Jolie could see Hutch Landry standing at the edge of the bayou just
outside the backdoor of his aging frame house. The structure stood
fourteen feet off the ground as a guard against the waterway that was
threatening to overflow its banks. With the window down on her SUV, she
could smell salt blowing in from the Gulf, despite the eighty miles of
marsh and highway separating her from its beaches. The clouds wove a
thick blanket of gray over the tops of the cypress trees. She saw him
push at the mud with a fallen branch from the pecan tree overhead, and
watched as the hem of his blue jeans soaked up the black water. A storm
was brewing; she felt the change in pressure by way of the pounding in
When her midnight blue Jeep Cherokee finally reached his driveway, the
gravel cracked beneath the tires. She saw him check the bayou like he
was watching the willowy fog lift from the water, then he turned to
approach the vehicle. He didn’t know her, and as he squinted through
the windshield she was reminded how far removed she was from her urban
Jolie had already learned that anonymity was a rarity in Follette,
Louisiana. She also knew Hutch had graduated from Follette Academy four
years before, with virtually anyone his age who ever bothered to stop
and stay in the town of four thousand. There was no compelling reason
for a stranger to stay; the place was a haven for bad omens. Or so she
She checked the rearview mirror, even though she knew he was looking. It
bothered her a bit that she resembled most of the girls she went to
college with. Her dark hair had been streaked with blonde highlights,
and she wore it long just the way most coeds did. She was sporting a
pair of jeans, and a purple and gold LSU T-shirt that made her blue eyes
iridescent in the morning light. At least there was that. Her eyes were
amazing and she knew it. She pressed her lips together and slid from the
Jeep, ready to finally meet him.
When she reached out to shake his hand, his skin was rough and his grip
firm. He obviously worked harder than the soft-skinned boys at school.
“Oh, my gosh, it’s so beautiful here,” she gushed.
He seemed to follow her stare to the Spanish moss hanging on the cypress
trees above his head. “You obviously haven’t been here long.”
Jolie hadn’t expected him to be good looking. The teenage girl at the
bait shop had wrinkled her nose when she spoke of him, and Jolie was
expecting something more akin to the river-rats that hung out on the
Amite River near home. Hutch was not a river-rat, or at least he
didn’t dress like one. His jeans were low-flung like the kids she went
to school with, his brown hair fell across his forehead and had been
shaved in a neat square across his neck. He was more imposing than the
figure she’d conjured up in her imagination on the short drive over.
She figured him for six-feet or maybe an inch taller, and his body was
muscular from whatever kept him occupied in the tiny town.
“I’m Jolie Bourque.” She felt her face soften as relief washed
over her. The possible key to her research was unaffected and she felt
Hutch leaned against the bumper of his ancient Chevy truck and pulled at
a chip of red paint on the rusty tailgate. “Yeah, well, what can I do
for ya, Jolie Bourque?”
Her face warmed as she willed her eyes to leave his mouth. She wanted
him to see the self-assured woman she was pretending to be, but she
stuttered as she shoved her keys into the pocket of her jeans. “The
girl at the bait shop said you could help me. You are Hutch
“Help you with what?” His eyes moved to the clouds and a tree of
purple lightning above them. The sky had darkened in the West and the
rain was pouring in columns a few miles down the road.
Jolie swallowed hard, realizing she was not going to get the warm
reception she’d wanted. Her hands were starting to sweat so she pushed
them into her back pockets. “I’m doing a thesis for my psychology
class about the hauntings here. The girl said you would know more than
most. I just have a few questions.”
“I don’t know anything about anything, ma’am, and if it’s all
the same to you, I have to check the crawfish traps before the storm
Jolie was at a loss for words as she shifted her weight anxiously from
one foot to the other. She had already been shut down by a waitress at
the only diner in town and the clerk at the drug store. The people of
Follette were proving to be rude, or at least uncooperative, and she
needed to finish her report within a month to get her master’s
wrapped-up. “I just…never mind. Thanks for your time.” She turned
and headed back to the door of her SUV frustrated.
“What exactly is your paper about?” He seemed to be talking more to
himself than her, but his raised eyebrows said she’d piqued his
curiosity. Besides, the girl at the bait shop had said he didn’t get
many visitors, so maybe her presence was more welcome than he was
Jolie let her breath out in a rush. It felt like she’d been holding it
for hours. “Honestly?” She felt her face contort and wondered if he
noticed the crack in her confidence. She wasn’t sure she even wanted
to bother with an explanation, because he was clearly annoyed by her
presence. Her hand was still on the door, leaving her the option to bail
without putting further effort into the conversation.
He shrugged, and for the first time favored her with a huge, sideways
Jolie watched the billowy clouds merge into the darker ones, and decided
the truth couldn’t possibly damage his opinion of her. Besides, she
had nothing to lose, and he’d quit smiling, and instead was staring a
hole through her. “I’m doing a psych paper on mass
hallucinations.” She only paused because his nostrils flared when the
word ‘psych’ rolled off her tongue.
Hutch laughed, shook his head, and slammed the tailgate. “Ms. Bourque,
I can’t help you. In fact, no one in this town can help you. You
better head back to your dorm and find something else to write about.”
He pulled a pair of white rubber boots over his tennis shoes, as if he
was making an exaggerated effort to disregard her while the ridicule in
his sneer worked to unravel her cool exterior.
“It’s Jolie—and why can’t you just answer my questions? What
happened here?” She pushed away from the door. She was more affected
by his mood than she wanted to admit.
Hutch stopped and propped an elbow on the bed of the truck. His face was
expressionless as he continued to glare at her. “Well, I’m sure
you’re not interested, but there are no hallucinations going on here,
City Girl. You obviously haven’t done your research. Maybe you should
know what this town has been through before you go making assumptions.
Your opinion won’t mean much to these people, honestly. There’s
bound to be another place you can lay your judgment on, or better yet,
head on back to the beautiful people and make it up as you see fit.”
“If you care so much, why don’t you set me straight?” Jolie could
feel the heat rise in her face again. She was suddenly hot and angry all
“Because I don’t have the time, and frankly, I couldn’t care less
what you think.” He heaved an ice chest into the truck, then stood
still as if watching her reaction brought him enjoyment.
“Fine, it was nice meeting you, Mr. Landry.” Jolie slammed her car
door shut and tore out of the gravel, as she headed back to the cabin
she had rented just down the bayou. There was no way she’d let some
conceited country boy break her.
Excerpted from "Becoming Jolie [Kindle Edition]" by Monique O'Connor James. Copyright © 2012 by Monique O'Connor James. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.