Lila sprawls on the well-sprung sofa, waiting for water to boil, done up in flannel bottoms and a thermal top. A similarly well-worn blanket covers her, a defense against the drafts of the old house. Being sick is never fun. She'd fought it, living on Dayquil so she could keep working and finally had to concede the battle and stay home. Nose stuffed, chest tight, feverish and thoroughly grumpy, a wad of Kleenex in one hand, she heads to the mailbox.
She's expecting junk mail and bills. The house isn't just old, it's a money pit. The manila envelope waiting in there, though - it gives her pause.
"What th'..." she murmurs, running a finger over the return address. Tension tightening her shoulders. Lila remembers the last time she'd seen a letter like this one.
It's from a law firm. The same one that had sent her the deed to the Jeunet family home. The same one who'd written to say she had a father she'd never met, a father who'd had some other family. A legit marriage. A father who had a daughter then slept with his wife's sister. Lila's mother. Confusing as hell and something she's still trying to unravel, given that everyone in the convoluted family tree is dead.
A sneeze rocks her and she covers it with the tissue, carrying the letter back inside. Makes a drink of hot tea, spiced rum and honey, before settling down to see what it's about. Soon, Lila's reading intently.
Dear Ms. Beaupre,
As you know from our previous communication one year prior, we have been the executors of the Jeunet estate in Hathian, Louisiana. Per our instructions, we have been acting in good faith to ensure that the home and grounds remain in the family. Per that earlier communication, the death of Ben Uba released documents into our hands that revealed your existence and that you are his daughter, half-sister to Amissa Uba (the original recipient of the deed).
We are writing you now to act on a stipulation that was in Ben Uba's last will and testament. We apologize for not informing you sooner but Mr. Uba's instructions were clear - we were to wait at least one year after your occupancy of the Jeunet land before sending the enclosed. We were also to ensure that the space remains dedicated to the Vodou faith as intended by your ancestors. Our agent has inspected your land and found that the Jeunet honfour remains intact, if not active.
Therefore, enclosed please find a notarized copy of your birth certificate and a sealed letter from your mother, Elise Jeunet Beaupre.
Per Mr. Uba's stipulations, we were unable to reveal until now that we have been the law firm for the Jeunet family going back to your grandmother and grandfather, Lily Jeunet and Luc Beaupre. Know that Mr. Uba has made provisions to keep our firm on retainer to you and your descendants.
We are at your service if you have any questions.
Lila has to read it several times before it makes sense. The folded birth certificate gives her chills because she can't think why it should even matter? The sealed envelope, though - knowing who wrote it, it fills her with dread. She unfolds the certificate first, frowning hard as she reads it. "I don'... who th' hell is Hope Lily Jeunet?" Her gaze moves to the names typed in for mother and father. Elise and Ben. She's utterly confused. "Do I got 'nother sister?"
That sealed envelope waits. Lila pads into the kitchen first to fortify herself, refreshing tea, adding rum and honey, leaning a lot more towards the rum in this cup. Back on the sofa, she opens the letter, and starts to read.
I know I failed you. I did the worst thing a mother could do. I told myself I was keeping us both alive? But we both know the truth. I put you in harm's way, made you go into the arms of strangers, and told myself it was for our own good. And I did it again and again. I'm a weak, selfish woman.
You're gone now. Run off somewhere, free of the fix I put you in. The men. The drugs. Me and the drinking. I hope you make it out there. I hope you shake off this curse of mine.
There's a lot I never told you. And I'm too scared to do it, even now. I'm sending this letter and some other things to your father. His name's Ben Uba. I never told you about him and there's too much to say here. I guess, just, don't be hard on him. I'm the guilty one. I'm the one who ruins thing. And I tried to ruin what he had with my sister Brigitte. She had him, this good man, this FUTURE, and I wanted him - it - for myself.
I didn't get that life. But I got you. And I ran away from Hathian, taking you with me, no money, no skills excepting a pretty smile and smooth skin. I kept us alive. It wasn't a good life, but it was a life. If I could have kept doing it, leaving you out of it, I would have...
I'm making excuses again.
So here's one more thing. You won't remember this because I never told you? Your name. It's Hope. Hope Lily Jeunet. Lily for my mama. She was a manbo, you know? We lived and breathed that life growing up. Ezili Danto will take me when I die. Because of what I did to you. Stab me in the heart and eat it clean.
I know you don't know what that means. Never mind that.
Anyway, when you were a baby, I started calling you by your middle name. And do you remember that song you liked me to sing you? From that old musical. You know the one. Lila Rose. You became my Lila Rose. And what you never knew is that my mama gave me and Brigitte her last name, not our papa's. Jeunet. I took on papa's last name when we left, because even though he was a hard man? He was a survivor. And I wanted to be like that.
We did survive, baby girl. My Lila Rose. But I guess I proved that putting survival first doesn't make a good mother.
I'm not proud of much, but you, I know you. I gave that name because I wanted it to be true. That you got hope. You got steel in you. You're strong. You'll make it where I failed.
I'm not doing well with you gone. Money's dried up and I'm sick. Doctor says it's from hard living. Drinking, all of that. I don't care. My penance. Danto will take me. If you ever get this, I want you to think about something? Think about using the name I gave you. Grab on to it with both hands.
I'm proud of you. I'm sorry.
She's still for a long time, the three pieces of paper laying on her blanket covered lap. Staring at nothing. Remembering. Awful memories mostly. Sour sweat and foul breath and the way she'd felt like she was underwater with a great pressure all around her. Unable to move, limp and passive and vulnerable to whoever was next. In her head, screaming and clawing and bucking and fighting. Trapped.
And under that, the memory of the old song. Her mama's voice, lilting and sweet, singing her variation of it.
Lila Rose, I'm home again, Rose
Slowly, carefully, Lila - she can't think of herself as Hope, not yet, maybe not ever? - she gets up and picks up the bottle of Captain Morgan. Pulls on her coat and absently stuffs the papers into the pocket. Takes a long pull off the bottle and heads to the door, bare footed still, not bothering to close or lock it behind her.
Into the night.
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