As night time descended, Caroline returned home from her evening ride. There was a heavy rain, and the thick humidty of a typical steamy Louisiana night hung in the air. Her horse, Annie, was going to need a bath, in turn, so would Caroline. As she washed her horse, Caroline thought about the Captain of the Texas Rangers, Stan Davis. He told quite an interesting story at the DGD meeting. His grandfather was a commander in the war of Northern Aggression. She felt as if he was looking right at her, as if they were the only 2 people in the room. Smiling to herself, Caroline was determined to find him, and ask a few questions. Talking aloud to herself and her horse, she suddenly felt like someone was standing in the doorway of the horse barn, as she glanced over her shoulder was startled to see the Texas Ranger himself standing there.
“Good evening Caroline”, he said, in a long deep Texas drawl, his green eyes sparkling. Trying hard to maintain her composure she answered him, smugly, “Good evenin’ indeed. You always make it a habit to come callin’ without askin’? I’d expect you’d be busy with a gaggle of women”. He approached her and smiled. Charming indeed, she couldn’t help but smile back. She wiped the sweat off her brow, and he stopped and chuckled. Her hands were dirty. Oh! She hadn’t thought about her appearance and here she was talking about the other women. She grabbed a towel, stuck it in some clean water and wiped her face. Still red, she asked him, “Better?” He smiled. “Caroline, may I ride with you tomorrow evening?” he asked. Contemplating his question for a moment, STILL DREADING WHAT SHE MUST LOOK LIKE, she answered “Yes, but I have to ask”, Smiling as she started cleaning up, “Daddy don’t take kindly at older gentleman fellas just assumin’ I can ride my horse in the pitch black of night.”
He smiled at her. A spitfire. An excellent rider. He liked everything about her. “I am sure your father would approve. Until tomorrow then?” As he waited for an answer, she surprised him by by pointedly saying, “No, you sure ain’t runnin’ off again. Come back at ten thirty this evenin’. I can climb down my balcony and sneak out”. Waiting for his reaction, she smiled, one of the prettiest smiles he had seen in a long time. “Climb down the balcony? Is that something that you do often, Caroline?” He asked her. “I did it twice, I did. To surprise someone.” She said as she hung her riding hat she continued, “Don’t you worry about me none. You get yourself here on time. You can meet me at that big Oak Tree at the back of the property. Is that alright? Captain Davis?” Holding out her hand to shake his, all he could do was smile, shake her hand back and agree to meet her at half past ten. As he left, he held his hand to his nose and inhaled deeply. Gardenias and sunlight. He growled. He would have to be careful, because he was not like other men. He was nocturnal, and he was Vampire. Caroline was pure. Perfect. She warmed his cold heart. Checking his watch as he mounted his horse, he would feed, because for her, he would be perfect.
Bon Temps, the not-so-distant past…
Caroline was sitting in her formal parlor, thinking how Portia needed guidance in finding a suitable match. After all, Portia was pushing 30 and her only serious boyfriend up to now was Pierce LaPier and he would never do. Afterall, his people were from the other side of the tracks, not Bellefleur marriage material.
Running through the rolodex in her mind of eligible men, she came up with Beauregard De Witt. The DeWitts were a respectable family. A good Southern family, who’s family had roots in Renard Parish prior to the Glorious War of the South.
Caroline schemed with Beatrice DeWitt to set up Portia with Beauregard. Caroline was unaware that Portia had met a man, a doctor as a matter of a fact, Luke Preston. After a whirlwind romance, Portia eloped to Las Vegas with him.
Completely unaware that Portia had married, Caroline forged ahead with the planned elaborate dinner. She selected the finest cut of beef at the butchers shop, the freshest vegetables, as well as fresh cut flowers. The piece de resistance, would be her prize winning chocolate cake, that she baked in a heart shaped pan.
As she finished preparing the dinner, Caroline set the table with her finest china and silverware. She lit the Bellefleur silver candelabras, to create a romantic atmosphere. The finishing touch was the delicately scented flowers that she arranged in the Holliday heirloom crystal vases. Caroline was pleased with the result. Now the stage was set.
Beauregard DeWitt arrived first, dressed in a foppish manner. Caroline was oblivious to this, since she had one thing on her mind. A large Belle Rive wedding. Caroline made small chit chat with Beauregard. Tilting her head to listen to Beauregard with her one good ear, Caroline glanced at the clock. She shook her head disapprovingly knowing, once again, Portia was late.
As Beauregard prattled on about fashion week, and couture clothing, Caroline was thrilled at this enlightened man. Perfect for Portia with a great fashion sense and impeccable manners!
Finally the door swung open and in breezed Portia with a man, a tall handsome man, Luke Preston. Caroline was annoyed. Who was this latest Johnny-come-lately that Portia brought home. Then she spotted something on both their hands, Caroline adjusted her spectacles and much to her horror, she realized they were wedding rings.
As she looked from Portia’s face to Luke’s face to Beauregard’s face. She cried out Portia Caroline Bellefleur you’ve ruined my dinner party and my plans! Caroline then got up, hobbled to the grand-staircase elevator chair, went directly to her room. She proceeded to down a fifth of Jack Daniels, muttering “I will get it annulled if it’s the last thing I do!”
Today was Sunday, which meant church and then tea afterward with the Bellefleurs. After breakfast and the family dressed in their Sunday finest, and left for church.
Caroline could hardly contain herself this morning. Her thoughts kept returning to the man in the fancy suit. She normally looked forward to tea with the Bellefleurs, especially with Joseph. He was such a gentleman, and sometimes they would spend the afternoon reading to each other, fishing or riding horses. But not today.
Today she would ride, and she was sure she’d find the gentleman in the fancy suit. She knew every horse path in this parish like the back of her hand. When she arrived home, she wasted no time changing into her riding clothes and getting out on that horse. “Caroline! Be careful,” she laughed to herself.
Caroline rode for a few hours, returning home just to get a snack and change horses. But she noticed the sun would be setting soon. Disappointed, she returned to Belle Rive and dinner.
Caroline finished frosting the last of four of her prize winning cakes for the DGD potluck that night. As she always had since she took Portia and Andy in on that terrible day her beloved son and sweet daughter in law died, she left the empty icing bowl and spatula on the kitchen table. Andy was a full grown man now and a Detective on the Bon Temps Police, but he would mope and whine for a week if she didn’t leave it for him to lick clean. As Caroline wiped her old arthritic hands on her apron she felt a round, flat, rigid something in her apron pocket. She reached her clawed wrinkled hand into her apron and closed it around the cool piece of metal.
The memory came flooding back of the first time she got a good look at that piece of metal. It was also the first time she took her prize winning cakes to a DGD event.
"CAROLINE!!" Momma yelled from the bottom of the stairs, " We’re late again!" Caroline smiled and finished brushing her hair, seated in front of the mirrors on her boudoir table. Caroline was rarely on time for anything. She stood up, twirled in her heels to see her dress swirl and decided she was ready. Caroline was both excited and nervous, the DGD potluck tonight would be the first time her prize winning cakes would be on the table and the first time anyone other than family or the Judges at the fair would get to taste it.
She swept from her room to the top of the stairs to look down and see Momma and Daddy waiting. Momma was in her Sunday finest and Daddy in his Grand Father’s Confederate Captains Uniform. The sleeves were a little threadbare, but Momma had done wonderfully restoring and maintaining it. My, Daddy looked handsome, Caroline thought to herself, and all the men would be in uniform tonight. She did admire men in uniform. Caroline ran and got her cakes from the kitchen and they were off to the DGD potluck.
The Holliday family arrived at the DGD potluck, fashionably late, and Caroline went straight to the dessert table and set out her cakes with great pride. That task finished, she scanned the room to see who was talking to who and which young men might have arrived in their uniforms. As she looked across the room her eyes immediately fell upon a very tall gentleman, a good head and a half taller than the gaggle of ladies surrounding him. He was in uniform, but it wasn’t Confederate. He held a fine Cowboy hat in his hand and upon his chest was pinned a shiny silver badge, a circle with a star inside. He seemed to know she was watching. He turned his head to look at her with those clear green eyes and smiled.
The Sergeant at Arms blew his whistle, and as everyone took their seats. The President of the DGD, old Lisa Marie Bellefleur, tottered to the dais and introduced the special guest speaker for the evening. In her clear southern lilt she read off the accomplishments and honors the speaker had gained, Colonel in the Texas Militia, successful Texas Rancher and Oil man, and a Captain in the Texas Rangers. Finally she summed up “I present to you Captain Stan Davis of the Texas Rangers, who’s Great Grandaddy served as a Colonel with the Texas Militia in the War of Northern Aggression to speak tonight about his Great Granddaddy’s life.”
Caroline sat transfixed as he spoke, taking in every word and gazing at that shiny star pinned to his chest. His voice was like warm butter and those eyes! She felt as though he was only looking at her as he spoke. When Mr. Davis finished his speech he was immediately swarmed by all the ladies of the DGD, Momma included. Caroline hung back, staying with Daddy half attending to the conversation, half looking over at the tall Texan, and truthfully, sneaking peeks at the dessert table to see the reaction to her cake.
Soon enough, everyone was busy filling their plates, eating and drinking and devouring Caroline’s cakes. Caroline was soon surrounded by the ladies of the DGD as she was showered with compliments and requests to serve on this or that committee. She finally excused herself feigning the need to powder her nose when really she was looking for Mr. Davis. She searched high and low in the church, no Mr. Davis. “Now where in the ham sandwich?” Caroline exclaimed. “That man sure does make fast exits!” She returned to the church rec room and Momma and Daddy as the potluck was ending and it was time to go home.
Caroline was awakened at the crack of dawn by the big fat Rooster singin’ so loud that she decided he was fat enough to eat. She would tell her Daddy so as soon as she saw him that morning. Today was full of excitement.
Today she was going to enter her very first cake in the County Fair. Her grandmother made the best cakes in the County, bar none, but she improved it — or so she thought. Convinced that this cake was the cake, she was going to carry on the tradition of having a Holliday chocolate cake win the blue ribbon.
As Caroline washed her face and hands, she admired herself in the mirror. Her skin was smooth, like buttermilk. Her dark hair, thick, with perfect curls just on the ends, cascaded down her back. Her eyelashes were thick, dark, perfect for fluttering. Caroline wasn’t like the other girls. She wouldn’t cut her hair short. Her grandmother had always said a woman’s hair was her crowning glory. She smiled at the thought of her grandmother, how she missed her and the wonderful stories she had told, of days gone by. Frowning, her eyes scanned lower. Her body had changed over the last year. The Dewitt boys next door let her know it, which earned the younger fella a black eye. Mama told her that wasn’t ladylike and to ignore such things. But her daddy couldn’t help but smile. After all, it was he who taught her how to do manly things, all hidden from Mama, of course. Smiling to herself, she went to her closet and took out her new dress. Today would be perfect. Today, folks would meet Caroline Holliday. Her cakes would be the talk of the County.
As she gently removed her new dress off of the hanger, containing her excitement was difficult. This dress was for women. It was made of silk and chiffon. The sleeves were short, and fell in uneven rows of ruffles. At the waist sat a matching belt, hooked together with a tiny jeweled bow. It was much lighter than the fancy dresses Caroline was used to. After putting on the slip, and the garter contraption to hold up the beautiful silk stockings, she carefully slipped the dress over her head. It was over her knees, she smiled. No more puffy sleeve pinafore dresses with flat shoes. This dress felt fabulous against her skin, though the garter would take some getting used to. So would the way the dress hugged her waist and lower body. She blushed, but was grateful that she didn’t have to wear the clothes her grandmother had worn as a woman. How grandmother had hated them! Laughing, she slipped on her shoes. Women’s shoes. With heels. Hoping that her practice walking in these fancy city shoes would help, Caroline walked around her bedroom almost sure she wouldn’t turn an ankle. Click, click. Everyone would hear her coming. As Caroline twisted the sides of her hair, joining the pieces together in the back and pinning it, she was happy with what she saw. Stepping back, she giggled. She pinched her cheeks for color, then headed downstairs for breakfast.
Mama and Daddy were sitting at the table. Caroline registered a flash of anger on Barton’s face as he looked at her, the crown jewel of his life, a young woman already. His heart ached as he knew that soon, all the full-blooded men in this parish would come calling on his Caroline. She sensed this, and approached him and hugged him tight. “Daddy, you will always be my favorite fella, I promise. Cross my heart and hope ta die!” Barton couldn’t help but smile, because when Caroline recited that, she meant business. She was a rare female indeed. She could keep a secret and a promise. He hugged her back, tightly, as if he would never let go. “Eat, Caroline, we have a big day today.”
Caroline sat down and ate. What an appetite she had. If she wanted seconds, she took them. Mama wondered how she remained so petite with all that eating. She told Caroline one day that food would sneak up on her and end up right on her hiney. Caroline would wave her hand. She never sat still long enough for anything to sneak up on her. Finishing her breakfast, she went and admired her cakes. They were perfect in her opinion, and they tasted even better than they looked. Those judges would be fools to not pick her cake. She waited (not so patiently) to leave for the County Fair.
Finally! It was time.
The day went by, like molasses. Finally the curtain lifted, and the judges came out. Why do judges always have such a serious look on their faces? It was a Fair after all! Unconsciously, Caroline folded her hands tightly in front of her and waited. The head judge walked past her cake to put the third place ribbon on a cake. Excitedly, she watched him place the second ribbon on another cake. As he slowly approached her booth, she started to smile, Belle big. And she knew and watched as he placed the first place ribbon on her cake! She won it. She kissed her Mama and Daddy, who were beaming with pride. Caroline accepted her ribbon and graciously congratulated the other winners. Her famous cake was born!
The ribbon was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in her life, she thought. She found her mama and daddy in the crowd, proud wide smiles on her faces. Caroline waved back and called to them, “Mama! Daddy! Time to leave, we’ve been here long enough!” With that the family headed to the car smiling like they hadn’t in a long while.
Caroline could feel the metal frame of the chair lift seat digging into her bottom. With Portia off doing whatever or whomever, and Andy, well, Andy was off being Andy (probably staging elaborate Hawaii Five-O re-enactments in his room with those dolls he had tucked under his bed), Caroline felt alone. No one heard her calling. No one came running no matter how many times she pushed that Life Alert button.
She unbuckled the safety belt that secured her to the chair lift seat. Gripping the sides of the seat, she carefully lowered herself down to the stairs until her bottom was firmly planted on one of the steps. She grabbed her cane from the seat handle of the chair lift and let it slide down the steps. Slowly but surely she descended the grand stairwell, feeling her bottom bump down each of the steps.
Caroline remembered teaching Terry how to go down the steps this way when he was child. ”It’s like a backward crawl, honey. One by one, step by step.” Oh, that boy was such a bright copper penny! She was so proud of him when he decided to enlist in the service. The Bellefleurs had served this country, even long before the War of Northern Aggression. If only she knew that the boy she kissed goodbye wasn’t the man that was going to come back to Bon Temps.
Finally, she made it to the foot of the stairs. Caroline picked up her cane and hoisted herself up. With a quick curse and a shake of a her cane, she made a mental note to tell Portia to call someone to fix the lift in the morning.
Caroline reluctantly made her way to the living room. Someone was going to have to enjoy sleeping on the parlor couch tonight. But before she would turn in for the night, cake.
Caroline sat frustrated, 95, and trapped on her stair chair half way up the grande stair. Andy was in Jackson at a Sheriff’s convention. Portia was in New Orleans with her latest fling stretching her uterus. Caroline smirked at what the headline the Bon Temps Bugle would read: “Grande Dame of Bon Temps found dead strapped to her stair chair”. ” Not this Belle!” she shouted. She rapped her cane once more on the motor. She got nothing but a sharp pain in her right pinky. “Damn finger! Nuthin but trouble all Ma life!” she wailed. Then she started to giggle, as the memory of the first time her pinky gave her trouble popped into her head.
Barton had asked Caroline to cut some roses from the garden to refresh the flowers in the house. Daddy always asked Caroline to cut the roses, her eye for the best blooms always resulted in blue ribbons at the fair. Summers were hot in Bon Temps and in 1935 there was no air conditioning. Being the smart young lady she was, she waited until after the sun went down. As Caroline went about her task, selecting the best blooms and softly singing Dixie in her smooth Southern lilt, she was completely unaware that she was being watched.
He was at the edge of the woods on his fine black stallion, shirtless, in riding breeches and tall black boots, waiting for the right moment. Caroline finished cutting the flowers, had them gathered in a basket and began to walk back to the main house. This was the right moment. He urged his mount on to an easy canter across the lawn and directly in Caroline’s path. He flashed that smile again as he approached. Caroline stopped short in surprise, gasped as she pricked her right pinky finger on a thorn and dropped the basket, covering her gaping mouth with her bleeding hand.
The man pulled his huge black stallion up short and in a blink of an eye was in front of her. “You’ve pricked your finger, Miss Holliday,” the man said in a smooth Texas drawl as he looked down on her with those clear green eyes. Now Caroline Holliday was never one to be without a quick witty reply, but as she stared into those eyes, and swept her gaze over his bare chest, she was speechless. “Let me take a look”, he said as he took her hand, put the pinky to his lips, touching the prick with the tip of his tongue. “Just a graze, it’s already stopped bleeding” As Caroline raised her hand to look at her pinky, the man was already on his horse, moving away towards the lane. Caroline looked at he finger, there was no evidence that she had been pricked.
The dull thunk of Caroline’s lead crystal tumbler hitting the wooden floorboards of the side porch jarred her awake. Using her cane to hoist her up out of the seat, she lurched across the porch heavily toward the door. Caroline shook her head, partly to shake off the whiskey fog, but mostly to refocus her vision. Even with her prescription bifocals, the muscles around her eyes had grown lazy over time and it would take a second or two to see straight.
Caroline finally made her way through the dark hallway to the stair lift at the base of the elegant staircase that was the focal point of the foyer. Her arthritic fingers fumbled with the seatbelt, but once she was securely fastened, she pushed the button that would begin the lifts slow ascent.
She was so proud of these stairs! Not too long ago, people called on her at Belle Rive regularly. And when they would arrive, Caroline Holliday Bellefleur would descend the grand staircase in a manner that could only be described as stately.
Caroline allowed her thoughts to wander even farther back into her fond memories. However, her late night reverie was abruptly interrupted by a quick jolt of the chairlift and then…nothing. She pushed the up button and then the down one, hoping that the lift would move in either direction.
"Damn, stairwell!" Caroline jabbed at the footrest with her cane, but it was all for nothing. And so she sat, perched in the middle of the stairwell, still strapped to the chairlift.
The extremely tall gentleman flashed a million dollar smile, looked into Caroline’s eyes with his clear green eyes and said in a smooth deep Texas drawl, “Good evening Miss Caroline, we’ll be seeing each other again” Caroline watched in amazement as Clarence led him out of the house.
Something stirred in her, but Caroline though it was just the evening meal a bit unsettled in her stomach. Barton ordered Caroline upstairs, and as the dutifull daughter she was, she went, though not without holding her head high as if to say, she was going on her own accord.
Barton poured a whiskey and downed it, then went to his books to mark all the accounts he could now pay, as he did a tear fell onto the page.