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Authors: Denise Daisy

One Last Time (18 page)

BOOK: One Last Time
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James points at a lovely sitting area a few yards away from his gargantuan hand-carved desk. I’m relieved. I would hate to think he would sit behind his desk being superior, cold, and aloof when his daughter needed him.

Emily and I take our seats on a maroon velvet sofa carved out of dark wood. It’s not very comfortable, but then again, I don’t think I can relax anyway. James pours himself a glass of brandy and then takes a seat in a high-back leather chair directly across from us.

Sighing, he rubs his eyebrows and then faces Emily straight on. “You must stop working the Railroad, Emily. You did some good there for a while, but now it’s too dangerous. If you drop your activity now, I don’t think you can be implicated in any wrongdoing.”

Emily is stunned to silence and, frankly, so am I.

“Daddy—” she begins, but he interrupts her.

“I’ve known for some time, and honestly, I am proud of you. Your mother doesn’t know, mind you, so I’d advise you not to mention it in front of her.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Emily sounds relieved, and right now I am jealous. How easy was that? Miss Emily does have absolutely everything. Favor from above must shower down on her every day of her life. I despise my own daddy even more.

“You’ve got a heart of gold, honey.” He piles it on. “I’ve actually followed you from time to time to make sure you were safe.”

Oh, how the tide turns. His statement drips with accusation. Emily shifts her position on the small couch. If James Faulkner trailed behind on some of her nightly escapades undetected, then he must also know of her involvement with Lunar. I can feel the warmth radiating off her face from where I’m sitting. I shift in my seat, too. It’s getting uncomfortable, so I place my hands inside my dress pockets to keep from twisting my fingers in anxiousness. Talk about favor—a cold round object hidden deep within the fabric. James Faulkner’s wedding ring! I bite my lip to keep from smiling. The day of reckoning has come, and the truth will set Emily free.

“Emily, there are some things I will close a blind eye to; other things I will not.” Mr. Faulkner is speaking in his disciplinary tone. “Allowing my daughter to be with a Negro is unacceptable.”

“Daddy.” Emily is quick on the defense. “Lunar is more than a Negro. He’s a person, a human being with feelings, and we love each other.”

“Enough!” James cuts her off. “You are going to end it right here, right now. No more Railroad, no more Lunar. I’m selling him right after harvest. I have a buyer up in North Carolina who will be here first of October to take him away.”

Trembling, Emily gasps and stands. “Daddy, don’t you dare!”

“It’s already in the works, Emily. I’ve made up my mind. Believe me, I’m doing what’s best for the both of you. What kind of life do you think you can have loving a Negro?”

I’m ready to reveal the ring inside my pocket when Emily pulls out all the stops. “A life of a mother because I’m carrying his baby!”

The room falls silent except for my pounding heart. I swallow hard, thinking maybe I should tiptoe out right about now. Instead, it’s James who leaves the room.

Emily buries her face in her hands and sobs.

“Give him time.” I try to convince myself as well as her. “It was a big announcement to spring on him like that. Let him digest it. He’s a good man. He’ll come around.”

Emily nods through her sobs. All I can do is offer her hope and pray Mr. Faulkner will respond the right way.

Emily regains her composure before she sneaks back to the third floor and checks on Lunar. I sigh and decide on a walk outside. It’s nearly supper time, and the delicious aroma of food wafts from the kitchen. As good as it smells, I don’t think I could eat a bite. My stomach is in turmoil. I can’t take much more drama. I decide on going to my favorite spot. There’s something about the pond that comforts me. Maybe it’s the gurgle of water trickling over the smooth stones. Perhaps, it’s the stimulating smell of jasmine and other blooming plants that act as some type of aromatherapy, calming my nerves. Or better yet, maybe it’s the sweet moments I have spent with Quillan that draw me in. Whatever the reason, I hurry to get there.

I push open the heavy gate, ducking under the hanging vines, eager to reach my favorite spot near the lily pads when I spot James Faulkner sitting on the ground, tossing stones in the water. Stopping in my tracks, I decide to do an about-face and get the hell out of Dodge when he notices me.

“I built this garden myself, dug the pond and everything, and didn’t use any of the Negroes.”

I’m trapped, no hightailing it out of here now. Reluctantly, I go in and take a seat on the grass beside him. “It’s beautiful.” I praise his handiwork. “It’s my favorite place to come and think.”

“Mine, too,” he says with a faraway look in his eyes. “I started it the day Emily was born. After holding her in my arms for the first time, I wanted to make her a special safe place. So I created the garden, like the good Lord did for us.”

He’s quiet now. I wonder if he’s thinking about banishing her from it because she has eaten forbidden fruit.

“See that old swing over there?” He points to a tree nearly swallowed up in vines and ivy. A weathered swing hangs sideways, looking as if it hasn’t been used in years. “I used to push her on it every evening after supper. She would laugh and scream for me to push her higher and higher. I swear that girl was part bird, always pushing the limits. She wasn’t content until she was soaring over the trees.”

I laugh, enjoying his reminiscing.

“I wanted a lot of children, but Emily was it for us. Elizabeth experienced such pain delivering that she was terrified to have anymore. She wouldn’t even let me touch her after that.”

Two and two always make four, and now I know why James is sleeping with Pearl in the upstairs bedroom. A twinge of sympathy for the man takes root, and whether I like it or not, we’re bonding.

“You do what you can to protect the ones you love, but in the end, they just slip through your fingers.”

I sigh and nod my head. The lump inhabiting my throat is full-grown and won’t let me speak. He’s right. I’ve lost Momma, and now here I am trying hard to save Emily, Lunar, and Quillan. In the end, if we succeed, they will have each other, but I’ll be alone, empty-handed, left with nothing but memories.

“She’s not slipping through your fingers,” I manage to say, choking on the lump. “She’s placing her hand in yours and asking you to walk with her on the path she’s chosen.”

He’s quiet, so I keep quiet, too, allowing the thought to sink in. My momma always said there is a time to talk and a time to keep quiet. She also warned me a fool is known by talking too much, but wise people can hold their tongue. I know I’ve played the fool more than once in my life, and right now, I think it’s time to stay quiet.

The bullfrogs begin tuning up, joined by the crickets in their evening serenade. The dinner bell rang some time ago, but neither James nor I moved a muscle. For some reason, I feel like I need to stay here with him. So I do.

Finally, after about a half hour, he breaks the silence. “What if the path she wants to walk is perilous?”

“Most paths worth walking are. Like the swing, she wants to push the limits. Stand behind her and let her soar, just be there to help her if she falls.”

He’s quiet again, and this time I press on. “Times are changing, Mr. Faulkner. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Lincoln will be elected and South Carolina will leave the Union. War’s going to break out. It’s a perilous path everyone is going to have to walk. You’ll survive, and things will get better for everyone, Negroes included. Slavery isn’t going to last forever.”

“I’d be just as pleased if it didn’t,” he admits. “I don’t feel right about it.”

“Then do something about it,” I say, hoping I haven’t been foolish and pushed the limits.

He smiles at me and my heart warms. I’ve just had a father-daughter talk, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, even though James Faulkner is not my daddy.

 

 

Chapter 32

 

I say good night to Mr. Faulkner and wait until he’s out of sight before I toss his wedding band into the water and watch it sink. I have no intention of using it against him. I’m feeling pretty good after our talk, so I lay back in the grass and watch the stars come out. Of course, my first thoughts are of the time Quillan and I spent the night out here. I’m hoping he’ll come join me again when Mike shows up and interrupts my dreaming.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” He stretches out beside me. “You missed dinner.”

“You can always find me in my favorite spot,” I tell him. “I love it out here.”

“Now, that’s something I never thought I’d hear you say, Averie Cooke.” He laughs.

I smile. “This place is different now.”

“You’re different now, too, Ave.”

“Really? How so?”

“Well, for starters, you’ve gotten a lot more courage. You don’t seem as afraid as you used to be. You’re taking risk, doing daring things, like working for the Underground. Where did that come from? It’s certainly not my overly cautious friend, Averie.”

“I don’t know.” I shrug. “I didn’t voluntarily come here, you know. If I’d had it my way, I would have run all the way home that night, dove into my bed, and pulled the covers over my head. But home wasn’t there anymore. It was a do-or-die situation. I decided to do. Then somewhere in the midst of it, I realized I was having fun.”

“Or somewhere in the midst of it, you realized you were falling in love,” Mike corrects me.

“Maybe,” I say. “I don’t know what it feels like. I’ve never been in love before.”

“Well, when you’re in love, you can’t stop thinking about the person…”

Check.

“You find yourself scanning a room for them and making every effort to be where they are…”

Check.

“You hang on every word they say, and when something good happens, they’re the first person you want to tell…”

Check.

“And when something bad happens, they’re the first person you want to cry with…”

Check.

“You’re constantly thinking of ways to help them, things you can do to make them happy, to make life special for them.”

Check.

“It’s hard imagining life without them…”

Double check.

Mike just described himself to me, but now that I’ve spent nearly a month here, I could say the same thing about Quillan. Except when I am around Quillan, I get that burning in my belly I don’t get when I am with Mike.

“How do you know this?” I ask, still stargazing. “Which one of your many girlfriends did you feel this way about?”

“None of them,” he says quietly. “I’ve only felt that way about you.”

I’m searching for a shooting star right now. I need to make a wish that will transport me out of this garden and quick. I can feel Mike looking at me, and I can’t look at him. I don’t know what to say. It’s not fair, him springing this on me now that I have strong feelings for Quillan.

“Why haven’t you told me this before?” I shoot straight with him.

“Because I knew you didn’t feel the same.”

“And why is it different now?” I’m almost afraid to ask.

“Because you’ve fallen in love with Quillan.”

His statement takes my eyes off the stars and straight to Mike. I sit up fast, ready to pounce.

“You better explain yourself ’cause that’s downright selfish! Do you know how many years I have watched you date one prom queen after another? I’ve never interfered in your crazy love life. Why would you interfere in mine?”

Mike sits up, too, and faces me. “Ave, none of those girls ever hurt me. I’ve never cried one tear or lost one second of sleep over any of them. You, on the other hand, have lost so much already. I am trying to protect you from additional pain.”

My stomach knots, and I wish he would stop, but he continues on.

“I’ve stood by and watched you cry over your dad, who has disappointed you over and over to the point where you don’t believe you’re worthy of any man’s love. I’ve watched you dive for your phone every time it rings, hoping your mom is on the other end. I walk with you to your mailbox, knowing you’re praying all the way there, hoping a check or word from your mother will be there. When there isn’t, you try and hide your disappointment to convince me you’re okay, but I know you’re devastated inside.”

I cover my ears, not wanting to hear the ugly truth about my life. “Stop, please,” I cry, hoping he will take pity on me and leave me alone, let me live in this fantasy world a little bit longer. But he doesn’t. Instead, he grabs my arms, pulls my hands away from my ears, and locks eyes with me.

“Averie, do you realize what you’re doing to yourself? In less than a week, you’ll be back home. It’s going to be tough enough adjusting without your mother. Why add pain to the mix? Why grieve for someone else? Once we change the past, it’s over. Quillan will be a ghost of a memory, not a tangible person. He won’t be there for you like I will. Back off now, Averie, please. I beg you, not for me, but for you. I can’t stand by and watch you suffer when you don’t need to.”

“It’s too late.” I stand, poised to leave. “You can’t help who you love, Mike. The heart doesn’t listen to logic, neither does it obey the rules of reasoning. If I suffer, I suffer.”

I storm out of the garden nearly knocking Emily down as I do.

“Oh, dear Averie, is everything all right?”

I swallow back my tears and force a smile, something I’m quite good at according to Mike. “I’m good. What’s up?” There I go again with the talk.
Wrong time period, Averie.
Emily gives me a curious look.

“You certain you’re all right?”

“It’s been an emotional day, but really, I’m okay, no worries.”

“Good.” She bites on her nails. I’ve never seen her do this so I figure something has her pretty upset.

“How about you? Are you okay?” I give the curious look back.

“Uh-huh,” she says with a faraway look in her eyes. “Daddy’s up in the room with Lunar. He sent me here to fetch you.”

 

 

Chapter 33

 

Emily’s a nervous wreck as we take the stairs two at a time. I’ve never entered the third floor by way of the regular staircase and am amazed at the vastness of this palatial home. If I could afford it, I would buy this place once I got home and turn it into a hotel myself.

BOOK: One Last Time
10Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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