Today's blog and others that I will post on Saturdays, will introduce you to Janette West, the heroine of my trilogy and ongoing series, The War This Side of Heaven. This edited tidbit from The After School Murders is from the very beginning of the first chapter. With the recent release of the second book in the series, Man Trouble, look for The After School Murders to be available at a discount, particularly on Kindle.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1968:
Apprehension gave way to awe as I made my way through the small but growing crowd very early that first day of school. The definite sound of my high heels on the linoleum tile echoed the growing confidence in my heart. Up the stairs and down long hallways, people I’d known for years looked at me without recognition—and smiled! It was almost like being invisible.
There was Mr “Heavy on the Onions” Garcia, the Algebra teacher, unlocking the door to his room. The very mention of my name made the hair on the back of his neck stand to attention. As I walked by, he offered a pleasant smile and said good morning. The question in his eyes said that he wondered who I was.
Reaching the stairwell a few feet away, I released the laughter I held back.
Oh, man! This is gonna be fun!
Upstairs to the third floor of the main building was my first class of the day, French III. Walking briskly, I managed to be the first student to arrive. Instead of the lady I’d known from previous years, a man stood at the blackboard writing his name at the top: Monsieur Conrad. He was a new one, at least to me. Brushing chalk from his hands, he turned to reach for the jacket on the back of his chair when I caught his eye. He did a double take and then unabashedly surveyed me from head to toe.
Obviously Monsieur Conrad assumed I was an adult—as did everyone else. But it was no wonder. The makeup alone must have added ten years or more to my brown-eyed baby face. Then there was my outfit: a gorgeous deep burgundy, three-buttoned silk suit that perfectly hugged my 34”-22”-36” figure. The tailored jacket had pale gold fabric on the deep cut open collar and the cuffs of the 3/4 length sleeves. The unadorned straight skirt had a hemline, which ended two and a half inches below the knee with a kick pleat in the back. My jewelry was gold toned Aurora Borealis earrings with matching necklace. Long, cream colored gloves graced my hands and forearms. My medium brown complexion, darkened by the summer sun, made the coffee colored stockings almost invisible on my legs, except for the seams up the back. Wearing simple dark brown leather pumps with slender ankle straps, the two-inch heels gave my petite, five foot one and a half inch frame a nice little boost. And naturally my hair had to go with all the rest. Thick and black, it was permed straight and trimmed to about three inches past shoulder length, curled and pompadour-ed in front, then down in back for a typical 1940’s do.
Although this teacher certainly liked what he saw, it wasn’t a lecherous look he gave me. More than anything, his expression showed pleasant surprise. For in this era of beads, fringe, plastic mini skirts, plastic flowers, and polyester double knit, my clothes were a serious departure from the latest fashion, even for adults.
Slowly slipping into his suit coat, he focused on my face and hair with interest and curiosity. Then pulling the garment into proper alignment with his body, Monsieur Conrad smiled slightly broader and stepped closer. His nostrils flared as they caught my perfume: roses.
“May I help you?” he asked in a deep, warm baritone voice that almost buckled my knees.
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied pleasantly and took my usual seat, front-row center.
I checked him out, too, but was more discreet. A well tailored three-piece, charcoal gray pinstriped suit, white monogrammed shirt, dark blue tie, gold stickpin, and shiny black leather shoes were the clothes that made this man. The man was even better. Close to six-foot tall, medium build, nice broad shoulders, medium blond hair—slightly wavy, perfect white teeth set off by evenly tanned skin, classic Caucasian facial features, and blue-gray eyes behind rimless glasses. And no wedding ring!
“This is French II and III,” he went on, still trying to convince me of being in the wrong place.
“Mais oui. Je sais bien, Monsieur.”
With my casual acknowledgment of the facts, he realized I was a student. Monsieur’s color deepened with embarrassment and he looked me over again in disbelief before sputtering, “Uh—tres bien, Mademoiselle. C-comment vous appellez vous?”
“Je m’appelle Janette. Janette West.”
My reputation had certainly preceded me. At the sound of my name he gasped and the smile quickly faded and his blushing color faded to ashen. Again he looked me over, then finally exhaled. Though not as wide or genuine, the smile returned shortly. The color took a little longer. At last he said,
“Enchanté, Mademoiselle. I’ve heard a lot about you.”