Girl on the Moon is a fictional holiday series about an extraordinary woman and five people whose lives she touched and changed, set in Shreveport and Bossier City. It originally published in 2016. This is the second installment in the six-part series.
Richard Montgomery was first to arrive on the bridge. He’d parked on Spring Street and climbed the bridge stairs to the eastbound lanes. He stood facing south, in that space where the bridge deck widens, creating a wider walkway. As he waited, he eyed the Red River, taking in city lights from both sides of the murky water. He felt a cold wind as the cars whooshed by from Shreveport to Bossier City.
Was this all an elaborate setup to rob him? he thought. Some ruffian’s dramatic way to get him with a wallet full of money alone after dark.
But Richard was doubtful. He was certain that yesterday’s invitation, signed only as “E.S.,” had been prompted by Elena Sanchez. If Elena had been behind it, then he knew this much for sure: She wouldn’t reach out without a reason. Maybe she was finally ready to take him back — for good. He was ready.
A movement on the bridge interrupted his brooding. A man was walking toward him, silhouetted against headlights. As lights flashed across the man’s face, Richard’s mind filled in details. The shadowed man stopped several feet from him, his right hand balled into a fist.
“I’ve waited a long time to do this,” the man said. The punch landed square in Richard face.
Richard begrudgingly entered the Meadows Museum in Shreveport. It wasn’t his scene, but it could be a profitable visit if played the conversation well.
The 22-year-old was home for the weekend from Baylor University. His father worked with a donor to the Centenary College museum who was interested in hiring Richard for a summer law internship. The businessman had told Richard to meet for discussion at the opening reception of a student art exhibition.
Richard knew the man wanted to see how he’d perform in public and under pressure. He smirked. He could charm anyone, and he fully planned to walk out with an internship and at least one job offer. He’d need a job when he completed his senior year of college in a few months
After concluding his conversation with the businessman, Richard worked the room, chatting up the gathering of arts aficionados. Then he saw a beautiful, caramel-skinned woman about his age across the room. She stood alone, staring at a painting. Overhead light, meant to showcase an oil painting, was positioned to frame the young woman. She was, Richard thought, a living work of art.
He excused himself from a conversation and walked to the woman. She was dressed in a floral cocktail dress, a purple sweater to match and low heels. A peacock-feathered fascinator headpiece sat on her thick, dark brown, shoulder-length hair. She held a small clutch bag in her hands.
She sensed his approach. The light in her deep brown eyes prompted him to smile. He stopped beside her, looking at the painting.
“It’s a bit dark and morbid, don’t you think?” he said.
The painting was of an older, graying couple sitting on a bench, their backs to the viewer. They held hands between them as they looked to the crescent moon overhead. Speckles of stars twinkled around them. It was painted in deep reds, blues, purples and highlights of white against a black backdrop. Still and otherworldly, he thought.
“That’s part of what I like about it,” the woman said. “I prefer night over day. More peaceful.”
“It’s unrealistic, almost animated,” he replied. “The sky looking like that in real life is as possible as there being true love and happily-ever-afters.”
“I’d like to think it’s me someday,” she said, giving a small smile. “True love still exists.”
“Is this your favorite piece here?” he asked, glancing around at walls bearing everything from oils to acrylics to charcoal sketches and sculptures on columns.
“It should be. I painted it.”
She pointed to a scribble in the lower right corner of the painting.
“Elena Sanchez,” she said.
“Well, Miss Sanchez, you’re the romantic type. I can’t say I am.”
“That’s only because you hadn’t met the right woman to make your heart grow, Mr. Grinch,” she said.
Her voice was bold, but her fidgeting hands on her purse betrayed that she she was nervous about flirting. He knew how to help her. He’d flirt back.
“I guess you have a lot of work to do,” he said, then smiled coyly.
For the rest of the evening the young pair walked from piece to piece, discussing each work and the artist’s style and technique. Richard saw the art in new ways. She saw things on the canvas in her own way, giving clarity to and revealing meaning in works that at first held nothing for him.
“You can’t always take it at face value,” Elena said. “There’s something special in every piece. The fun part is finding it.”
Elena, Richard learned, was a fine arts student. She worked in acrylic paints to create nighttime scenes of people in simple activities: ice skating, walking a dog, running through a playground, climbing a tree. And, always, with full moon, half moon or a sliver of a crescent moon in the scene.
She also designed and made dresses and headwear, including the dress and fascinator she’d worn to the exhibition reception. She was a junior at Centenary College. Her family lived just outside of Alexandria, Louisiana.
She wasn’t like the girls he was used to meeting. She was daring, smart and confident, yet humble and shy. He’d been raised to be assertive and rational and strong-headed, necessary to achieve his goals — rather, his parents’ goals for him.
He’d been born and raised in Shreveport. His family dated back generations and were influential in Louisiana — politicians, judges, businessmen. He, and his parents, had steered him along a career path to join them.
He wished he were as brave and bold as Elena. Maybe then he’d care less about his family’s legacy and even less about his mother’s heavy thumb on his neck. He’d break out of family expectations and pursue his love of music. Move to Nashville to be a producer, perhaps. Or start a music studio in Shreveport and have live recording sessions and stage concerts with the best musicians in the world. He’d start his legacy.
But his parents held his trust fund, his career connections and, therefore, his life. He was trapped. Unless . . . Elena could be his escape. She was a moon shining over his dark world.
Elena and Richard’s relationship grew over phone calls. And occasional brief dates, whenever Richard could sneak back from Baylor in Waco, not telling his family he was in Shreveport. He assured Elena secrecy was for the best.
After graduation, he moved back to Shreveport. He spent as much time with her as possible. They stayed sheltered in her bedroom inside the Highland neighborhood house she shared with three roommates. They ordered carryout from Strawn’s Eat Shop on Kings Highway and ate picnic-style on the floor. He put together music playlists on her computer and told her about his favorite musicians. She worked at her easel painting or sat next to him sketching. The outside world was an inevitable doom they both felt, but didn’t speak of.
Then, on the night of July 4, they ventured outside to watch fireworks blasting over the Red River in the distance. He held her tightly and whispered three words in her ear. She smiled, already knowing and sharing his same sentiments.
“I love you.”
Six months into dating, Richard came into the boutique where Elena worked part time as a seamstress. His face was flushed, and he struggled to look into her eyes.
The boutique was Gossamer Gowns, a dress shop on Kings Highway. The owner, Annie Lattimore, loved Elena and allowed Richard to meet her in the back office for lunch when he could get away from the law office.
“Richard, what is it?” Elena said. She felt her stomach turn.
“She wants to meet you,” he mumbled.
Even as she asked, Elena knew. His mother. She’d heard the stories about Claire Montgomery: a lioness standing over the Montgomery pride. And certainly no fool. Now she had Elena headed to the lioness’s den.
Elena spent the week trying to find the perfect thing to wear. Her friends tried to calm her, but she felt butterflies flipping inside. I’m was worrying herself needlessly, she told herself. Relax. She decided to wear her lucky dress and fascinator, same as for her first exhibition on the evening she’d met Richard.
Dinner began well enough with just the four of them — Richard, his mother and father, Charles Montgomery, at the table in the family dining room of their South Highlands home. But as the conversation continued, his parents’ smiles became less genuine and more put on, particularly when she began to share her family background and her goal to be a professional painter and fashion designer.
Feeling anxious, Elena excused herself to use the guest bathroom set off from the dining room. Inside, she could hear bits of conversation.
“She’s not good enough, Richard… She’s a fling, you understand?… You can’t waste your time with her… It’s time you grew up and found a real woman… She can only be after your money… You need someone who can help elevate your career… You’ll thank us someday…”
Elena shook with anger. She knelt over the toilet and wretched. She flushed the toilet, cleaned herself up and returned to the dining room with her head up.
“Thank you for dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery. I have to be at work early in the morning, so I’ll have to go now,” Elena said.
She turned and walked out the front door. A few moments later, Richard followed. He drove her home in silence.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said. He looked ahead, deep in thought, and drove off as she opened the door to her house. She felt the queasiness return and ran into the duplex and then into the bathroom, making it just in time.
She didn’t hear from or see Richard for another two months. By then, her pregnant belly was already showing.
MORE FROM THE SERIES
DAY ONE: The invitation
DAY THREE: Sam Fulton
DAY FOUR: Serena Maxwell
DAY FIVE: Natasha Radner
DAY SIX: New Year’s Eve