

With reluctance, I turned away from the square and started my trek back toward the market area. It was only a few blocks, but in this million-percent humidity it would feel longer. Heat didn’t usually bother me, but I hadn’t quite understood the true scope of “sweating like a pig” until we moved here.

As I walked, I let my eyes roam across the streets, waiting for the next new and crazy sight. One literally never knew what was going to happen here. We’d only lived in New Orleans for a few months. To the locals I’d always be a tourist, but I was okay with that. I would take that title in exchange for getting to experience this world. I was fascinated with it all. This city was hard to truly describe, a place like no other, and considering I’d moved two to three times a year since I was born, that was really saying something. Its French influences, not only in architecture but food and culture … I loved them all.

I’d started hoping each night, before I went to sleep, that nothing would spook my mom into running again. We should still have at least another two months here, if she kept to her normal timeline.

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