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Authors: Denise Daisy

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BOOK: One Last Time
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“Finding your courage are you?”

Something about his question tells me his answer will terrify me.

I swallow hard and tighten my arms around my legs to keep him from seeing my trembling.

“You want my answer, or would you rather ask another question?” he challenges.

“Answer the question,” I demand, trying to sound confident, but wish to God I hadn’t pushed the limit.

He’s quiet for a moment, the severity of my question must be tugging at his soul. Why else would he be stalling? The flickering glow of the lantern casts daunting shadows, performing a morbid ritual on the wall behind him.

“I am correct when I say sixteen people lost their lives on the night of the massacre.” His voice is no more than a whisper. My heart thunders, pulsing through my body. I have no adrenaline left. It peaked some time ago leaving me in a weakened state. My teeth begin to chatter.

I don’t like where this is going. I do the math again in my head—the thirteen dinner guests, add Lunar and Emily, that makes fifteen. Quillan interrupts my body count. “One more person died that night, too, someone that no one was aware of other than Emily.”

My skin crawls. “Who?” I ask, wishing I hadn’t.

“Me.” He takes the air from my lungs. “Emily was pregnant the night she hung herself. I am her unborn son. I have traveled back to try and save myself.”

I want to run out of the room, but where would I go? Terror grips me. I’m trembling uncontrollably now. I’ve been in the company of a ghost this entire time, yet Quillan told me there are no such things as ghosts. He moves in close, and I inch away until the heavy wooden headboard stops my retreat.

“Please don’t be afraid of me.” His voice is soothing and his touch calming. “And to answer the question bouncing around inside your head, no, I am not a ghost. I am as real as you are right now. I’ve been given one last time to defeat the darkness and claim my life. If I succeed, I save fifteen others along with myself, and in doing so, I save generations to come. The Keepers of the Unborn have allowed me a month. It’s all I have. If I do not succeed, then I will no longer exist.”

I pinch myself, hoping to wake from this bizarre dream. One last time? Has he tried this before? What kind of supernatural vacuum did I get sucked into?

“Why didn’t you tell me this from the beginning?” I ask.

“I can only disclose information when requested, and only to a noneffected person.”

A sarcastic laugh escapes my lips.

“You know what I mean.” He gives me a slight grin.

I’m still trembling when a bolt of lightning strikes right outside our window, followed by a deafening thunder crash. Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise I lose all self-control. Screaming, I leap from my side of the bed, unwillingly landing in Quillan’s arms. They’re strong and solid; no apparition here.

Embarrassed, I try pulling away, but he tightens his grip, holding me close. “It’s all right. Just relax. Holding you makes me feel better, too.” We settle back against the pillows. I rest my head against his bare chest, the softness of his hair tickling at my nose.

“I won’t let anything happen to you, Averie,” he promises me.

I relax and my trembling subsides. Our quest seems monumental now, and a great cause should birth great courage. I know it’s time to face my fears. The low rumble of thunder rocks the house again, trying to threaten my resolve. It doesn’t, and for the first time in my life, I know I matter.

 

 

Chapter 17

 

I don’t think I have ever eaten a better breakfast in my life. One thing’s for sure, as unsettling as this adventure is, I have eaten well. A black woman is cooking at the stove, stoking the fire and placing thick slabs of bacon into a cast-iron skillet. The meat sizzles, protesting against the extreme heat. She leaves the frying pan and removes a tray of thick, fluffy buttermilk biscuits from the oven. After tossing the hot bread in a basket, she places it on the kitchen table in front of me.

“Thank you.” I surprise the woman and everyone at breakfast. Emily eyes me from across the table and then places her delicate hands in her lap, waiting. The woman hurries over to Emily’s plate, quickly butters her biscuit, and then spreads on a thick layer of strawberry preserves. Emily doesn’t thank her. Instead, she lifts the steaming bread to her red lips and takes a small bite. I am disappointed, to say the least. I sit in disbelief as the woman makes her way down the table doing the same for Elizabeth Faulkner. I sigh and grab the butter knife, buttering my own biscuit. I want to say something smart like “My hands aren’t broken,” but I refrain, seeing I am a guest and should mind my manners. Still, I am not letting this woman do something for me that I can certainly do myself.

Elizabeth Faulkner, however, notices and makes her comment in the form of a question. “Averie dear, doesn’t your family own slaves?”

All eyes are on me. I can see that even the black woman lends her ear my way while she flips the bacon. I can sense Quillan’s anxiety as he anticipates my answer. If indeed I am masquerading as the granddaughter of Allen T. Griffin, it would be apparent that such a wealthy man would own a slew of Negroes.

I take a small sip of the fresh-squeezed orange juice and dab the corner of my mouth with a napkin, making them wait while I discern the best answer without blowing our cover. “Why yes, we do.” I can tell Elizabeth isn’t satisfied with my answer.

“It seems you’re a tad bit uncomfortable with Pearl’s service. I can assure you she has washed her hands. We demand cleanliness here.”

“Oh no, I am not concerned with Pearl’s hygiene. It’s just that I can butter my own bread is all.”

Elizabeth gives me a strained smile and cuts her gaze over to her husband. Something about sitting at a table with Mr. Brackett again gives me shivers. I must remind myself he is James Faulkner, and it is he who we must convince not to hang Lunar. I wonder what compelled him to do such a horrid thing. He seems nice enough, nothing like his friend Mr. Potbellied Butler. Instead of letting my answer stay with what I said, I decide to tread on sacred ground and do some fishing. I hope Quillan doesn’t get angry.

“We tend to treat our Negroes as servants instead of slaves. We compensate them for their hard work.”

I might as well have dropped the F-bomb. James releases his fork, letting it fall onto his plate, Elizabeth chokes on her coffee, and Emily pales, if that is possible. I can’t see Quillan’s reaction because he is sitting right next to me, but I do feel his body tense. Pearl is stirring the scrambled eggs slowly, tilting her ear our way, eavesdropping on what will transpire next. I know I must take control quick and give an incentive for such a statement.

“My grandfather hasn’t made his millions in ignorance. He is a savvy businessman and knows how and when to invest. For example, if I have the goose that lays a golden egg, the last thing I want to do is kill my goose. Because if I destroy the one thing that produces, I don’t get any more eggs, do I? That’s what Pappy taught all his children and us grandkids. We find if our Negroes are content and feel their work is rewarded, they produce more and do a much better job. Everyone’s happy in the end.”

I take a quick drink, letting the glass hide my nervousness.

Elizabeth laughs softly. “What would a Negro do with money? No one would take money from them.”

“Maybe not. But some will. After all, money is money. We teach our Negroes to save for the day when they are free.” I look at James and then at Emily, hoping my next statement will make some kind of impact. “Things will change, you know. Things always change. You must know that.”

There wasn’t much time for a rebuttal after my prophetic disclosure. The grandfather clock announced the time, reminding us church would start soon. If we plan on attending services, we must get the move on, as my momma always says. Leaving the cleanup for Pearl, everyone stands to go. I am the only one who carries my plate to the sink; some habits can’t be broken, no matter the time period. Again, I catch disconcerting eyes, but I don’t let it affect me until I see Quillan carrying his plate, too. I bite my lip and smother a big toothy grin.

We drive our own carriage into town, and I am glad. I didn’t want to ride along with the Faulkner family. Actually, I didn’t want to attend church at all, but I can’t evade it. Our rented horse trots along the dirt road. As soon as we are out of earshot, Quillan decides to comment on my breakfast antics. I brace myself. I’ve got it coming.

“I don’t understand why you are afraid of so many things.” He surprises me. I thought he would attack me for what I said at the table.

I adjust my full skirt, shifting on the cushioned seat, ready for another probing of my soul from Quillan. Before I can answer his criticism, he continues. “A girl as pretty and smart as you should walk the earth with confidence.” For a moment, I think Emily may have climbed into the carriage with us. Is he referring to me? Taking his eyes off the road, he addresses me straight on. “What you did at the table was brilliant, not to mention very courageous.” Forget brains and bravery, he thinks I’m pretty. I am ecstatic.

“You have an active, progressive mind, and a kind one at that, but you have these self-protective barriers up, which only inhibits your ability to live life.”

Nothing he can say will make me mad right now; he thinks I’m pretty and smart. “I do have barriers up,” I admit for the hundredth time, “but it’s about survival for me. If I don’t protect myself, who will?”

“If you don’t quit barricading yourself behind your walls of self-protection, Prince Charming can’t get in to rescue you.”

I look at him. He smiles at me with his eyes. My heart leaps, and my belly burns again. I am having more fun than I’ve ever had.

 

 

Chapter 18

 

Church is hot and boring. I am making good use of my fan, taking away some of the discomfort. The hard wooden pews, however, are unmoving and sturdy. I can’t get comfortable. Sweat trickles down my neck and legs, irritating those damn chigger bites again. It’s when I shift for the millionth time that Quillan notices my bare feet. He closes his eyes and shakes his head softly. I almost laugh out loud, but I bite my lip, suppressing my humor.

We’ve just finished singing “Amazing Grace” when the pastor approaches the podium. Emily taps my hand and slips a crumpled piece of paper inside. Trying to be discreet, I unfold the mysterious note. In her perfect penmanship are the words,
Feign morning sickness dear, and we can make our escape.
I move the note over, silently nudging Quillan’s leg with my bare toes. Tapping the note softly, I draw his attention to Emily’s plan. He gives me a slight nod. Eager to leave, I cup my hand over my mouth and tap Emily on the shoulder. She immediately picks up the pretense, fanning me, while helping me up. I excuse myself and slip from my pew. Emily and Quillan follow me down the aisle and out the door.

I can tell Emily is disappointed Quillan followed us out. Her plans for us did not include him. Quillan is smart and picks up on this, launching into a pretense of his own. “Averie dear, are you all right.”

“I think I will be,” I continue the charade. “It’s just so stifling in there. I think I need a bit of fresh air. I wouldn’t want everyone knowing what I ate for breakfast.”

Emily giggles at my uncouth way of saying things.

“Well, if you’re all right…”

“I am more than able to take care of her.” Emily smiles, pushing Quillan back toward the building. He gives me a lingering look. The concern I see in his eyes is not doubt that I will mess things up, but genuine care for my well-being. Neither one of us are sure of what Emily’s plans entail. My stomach does the flip-flop thing again. I don’t want to leave his side. “I’ll be okay.” I give him a reassuring smile before Emily whisks me off in our carriage.

“What’s up?” I ask her, in my modern-teen voice.

She laughs. “You have the funniest way of saying things.”

I smile. We exchange glances, and I think she might be seeing into my pretense.

“Are you clairvoyant?” she asks. “I have a feeling you know things. I can sense it. Like what you said at breakfast. You said things will change, and it was like you knew something we didn’t. I think Momma and Daddy felt it, too.”

I shrug. It’s still not the time to tell her I am a time traveler. “I guess I have some insight on things, maybe more than some people. Things do change though Emily. You’re smart. You must sense it. Nothing ever stays the same.”

My own words haunt me. I only have a month here with Quillan. Two days have already passed. Soon it will be over, and if we succeed, Quillan will be born in the 1800s, and I will return to my time. If we fail, he will cease to exist. I lose him either way. My heart plummets. My enthusiasm is gone.

Emily doesn’t drive our carriage toward her house. Instead, she takes a detour. Soon, we are bumping along where there is no established road. She’s quiet, so maybe she picked up on my sudden remorse, or maybe both of us are in deep thought, contemplating the loss of the ones we love. I like her. She is the friend I have never had. The thought of her taking her life adds to my sorrow.

“Averie.” Her Southern drawl stretches my name into three syllables. “I feel as if I can confide in you.”

My heart skips a beat. My chance at counseling her is coming up. I hold my breath.

“Sure,” I perk up. “I can keep secrets. What is it?”

“Well, dear, I have another errand to run, and I don’t want Momma or Daddy to know. Can you keep this between us?”

Damn it, I’ve been used. “Can I come with you on your errand?” I decide to make this hard on her.

We stare at each other, both well aware of the charade we’re playing. She thinks I am clairvoyant, so I decide to add to her suspicion. “Are you going to see Lunar?”

She clutches the reins to keep from falling off the carriage. Her fragile hand covers her mouth. Her eyes widen in fear. She’s not overacting this time.

She’s speechless, so I continue, taking advantage of her silence. “I know you saw me fall in the river yesterday. You were with Lunar. It’s all right, Emily. I understand. I won’t reveal your secret.”

BOOK: One Last Time
4.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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