Here's the first five pages of my novel. If you were an agent, would you want to read more?
“Lookin’ for somethin’ perticular, dawlin’?”
Tearing my eyes from the crystal on the plastic-covered table, I smiled at the white-haired black man behind the cash register, ignoring the quickening of my pulse and the tightness in my chest. “Just looking.” I tried to keep my eyes and my mind off the purplish rock, staring instead around the crowded open-air French Market. “I just moved here.”
“Let me guess.” The old man looked me up and down. “You a Yankee, girl?”
“Is it that obvious?” I asked, the sheen of sweat already covering my body growing to a dripping sludge. My fingers slipped toward the stone I so badly wanted and I snatched them back empty-handed. “My mom’s from here, though.”
The man threw back his head in raspy laughter. “Dat makes you only half-Yankee!”
But that still didn’t make New Orleans home. I was melting in my jeans, too stubborn to put shorts on today when Mom told me how hot I’d get. I hadn’t said more than a monosyllable to her at a time since we got into town last night. Mom said a change of scenery would be good for me, would broaden my horizons. “Evangeline, don’t you know how many great writers were inspired by New Orleans?” she said when she told me we’d inherited her mother’s old house from a dead uncle. As if that would keep me from freaking out. Broaden my horizons. Ha!
The old man in the market slapped his knee with a grin. “Half-Yankee? Ya-heard-me?”
“I guess that’s better a whole Yankee.” I watched him throw his head back again in laughter. In the split second his eyes were closed, the purple crystal found its way into my tote bag. “It was nice talking to you. I’d better get going.” I edged away, keeping my body between him and my bag.
“Take it easy, little-- hey,” he added in a brusque voice. “Where my amefyst at?”
“What?” I said, hoping the sweat running down my face didn’t make me look any guiltier. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Now that sounded guilty. The man squinted at the table and then turned to me, but I’d already backed out of the covered marketplace and started running down the street, narrowly avoiding a mule-drawn buggy full of tourists.
With every stride in my sweaty sneakers, my bag thumped heavily against my body, reminding me what I’d done. Was that yelling I heard the old man, or just drunken tourists? Had anyone seen me leave the scene of the crime? Running in this heat was rough, but I ran the hundred-meter in 12.4 seconds, hundred-meter hurdles in 14.5. I’d never run from anyone like this before.
I ran without stopping, hiding at last on the edges of a tour group to catch my breath.
“New Orleans is a city of mystery,” a thin woman with long gray hair was telling the group, who looked about as hot and sweaty as I was. “They say the ghost who haunts this building is the slave girl that Delphine Lalaurie chased off her balcony all those years ago.”
She pointed at a perfectly normal looking building across the street. “A high society woman, Madam Lalaurie and her doctor husband were not high on kindness,” the tour-guide continued. “No one knows the truth about how many slaves were tortured and mutilated behind those walls--“ The woman looked my way, and her smile faded. “’Scuse me, honey, but I didn’t see you sign up for this tour.”
Oh, God. My face got hot again. “No, I just, no. I’ll go,” I said, spitting the words and running down the block.
A black and white cab pulled up next to me, the driver’s sunburned arm waving me toward her. “Need a ride, sweetheart?”
I was supposed to meet Mom in a couple hours for a ride home, but I wanted as much distance between me and the French Market as possible.
“Yeah,” I said, more a ragged sigh than a word, and got in the back. After I told her my address, I wiped my sweaty face on my tshirt sleeve, wishing she’d turn the a/c on.
“You just move to town?” she asked, making eye contact in the rear-view mirror. She had a frizz of mahogany hair with about three inches of gray roots showing, and squinty, pale-colored eyes.
“Last night,” I answered, breathing a real sigh once we’d left the quarter and running my hands through my sweaty bob of curls. But my relief didn’t last. The sketchy neighborhood we drove through to get home made me lock the door. God, I missed our safe little Syracuse suburb.
“Moved here from Lake Charles a few years after the hurricane,” the driver was saying.
“You mean Katrina?” I asked, trying to keep up with her polite conversation.
“No need to say the name, dawlin’. Bad juju,” she said with such a grin I didn’t know if she was serious or not. “You in college?”
“High School. But I want to go to college for journalism.” I stared out the window for some recognizable landmark. After about ten minutes we finally turned onto my street, chugging along the pungent, concrete-lined bayou that divided the street.
“Nice house,” she said when I told her to pull over. The place was white and rectangular, with a second story “gallery” Mom called it. I called it a porch. Beneath the porch there was a brick patio and a bench swing. A white building on a panhandle portion of the lot caught my attention for the first time. “Real nice. You ain’t gonna be alone here all day long, are ya?”
I stiffened, handing her the fare and looking away. “My mom’ll be home soon,” I said. My imagination raced off, showing the cab driver ransacking the house, holding me at gunpoint. Hey, this was New Orleans. Crazier things had happened. Like that creepy slave-torturing lady from the tour. Shivering despite the stifling heat, I tried not to slam the car door on my way out. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Just doin’ my job,” she said with a wink. Before I could think anything else about her, bad or good, the cab puttered away, muffler rattling.
Once in the safety of the living room, I gulped down the cool conditioned air and sent Mom a quick text saying I was already home. That way she wouldn’t freak out when I didn’t meet her.
Without Mom here, the house seemed even bigger and emptier, every creak amplified to a loud crack; every squeaky door sounded like a haunted house sound effect. I peered out the front windows to look for the cabdriver, hoping she really wasn’t waiting around to come rob the place. The weight of the amethyst in my bag reminded me of my own robbery of the old man. Why hadn’t I just left it where it belonged? Or offered to buy it? I never had any thoughts about buying the things that caught my eye, things that made my heart catch in my chest. No logical thoughts about anything except for the fact that I needed them.
Needed. The word sounded like an excuse.
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