THE LOVE POTION
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Houma, Louisiana, 1978
"You wanna dance?"
"No!" Sylvie looked with horror at a red-faced
Lucien LeDeux. He stood before her, cowlick standing at attention, in his shiny, Sunday
"No?" he asked, the blush of embarrassment on his
dark-skinned face deepening to anger. "Why? Sylvie Fontaine is too good for me?"
He made a derisive tsk-ing sound by clicking his tongue against his teeth. "A
high-class cat and a Cajun swamp rat? Talk about!"
Oh, it was just like that awful Luc to single her out at her
first boy-girl dance at Our Lady of the Bayou School! Painfully shy, she glanced quickly
around the crepe-paper festooned cafeteria to see if any of her classmates, or Sister
Colette, were watching as the wickedest boy in the whole parish asked her to dance.
"You are too bad for anyone, Luc LeDeux. But not because you're Cajun. Because you
His lips curved into a nasty smirk. "And you are too
goody-goody, Sylvie-chatte. Here kitty, here kitty. Meow." He danced around
her in a teasing Acadian shuffle.
"Go away," she urged in a mortified whisper.
He stared at her for a long moment, then turned to walk
away. Over his shoulder he tossed a parting shot, "Ah, well, I ain't gonna die of a
broken heart. But someday, Sylvie, you're gonna beg me to dance with you, I
"And it's gonna be real close and slooow. And...and it
will prob'ly be sexy, too. Yep, we'll dance together...naked."
She could tell that the latter was a last-minute
inspiration, not intended to be mean or harassing, but it was so outrageous, even for Luc,
that Sylvie gasped for breath. In all likelihood, he got the idea from those dirty
magazines he and the other boys were always snickering over at the far end of the
playground. But twelve-year-old boys shouldn't have such indecent thoughts about
twelve-year-old girls. At least, Sylvie didn't think they should. She would have to ask
her best friend Blanche later. Blanche had had the good sense to hide out in the coat room
with a forbidden romance novel, instead of coming inside to the dance. Sylvie wished she
had been so wise.
"You better go to confession, Luc. Right now. Father
Phillipe will give you a penance of fifty Hail Marys, for sure." Fifty seemed like an
extremely high number to her. The most she ever got was three.
"I'll just add it to the hundred from last week,
then," he said with a shrug and an I-gotcha wink.
Luc was swaggering now toward Mary-Louise Delacroix, who had
the distinction of being the only girl in sixth grade with noticeable breasts. Mary-Louise
smiled at Luc as if he was a sweet beignet.
"I hate you, Luc," she called tearfully to his
back. His step faltered, and she saw his ears grow pink. "I really do."
Just before he reached Mary-Louise, Luc turned, his black
eyes dancing mischievously. And he mouthed a silent message to her, "Naked
From that day forward, Lucien LeDeux became the plague of
Sylvie Fontaine's life.
Houma, Louisiana, 1999
Samson was a stud, no doubt about it. Testosterone on the
hoof. A walking hormone magnet.
With his usual raw animal arrogance, he stepped through the
low doorway, then reared up, bracing a shoulder against the glass wall. Nostrils flaring
and body quivering with tension, he surveyed the far corner where his "harem"
huddled together in fear.
Or was it anticipation?
Immediately, his beady eyes honed in on one female...
Delilah. She was nibbling on a tiny red jelly bean. It
mattered not that her mousy brown hair stood up in spikes, unlike the renowned beauty of
her namesake. Or that she darted her head this way and that, seeking escape...a clear
contradiction to the famed Biblical siren who supposedly craved sexual attention. At the
same time, her timid glance kept coming back to Samson. Clearly, she was attracted,
Samson was not so shy. His widespread stance and outthrust
pelvis signaled body language as old as time. "I am male. I am aroused. And I
want you." There would be no escape for Delilah. Not from this glass-walled
prison. Not from the scurvy rat who would have his way with her.
But Samson was a cool dude. He didn't force his attentions
on any female. He didn't have to. Snagging her gaze, Samson held his prey transfixed...the
first step in eroding her defenses. Then he waited.
Delilah made a little squealing sound of protest, but
couldn't seem to break the eye contact. It was as if she were under some spell. Nervously,
she gulped down her jelly bean, followed by two more, a yellow and a green. Gradually her
body relaxed, and her eyes dilated with some strong emotion. The only thing missing from
her surrender was the white flag.
Samson moved forward slowly, cutting Delilah from the pack.
Every movement he made, from narrowed eyes to self-assured body gestures, bespoke a fever
pitch of sexual arousal. Delilah was becoming equally affected, a shivering mass of
excitement, the closer he got.
Acting swiftly, Samson pounced on Delilah, brutishly, giving
her no chance for second thoughts. Without foreplay, he mounted her and was soon thrusting
frantically, as if he had not done this a hundred times before. As if they would get no
other chance to repeat the ecstasy.
Then, when they were both exhausted with sexual satiety and
the door to Delilah's "prison" swung open providing a means of escape, Delilah
did the strangest thing. Instead of darting for freedom, she cuddled next to Samson and
nuzzled his neck. The victim was staying with her seducer, by choice, even after
the fever had passed. It was almost as if Delilah loved Samson. Amazing!
Amazing...because Samson really was a rat.
"I did it! I did it!" Dr. Sylvie Fontaine shrieked
with exhilaration. "Move over, Viagra. Here comes JBX...`The Jelly Bean Fix.'"
Her best friend, Blanche Broussard, stood with her arms
crossed over her chest, shaking her head at what she must consider an overexuberant
reaction on Sylvie's part to a mere scientific experiment. Mere? There was
nothing mere about this. It was so much more...the breakthrough of the century!
Sylvie had just run the hundredth trial run on her JBX
project...the hundredth successful trial run. Despite her methodical,
time-consuming analyses, she was still stunned at the fact staring her in the
face...through two sets of beady, sex-glazed eyes.
"I have invented an honest-to-God, legitimate love
potion," she said in an awe-filled whisper. "In two weeks the human experiments
will begin, but there's no doubt as to the outcome."
Unable to contain her elation, Sylvie boogied a little
victory dance around her research lab, witnessed only by a bunch of unimpressed rats and
the equally unimpressed Blanche.
"Yeech!" Blance had a profound dislike for rodents
type, even the cute, miniature variety that Sylvie used
which were more like large mice, and she stood tentatively on the far side of the room,
away from the animal cages. She brushed a hand with perfectly manicured lavender nails
over the front of her long, gauzy dress, as if she might be contaminated, even from that
In her white lab coat, plain linen shirt and jeans, Sylvie
felt frumpy and staid next to Blanche, but after more than thirty years of
friendship...thirty-three, if you counted them lying next to each other in high-wheeled,
designer carriages as their nannies strolled them to Magnolia Park as babies...she'd long
ago given up on competing with Blanche's beauty or flair for style. "Really, Sylv,
you've gotta get a personal life. Watching rats have sex is not...well, normal."
"Is that a professional opinion? From `The Love
Astrologer'?" Sylvie asked with a grin. Blanche was a self-trained astrologer, a
local radio celebrity whose "love horoscopes" were must listening every morning
across Louisiana--a combination star chart analysis and Creole philosophy for daily
"I develop horoscopes for all aspects of life, not just
love charts," Blanche corrected with a little harrumphing sound of consternation.
"But you're changing the subject, Sylv." She let out a whoosh of exasperation.
"You've been cooped up in this dreary place for too long, hon."
"Do you think this is dreary?" Sylvie was so used
to the dim light lab rats preferred that she no longer noticed. "You just don't get
it, Blanche. I have invented a love potion...a love potion!"
"Well, big whoop! A potion to reduce thighs...now that
I could get excited about."
"As if you have to worry about your thighs!"
Sylvie made several more notes on her clipboard before casting a sidelong glance of
disgust at Blanche's perfect figure. At five-foot-ten, Blanche didn't carry an ounce of
excess fat. Sylvie, a good four inches shorter, didn't either, but she had to work at it
every single day. Darn it!
"Every woman in the world has to worry about her
thighs, honey. Especially after they pass the big Three-Oh. Forget cellulite. Everything
starts to swell up or slip down then."
"That's precisely why my discovery is so important. It
moves the emphasis away from physical appearance."
"With rat aphrodisiacs? Gross!"
Blanche just didn't understand.
In this spare room, off the main laboratories of Terrebonne
Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a company that dealt almost exclusively with birth control and
hormone replacement products, Sylvia had been conducting her experiments for the past year
on dozens of rodent couples in their glass-walled cages. It hadn't started out that way.
She'd been immersed in her regular work involving progesterone when she noticed an
elevation in pheromone levels as different ingredients were manipulated. Out of that had
grown her JBX Project, which would be of special interest to any
for-profit company, especially after the way Pfizer stock
had almost doubled in price following the announcement in mid '98 of its little blue pill.
Of course, there was a world of difference between Viagra
and JBX, but they were both drugs which could enhance a person's love life. The public
would love it...there was no doubt about that fact, in Sylvie's mind.
She'd given her chemical formula to just the male rat, the
male and female, just the female, two males, two females, every combination possible.
She'd adjusted the proportions, measured heart rates and blood pressure, tested blood
samples, studied changes in physical characteristics. Samson and Delilah were the standard
against which all the other "guinea pigs" were studied, and they'd proven in
more than a hundred encounters that physical and emotional attraction could be directed on
a short-term basis. Oh, the idea of inciting or heightening lust had been around
since the beginning of time. Everything from amulets to oysters. And, of course, Viagra.
But being able to orchestrate the emotions, perhaps even love itself, through chemistry,
now that was a bigtime breakthrough.
"Isn't this illegal or something, hon? Drugging someone
without their permission?"
"Well, in the wrong hands it could be problematic, but
that will never happen...well, any more than Viagra, or any other substance is misused.
Besides, it will be at least a year before we're ready to go public with this...lots of
time to tackle those little wrinkles."
"But it sounds sort of like that date rape drug,
GHB...you know, the one they call `Easy Lay'."
"Absolutely not! Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid knocks a
person out, my love potion turns them on...emotionally. Well, physically, too,
but the most important part is that the receiving party is attracted temporarily, on an
emotional level, lasting anywhere from a few days to several weeks."
"I just don't know, Sylvie."
"Think about it, Blanche...how many times you and I
have said that the mating game is based too much on youth and physical appearance...that
men and women often overlook the perfect partner. This potion gives that perfect person an
opportunity to be with the mate they want, to have that person get to know the real
individual. Hopefully, when the potion wears off, the lovin' feelings will remain."
"But the ethics of it all! The manipulation!"
"Hah! How is this any more unethical than following the
advice of that popular book The Rules? Or wearing a push-up bra? Or seductive
perfume? Health food stores are loaded with bottled love aids. Heck, women have been
manipulating men, and vice-versa, for centuries, since Eve gave Adam the apple."
"I know you've worked hard to conquer your shyness,
Sylvie, but I still can't visualize you setting yourself up for the publicity this would
engender. You would be the spokesperson for this potion when it hits the market,
"No! Never!" She shivered with distaste at the
notion of making a spectacle of herself, not having come that far in her shyness therapy.
But she did want credit for her work. Coming from a family of overachievers, it was her
turn to get some much overdue credit. Fame and fortune, without being the deer in the
headlights, that's what she wanted.
"Your company might feel differently."
She shook her head. "I may be working in Terrebonne
facilities, but this is my project. All the project data is stored in my safety deposit
box, and the essentials of my everyday work are kept in that locked briefcase," she
said, pointing to the desk, "which I carry home with me every day. I have no interest
in being personally associated with this product in the public eye, but I do expect
recognition behind the scenes and in the professional scientific community."
"This is all about your boss, isn't it, Sylv?"
Blanche walked over to the coffee maker in the corner, the multi-colored bands of purple
in her skirt shimmering in the thin stream of sunlight coming through the single window.
"Partly," Sylvie admitted, taking one of the cups
her friend handed to her. Before she continued, she took a sip, savoring as always the
pungent scent of the thick, black Creole coffee, with enough caffeine to jumpstart a
corpse. In fact, it was one of the secret ingredients in her love potion formula--an idea
she'd gotten from the voodoo ritual handbook that had once belonged to her great
grandmother many times removed, Marie Baptiste, the demented antebellum mistress of a
sugar plantation out on Bayou Noir. "I mean, I didn't start this experiment with
Charles in mind, but once I saw the implications, I knew that I would volunteer to be one
of the dozen female guinea pigs when the human experiments began, and Charles would be one
of the dozen male targets. It took a little convincing, but eventually he agreed...for the
sake of the company. We're starting in two weeks."
"Charles Henderson is a middle-aged dweeb...an
executive stick-in-the-mud. Bo-o-o-ring, with a capital B," Blanche asserted.
"You can do ten times better than him. Besides, you're approaching this whole
seduction business wrong. You zap a man with a love potion and it takes all the mystery
out of romance. What's wrong with the old-fashioned way of falling in love?"
"Ah, but that's why I've been thinking that I would be
better off with a man like Charles."
"Honey, you've been dating the wrong men if you think
that. I wonder if you realize what you're doing here."
"I know exactly what I'm doing. No more handsome men
with overinflated egos. No more BMW-driving, bottled water-drinking, exercise-addicted,
vitamin-conscious, suntanned hunks of testosterone in Gucci loafers. No more boring nights
of deep discussions on the lofty subjects of golf handicaps or 401K portfolios or mega-amp
woofers. It's time for a 180 degree turn in my life. All I want now is a quiet, scholarly
type, like Charles...or a reasonable facsimile. A companion. A husband. A man to make a
home with me and give me children. Lots of them." She sighed with frustration,
knowing she was failing miserably in explaining her motives, especially since tears of
concern were welling in Blanche's eyes.
"Where's the sizzle in that picture, my friend?"
"I don't need sizzle." Sylvie raised her chin
"Sylvie Marie Fontaine!" Blanche chastised,
setting down her coffee and planting her hands on her hips. "Everyone needs sizzle.
Are you sure there's Creole blood flowing through your veins? Every Creole woman has
passion in her soul."
Oh, there was Creole blood in her veins all right. Some
families prided themselves on having ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. Sylvie's
family took great pride in being one of the original white Creole families of French or
Spanish descent who settled in the Louisiana colony centuries ago.
Sylvie laughed at the notion of anyone questioning her
Creole bloodlines. Meanwhile, Blanche swiped at her tears with a tissue, careful not to
mar her make-up.
"Do you really believe my mother, or my grandmother,
have experienced a lustful day in their lives? Or Aunt Margo or Aunt Madeline? Even my
cousin, Valerie?" She made an exaggerated shiver of distaste. Valerie was the perfect
example of Breaux womanhood, held up to her as a role model from the time Sylvie
demonstrated her first example of profound shyness as a young girl. Shyness and timidity
in any form were considered a weakness in the Breaux family...a cancer to be rooted out
and hidden from public display.
"Well, in every family there's an aberration,"
"Aberration about says it all," she said with a
sigh. In Sylvie's matriarchal Breaux family, there were no men. Mostly, they just gave up
and died under all that feminine domination. In her family, the women didn't divorce their
men; they buried them. The Breaux women were known throughout Louisiana as the Ice Breaux,
short for Ice Brotherhood, a slur on their femininity, as well as recognition of their
cold ruthlessness in pursuing their goals. Her mother, Inez Breaux-Fontaine, was a state
legislator with aspirations for the U.S. Congress. Her grandmother, Dixie Breaux, was a
hard-as-nails oil lobbyist. Her aunts, Margo and Madeline Breaux, had stopped at nothing
in setting up their mail-order tea dynasty. Valerie Breaux, daughter of her deceased Uncle
Henri, made no apologies for her roughshod, fast-track career path from jury consultant to
Court TV anchor.
The look of compassion in Blanche's eyes said, without
words, that she understood perfectly how much of Sylvie's present actions was based, deep
down, on lifelong insecurities stemming from her family. With a shrug of resignation,
Blanche asked, "So, when are you going to do the deed?"
"Soon. Two weeks...a month, at most. We're still
synchronizing schedules for all the test candidates." Sylvie pointed to a petri dish
filled with dozens of jelly beans.
"Jelly beans?" Blanche raised an eyebrow in
"Yep. My lab rats like them, and...oh, I might as well
tell you. Charles has a passion for jelly beans. too."
Blanche snorted with disgust. "It's about the only
thing he's ever demonstrated a passion for."
Sylvie shot her a glance of condemnation for that snide
remark, even though it was true that Charles hadn't succumbed to any of the normal hints
and downright obvious, normal seduction techniques she'd tried the past year.
"Would they work for anyone?" Blanche picked up a
handful and let them slip through her fingers. "I mean, if I give them to some guy,
would they work for me?"
"Not those. They contain my enzymes. In order for them
to work for you, your enzymes...in fact, putting your simple saliva, or a drop of blood,
even a hair, inside a blind set of jelly beans, like those over there...would work for
you. Along with my secret ingredients, of course." She pointed to her briefcase where
a plastic ziplock bag held dozens of the multi-colored candies.
"Be careful, honey," Blanche warned as she picked
up her purse and prepared to leave. "Sometimes the worst thing that can happen in
life is we get what we wish for."
Sylvie refused to let Blanche's admonition dampen her
spirits. Nothing could ruin her good mood today.
Lucien LeDeux was in a lousy mood.
He was supposed to be on a two-week vacation. The crawfish
were fat and sluggish this summer, and he'd much rather be down in the bayou checking his
nets than cruising into the sweltering city at rush hour. But duty called in the form of
entrapment...by his own conniving brother.
"You are in some kind of wild-ass lousy mood," his
brother René griped from the passenger seat of his jeep where he was holding onto the
crash bar with white knuckles. The right door had fallen off two months ago, and Luc
hadn't bothered to replace it. "I think it's Sylvie Fontaine that has the steam
risin' from your ears."
Sometimes René had a death wish when it came to his running
"I think you've had the hots for her since we were
kids. I think your testiness is just a cover-up for deeper feelings. I think you're afraid
"I think you better shut up, René. I only do one good
thing a year, and your tab is runnin' out fast."
"Cool your jets, man. I was just pointin' out that you
and Sylvie are--"
"Aaiiee! Knock off the love connection crap, René, or
I'm outta here."
"Dieu, if you don't wanna help, I can get
"I should be so lucky."
"Maybe F. Lee Bailey is available. Or Roy Black. Oooh,
ooh, ooh...how about that guy with the fringed leather jacket...Jerry whatshisname?"
"Hah! You and I both know there isn't another attorney
who'd take on your case."
"Mais, oui, but then I am fortunate to get
`The Swamp Solicitor.'" René smirked at him.
Luc gritted his teeth and refused to rise to that particular
bait, but he took great delight in pressing his foot to the accelerator and speeding down
the highway, hitting every pothole the parish road crew had missed in the past few years.
He got grim satisfaction from the surreptitious sign of the cross René made on his chest.
"I shouldn't have put you in this spot, Luc."
René's sudden contriteness surprised him. "You had no
choice," Luc admitted. "C'est ein affair ŕ pus finir." It was a
much-used Cajun saying but particularly applicable in this case. "It's a thing that
has no end."
René nodded. "Perhaps we can finally put an end to
The hopeful note in his brother's voice tore at Luc's heart.
It didn't matter if it was a seven-year-old René looking up to a ten-year-old Luc for
answers, or a thirty-year-old René and a thirty-three-year-old Luc. Their father's
misdeeds were never-ending. The scars never got a chance to heal.
Luc's stereo suddenly kicked on, and René's static-y voice
"Bayou man is a woman' delight.
Catch fish all the day
And make love all the night.
Don' matter if he rough
Like a scaly red snapper.
Long as he give his baby enough
Good hot Cajun lovin'..."
Even the raucous demo tape of René's couldn't raise his
spirits now. His brother was an excellent smalltime commercial fisherman, a fair singer
and accordionist on the side, and a horrible lyricist. But he fancied himself the next
Garth Brooks of the Bayou with his combination of country, zydeco and Cajun music which he
played off-nights from one dive to the other across Louisiana.
Swerving his jeep off the highway, he ignored the sounds of
a half dozen horns blasting behind him. His turn signal hadn't been working for the past
He took a quick look at the crowded parking lot of
Terrebonne Pharmaceuticals and muttered, "That figures!" Without hesitation, he
pulled his jeep into the "No Parking" slot reserved for the company president.
The car continued to rumble even after he turned off the ignition, finally coming to a
halt with a loud belch from its rear end.
"Your car needs a tune-up," René advised,
"My life needs a tune-up."
Luc glanced over at his brother to see what that terse
"You're a pain in the ass. A royal chew rouge."
René was grinning at him.
"I know." Luc couldn't help but grin back.
"Let's hope Sylvie Fontaine has a taste for
pain-in-the-ass, over-the-hill Cajuns."
"Oh, yeah! Ab-so-loot-ly!" He shook his head with
the futility of this whole mission. "René, my agreeing to come here today isn't
about impressing Sylvie. As if I could!"
"It wouldn't hurt you to try. You don't have to nail
her, or nothin'. Just be nice."
Pour l'amour de Dieu! Where does René get these ideas?
"Nail her? Where did that brain blip come from anyhow? Me and Bunson Burner Barbie?
Ha, ha, ha." He shivered with exaggerated distaste.
Come to think of it, he always felt kind of shivery when he
was around Sylvie...nauseous, actually. He couldn't stand the woman. Never could. Without
a word...just a toss of her aristocratic head...she always managed to reduce him to the
little, ill-clothed, bad boy from the bayous, anxious for a favor from an uptown Creole
girl. Not that he ever showed it. Instead, he played down to her expectations.
"I still can't see why I have to be the one to approach
her, René. You know her, too. I remember her greeting you at the Crawfish Festival last
summer. Seems to me she gave you a big hug of welcome. `Oooh, René, it was so sweet of
your band to come play for us.'" The last he mimicked in a high falsetto voice, then
added in a grumble, "All I got was her usual frown."
"René laughed. "Sylvie likes you, deep
"It must be real deep."
"Here," René said, offering him the rear view
mirror which he picked up off the floor. "Your hair looks like a bayou hurricane just
Luc raked his fingers through his windblown hair, then gave
up. Was he seriously buying into René's warped scheme for impressing Sylvie?
"I still say you should have worn a suit."
"A suit! What, you don't like the way I'm dressed
now?" He looked down at his jeans and the black tee shirt emblazoned with the logo
"Proud to be a Coonass." He lifted his chin defensively. "My clothes are
In truth, his clothes were always clean. Rumpled, yeah. But
always, always clean. One time Sylvie had looked kinda funny at his muddy jeans and
sniffed, as if he smelled. Didn't matter that he was only eight years old at the time. His
clothes were never dirty again, even when he'd had to wash them in cold bayou stream water
in an enamel basin at night, along with those of his younger brothers Remy and René, and
wear them damp to school in the morning. A slap or two from his father would be thrown in
there somewhere. By mid-morning his head would often droop with exhaustion and Sister
Colette would rap him awake with a ruler to the head, deriding, "You bad boy, you!
You're never going to amount to anything but a gougut...a slovenly, stupid
Lordy, he hadn't thought of that in years. No wonder it
rankled like hell that he had to go to Ms. Goody Two-Shoes for a favor today.
"Well, come on," he urged then as he climbed over
the driver's door, which was rusted shut. "Time to put our pirogue in the water and
see if we float or sink."
"Uh, me, I think I'll stay here. Better you should
dazzle Sylvie with your moves, in private."
Moves? What moves? Watching his brother squirm
uncomfortably in the seat, avoiding his eyes, he realized that he'd been set up good and
proper. René had never intended to come in with him. Whatever. He might as well get it
over with. Maybe he'd still get in an hour or two of fishing tonight.
"Bonne chance," René called after him as
he headed for the front entrance of the pharmaceutical research company, where workers
were beginning to stream out, ending their work day.
Yep, it is a thing without end, he decided. Sa
fini pas. And it wasn't his father he was thinking of now as the never-ending pain.
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