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A French Voice in New York is Book 5 of the French Girl series. Book 1 is currently FREE!Maude Laurent is certain she’ll be recruited as a composer for a new Broadway musical, until she realizes she’s up against Julia Tanand, another French singer-songwriter who wants to beat her at any cost. Luckily, she receives her boyfriend Matt’s full support and together they’re determined to dazzle the producer.But when someone from Matt’s past comes back into their lives, Maude will have a tough decision to make, at the risk of losing Matt for good.The French Girl series has sold 40,000 copies. Join thousands of other readers who follow and love Maude Laurent's adventures!The Complete French Girl Series:A French Girl in New York (#1-FREE)A French Star in New York (Book 2)A French Princess in Versailles (Book 3)A French Diva in New York (Book 4)A French Voice in New York (Book 5)A French Song in New York (Book 6)Burning Bridges (a short story featuring characters from the French Girl series)Keywords: free books, free novels, free book, free books to read and download, books for free, novels for free, books free read, free teenage books for girls, free books for teenage girls, free young adults books, free young adult, Free coming of age, teen romance, teenage love & romance, Free ebook, ya, free ya books, free ya, free teen romance, free teenage romance books, free clean romance, free fairy tale books, free fairy tale retellings, fairy tales stories book free, freebie, free romance, orphan, teenage girls, clean romance, sweet romantic love story book, love triangle, free love triangle, free musical books, free celebrity romance, free books of famous love story novels, free middle grade, free children's books, childrens books for free, free books for kids, free books for girls, free young adult books, young adults romance books free, young adults free books, books for free, celebrities, High School, high school boys, high school romance free, high school musical, disney princess story books free, disney books free, disney, princess story books free, cinderella story book free, Dating Boys, Kissing, Romance Young Adult, New Adult, NA, Teen, Teenage, teenage books for girls free, teenage books for free, teenage books free, teenagers books for free, teenagers free books, teens, teenage books, teen novels, free ya book, free ya romance books, african american fiction urban free books, african american books free, african american fiction, african american romance free, african american, black authors free full books, teenage love Affair, high school books free, romantic comedy, Contemporary Relationships. First love, first time first kiss, young love, middle grade, middle school, free middle school books, free books for teenage girls in middle school, free books for teenage girls about romance in middle school, free books for middle schoolers, senior, Paris, First love boyfriend, boys men, flirting games, bad boy, jocks, mean girls clique, nerds geeks cute Star-Wars dork, harry potter geek, innocent sweet, funny, BFF, romance books free, twilight saga books free, youtube, jk rowling, jk rowling books free, piano book of learning free, stephen king, diary of the wimpy kid, diary of a wimpy kid free, dork diaries, harry potter, harry potter free, harry potter free books, free harry potter books, harry potter books free, free urban books black authors, kids books free, christian books free, free christian teen books, love stories free, wimpy kid books free, free young adults fantasy books, free books, freebooks, bestseller books free, bestseller books, free bestsellers, top free books, top rated free books, freebooks to read, freebie books, livres gratuits en anglais, Free classics
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Copyright © 2017 by Anna Adams
Published by Pronoun
Interior design by Pronoun
Edited by Sarah Audu
Distribution by Pronoun
Other books by the Author
The French Girl Series
About Anna Adams
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(Details at the end of the book!)
A French Girl in New York (The French Girl Series, #1-FREE)
A French Star in New York (The French Girl Series, #2)
A French Princess in Versailles (The French Girl Series, #3)
A French Diva in New York (The French Girl Series, #4)
A French Song in New York(The French Girl Series, #6)-Coming in 2017!
Burning Bridges (a short story featuring characters from the French Girl series)
Once Upon a Tag
This book is dedicated to Winona and Frank,
for your love, your kindness, and for giving me my first beautiful pen.
Times Square is as much noise as lights.
Scalpers shout to sell last minute theater tickets, tourists click and ‘cheese’, taxis swoosh by with loud honks. Salty snacks, sweet snacks, sizzling sausages, and slap! Into buns with mustard, ketchup, and pickles.
Lights play their part in this strange and strident cacophony. Most of the time they illuminate, other times, they blind.
That summer evening, however, these sparkles were a pale illumination compared with the happy glow in Maude’s eyes. They were as luminous as dancing fireflies.
The twenty-year-old with chocolate brown skin and dark, frizzled hair underneath her fashionable hatcrossed Broadway, entered a quieter street, and stopped by The Season, a fancy seafood restaurant with candlelit tables, a romantic atmosphere, and a rather expensive menu.
Peering through the window, she found the young man she was looking for.
A used baseball cap covered his stiff, long,black hair, and large-rimmed sunglasses hid his eyes. He stirred a stale coke with a straw.
Checking his watch, he knittedhis large and bushy black eyebrows in a frown, restlessly tapped his foot, and looked around as if waiting for an enemy to ambush him. He signaled to the waiter for a new drink.
Outside looking in, Maude put on a grave face,pushed her hat down deep,squishing her dark, natural hair flat as she did so.
She entered the restaurant and arrived at the table at the same time as the elderly waiter was placing a new drink in front of his distracted client.
The strange, young man thanked the waiter and turned to Maude grimly. She remained standing.
“You’ve made it,” he greeted somberly.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Eyes narrowed, she threw a furtive glance at the door.
“You came alone?” he asked, following her gaze. He stirred the straw, the blocks of ice crashed into each other.
“I was very careful.” She adopted a sullen expression and waited for an invitation.
“Then, you may sit.”
“Don’t you want to check I’m not wearing a mic or a hidden camera?” Maude asked as she took off her jacket, swung it around the seat, but remained standing, her hand carefully poised on the back of the chair.
The young man stopped stirring and let the straw slide into his drink like a piece of wood in sinking sand.
“You’re not taking this seriously.”
“How can I?” Maude laughed gingerly. “Even I can’t recognize the ‘Love Doctor’ behind that awful getup. I feel like I’m celebrating our anniversary with an entirely different person than the guy I’m supposed to be with.”
It must be stated that this stranger looked nothing like the internationally known pop singer. But behind the glasses, the mustache, the wig dry as withered hay, and the bushy eyebrows, it was Matt’s laughter that gave him away. He took off his glasses, closed them and laid them on the table next to his glass.
“You’ve made no real effort to hide who you are,” he stated, his gray eyes glowing with amused reproach.
“What about this large hat?”
Maude thought it was a great sacrifice to her usual dress code as she, and a number of fashion magazines, acknowledged she did not possess what one would call ‘a hat face.’
“I was afraid we wouldn’t recognize andwould miss each other. Can you imagine that? I’d choose a handsome stranger to spend the evening with. Then, I’d fall madly in love with him and would have to break up with you,”she mocked.
“Laugh all you want. You’ll thank me once the night is over and no one has spotted, photographed, or tweeted about our date.”
Maude nodded and, still laughing, took a seat in front of Matt. She opened the menu.
Despite the fake eyebrows and the horrific wig, she was proud to call him hers.
It still amazed her to think how long they had waited before being together. Of course, it was largely due to her own stubbornness, and partly her own foolishness, which she only now grudgingly admitted were inherent to her personality.
Now that they were together, and had been so for a year, it was the most natural connection in the world and she wondered how she could ever have pushed him away, or more recently, struggled to tell him she loved him.
To communicate, words had become unnecessary, but the two spoke for the pleasure of hearing the other’s mocking voice. For though they were in love, their camaraderie had not faded and it was with much teasing that they voiced their thoughts.
“Good evening. Have you decided on your order?” the waiter asked in a gravelly voice and with the perfect posture of a soldier in the Queen’s Guard.
Matt coughed a little and said, “The lady needs more time.”
The waiter nodded and walked away.
“Why would I need more time?” Maude shut the menu with a definite clap.
“You always do.”
“Not this time.” She laid the menu on the corner of the table, her hand lingering on its leather cover.
“That would be a first.”
“You always choose in a hurry. Then you look longingly at my food and expect me to share.”
“Have you received news from Cynthia?” Matt asked, changing the subject.
Not that his culinary choices were anything to be ashamed of. But he often observed the female tendency to portray indecision as a quality rather than a fault, and had decided against arguing the particular point that evening.
“She’s arrived in Spain!” Maude exclaimed. “Just fifty more stops on her year-long honeymoon.” Her enthusiasm was followed by a sharp sigh.
She missed her cousin cruelly, and since her departure two months ago, each day had reminded Maudehow essential the elder Baldwin sibling was to the family.
Though she had resented the idea of her cousin marrying Daniel, thus entering Alan Lewis’ family, Maude had eventually come around and decided that her cousin’s happiness mattered above all. She’dlearned to accept that Daniel Lewis was only the son of the same man who had participated in the ruin of her career.
Alan Lewis, Cynthia’s new father-in-law, had also recently orchestrated the rapid rise to fame of Julia Tanand, a singer that resembled Maude in many obvious ways.
By putting a strong emphasis on her piano compositions and heavily underlining the fact that she was French in the media, Julia Tanand had managed to temporarily fill the void left by Maude when she had decided to leave theUS pop scene and return to France to concentrate on her classical music career. And run away from the scandal the press had uncovered merely two years ago. Maude could accept that Cynthia was marrying into the Lewis family, but she would never forgive Alan Lewis for pressuring her to fake a relationship with Thomas Bradfield.
Thomas’ musical career had also suffered after the scandal had erupted like a hot volcano. Many labels had shied from him as if he carried the plague.
Not all record labels were like Soulville, run by her uncle James, who stood by her side through thick and thin.
But all that havoc was behind her, now that the latest single from her sophomore album, By Your Side, was number one on the Billboard 200.
“Cynthia’s going to call me tomorrow after we have that big meeting with Uncle James. Doyou have any idea what it’s about?” Maude twirled her hands restlessly.
“No idea,” Matt replied. He pointed to Maude’s menu to remind her to decide on the food she wanted to order.
“I’ve chosen what I want. You won’t have a single bite from my plate.”
Maude signaled to the waiter, but Matt interrupted her gesture by taking her hand.
“I haven’t made up my mind, yet,” he explained with a mischievous smile. He forgot he was wearing a wig and ran his fingers through his hair, before realizing it was coming off, revealing his dark blonde hair. The effect was oddly comical and Maude snorted.
“You say I’m slow.”
“You are. But I don’t choose my food well. So, I’ll take my time for once. You get to see how that feels.”
“Fine,” Maude replied. She leaned against her chair seemingly patient. But she was hungry, starving, in fact, and could not wait for him to choose. He made a great motion of going through the entire menu and reciting each item as though learning them off by heart.
“I’m very patient,” Maude taunted.
“You’re anything but.”
“I should just change my mind nowand take something else off the menu.”
“No, no,” Matt said quickly. He snapped the menu shut and looked up to Maude with a cunning smile. “I’ve made up my mind.” He called the waiter and they ordered.
Moments like these were the easiest.
They could forget everyone else in the room. They did not see the man nervously toying with a little, black jewelry box in his left pocket. Orhisunsuspecting girlfriend waiting for her dessert with the impatience of a greedy child.Nor did they notice one of the waiters discreetly counting his tips, away from the customers who paid him no attention. A young woman, decked in a Dolce&Gabbana dress, satalone at a table for two waiting for her evening companion to arrive with a resigned air of bored patience.
As she pushed strands of curls behind her ears, the young woman caught sight of two muscular paparazzi failing at discretion on the other side of the window with cameras as big as photo booths.
“Ooh,” was all she exclaimed, as she primped her hair. She followed the aim of the camera, noticed it pointing at Maude and Matt, and grabbed her phone out of her purse. She snapped a shot of the two holding hands over the table.
Matt realized what was happening instantly and shielded his face as well as Maude’s with his hands.
“They’re here,” he muttered under his breath. “Let’s go.”
They rose, their chairs screeching on the tiled floor. The waiter chose that moment to arrive with their orders, an elaboratedishof seafood.
Maude fished out a couple of bills from her purse and slapped them on the table as the two men made their way for the entrance of the restaurant.
“Sorry, we’ve got to run!”
Matt and Maude made a beeline for the kitchen, burst through the door, and were immediately assaulted by the steamy atmosphere. The chef, a man with a mustache as thin as cat whiskers, yelled as the two intruders crossed the crowded room, weaving their way through dishes and the rushedpersonnel.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” He waved his sauce-filled spoon in the air, splattering his formerly immaculate chef cap with tomato. “The kitchen is off limits to customers! OFF LIMITS!”he bellowed.
Shrimp, crabs, and mussels,plates and sparkling silverware danced under the noses of the two swift escapees as they swerved and zigzagged out. Left, right, right, left, left, left, right. Matt pulled Maude close to him just in time to avoid two steaming bowls of clam chowder.
Behind them, the two paparazzi scrambled, hurrying all the while protecting their expensive material, squeezed against their chest, tucked underneath their hairy forearms.
Maude and Matt reached the back door just as they heard glass breaking, silverware rattling, screams and gasps.
Crash, clang, clink, clink, clink, whoosh.
A howl tore through the kitchen, followed by tiny whimpers.
Curiosity stopped Maude and she threw a furtive glance behind her back. Not believing hereyes, she turned fully, before exploding into peals of hearty laughter.
The two men were covered in seafood: the tall one had shrimp dangling from his ears like earrings.The smaller man wriggled as crabs slipped through hisbaggy pants and mussels fell down his shirt.
They struggled to get up, prompting Maude’s departure.
“Good thing I’d made sure there was another exit,” Matt observed, as they hurried outdoors.
A taxi was stationed not far. Maude and Matt ran to it, opened the door, and slid in the backseat just as the two paparazzi rushed toward them, leaving trails ofmussel juice in their path.
“Leave now!” Maude cried to the driver, a pale man with bluish skin. He pressed lightly on the accelerator.
“Where to?” he asked in a jaded tone.
The paparazzi had reached the car and glued their cameras to the windows.
“Tribeca! Now hurry!” Matt yelled.
Clutching the steering wheel, the taxi driver stomped on the accelerator nervously until the car screeched its painful protest, scaring off the paparazzi.
Maude waved gaily and stuck out her tongue to the huffing men as they brushed off the remaining seafood hanging from their clothes.
The taxi continued its route downBroadway.
The glow in Maude’s eyes had not dimmed in the least and continued as she laughed while reminiscingtheir hot pursuit.
“I think I could play in an action movie. Mission Impossible style,” she observed.
“You’d need extensive acting lessons.”
“Hmm, you’re right.” The recollection of the only movie she had ever played in, Vampire Love, tampered her acting ambitions.
Matt wrapped his arms around her shoulders so that she turned to him.
“I guess my disguise wasn’t as great as yours,” she confessed.
“I should’ve ordered sooner,” he replied, equally penitent. He rubbed her shoulder gently.
“It’s been weeks since we’ve been able to dine, just the two of us,without cameras, paparazzi or fans, and I now know why,” Maude declared. His hand fell limply on the seat.
She turned her gaze to the dazzling electric lightsof the city. Glitzy billboards, flashy publicity spots, and filmposters, all seemed to mock her. They were a definite indicator that the limelights could reach her anywhere, even going so far as invading her privacy.
However, Maude had learned to take it all with an easier stride than she had merely two years prior. When the scandalbroke out, and Soulvillewent through dire circumstances, she feared she would never be able to make music that people listened to in the pop music world.
It is thus, with human nature, that the things we hold on to the most are those we are in peril of losing. But the frenzy and paparazzi Maude had once loathed, she now viewed as key elements to the longevity of her career and the record label she loved. Though she deplored the intensity with which they hovered, the paparazzi were more appreciated than the threat of anonymity.
The tiny TV screen in the vehicle showed images of Matt and Maude together. Matt moved to turn it off but Maude turned up the volume instead.
“MauMa were seen strolling together in Central Park. Rumors are they’re working together on a new secret project for Soulville.”
Maude turned off the screen.
“So, tell me,” Matt insisted. “Why do we keep failing at this little game?”
Maude took his hand, intertwined his fingers with her own and, beaming, she declared,“Because of you. Why else?”
Matt threw his head back. “I should’ve guessed I’d be blamed for this fiasco.”
“Your plans are over-the-top and we always end up getting caught. I bet you I can come up with the perfect plan to spend a privateincognito eveningjust likeeveryone else. With no disguise.”
“Oh, you want to bet now?”
“You think you can do better? I’ve been under the public eye much longer than you.”
“Yeah, but you lack finesse. What we need is a feminine touch. A Maude touch, in fact.”
“How about a MauMa touch?”
“Why do celebrity couple names exist?” she wondered aloud.
“Don’t you like MauMa?” Matt teased.
“It sounds like the MoMA. They obviously don’t know how much you hate museums. The paparazzi have probably never stepped into one either.” Maude scrunched her face as she imagined the wildest plans to evade the invasive reporters. “But you’d have to agree to go inside a museum for a date.”
“You wish for quite a few impossible things.”
“Impossible n’est pas français(Impossible isn’t French). You should know that.”
“I’ve tried my hardest to find interesting ideas. But you just refuse to wear a mustache when we’re out. Something about it not being feminine enough.”
Maude laughed. “I’m sure you’d love to make fun of me if I wore one. But the purpose here isn’t to look ridiculous. The task at hand is to find a way to be free of those sneaky paparazzi and—”
Maude’s impassioned speech was interrupted by her phone. She drew it out of her purse and raised an eyebrow as she read the text message she had received.
“It’s Jaz. ‘Save me now. I’m dying. 167 Franklin Street at the Brooklyn Label,’” Maude read. She knew better than to worry about the second daughter of the Baldwin clan.
But she had promised Cynthia to look after Jazmine and Benjamin Baldwin during her absence. “Be there for them,” Cynthia had said, as she entrusted the family to Maude’s care.
Maude had promised, and she would never turn a deaf ear to a cry for help, even if it was an exaggerated one.
“What’s Jaz doing tonight?” Matt asked.
Matt told the driver their new destination.
“Let’s go save Jaz. And Maude, don’t worry. We’ll find a way to go on a more or less normal date. Even if you have to wear a mustache in the process.”
“There are perks to being chased by mad men.”Maude batted her eyelashes withfeignedinnocence. “Your wig is gone.” She playfully ruffled his blonde hair.
Among Maude’s flaws, and she was aware that she possessed quite a few, no one would ever list her inability to see the brighter side to an already comical situation.
When they arrived at Brooklyn Label, Maude searched for Jazmine.
The café had a vintage Brooklyn charm. Its pale yellow and wood paneled walls gave it the same appeasing quality as banana sundaes and cinnamon quills. A lazy fan hung from the chipped eggshell ceiling and rotated inefficiently. An aloe vera plant with leaves like tentacles graced the bar. Behind it, a waitress with a nose ring and a Hawaiian shirt served lattes to customers.
Finally, Maude spotted her cousin.
Jazmine sat in a mocha-colored sofa and nodded sullenly while her two friends talked. Slouched in her seat, she appeared smaller than she really was. She, who usually preferred short haircuts, had let her permed hair grow.
Stacey and Lily had not quite outgrown their high school cheerleader phase and wore bright lipstick, which made them look like they were out for blood, perhaps Jazmine’s.
The red neon EXIT sign shone vividly in her desperate eyes.
Maude and Matt headed toward their corner of the room and Jazmine’s face lit up at their arrival. The bond between Maude and her cousin was a strong one, reinforced by months of cohabitation in the same room. Cardinal differences made each girl necessary to the balance of the other.
“You’re here!” Jazmine cried out with relief. She jumped out of her seat and greeted her cousin with a welcoming hug. She turned to Matt, glanced critically at his interesting get-up, and reached for his face. She pulled off his fake eyebrows with two swift movements, making him cry out in pain.
“You’re scaring me.”
Matt inched away from her, rubbing his eyebrows and fearing for the fate of his fake mustache.
“What have you girls been up to?” he asked, after greeting Jazmine’s friends.
“Things are going great,” Stacey piped up. “I’m studying to become an accountant. It’s a lot of work, but it’s interesting, I guess.” Stacey paused, lowering her eyelids. “Sometimes I wished I’d taken a year off to do absolutely nothing like Jaz decided to do.” Her face brightened again. “I just didn’t want to waste any time, you know. I don’t have that kind of leisure.” She twisted her dark red hair up in a loose bun before letting it fall back to her shoulders.
Jazmine glowered, took her big, yellow cup in both hands, but set it back without drinking.
“I’m not twiddling my thumbs,” she pointed out. “Just because I don’t sit in a classroom doesn’t mean I’m idle.”
“What do you do?” Lily asked. She took a sip from her chocolate Mayan and instantly licked her upper lip to clear it from the foam she couldn’t feel, but assumed had lingered. “We know these two work on their albums. Maude’s been getting a lot of media attention; she’s been promoting her single and sophomore album on every show. She’s out there. But what about you?”
Lily asked the question without malice. Only genuine curiosity prompted a person following a conventional path as she did, to gaze at artists through eyes of wonder and bewilderment.
Jazmine thought of an adequate response, but before she answered, Matt intervened.
“An artist never reveals his routine. We keep quiet so that the public assume what we do is effortless magic. More often they think we’re idle. But we know better.”
Maude squeezed his hand gently in agreement and Jazmine gratefully smiled at him.
“Don’t worry. We know you two work a lot. There was a picture of you guys singing in Central Park. You looked so cute.” Stacey searched through her phone for the link to the article, but Maude stopped her.
“Unfortunately girls, we’ve come to whisk Jazmine away. She’s, um, promised she’d help us prepare for an important meeting tomorrow at Soulville,” Maude lied.
“So that’s what you do!” Stacey exclaimed. “You work for your father’s company.” Stacey laughed, as if she’d uncovered a dirty secret. “I wish my father were an accountant. That way I’d have all these great connections. You’ll never be a starving artist.”
Maude hurried to say goodbye to the girls and dragged a brooding Jazmine toward the door.
Once outside, she hailed a cab, green like a thick-skinned citrus fruit, and pushed an angrier Jazmine inside.
“Can you believe those girls?” Jazmine burst out as soon as the door shut.
“They didn’t mean it in a bad way,” Maude coaxed.
“It still hurts,” Matt answered.
“See, he gets it,” Jazmine raised her hands in despair before letting them drop with discouragement. “Although no one will ever accuse you of slacking.”
“Don’t be so sure about that.” Matt looked out the window, his face veiled with a sudden bout of sobriety. “Many people think singing isn’t a real job. If it’s not a nine to five, people just don’t get it.”
The rest of the journey was quiet as each pondered on their respective dedication to art. Jazmine’s thoughts were the heaviest.
“Nobody will ever take me seriously,” was the conclusion she voiced after several minutes of internal debate.
“Uncle James believes in you.” Maude nudged her cousin softly. “He’s just waiting for you to tell him you’re ready.”
“That’s just it. I’ve got to be my own person.”
“You can be that and work with Soulville.” Maude pictured her uncle’s disappointment and felt certain that she wasn’t projecting her own.
“It’s tough enough being a girl in the rock world without people thinking I made it just because my father is CEO of Soulville.”
“And you’re a bass player. If you want to make it, you’ll have to be in a rock band. Not a solo artist,” Matt pointed out.
“It’s a shame there aren’t many famous girls our age in rock bands,” Maude put in. “When did girls stop being rock stars?”
“Mostly when all-female bands went out of fashion,” Matt stated.
“My band in high school was mostly girls.”
Jazmine’s gaze wandered as she remembered her band, the Screaming Angels. It was only three years prior that they had performed at a seventies-themed party for Franklin High’s Summer Dance.
Of the heartbreak she had endured that night only an imperceptible scar remained. But Jazmine had fallen into the trap of finding the past’s faded colors more alluring than the present’s glaring tones, and the future’s nebulous haze.
“Lily and Stacey weren’t so hung up on becoming accountants or notaries or whatever,” Jazmine sighed.
The car was silent for the next couple of blocks, each passenger pensive.
“Why don’t I create a new rock band?”Jazmine thought aloud. She turned to Maude, sitting in the middle seat, and waited for her reaction with uncertainty.
“Why don’t you?” Maude replied with enthusiasm, and dissipated the doubt in Jazmine’s eyes. “It’s a great idea! I’m sure Uncle James would—”
“I won’t ask for my father’s help,” Jazmine broke in curtly. “This is something I have to do on my own.”
“But think how much fun we’d have working together in Soulville,” Maude countered. “We would go to work together, I could help you write songs—”
“I don’t even have a band yet. But I won’t find authentic rockers if I tell them I’m James Baldwin’s daughter. You don’t know that world.”
Maude thought of Cynthia and her promise.
“I have nothing against discovering the rock scene with you.” Maude mischievously smiled, and Jazmine returned it frankly, full of excitement.
“I wouldn’t go on this adventure without you.”
“I’d like to see how this goes.” Matt rested his head against the window and peered at his two female companions with awe.
Maude tucked her arm under her cousin’s as a silent promise, a renewal of their undiminished bond.
The taxi dropped the girls in front of the lovely brownstone in Tribeca; they both waved goodbye to Matt.
They entered their home. The same familiar walls and scent of recently burned incense greeted them in the entrance hall. Shoes were disorderly arranged at the entrance: sneakers, rain boots, and stilettos. In addition to the usual family possessions, there were also snakeskin boots and a purple, leather jacket hanging from the coat rack.
Ear-piercing shrieks made their way from the living room to the entrance hall followed by peals of laughter. Maude and Jazmine knowingly looked at each other before marching into the living room.
In the cream-colored sofa sat James and Victoria Baldwin. Between them, Aunt Pearl’s purple hair peeked from below the sofa. She held her sides as she toppled over herself with laughter. Victoria and James both joined in the general hysteria. Their peals of laughter muffled the sound coming from the TV screen. From where Maude stood, she couldn’t make much sense of the black and white film featuring a two-headed gorilla in a trench coat throwing around chairs in an empty laboratory.
“What’s going on in here?” Jazmine asked, bewildered.
The three adults turned to the newcomers. Aunt Pearl wiped the corners of her eyes, Victoria sniffed, and James choked with the spasms of his dying laughter.
“We’re watching horror movies,” Aunt Pearl stated matter-of-factly, as if the genre was generally known for provoking laughter.
“They’re just too funny,” Victoria added. “How many times can a director film a person’s head being ridiculously chopped off and oozing ketchup before calling it quits?”
“Old horror films are the funniest comedies ever,” James agreed. He took the remote control and pressed pause, freezing the gorilla’s two heads in a grotesque grimace.
“You might be more in the mood if you turned off the lights,” Maude observed.
A Shoji lamp shone in the open, welcoming, Japanese-style living room. No amount of headless ghosts, gorillas, or gremlins on the TV screen could endanger the room’s soothing atmosphere.
“Unless you’re scared that is,” Jazmine teased.
“I remember a girl of fourteen who couldn’t go to bed alone for a week after having seen Poltergeist,” James recalled.
“That wasn’t me!” Jazmine cried out, while Maude shrieked “At fourteen?”
The adults broke into laughter.
“‘Mommy, can I sleep with you guys just this once?’” Victoria mimicked.
“I didn’t. . .you make me sound like a two-year-old!” Jazmine protested.
Victoria gave her a meaningful look full of tender amusement, as if challenging her daughter to contradict her.
“I’ve grown now,” Jazmine folded her arms across her chest. “I can stand on my own two feet.”
Pearl and James exchanged quizzical glances, unsure whether they were still allowed to laugh or if Jazmine had taken the joking to heart.
“Nobody said otherwise,” James put in carefully.
Jazmine pulled Maude toward the staircase.
“Come on,” she urged. “We’ve got stuff to do, don’t we?”
Maude scarcely got a chance to wave goodbye to Aunt Pearl before Jazmine whispered in her ear,
“Don’t tell them anything yet. About the band.”
Jazmine marched upstairs; Maude ran after her.
“Where do we start?” Maude asked once they’d entered their shared room and locked the door.
The wide room hosted two queen beds, two dressers, two closets, and a multitude of small messes, all belonging to the second Baldwin sibling. Jazmine’s brown face powder lay opened on her dresser next to a pile of stylish tops, skirts and shorts. More items from her wardrobe were scattered on Maude’s side of the room, as well as shoes, fashion magazines, and jewelry.
Maude swept off the latest edition of Hollywood Buzz from her bed before laying in it, legs crossed.
“You’ve got to help me write songs,” Jazmine replied.
Maude nodded energetically.
“We need to look for a lead singer of course,” Jazmine continued. She picked up the magazine, rolled it into a cylinder, and tapped her left palm. “Someone with a strong voice, someone who can move mountains, someone who gives us chills even when it’s 100 degrees in the shade, someone who—”
A strong knock at the door interrupted Jazmine’s enumeration of all the qualities her ideal singer would encompass.
“Who is it?” Jazmine asked.
“Who do you think?” the door answered in a male voice that was still breaking.
Maude went to the door and unlocked it only to find a forlorn Benjamin on the doorstep.
Now a fifteen-year-old boy, Benjamin had broad shoulders, a lean frame, and a mass of hair just as curly as when he was eleven and had met Maude at the airport. He wore a gray tank top and baggy jeans.
For eleven years, Benjamin had enjoyed the privilege of having two older sisters who doted on him. The arrival of Maude in the Baldwin family, over three years ago, had been an addition he’d welcomed and still rejoiced in as it tripled the affection and attention he received. Though his friends puzzled over his contentment in having three female, older siblings, he shook his head with an air of mystery which made them feel Benjamin kept a secret he would never let them in on.
“I’m tired of girls,” Benjamin stated somberly.
“You’ve come to the right sister.” Jazmine indicated he could come in.
“Girls just don’t know what they want!” he sighed. “Tisha broke up with me. Again.By text message.”
“I thought everything was fine between you two.” Maude put her arm around Ben’s shoulders for moral support.
“So did I, man. I even told her I loved her and all. Brought her doughnuts in the morning before school.”
“After a month?”Jazmine shrieked. Ben’s angry glare did not stop her from letting out a little laugh.
“I already pictured our whole life together.”
“You’re unbelievable,” Jazmine admonished. “You’re one of those guys.”
“Don’t listen to Jaz,” Maude brushed off. “Just because you’re a good guy doesn’t mean you’ll never get the girl.”
“It does,” Jazmine argued.
“I thought girls loved to hear the L word.” Ben scratched his head wearily.
“It’s important that you mean it,” Maude turned to Jazmine, who threw her hands up in the air.
“I did mean it! I think,” Ben hesitated. “I’m crushed now. Isn’t that proof?”
“Whatever! Just don’t say it first!” Jazmine shrieked.
“That’s what you told me a couple of months ago and I never should’ve listened to you.” Maude dragged Ben away from the door and closed it. Victoria and James did not need to overhear their youngest child’s love tribulations.
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