Under the Bayou Moon – Chapter 1 Excerpt

UNDER THE BAYOU MOON
by
Valerie Fraser Luesse
Categories: Fiction / Christian / Historical
Publisher: Revell

Date of Publication: August 3, 2021

Number of Pages: 352

Scroll down for the giveaway!

When Ellie Fields accepts a teaching job in a tiny Louisiana town deep in bayou country in 1949, she knows her life will change–but she could never imagine just how dramatically.

Though rightfully suspicious of outsiders, who have threatened both their language and their unique culture, most of the residents come to appreciate the young and idealistic schoolteacher, and she’s soon teaching just about everyone, despite opposition from both the school board and a politician with ulterior motives. Yet it’s the lessons Ellie herself will learn–from new friends, a captivating Cajun fisherman, and even a legendary white alligator haunting the bayou–that will make all the difference.

Take a step away from the familiar and enter the shadowy waters of bayou country for a story of risk, resilience, and romance.

Excerpt

FROM CHAPTER ONE OF

UNDER THE BAYOU MOON

BY VALERIE FRASER LUESSE

CLICK TO READ THE PROLOGUE ON STORIES UNDER STARLIGHT BLOG

Fall 1949

Ellie Fields sat in a bustling marina cafe in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, watching a train make its crossing and wondering what it would be like to ride two rails suspended in air, the water below, the sky above.

“That be all for you, hon?”

Ellie smiled up at the waitress standing next to her table, holding a pot of coffee. She was wearing a pink uniform with a white apron and a name tag shaped like a dolphin. Her hair was strawberry blonde, teased and pinned into a French twist in the back. She looked about forty.

“That’s all, thanks,” Ellie said. “Hey, I like your name. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman named Geri before.”

The waitress rolled her eyes. “It’s short for Gertrude! Can you believe my mama hung that on me? It was her grandmother’s name.”

“You’re definitely more of a Geri. I’m Ellie—short for Juliet. My little brother couldn’t pronounce the j or the l, so he renamed me. I was ‘Eh-we’ till he got the hang of the l.”

Geri put her hand on her hip. “It’s not fair that your family gets to label you for life, is it?”

“No, it’s not.”

“I’ll be right back with your ticket, hon,” Geri said, pointing another customer to a booth on her way back to the counter.

Ellie looked out the window next to her table. The engine of the train had long since passed the trestle over the bay, while the caboose was still some distance away—one had yet to see what was already a memory for the other, yet they were part of the same machine.

She reached into her purse and pulled out a letter she had folded and unfolded, read and reread countless times since it arrived in her parents’ mailbox in March. She spread it out on the table in front of her. Something about the letter gave her courage, which she needed right now. One more read couldn’t hurt.

March 1, 1949

Dear Miss Fields,

We have never met, but I am the town physician in Bernadette, Louisiana, where it is my understanding that you have been offered a teaching position. While I have little influence with the school board, I do have one friend remaining among its members. He was struck by your application and thought I might be as well, so he forwarded a copy to my office. I was especially drawn to the way you answered, “Why do you want this position?” I believe I heard great sincerity in your answer: “I want to serve where I am most needed and to use whatever gifts God has given me to make the world a better place, especially for children.”

Miss Fields, you will find no children in greater need of a gifted teacher than those in Bernadette, nor will you ever find another place where your efforts will be more appreciated. Should you decide to accept the position and join our little community, my wife and I will offer you our wholehearted support and will be happy to provide housing, free of charge. It might not be luxurious, but it will be safe and comfortable.

Sincerely,

Arthur Talbert, MD

“Here ya go, hon,” Geri said as she laid a ticket on the table, drawing Ellie’s attention away from the letter and back to the journey at hand.

“Could you tell me how far I am from New Orleans, Geri?”

“Gonna do a little partyin’?” Geri gave her a smile and a wink.

Ellie pictured herself embracing with abandon the revelry on Bourbon Street and shook her head. “I’m afraid a Birmingham ballroom on New Year’s Eve is about as wild as I get. I just took a teaching job in a little town called Bernadette, Louisiana. It’s supposed to be about eighty miles or so from New Orleans. Thought I’d stop over and see the city on my way.”

“Well, congrats on the new job, hon! You’re not too far. Just keep followin’ 90 and you’ll be there in about an hour. Some people call Bay St. Louis ‘Little New Orleans’ on accounta we get so many summer people from over there. You from here in Mississippi?”

“No, I’m from a tiny little town you never heard of—Maribelle, Alabama.”

“And here I thought you was headed to the backwoods, but Bernadette might be a step up for you.” Geri laughed and winked at her again.

Ellie remembered how a couple of Atlanta girls who lived down the hall at her college dorm always gave her grief about coming from a town that “didn’t even get a dot” on the state map. “If Bernadette has more than one traffic light, ” she told Geri, “it’ll be a step up, alright.”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that,” the waitress assured her. “No shame in bein’ a small-town girl. But now, you watch yourself on the road—’specially in New Orleans. All them one-ways in the Quarter’s just murder to figure out your first time around. And you’re gonna wind your way through some bayou country before you get there. I know we’re supposed to be all modern and everything now that the war’s over and done with, but there’s some deserted drivin’ between here and there. Make sure you fill up before you leave, okay?”

“I will—thanks, Geri.”

The waitress stared down at Ellie and shook her head. “You got a face like an angel, you know that? You any kin to that woman in Casablanca?”

“No.” Ellie smiled. “But thank you.”

“You need to get you one of them hats that dips down over your eye like she wore. I bet that’d look real good on you.”

“Maybe I’ll find one in the French Quarter.”

“You be careful in the Quarter, you hear?”

“I will,” Ellie said, holding up her right hand. “Word of honor. Thanks for looking out for me.”

Geri gave her another wink and a wave before hurrying to grab a water pitcher from the counter and greet a new customer. Ellie left a tip and then paid her check at the register.

CLICK TO CONTINUE READING CHAPTER ONE

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac, Almost Home, and The Key to Everything, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. A graduate of Auburn University and Baylor University, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave.

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