Caleb was overjoyed to see Noel in the morning, and giggled and squirmed as Noel scooped him up and gave him several noisy kisses on his face and neck.
“Did you miss me?” Noel asked him and Caleb nodded vigorously. “I missed you. Mr. Malcolm said you got my postcard and drew me a city. Will you show it to me after church?”
More nodding from Caleb, his arms around Noel’s neck, and he didn’t let Noel put him down until it was time to get in the Packard, no matter how thundery Emmanuel looked as he walked behind them.
I waved as they drove off, and took my time getting ready to go out myself. No church for me, of course — not even a mystical city like New Orleans overcame a life of agnosticism — but Rene Gaspard had invited me to meet him and Angelique for breakfast that morning, and I took them up on it eagerly. Between all the goings-on in Fidele, I hadn’t made time to come into the city for a few weeks, and I missed them.
They were waiting for me at one of the outdoor tables at a tiny cafe in the Quarter, its wrought-iron balcony dripping with orange and yellow zinnias. As it usually did, Angelique’s gaze darted over my shoulder when she saw me, but she smiled cheerfully and allowed me to kiss her cheek.
“Sit, Sarge,” Rene said as he rose and pulled out a chair for me. “Why you insist on walking so much, I’ll never know.”
“I like to prove that I can,” I said, but was grateful to take the chair. I had parked nearly two blocks away from the cafe — this part of the city had not modernized itself with parking lots yet, and it was all the prettier for it. Unfortunately, my bad leg did not appreciate beauty.
We chatted about their wedding plans — the date was set for early February, shortly before Lent — and how things were going with Caleb as we waited for our food, and once the waitress had brought of our beignets and omelets Angelique said, “Did you ever celebrate Halloween as a boy, Malcolm?”
“We did,” I said. “Parties, mostly.”
“We’re going to throw a house party for the neighborhood this year,” Angelique said. “Music and food and games, adults as well as children, costumes optional. Do you think Caleb would like to come?”
“Do you think Mr. Thibodeaux the Younger would let him come?” interjected Rene.
“I don’t know,” I said to both questions. “Caleb hasn’t spent much time around other children lately, though he’s made friends with the farm manager’s little boy. And Noel’s very protective of him.”
“If the plan is to get Caleb ready to go to school someday,” Angelique said, “being around other children sometimes might help prepare him, even before he’s ready to speak again.”
“I don’t know what the plan is, exactly,” I said. “If it’s dependent on him deciding to speak again, I may be in New Orleans until he’s ready to go to college. I’ll ask Noel about the party, and try to convince him it’ll be a good idea.”
“Try to convince Noel it would be a good idea for him to come, too,” said Angelique, and Rene nodded in agreement as his thumb affectionately brushed her shoulder — a gesture that made me wistful. I was glad for them — glad that Rene had found a happy life in the wake of the war — but envious, too, because even if I had a sweetheart we wouldn’t be able to trade such gestures with each other.
Angelique added softly, distracting me from this train of thought, “It might be good for all three of you to be out of the house that night,” and I gave her a curious look.
“Why do you think so?”