Character Interview: Olivia Bettencourt
Character Interview: Olivia Bettencourt
B: Thanks for granting this interview Ms. Bettencourt.
Olivia: Call me Olivia, please. And you’re welcome.
B: Let’s talk about your beginnings, in A Southern Belle: Forbidden.
Olivia: That book was about my biological mother. My role in it was a small one, at the end.
B: True, but I’d say that even in your small role, you were the most memorable character.
Olivia: Well, that’s very kind of you to say. I do try to leave an impression, wherever I am.
B: In your small role you killed a man, and you were only sixteen.
Olivia (smiling): So we’re beginning with the dramatic, are we?
B: It seems that everything written about you so far has had a dramatic flair.
Olivia: I’ll take that as a compliment. And to your comment, I didn’t kill a man. He was a bug that required extermination. The police agreed.
B: Point taken. So far that’s where your story begins, when you were sixteen. Is there anything you’d like to share about your life before then?
Olivia: For example?
B: You were raised by Onson and Jenny Mae James. Onson is your biological father, but Clarisse Belle Bettencourt Maxwell—the protagonist from A Southern Belle: Forbidden—is your biological mother. According to the book, you didn’t know about your heritage until you were sixteen, on the day of the shooting. Do you have any memories of your mother?
Olivia: Jenny Mae is my mother.
B: Okay, for the sake of clarity for our readers, let’s refer to the woman who raised you as Jenny Mae, and to your biological mother as Clarisse. Do you have any memories of Clarisse?
Olivia: I didn’t at first. After all, she died when I was two years old. I didn’t remember her until the day of the shooting. That’s when my…when Jenny Mae told me about Clarisse and showed me her photograph. Then a few snatches of memory popped into my head.
B: Such as?
Olivia: Well, I thought I could remember Clarisse’s smile up close, as if she were holding me or I was sitting on her lap. And I remembered the stairs.
B: The stairs?
Olivia: The house I grew up in was divided into downstairs and upstairs apartments. We lived downstairs—my parents and my brother Kevin and I. Jenny Mae said that when she, my father and Clarisse moved to New Jersey and found jobs that Clarisse took the upstairs apartment. I have a vague memory of looking up those stairs, and of being carried up. I assume I was carried up by Clarisse.
B: So most likely in the time of your memory you lived upstairs too, with your mother. Clarisse, I mean.
Olivia: I suppose so. I don’t recall living up there. I’ve been up there, but that was years later, to visit neighbors who lived there when I was growing up.
B: And those visits didn’t trigger any memories?
B: Would you consider your childhood a happy one?
Olivia: Very much so. There was a lot of love in our home.
B: What is one of your fondest childhood memories?
Olivia: Well, my father was a delivery driver. His job often took him out of state, sometimes for days at a time. But when he was home on Saturdays he’d take Kevin and I to the barber shop with him. It was only a few blocks from home, so on nice days we’d walk. I enjoyed the walks, and I enjoyed watching and listening to the men in the barber shop. I found their banter fascinating.
B: How old were you then?
Olivia: I’d say between the ages of five to maybe twelve or thirteen. Then my father stopped taking me, and only took Kevin if he wanted to go.
B: Why did he stop taking you?
Olivia: Well, it’s only a guess, but I’d say either to protect me from the men, or to protect them from me.
B: Okay, you have got to explain that.
Olivia: Do I need to really? Let’s just say that as I started to grow into a young lady and men became aware of me, I became aware of them. Men are very easy to read.
B: You sound like your friend Lucas, in his assessment of women.
Olivia: Lucas and I are dear friends and kindred spirits. So yes, we view our opposite gender similarly.
B: We’ll get to Lucas, but let’s go back to your childhood for a few more questions. Considering that you’re biracial, when you were growing up did it ever occur to you to wonder about your parentage?
Olivia: As a child I didn’t know I was biracial. My parents told me that there were fair-complexioned people on both sides of their families, and so I accepted that I looked like one of them. No one treated me any differently, and so I had no cause to dwell on it.
B: How did you feel when Jenny Mae told you when you were sixteen that Clarisse—a white woman—was your biological mother?
Olivia: Of course I was surprised and hurt to learn that the woman who in my heart was my mother was not. But what I remember most about that time was wondering how Jenny Mae could stand to have Clarisse as a friend, knowing that she’d slept with her husband. So of course I asked the question.
B: How did Jenny Mae answer?
Olivia: She said that they—her, my father and Clarisse—were all victims of the times and the place in which they lived. Clarisse wanted what she wanted, which was to have her physical desires fulfilled. She gave my father no choice in the matter. If he didn’t comply with her demands she could accuse him of improprieties that likely would have gotten him killed. So if there is such a thing as a woman raping a man, then Clarisse raped my father. But it backfired on her when she became pregnant with me. Remember the place and time: North Carolina in 1949. By getting pregnant by a black man, Clarisse had put herself in the same danger with which she had threatened my father. So they all had to run away. That being said, my mother—and I’m talking about Jenny Mae—is a better, kinder woman than I.
B: Why do you say that?
Olivia: Because if I’d been in her position I would have left Clarisse to rot in the stinking mucus of southern racism and to deal with whatever consequences she had to suffer. Jenny Mae James is a saint. I would have wanted that bitch dead.
B: It sounds like you harbor some animosity toward Clarisse.
Olivia: Not at all. She was who she was. I’m only stating how I would have dealt with a woman like her in the same situation.
B: So you really harbor no ill will toward your biological mother?
Olivia: Why should I? She brought me into this world and did me no harm. In truth she was a curiosity to me, and I wanted to know more about her. I knew there were some things that Jenny Mae wasn’t telling me…that she probably wouldn’t ever tell me.
B: Like what?
Olivia: I wasn’t sure what, until one day in Joe’s Barber Shop I got a clue. That’s when I started asking questions of people willing to tell me.
B: Joe’s Barber Shop is the place Lucas talks about in The Professional. So you and he have a connection in that way too.
Olivia: I was there first. That’s the same barber shop my father got his hair cut in. As I said, he stopped taking me when I was twelve or thirteen. But not long after the shooting I got a job there. Joe let me work the register for a couple of hours after school and for four hours on Saturday. He paid me two dollars for the weekdays and five for Saturday.
B: That wasn’t bad money for a sixteen year-old girl in 1966. Like babysitting money.
Olivia: Oh, I did better than that. I made more in tips from gentleman customers than Joe paid me. On more than one occasion I earned more in a week than my father made at his job.
B: Okay, damn.
Olivia: As I said, I learned early how to read men. Anyway, one afternoon while I was working the register I overheard one of the customers make a comment, something like, “If the house on Potter Avenue was still running she could have made more money than her mama.” I was the only female in the shop. What really got my attention was how Freddie—he’s one of the barbers—chastised that customer. He told him that if he didn’t shut the hell up he’d have to find someplace else to get a haircut.
B: So you were curious about what that customer meant.
Olivia: I was. So I asked around, about the house on Potter Avenue. I found out that back in the forties and fifties there was a house on Potter Avenue where men who had spare cash in their pockets and were desirous of female companionship could go to get that.
B: A brothel.
Olivia: Yes. The house was run by a woman people called Miss Lara. The house was still there, and Lara still lived there, though she was old and long retired from her business as a madam. But I had questions, so I knocked on her door.
B: You were bold at sixteen.
Olivia: By then I was seventeen. But yes, no one has ever accused me of being shy. I knocked on the door and Miss Lara answered. She looked me up and down and before even saying hello told me that I looked just like her.
Olivia: Yes. She asked me what I wanted and I told her that I wanted to know about Clarisse, and that I figured she knew more than anyone. She let me in, and we spent many afternoons together sipping tea and talking about things—not just my mother, but the ways of men.
B: What did you learn about your mother—Clarisse?
Olivia: Miss Lara told me that growing up in North Carolina my mother was a girl and woman of privilege and means who’d never worked a day in her life. When she came of age she attended a finishing school, and soon after married George Bettencourt, a local store owner. After what she did, when she and my parents ran away to New Jersey they were in dire straits. Clarisse took money from George’s lockbox so they had a little something for food, but can you imagine a man and two women sleeping in the train station and under the boardwalk? They must have been a curious sight, even in New Jersey. They all had to find work to live. My father got a job as a delivery driver, and Jenny Mae and Clarisse found work in a local factory. But Clarisse wasn’t used to labor and wasn’t suited for it, so after I was born she never went back. She found other ways to make money.
B: The house on Potter Avenue?
Olivia: Yes. Miss Lara said she was glad to have her. She said that for the short time Clarisse was there before cancer made her too sick to work she was her best earner. I’m sure you know why.
B: She was a white woman working in a black brothel.
B: How did you feel, learning that kind of thing about your mother?
Olivia: I was fascinated. Remember, I didn’t consider Clarisse my mother. Jenny Mae was, is, and will always be my mother. But Clarisse’s story was so interesting. Oh, and Miss Lara had a photograph of Clarisse in her album. She showed it to me. She said she used to have it hanging in her parlor with pictures of the other girls who worked for her, so the men could browse and choose. It was a much better image than the one Jenny Mae showed me. Very erotic for the time. I think I admired her all the more for being so bold.
B: So the bottom line is that what Clarisse did to make money didn’t damage your view of her.
Olivia: I admire any woman strong enough to do what she must, and brave enough to do what pleases her. Too many women only do the former.
B: So based on what we’ve read about you to date, you are your mother’s daughter.
Olivia: Only to a point. Miss Lara often said to me that I was so my mother’s child. She presumed to know my nature, but she presumed too much. On my last visit to her house she said that if she’d had me as one of her girls she could have retired wealthy and moved to Florida. So I asked her why she thought I ever would have worked for her and let her take my money when I could get what I wanted from men without having to spread my legs. After that she told me not to come back. I think I hurt the old bat’s feelings.
B: And you were only seventeen then?
Olivia: Yes. And to answer the question in your eyes, I was still a virgin. But I already had a basic understanding of men.
B: Let’s talk about Lucas. He often says that you’re one of the few women he knows who can always get it for free. Why is that? Are you that good?
Olivia: First, I take Lucas’ comment as a tiny bit of an insult. I should be the only woman he’ll be with at no cost. When he’s not with me he’s slumming. And yes, I am that good. Still.
B: I wasn’t going to go there.
Olivia: I will. I’m past sixty, and I’ll pit myself against any still-green-between-her-legs twenty year-old, and I’ll win.
B: I don’t doubt you for a moment. So Olivia, we’ve seen snippets of your life at the end of A Southern Belle: Forbidden, and in With Benefits and in Lucas’ story, The Professional, and The Professional 2: The Client List. From those snippets it’s obvious that you’ve lived an interesting life. Will there be a book about you one day?
Olivia: Anything is possible. But you’re the writer, so why don’t you tell me?
Find the books guest-featuring Olivia Bettencourt here: