Sparkling like jewels, they came toward her, ten doubloons of various colors, thrown by the masked man riding on the huge Mardi Gras float. Turning end over end and reflecting light, most were snatched out of the air by practiced hands. However, several slipped though eager fingers to hit the pavement bouncing and rolling. One golden doubloon bounced and started rolling toward her. On her knees, Joanna reached for the treasure. She felt it under her finger tips.
"OUCH," she screamed as a foot smashed her fingers into the pavement.
Looking upward, she saw a face glaring at her. Quickly it disappeared, the owner moved on seeking other Mardi Gras treasure. Joanna looked at the golden doubloon and put it in her pocket. Her fingers still smarting when she looked toward the float.
"THROW ME SOMETHING MISTER!" shouted the crowd.
The float had stopped and a masked rider was teasing everyone with some large Mardi Gras beads. He held them in the air above his head, titillating and egging on the crowd, which encouraged even more entreating.
Joanna had finally managed to work her way up front, where the riders could see her. This year's Bacchus parade was almost over and she still had not even caught one single set of beads. Oh, she had tried, but she was not nearly aggressive or tall enough. Someone else always grabbed them before they got to her. All she had for her efforts was the golden doubloon she had just pocketed.
The float rider was still teasing the crowd with his beads when he spied Joanna waving her arms. Looking directly toward her, he held them out in her direction, then reaching down with his hands; he mimicked lifting his shirt upward toward his neck.
Joanna was puzzled by his actions. What was he doing?
"SHOW HIM YOUR TITS!" Shouted someone next to her.
Joanna was shocked and looked down. She couldn't do that. Did he think she was some kind of an exhibitionist? When she looked again, he was handing them to another woman who was flashing him with her breasts.
Joanna was disenchanted with the parade and this whole Mardi Gras thing. Now, she would never get any beads. She hated all the noise. She hated the suffocating crowds. She hated the pushing and rudeness. She remembered how that guy who had stepped on her fingers hadn't even apologized.
"Why did I let Susan talk me into this stupid trip," she thought. "I could be back in Virginia, in my cozy apartment reading a good book or writing one."
Feeling lost, out of place and all alone, she once again looked toward the float. Next to the rider who had wanted her to flash him, was a tall rider. He was looking directly toward her. All she could see behind his mask were deep dark eyes. Like deep pools, they drew her into them. They were the most intimate and intoxicating eyes she had ever seen. She just stared into them, and they seemingly stared back into hers.
Slowly, he reached up and took from his neck the most beautiful set of beads she had ever seen. They were Bacchus medallion beads. Cast with the Krewe of Bacchus's crest and seal. Just as the float started moving, he reached down and handed them to Joanna.
Shortly there after, the parade ended with the sweeping crews and fire trucks coming through and cleaning up the mess. People started milling about and leaving.
Joanna was still in a daze when Susan found her.
"How did you do Joanna? Great parade, huh? Heyyy what's that? Oh, girl you did well. What did you do, show him your tits?"
"NO!" snapped Joanna.
"Whoaaa, sorry girl, I didn't mean to," replied Susan, not finishing her sentence.
"But, do you know how hard it is to get beads like that?" she continued as if nothing had happened. "Those are saved for someone special."
"Really?" thought Joanna, surprised. "I wonder?" she never finished her thought.
"Come on let's head to the French Quarter," urged Susan, as she took Joanna by the arm. "We can visit Pat O' Brian's. That's where the action should be"
Pat O' Brian's, was beautiful. The courtyard with its fountain of fire and water was how Joanna had envisioned New Orleans in her mind. The piano player in the bar played a mixture of Mardi Gras, Jazz and contemporary love songs reminding her of its historical past.
However, Joanna decided there were almost as many people jammed into the courtyard as the parade. The cacophony of their talking was distressing her. Joanna felt claustrophobic and for the tenth time, in the last hour, wished she were back in her hotel room. She took another sip from her fruity rum punch drink they called a Hurricane and debated whether she should just leave Susan and return by cab.
"I see you are still wearing my beads," stated a rich voice behind Joanna.
She turned and looked into those same deep eyes. "It's HIM!" she thought shocked and surprised.
Her musing broken and flummoxed by his appearance, she struggled for words, "Err... err I'm sorry, I"
"Oh forgive me, I am sorry," he apologized smiling. "I have forgotten my manners. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Paul de Strahan," he replied while offering her his hand.
"You, you are the one who gave me the beads," stammered Joanna while shaking his hand and trying to make sense of this sudden apparition. "Thank you!"
"Oh you are quite welcome," he said gallantly. "May I join you?"
"Yes sure," replied Joanna, wishing she had not drunk so much of her Hurricane. She suddenly felt dizzy.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes, thank you. I am fine. It's... it's just so sudden, your appearance. I mean... how did you know I would be here?"
As Paul laughed lightly, Joanna noticed that his entire face lit up. He seemed so natural, so at ease; the opposite of how she felt. She couldn't help liking him.
"Oh it was easy... well, actually it was just a guess... but, I was correct," He answered, laughing again.
"One of the things tourists often do when visiting New Orleans is come here, to Pat O'Brian's and drink Hurricanes, just like you are doing now. So, after the parade ended I quickly changed and came here hoping to find you."
"Why? Because, well because, I guess I wanted to find you. After seeing you from atop the float, I could not get you out of my mind. I wanted to meet you. I do hope I am not being too forward or presumptuous? If so..."
"OH NO!" Joanna cried. "I mean, no you aren't; I am pleased that you came looking for me," she continued in a much more restrained manner, wondering if the alcohol she drank was making her feel so queasy... and yet happy.
"Then," he smiled, "you have me at a disadvantage."
"I don't know your name."
"Oh my gosh!" exclaimed Joanna, embarrassed, "I am so sorry, it's Joanna Bryant from Richmond, Virginia. You are from New Orleans?"
"Yes, I am. Born and reared in New Orleans," he told her, smiling. "So are you here alone?"
"Yes err NO! I am here with my girlfriend, Susan," replied Joanna, pointing in her direction.
"Are you here just for Mardi Gras or for business, too? Often, people use business as an excuse to come to Mardi Gras," he asked her.
Because of the noise, Joanna did not hear everything he said.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you. What did you say?"
"I was asking why you were here. Look, would you like to go somewhere else that's quieter? I know a little coffee shop not far from here where they make that wonderful New Orleans' style coffee. Would you like to go there?"
"You mean that stuff you have to drink with a spoon?" chuckled Joanna while, wondering if she should go with this stranger. Her gut said yes, her mind said, be wary.
It was after one thirty in the morning when Joanna finally got back to her hotel room. After, washing her face and changing, she lay in bed and relived the events of the past few hours. She could not believe this was happening to her. It was like being the heroine in one of her novels. Yet, here she was and, it was really happening to her.
She knew that she should go to sleep. Paul would be picking her up at nine and taking her to breakfast at Brennan's. Later, he would give her a tour of New Orleans.
Never before had she felt so alive. Her lips tingled where he had kissed them lightly. Her stomach fluttered when she thought about him. She wondered what it would feel like to hold and kiss him, feeling his body against hers. She fell asleep imagining his hands touching her body.
Right on time, Paul met Joanna in her hotel lobby. After introducing him to Susan, who just had to meet this mysterious fellow, they took a short cab ride to Brennan's Restaurant on Royal Street. They walked into the paneled foyer and were greeted by the general manager of Brennan's.
"Well, look who has decided to grace us with his presence, Monsieur Paul de Strahan."
"Hi Gerald," said Paul, "It's good to see you again. Thanks for getting me a table on such short notice"
"For you, Paul, anything," exclaimed Gerald while shaking Paul's hand and giving him a hug.
"And who is this lovely and charming young lady, you have with you?" he asked.
"This is Joanna Bryant. She is visiting from Virginia."
Gerald turned toward Joanna, bowed slightly and extended his hand, "Virginia! Lovely state. Well, welcome to New Orleans. It is a pleasure to meet you."
Then, smiling at her he continued, "Has this rogue told you any lies about us?"
Joanna laughed, "No, I don't think so... only, that I would enjoy breakfast here."
.... There is more of this story ...