They have been chasing us all the way across the country, from south to north.
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"It's the damn cops again!" curses Landon. I can see the red and blue lights flashing a ways behind us, and even though there are a few other cars on the road, the cops want Landon and Zada: us. The cops are hell-bent on fulfilling our parents' wishes to bring us back to Louisiana, where they-two classes of demons-are blasting hellfire at each other.
"Screw the police! If they couldn't catch us before North Dakota, then I don't see how they could manage to seize us five miles from the exit gate of hell," I try to reassure Landon.
Not that the States themselves are hell-because in the big picture they aren't-but Landon and I could legally be sent back to our inherited hell as long as we're inside U. S. territory. Our inherited hell doesn't even have to exist, because what my great-grandfather lost in his lifetime now has been more than regained by my parents-all of it except for peace between the Montegos and the Chanticleers.
Landon's and my journey began nearly a three-quarter century ago, long before either of us or our parents were born. My great-grandfather, who was a member of the Louisiana state Senate, bought produce from the Montego family farm. The Montegos had and still do run the only produce stand and boucherie in our hometown other than the supermarket. One summer in the early 1930's, the Montegos' tomato crop had unusually and mysteriously yielded very few tomatos, and my great-grandfather, being the highest-ranking citizen in town, reserved most of the tomatos for his family of nine. The Montegos have always been generous with distributing their goods, but since it was the middle of the Depression, they had no choice but to sell the lion's share of the tomatos to the Chanticleers because money was extremely scarce for blue-collar workers at that time.
Anyway, the cause of the tomato crop failure was discovered when my great-grandmother ate one of the tomatos: the plants had somehow been poisoned. Sewage leaks and careless littering were not uncommon at the time, but when my great-grandmother never fully convalesced, thus forcing my great-grandfather to resign from the Senate, my great-grandfather was quick to blame the Montegos for everything. It didn't seem to matter that my great-grandmother nor anyone else died from the poisoning; my great-grandparents had so much pride in their wealth that they took it for granted despite its proven fragility. My grandparents and then my parents inherited that attitude, and the generations of Montegos have grown bitter with this continuous fight.
But then came Landon Montego and me, Zada Chanticleer. We attended different schools and were always kept out of each other's reach until high school, when we first spoke to each other as juniors-without knowing that we were supposed to be enemies. Anyway, our very first conversation spoiled any chance of us hating each other. The second time we talked, we exchanged names. I remember it as though it was yesterday:
"I never got your name when we met, and I know I didn't tell you mine. I'm Zada Chanticleer. Will you tell me your name?"
He stood there in pure shock, a consternation so intense that it took him a long moment to respond. "I'm Landon Montego."
Then I was shocked. But I was not appalled. So I replied,"Oh my gosh! You're not the Landon Montego who my mom and dad told me you are."
"And you're not the Zada Chanticleer who my parents told me you are."
From that moment on, our acquaintance grew into friendship which grew into love that became true love. We did everything we could to keep our parents from unsheathing our relationship, knowing that one day they would know. They did find out. And they were beyond enraged. We were both grounded, and my dad sent a letter to our school that demanded that Landon and I be separated.
Even so, Landon and I got around those restrictions by e-mailing and instant-messaging each other. One night, we went so far as to sneak out of our houses and meet behind the supermarket, which was the only twenty-four hour establishment in town. It was a joyous occasion for us, especially since for over three weeks we had no opportunity to even so little as to steal a glance at each other. We also thought we had no witnesses to our meeting, but we were caught on tape by the hidden security camera. The next morning, the grocer informed my dad of what had taken place. I expected my parents to confront me and vehemently berate me, but they didn't.
"Aren't you gonna say anything to me about Tuesday night?" I finally inquired, three days later.
"No," was my dad's simple reply.
I was rather awed by this out-of-character act, and I e-mailed Landon about it. He was just as surprised as I was.
Then all hell broke loose, and I couldn't prevent it. Because the devil was my dad.
My dad hired his fellow state senator's delinquent son-I listened to the organizing phone call-to set fire to the slaughterhouse in the neighboring parish in the middle of the night, less than a week after Landon's and my rendez-vous. News of the incident spread like the Plague throughout the state, yet no one had seen the arsonist. It was my dad who came forward with a suspect: the Montego family. I was appalled, so I panicked in the only way I could: e-mailing Landon. Landon replied to me, saying that he wasn't going to leave until there was proof enough to arrest him, or something worse happened.
With my dad's story of the incident going unproven, the state Senate called a press conference for the issue. I, along with the rest of the Chanticleers, would have to attend it.
"There's no way that you could stay here and be immune to government penalty, Landon," I instant-messaged.
"I don't care about the damn government. You and I are the black sheep, and there's no law against such a thing," he replied.
"But this situation has escalated into such a stew that we're both gonna have to pay the price, no matter what happens."
"Then let's make the sacrifice together."
When he said that, I suddenly had a plan-a plan that would change everything. "I just had an epiphany, Landon. Turn on your TV; you know what channel. And be ready to escape the ultimate conflagration of our surroundings, because we might have to." No, the burning of the slaughterhouse would be a campfire compared to the blaze I was about to ignite. I packed a suitcase and hid it and my laptop in my closet, then made sure that my house key was in my purse.
As the press conference aired my dad's lengthy speech, I waited for my turn to comment. I knew that Landon was waiting, too, perhaps more uneasily than I was.
"Miss Zada Chanticleer, do you have anything to say pertaining to the subject at hand?" one of the senators asked me.
"Yes. I do."
And so I told the true story. The whole state of Louisiana heard every word I said. The whole state of Louisiana saw my mom escort me off the stage as my brother approached the podium. Nobody except for me and my mom heard my mom admonish and threaten me, yet I'm pretty sure that the whole state of Louisiana knew that that was what happened. Not one eye, however, saw me leave the convention center through the back exit. Only Landon recognized me as I ran down the street in the direction toward his house. Only Landon saw me get into his car, and only he saw me race into my house and back out of it and into the car again with my suitcase and laptop. I don't know if we were seen leaving town by way of I-10 west, which leads to I-49 north through the state then I-20 out of the state.
"I love you, Landon," I tell him now.
"I love you, too, Zada," he sweetly replies. "So much that I'd surrender to the cops right now if you don't want to face the uncertainty of how to find the way tomorrow."
"Forget giving up. We're not Romeo and Juliet; we're Landon and Zada Montego. And I'd rather have every day begin in uncertainty than meet certain perdition. So go ahead and step on it; there's a reason this car can go up to ninety miles an hour."
Landon smiles. "Let the border patrol go to bed early, then." He steps on the accelerator.
I look at the road atlas I have on my computer screen, then I look out into the distance ahead at a sight I can hardly believe. "Oh my gosh, it's Canada!" I shout jubilantly. Louisiana's despiteful politicians and embittered farmers can stay in their hell, for all I care.
"I was waiting for you to notice it. It took you ten minutes." Landon then shifts closer to me.
I might have kissed my passport as though it was the land on which the pilgrims debarked, but Landon finds my lips first. And although it was just a brief kiss because Landon must also drive, we will have plenty of time to make out once we enter the southern gate of home.
"Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not."-Jeremiah 33:3, King James Version
"Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."-Psalm 119:105, New Living Translation
The present and future are not about who you were in the past-rather, they are about who you are and who you will become.
"Writing is truly glorious in that an author can put on paper the words that fear denies the voice to speak."-from my short story, "Set Free"
"...What you feel is what you are;
What you are is beautiful..."
-from "Slide" by the Goo Goo Dolls
Life surprises you! And I'm talking about the good stuff, because a bad surprise is not a surprise at all, it is just shock and horror. All of these good surprises, they are rewards, and the things that happen to remind you that you matter and that you should make yourself faithful so that you can be deserving of all of life's good surprises. Every wonderful surprise in life is a chance to flourish, so grab life by the horns-but don't ride, steer instead: life's horns are life's joystick. You can handle it, because your life's horns are made especially for you. If you don't give up, all of this will hold true and life will continue to surprise you.
Aubri, a. k. a. "Leopard Lady"