Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©1999 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
The confrontation took place in the sitting room. Marie-Thérèse
watched as a deep crimson flushed her sister's face. The color traveled from
Josette's neck up to her deep brown eyes, where Marie-Thérèse
imagined she could see red-hot sparks leaping out, burning whatever they
For a long moment their parents, Ariana and Jean-Marc Perrault, said
nothing, but regarded Josette quietly from their seat on the long blue couch.
Marie-Thérèse could hear the tick-tock of the grandfather clock
that stood near the window. She shifted nervously on the chair, her fingers
drumming on a table beside her. Outside the window, the twilight crept steadily
on, enveloping the outside world with its diffused light.
"I tell you, I'm not going!" Josette repeated into the silence. It was
the third time she had said that exact phrase in the past two minutes. "I
don't want to leave France."
"Now is rather late to be telling us this," their father said. "Fall
classes start in eight days." His voice was mild, but his face was set firmly
in a way Marie-Thérèse recognized all too well. He would not
compromise, no matter what.
"You can still get your money back," Josette protested.
Their mother rose from the couch and put her hand on Josette's arm.
"That's not the point," she said. "You committed to go, and we all agreed
it was best."
"But America! It's too far away. I'll die without Alphonse!" Josette
stomped her foot like a small child and glared at Ariana.
Marie-Thérèse thought how alike mother and daughter appeared.
Of course, there were notable differences: Josette had long hair while Ariana's
was short; Josette's curvaceous figure was taller and slightly fuller than
her mother's; and Josette was deeply tanned by an active outdoor life. The
biggest dissimilarity came from the twenty-four years separating them. Josette
was hot-tempered and flighty, while Ariana's passion had been tempered by
a difficult but fulfilling life.
"Die without him?" Their mother laughed. "Oh, Josette, be serious! You
only met him a month ago."
"But Alphonse is different."
"As was the boyfriend before this," Jean-Marc put in. "And he's not
even a member of our church. You know how we feel about that."
"But Brigham Young University is so far away. Why can't I continue my
"You know very well why," Jean-Marc said. "Your mother and I both feel
you need to gain some independence."
Josette turned to Marie-Thérèse. "Help me!" she demanded.
"They'll listen to you."
Marie-Thérèse wanted to help her sister, but the truth
was, she agreed with her parents. The twenty-year-old Josette needed a change
in her life, and BYU just might be able to give it to her.
Josette herself had been the catalyst that had convinced
Marie-Thérèse to side with their parents. Four months earlier,
Marie-Thérèse had come home to find Josette and her latest
boyfriend alone in the sitting room, kissing. Or necking, as their parents
called it. No one else was in the house. Josette's twin brother Marc was
on his mission, André and Pauline were at a church activity, and their
parents had taken their youngest brother, Louis-Géralde, to a birthday
party. The only reason Marie-Thérèse had come home early from
her college study group was because she had forgotten her class notes.
She had opened the apartment door with her key and had almost immediately
heard the giggling behind the wooden screen that separated the sitting room
from the entryway. Slowly, she had pushed the partition open, already suspecting
what she would find.
"Marie-Thérèse!" Josette had gasped from the couch. She
pushed the boy away and sat up straight. "What are you doing home?"
"I should ask you the same thing."
Josette ran to her side. "Don't tell Mom and Dad, promise?" she whispered
urgently. "I mean, it's not as if I'm sixteen anymore. We were just kissing
Marie-Thérèse glanced at the boy who sat calmly back against
the couch, grinning at her. She recognized Marcelin Cuvier from one of her
classes at the private college she and Josette attended, and knew his reputation.
A little kissing was not the only thing on his mind.
He stood up and sauntered over to Josette, giving her a long kiss on
the mouth. "I'd better go. Catch you tomorrow."
Josette's full lips went into a fake pout. "Okay, I guess," she
When he left, she turned back to Marie-Thérèse. "You won't
tell, will you?"
"On if you leave him alone."
Josette laughed. "What do you mean?"
Her tone made Marie-Thérèse angry. "You know exactly what
I mean. He's a spoiled rich boy who's only out for a good time." Just like
you, she wanted to add, but refrained by biting her tongue. She had learned
to think before acting--one of them had to be responsible, and Josette was
almost never that.
"Well, what's wrong with having fun?"
"His fun is not our kind of fun," Marie-Thérèse retorted.
"What about your values? What about a temple marriage?"
Josette crossed to the couch and put her feet up on the coffee table.
"Goodness, I'm not sleeping with him, I'm just fooling around!"
"You're playing with fire."
"What do you know about it?" scoffed Josette. "You hardly even go
"I do when I find someone worthy of my goals."
Josette impatiently pulled her waist-length hair up and over the back
of the couch. "Maybe it's time you stop being so picky. You don't want to
end up an old maid, like Aunt Lu-Lu almost did." Her hair tumbled forward
again as she picked up a magazine from the table and began to thumb through
it much faster than she could ever read.
"Almost' doesn't count," Marie-Thérèse said, moving
to sit beside her sister. "She found Jourdain and you know how wonderful
he is. What if she had settled for a nonmember and lost the chance of meeting
"Is that what this is all about?--my dating a nonmember? That's strange,
coming from little Miss-I'm-planning-to-go-on-a-mission. What about repentance?
What about me converting him? It does happen. Why don't you look at Aunt
"Uncle Jourdain is different. Special."
"So is Marcelin." There was no flexibility in Josette's eyes.
"All right," said Marie-Thérèse. "What if I can prove
that he's not special? What if I can prove he's only out for what he can
get? What then? Would you promise to drop him?"
Josette's eyes narrowed. "How?"
"What if I can get him to ask me out? Or meet me somewhere."
Josette threw back her head and laughed. "Oh, don't tell me you're
interested in him. If that's the case, then--"
"I'm not interested in him," snapped Marie-Thérèse. "I've
told you that I'll never let a man come between us. I'm just worried about
Her sister's laughter vanished. "I know, Marie-Thérèse.
And I feel the same way. No man is worth our friendship."
"Then you'll let me do it?"
"Only if you'll agree to support me if he doesn't fail your test."
Marie-Thérèse hesitated only a second. "Okay then. But
I get a few tries."
"Three." They shook on the deal.
The next day, Josette amazed Marie-Thérèse by throwing
herself into the plan. She styled Marie-Thérèse's hair, spraying
and scrunching until it looked like a picture from a magazine. She even let
her wear her favorite perfume. "Marcelin loves this," she giggled.
"You'd think you want him to fail."
"I just want to be sure," Josette said. "No, not that blouse, wear this
one. The green makes your eyes stand out. And this skirt." She pulled a
tight-fitting emerald skirt out of their free-standing closet. "It goes with
the blouse, and it makes you look very sexy."
Marie-Thérèse rolled her eyes. "Oh, great." She studied
herself in the full-length mirror near the closet. She was taller than Josette
by about ten centimeters. Her shoulder-length hair was a lighter brown than
her sister's and cut at varying lengths along her thin face to give it fullness
and to emphasize the small, upturned nose and pixie face.
"You look a little like Aunt Paulette," Josette said suddenly, her eyes
darting to a picture above Marie-Thérèse's bed. In it, Paulette
Perrault held a baby Marie-Thérèse.
Marie-Thérèse nodded absently. Except for her nose, she
did favor her birth mother, who had died of AIDS when she was only four.
They shared the same brown hair, the light-brown eyes, the lean body, and
the many freckles. Marie-Thérèse's natural sister, Pauline,
however, almost completely resembled their adoptive father.
Marie-Thérèse often thought that her younger sister fit perfectly
into her aunt and uncle's family--except for the fact that she was HIV positive.
That didn't fit comfortably anywhere.
"I wish I was slim enough to wear that skirt," Josette said a little
Marie-Thérèse much preferred Josette's more womanly curves,
but she did have to admit that she looked good today. She had always considered
herself plain against the backdrop of Josette's passionate beauty, but maybe
she judged herself too harshly. Regardless, she hoped her looks would be
enough for the task.
"What's your plan?" Josette asked as they rode the elevator down the
five flights to the street. The May air was still cool this early in the
morning, and Marie-Thérèse felt goose bumps rise on her bare
"Well, Mom and Dad have plans tonight, and I've already given André
and Pauline money to take Louis-Géralde to a movie. I thought I'd
test Marcelin at our apartment."
"But I have a date with him tonight!"
"So, I'm cancelling it. He'll come to pick you up and you won't be there.
It's as simple as that."
"But I will be there," Josette said. "I want to hear for myself what
Marie-Thérèse shrugged. "That's fine by me. I don't want
to be alone with him anyway. I don't trust him. If you're there, I won't
have to ask one of my friends over to hide and watch." With effort, she formed
a stiff smile. "And that way you can see what kind of a man he really
"Humph!" Josette tossed her long hair over her shoulder. "When he passes
your silly little test, I'm going to go out with him like I'd planned."
"Suit yourself. If he passes."
"He will," her sister insisted. "But I don't know why we went to all
that work getting you ready this morning when he's not coming to get me until
seven tonight." Josette's enthusiasm for the project had dimmed, but
Marie-Thérèse became even more determined. Although her sister
had agreed to give her three chances, she doubted there would be any more
than just this one. That understanding was the reason she had taken such
care with her appearance this morning. Tonight she would make her move on
Marcelin, but during the day she would lay her groundwork.
They walked the rest of the way to the metro in silence, and Josette
didn't speak at all to Marie-Thérèse on the train. When they
arrived at school, she disappeared with a hasty wave of her hand.
Marie-Thérèse stared after, loving her sister and wishing for
the millionth time that she was a little more stable. When had it happened?
When had Josette changed? Marie-Thérèse's eyebrows scrunched
together as she fell into her usual habit of analyzing the world around her.
Today she found no answer. Her sister still had the strong sense of love
and responsibility she had always felt for the family, but something else
Marie-Thérèse's plan came into play during the math class
she shared with Marcelin. Both were finance majors, and in the same year.
Since her childhood, Marie-Thérèse had wanted to follow her
adopted father's footsteps and go into banking. Marcelin was there to learn
how to make his rich family even richer--or so he told anyone who would
She arrived early to class, relieved to see that Marcelin hadn't yet
found a seat. It wouldn't pay to be too obvious. The gathering students murmured
among themselves, and Marie-Thérèse didn't miss the fact that
Marcelin's companions were all young women--and pretty ones at that. Ignoring
her usual place in the front, she sat next to the chair Marcelin used each
day without fail. The teacher entered, and the students quickly took their
Without glancing her way, Marcelin settled into his accustomed spot.
Marie-Thérèse felt her heart pounding so loudly that she was
sure the whole class must hear. She waited until the teacher was well underway
before pushing her pen off the desk with the edge of her book, praying silently
that it would land near Marcelin.
It did. He leaned down and scooped it up, handing it back. Now,
Marie-Thérèse told herself. She accepted the pen, but grabbed
it farther up than necessary, touching his fingers. "Thanks," she said with
a smile. He grinned, and Marie-Thérèse noticed for the first
time how good-looking he was. Her pulse quickened now for quite another reason.
She purposely held his eyes with her own in the way Josette was famous for
doing. He grinned and stared insolently back.
Well, at least he saw me, Marie-Thérèse thought.
"You look great today," Marcelin whispered.
She smiled and lowered her eyes. "Thanks."
"Hey, uh, I missed class the other day," he added. "Do you think you
could give me your notes?"
This was way too easy! "Sure," she said. "You have a date with my sister
tonight, don't you? You can get them then."
Marcelin blinked in surprise, then his face showed nothing, but
Marie-Thérèse knew that he hadn't realized who she was, much
less her relationship to Josette. She was nothing but backdrop, someone he
had never noticed before. Her face flamed, but she turned it so he wouldn't
see. Had her betraying face ruined her chance to save her sister?
Marie-Thérèse didn't dare look at Marcelin again. Some
femme fatale I am, she thought with a silent sigh.
After class, Marcelin put his arm briefly on her shoulder. "See ya tonight,"
"Tonight," she agreed, startling herself by giving him a wink. He grinned
and strode out of the room, a picture of confidence, while she leaned against
the wall until her knees were no longer shaking. "I'm no good at this," she
muttered. "Even though I've had the best teacher." Josette had been adept
at charming the opposite sex since she was five; it seemed to come naturally
Later that evening, Josette changed hiding places four times before
Marcelin came to the door. First she stretched out behind the couch in the
sitting room. Second, she crouched behind the chair. Then she decided to
stay in the kitchen and sneak out to listen at the folding wood partition
which Marie-Thérèse would close after bringing Marcelin into
the sitting room. At the last minute, she hid behind the couch again. "That
way you won't have to worry about closing the partition," she said.
From her flighty movements and quick speech, Marie-Thérèse
could tell her sister was nervous, but that nervousness couldn't possibly
equal the butterflies in her own stomach. She wished she could call the whole
Marcelin didn't arrive until ten minutes after the hour.
Marie-Thérèse opened the door with a smile. "Come on in." She
led the way to the sitting room and motioned for him to sit on the blue
"Josette's not coming," she said, settling next to him a little closer
than she would have normally liked. "She said to make her excuses, but it
couldn't be helped. She'll explain later."
Marcelin didn't contain his surprise well. "Oh," he said, looking
"I thought we could go over these notes, if you want."
"Sure," he said. His voice was slightly sour.
Marie-Thérèse explained what she had written and the meaning
of the abbreviations she commonly used. All too soon, she was done. "Well,
Marcelin leaned back against the couch, one arm spread across the top,
and stared at her lazily. "I guess I'd better get going."
"I guess," Marie-Thérèse agreed reluctantly. What was
she going to do? They'd been alone together a whole twenty minutes, and he
had been a perfect gentleman. For her part, Marie-Thérèse felt
she had made her pretend feelings for Marcelin obvious. Maybe Josette was
right about him after all.
"How is it that you and Josette are the same age?" Marcelin asked. At
least he didn't seem to be in too great a hurry to leave. "I thought she
had a twin brother, not a sister."
"We're actually cousins. My parents died when I was young, and my aunt
and uncle adopted my little sister and me. I'm four months older than Josette
"Oh." Marcelin's face came suddenly close to hers. "I like you,
Marie-Thérèse," he murmured. Then he kissed her, strongly and
She pushed him away, feeling anger kindling in her gut. "What about
Josette?" she asked calmly. "You can't ask me to steal my sister's
"I won't tell her if you won't."
"You want to date us both!" Marie-Thérèse couldn't keep
the incredulity from her voice.
"Why not? If you're game. We'll keep it our little secret."
He tried to kiss her again, but Marie-Thérèse punched
his chest and leapt to her feet. "I want you to leave," she insisted.
Marcelin's face grew red. "I was under the impression you liked me,"
His vehemence startled her into telling the truth. "I wanted to see
for myself what kind of a man my sister dated. It was a test. And you
Marcelin raised a fist, and Marie-Thérèse became suddenly
afraid. But she didn't flinch. "Leave!" she repeated firmly.
To her relief, Marcelin dropped his hand and walked to the entryway.
"It's your loss," he said. "You're too thin, anyway. I like my women to look
like women, to be softer than dried up old bread." The comment stung, but
Marie-Thérèse didn't let him see. "And forget about telling
Josette," he added. "She'll never believe you. It's your word against
"She'll believe me. We're sisters," Marie-Thérèse said,
but she wondered if he wasn't right. Would Josette have believed her if she
hadn't heard for herself what kind of man Marcelin was?
"Cousins," corrected Marcelin. With that, he turned on his heel and
strode out the door, slamming it behind him.
Utter silence filled the room. Why doesn't Josette come from behind
the couch? Marie-Thérèse made her way to where a small table
with long legs and a gilt-edged mirror separated the wall from the couch.
Josette lay under the table on her side.
"Josette, come out of there."
Marie-Thérèse stooped down and reached tentatively toward
her sister's hair. "I'm sorry," she murmured. And she was. She almost wished
she hadn't challenged her sister's relationship with Marcelin. Almost.
Josette looked up. There were tears on her face. "Will I ever find someone?"
she whispered. "Someone who loves me for me?"
"When it's time."
Her sister scrambled from under the table and to her feet. "It's okay
for you!" she shouted. "You don't care. You want to go on a mission and convert
the world. I just want a family. What's so wrong with that?"
"You're only twenty," Marie-Thérèse said dryly.
The words spurred Josette to further anger. "I'm going after him!" she
declared. "We didn't play fair. We tricked him! You tricked him!"
"It could have been anyone," Marie-Thérèse began.
Josette wouldn't listen. "I don't care what you say!" she shouted. With
that she ran to the door and was gone.
Marie-Thérèse thought for a long time, and she knew what
she had to do. When her parents arrived home, she told them what had
Jean-Marc's eyes met Ariana's as though communicating some private message.
"I think it's time," he said.
She nodded. "I'd hoped she'd settle down, but ever since Marc left .
That's it! thought Marie-Thérèse. It was when Marc left
on his mission a year ago that Josette began to change. Her sister had always
been passionate about everything, but only in her twin brother's absence
had she become uncontrollable. Josette had seemed to be the one to keep the
impulsive Marc out of trouble, but apparently he had stabilized her as well.
The twins had been very close--closer even than she and Josette, the
"What did we do wrong?"Ariana asked. "We didn't let her date until she
was sixteen, and then only in group dates. How can she be so careless of
what we've taught?"
Marie-Thérèse watched her father put his arm around her
mother. "Ari, we did the best we knew how."
"I feel like she's drowning and I can't save her," Ariana said. "I haven't
felt that way since André hung out with those drug pushers when he
Involuntarily, Marie-Thérèse shuddered. A youthful drug
addiction on her mother's part had caused her birth parents' AIDS all those
"I think BYU is a good option," her father said. "Apparently Josette
needs some time to decide what she believes in."
"But to send her away?" Ariana protested. "How can that be right? We
won't be there to help her."
"Our prayers have been answered," Jean-Marc said gently. "Don't you
Marie-Thérèse saw the answer on her mother's face before
she spoke. "Yes. This is our answer. But we can't send her alone."
As one, they turned toward Marie-Thérèse.
"What?" she asked warily. She had followed the conversation, but still
"We've decided to send Josette to Brigham Young University in Provo
to finish college," Jean-Marc said. "We'd like you to go with her."
"But my mission."
"You won't be twenty-one until the end of November, and you weren't
planning to submit your papers until then anyway. It would only delay you
a month or so. Do you think you could do that? Josette will need you, especially
since Marc is so far away."
Go to the United States? It was something Marie-Thérèse
had thought about doing for a vacation, but never for an extended period
of time. She knew without a doubt that France was where she belonged. Still,
she loved her sister, and the time in America would be a learning experience
for them both. Her parents had said that sending her was an answer to their
prayers; shouldn't she be willing to do her part? "Sure," she said. "I'll
The relief was evident on her parents' faces. "Good," her father said.
"You can start filling out the papers right now."
"You have them already?"
"Yes," Jean-Marc said. "And we've been in touch with the administration
there. The missionary who baptized your mom already has things underway,
just in case we decided to go this route. He's a professor there."
Marie-Thérèse realized that her parents had been aware
of Josette's need all along, and had been searching for some way to help
her. "What if she refuses?" Marie-Thérèse asked.
"She's an adult," Jean-Marc said, "even if she doesn't act like one
most of the time. We can't force her, but I think that together we can convince
her. Especially after what happened tonight."
Marie-Thérèse wasn't so sure. After all, Josette had gone
after Marcelin. "Let me talk to her first, okay?"
Her parents smiled. "Thank you," Ariana said. "I knew you would
Marie-Thérèse was in the sitting room, filling out the
application papers, when Josette came home a short time later. Josette said
nothing, but threw herself on the end of the couch. Her face showed no signs
of tears. "Where's everybody?" she asked as though nothing had happened.
"In the TV room." Marie-Thérèse wanted more than anything
to ask about Marcelin, but she didn't dare.
"What ya doing?"
"Filling out papers for Dad to fax tomorrow. I'm going to BYU."
"You're what?" Josette leaned closer, suddenly interested.
"It'll be good to get away," Marie-Thérèse said cautiously.
"It'll be a whole new experience."
"But your mission!"
"I'm only going to America until December. Then I'll come home."
Josette said nothing, but her expression was sad.
"How'd it go with Marcelin?" Marie-Thérèse asked
Josette's luminous eyes met hers, and when she spoke the words came
more slowly than Marie-Thérèse had ever heard them come from
her sister. "He said you threw yourself at him, and that he had to fend you
"Did you tell him you were there?"
"No. I told him my sister would never lie. He denied it again, but I
said he wasn't worth my relationship with my sister--that no man was."
Marie-Thérèse felt gratitude wash over her. Marcelin was
put into his place, at least as far as they were concerned. "I'm sorry,"
"I'm not," Josette said fiercely. "I hate him."
Marie-Thérèse stifled a laugh. Her sister hated with the
same intensity that she loved.
Josette touched the papers on the desk. "Are you really going away?"
"Not without my sister." Marie-Thérèse brought out the
second application from under her own. Most of it she had already filled
out in her precise script.
A slow smile spread over Josette's face, making her more lovely than
ever. Marie-Thérèse hugged her. "Come with me?"
"Okay," Josette said. "Whatever."
They told their parents together, both of whom expressed pleasure in
Josette's decision. "We feel this is an answer to prayer," Ariana said.
"For your own good," Jean-Marc added.
Josette acted as though she scarcely heard them. She threw herself into
the planning with the same passion she showed about everything. "I'm going
away to school in America," she told her friends. "And I might just have
such a good time that I'll never come back! Maybe I'll even marry an American.
I can't wait to get there!"
But things had abruptly changed when Josette met this new boyfriend,
Alphonse, a month before they were to leave for Utah. Since then, she had
been hinting about staying behind. Tonight, as they confronted one another
in the sitting room, things had culminated in her blatant refusal to go.
"Marie-Thérèse, aren't you going to stick up for me?"
At Josette's plea, Marie-Thérèse's thoughts returned to
the present. "But I want to go to BYU," Marie-Thérèse found
herself saying. "It'll be fun."
"I don't want to go!"
"Your grades have slipped this past year," Jean-Marc said. "If you don't
go now, you may never get in."
Josette's lower lip jutted out. "I don't care."
"You promised!" Marie-Thérèse said.
"But . . . Alphonse--"
"Will still be here when you come home for Christmas," Ariana said.
She put her hand on Josette's shoulder. "I trust you will do what's
Josette shrugged off her mother's hand. "I hate it when you say
Marie-Thérèse smiled inwardly. Their mother knew only
too well how to appeal to their sense of honor.
Josette glared at her, but Marie-Thérèse easily met her
eyes. It had come to her just now what to say, a silent whispering of the
Spirit. "Is Alphonse worth letting me down?" she asked. "Is he coming between
Air whooshed out of Josette's lungs as though from an untied balloon.
"Oh, dang it," she said. "Of course not." She faced their parents. "Okay,
I'll go, but only for one semester." She flounced to the door before turning
and declaring, "But I'm going to hate every second."
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