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Annalisa set the suitcase down and put her shoes on top. She gave her dress a brief tug at the hips—it seemed too short and tight in a way that suggested age, not style—then walked barefoot to a pay phone on the corner. She dialed seven numbers and soon began to speak with a mild Cajun accent.

“Allo, papa,” she said. “I’m home.” She paused, smiling. “Well if you’d come downtown, you’d see me. I got an early flight and took a shuttle home.” She listened for a moment, eyes closed. “No, it wasn’t expensive. The driver cut me a deal when I told him I was trying to get back for Val’s going away party.” Another pause as she shifted her weight from one leg to the other, her impatience beginning to show. “Well, papa, I’ll tell you what the big hero hotshot has that you don’t have—one more day in town, okay? So don’t wait up for me. Love you. See you tomorrow.”

She started to hang up but stopped when she heard her father’s muffled voice still issuing from the receiver. She listened for a second, then laughed. “Well come on down, then. I’ll dance with you if mama doesn’t want to come…uh huh, that’s what I thought. Good night, papa.”

Annalisa picked up her suitcase and shoes and walked to the window near Crawdaddy’s front door. Right there in front, at the table of honor, sat Valentin Gilbeaux in all his glory—the handsome, athletic party animal who had been her boyfriend since she was seventeen years old. He was sixteen when they started dating. She was a junior and he was a sophomore, but it was okay because he could already throw a football sixty yards, and that’s all anybody needed or wanted to know about Valentin Gilbeaux.

Tonight he was surrounded by admiring sorority girls, home for the weekend. Whatever he had just said had made the coeds laugh hysterically. Annalisa allowed herself a brief sarcastic chuckle then dropped her shoes to the ground, swearing under her breath while she struggled to step into them, finally made it and then went inside.

No one noticed her at first. She set her suitcase down against the wall and just stood there for a moment. Finally, someone called out her name, and Val turned to look.

“Annalisa!” He got to his feet. “Hey, babe, welcome home!” He went over and hugged her. “How was Atlanta?” He gave her a peck on the cheek.

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