Marie rushed from the kitchen at the back of her shotgun house through the bedroom. She gave the travel crib a quick glance as she raced into the living room to get the door. Whoever was banging on it, however rhythmically, was an enemy of the peace.
She threw the door wide and even before registering who stood there she stage-whispered, “Be quiet!”
Then she saw who it was.
Leon grinned at her. “Hello, ma cher Marie! I’ve still got it, do I not?” And his hands did a quick percussion riff on the door jamb.
“Quit that! Come in, if you absolutely must, but be quiet.”
Leon crept theatrically into the house. “My shoes may squeak a little,” he said. “They’re not paid for yet.” His grin suggested they never would be. “But doll, why must I be quiet?” He grabbed Marie around the waist and drew her close. “You and I were never quiet in our day.”
In the next room, a young child began to wail.
“That’s why.” Marie shoved her way out of Leon’s embrace and huffed into the bedroom. Leon stared in that direction, frowning and stroking his goatee as he listened to Marie coo and comfort. She returned shortly with the noisemaker.
“Well done, Leon. It took me forever to get her to sleep. Every time you come back into my life you bring some sort of excitement and some sort of trouble that the excitement doesn’t make up for.”
Leon began to circle the room like a cat regarding unknown prey. “What have we here, my Marie?”
“Your Marie! Surely even you know a toddler when you see and hear one.”
“Surely I do. But what brings this particular toddler to this particular home? You never had one before,” he accused. “Have you been on intimate terms with the stork?”
“I was on intimate terms with you. I haven’t seen you or heard anything from you for almost two years. How old does this child look to you?”
Leon went up on tiptoe briefly to regard the child’s face. “I have many talents, as you know from delightful personal experience, cher, but I’m not so good with these carnival games,” he said. “Perhaps you’ll just tell me.”
“She’s a year and a half old. Leon.”
“Is that a fact?”
“It is. As was what I just said about you and excitement and trouble.”
“Don’t you want to know her name? The name I stood alone in front of the priest to give her?”
“Only if you want to tell me.”
“Her name is Ysabeau Leonette. Leon.”
“What a lovely name. And a lovely coincidence. Your man, whose name is also Leon, must be a very proud and happy papa.”
“Oh, there’s no other man, and I can assure you beyond all assuring there is no other Leon. Leon. And my papa was not a proud and happy papa and remains not proud and happy.” She paused. “Leon.”
“The interesting things you do when you say my name,” he said. “None of it loving, as of old, and some of it, as that last, quite menacing.”
“My papa will be the menace if he finds you.”
“I appreciate your words of caution. Still, I recall so clearly when it was ‘Leon, oh, Leeeeeeeeoooooon.’”
“Yes, it was,” she agreed. “And shortly after the ‘oh, Leeeeeeeeoooooon’ came Ysabeau Leonette. Leon.”
“You seem stuck on the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth. Perhaps she will go back to sleep and I can make you think of nothing but the loving couple we once were.” And he grinned hopefully.
“I’d like that, Leon.” She said his name more softly. “And I’d like to know that our baby girl has a papa who will always be at her side for her, to raise her, and teach her, and pay the bills that accompany her. So I’ll just put her down again and try to get her to sleep, and then we will be that couple and you will be that papa.”
Marie bounced the child a little as she walked back into the bedroom. As she put a doll in Ysabeau’s arms, Marie thought she heard a soft click from the living room.
“I’ll be right back,” she whispered.
She went through the doorway to a suddenly Leon-less living room. The door was slightly ajar and the night beyond it was dark, hiding any who might have suddenly fled into it.
Marie closed and locked the door. She returned to the bedroom and knelt down by the travel crib and smiled at the occupant.
“You are the best little girl ever, Ysabeau Philomine. I must tell your mama and papa how helpful you are to me when I babysit you. That’s the second good-for-nothing old boyfriend you’ve chased away for Auntie Marie.”