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Authors: Denise Daisy

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BOOK: One Last Time
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“Here, ma’am.” I manage to stand up on my throbbing feet. “Take my seat. You look like you can use it more than me.”

My little bench is her oasis in the middle of a desert, but she refuses to sit. She stares at me but says nothing. Maybe she’s so delirious she thinks I’m a mirage. The packages are first to fall, hitting the dirt and stirring up the dust. She had better do something, or she might keel over any minute now.

“Do you need some help?” I collect the packages from the ground and lay them on the bench. I help her sit, but I can’t tell if she’s grateful or having a heat stroke. As hot as it is, I figure it’s the latter of the two. I remember the flask Quillan brought me, so I pull it out of my fancy silk bag and unscrew the cap. When I put the container to her lips, a portly man with a belly resembling a potbellied stove waddles our way, flapping his arms and ranting about something. At first, I think he might be trying to stop me from giving a pregnant woman liquor, so I am quick to tell him there’s only water inside the flask.

“I don’t care what it is!” he yells at me. His face resembles a stewed tomato. “She’s not supposed to sit on our benches, let alone drink from a white person’s flask.” He turns to the woman who appears terrified. “Get up! You know better than that!” Taking his walking cane, he jabs her in the belly, prodding her to move. I’m appalled. Without thinking, I grab hold of his cane, an action he’s not expecting, and easily remove it from his chubby fingers.

“How dare you!” His beady eyes flash in anger while he wags his finger in my face.

“How dare you!” I yell right back at him and then use his cane to poke him in the belly. “How does it feel, huh? Not too good, does it? You’re not even pregnant, even though you look like you are ready to pop a baby out any minute now.”

We have an audience now. From my peripheral, I see people gathering around, interested in what the commotion is about. Quillan comes bolting out of the stables, not looking happy. “Everything all right, Averie?” He takes my hand.

“Is this woman your wife?” Mr. Potbellied Stove drawls out his question.

“Yes, she is.” Quillan stares back, standing his ground.

“Well, it seems to me your wife is a Negro sympathizer. I’ve half a mind to file a report with—”

“You have half a mind, all right,” I say. Quillan squeezes my hand so tight my knuckles crack, but it still doesn’t keep me quiet. “And I’ll file a report, too, stating you caused bodily harm to a pregnant woman, endangering her unborn child by jabbing her in the stomach with your walking stick!”

I can hear the murmuring in the crowd. I believe Mr. Potbelly must envision himself on a platform because he becomes over animated, no doubt striving to give the performance of a lifetime. He laughs and throws his hands up in the air. “File a report with whom? That Negro is my property, as well as the varmint growing inside her. If I want to jab a hole in it, it’s my right to do so.”

Rage detonates inside of me, shaking my body. I’m ready to duke it out with Potbelly when Quillan squeezes my hand as a warning to keep quiet, yet everything inside me screams in protest.

“What about her rights you dumb ass!” I say, drawing a mixture of gasps and laughter from the crowd.

“Her rights?” Potbelly bellows, joining the crowd in amusement. “She’s a Negro. She ain’t got no rights.”

“Well it’s a damn shame,” I say. The women in the crowd cover their mouths and gasp. “I seriously can’t believe how ignorance runs rampant here. Every one of you should hang your head in shame. This isn’t right, and the thing is, you know it, but none of you have the courage to do a damn thing about it.”

Quillan’s had enough and begins pulling me away from the crowd. As I toss Potbelly’s walking stick in the dirt, I notice the black guy who’d been loading the sacks of grain. His eyes are fierce, boring holes into me. The peculiar way he’s looking at me causes my skin to crawl.

Mr. Potbelly grabs his walking stick, giving the woman a whack on her back before climbing up on his wagon. I want to clobber Potbelly, but Quillan has a solid hold of my arm. I can tell by the way he’s breathing that he is upset.

“Take me home.” Potbelly wiggles his lard ass on the seat. His driver nods his head. The muscular black guy begins to help the woman in the back of the wagon, but before he can lift her inside, Potbelly protests, “I think she got her rest when she sat on the bench. She can walk home behind the wagon today.” The guy drops his head and closes his eyes. The side of his face pulsates as he bites down hard on his jaw. The young woman gives him a slight pat on the forearm, speaking volumes with her quiet gesture.

“Leave her be, Lunar!” Potbelly bellows as he eases back on his seat.

As the wagon pulls away, Lunar Wilson turns his head toward me, throwing me one last unforgiving look.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Quillan keeps his peace until we’re in the privacy of our room. Shoving the wooden bolt lock in place, he secures the door, and then turns his narrow eyes on me. “Fine time to find your courage,” he says, not looking too happy.

“That wasn’t courage. That was common sense.” I cross my arms in front of me. “I couldn’t sit there and let a pregnant woman pass out from heat exhaustion. I’m sorry, but my momma raised me better. I’m surprised you’re okay with it!”

“I’m not okay with it, Ave.” He shortened my name again. “But I have a bigger mission on my hands right now, and your public antics could cost me the opportunity.”

“Public antics?” I bat my eyes while fanning my face like the Southern bell I’m dressed as. “Well, sir, I was simply offering my seat and a cold drink of water.” I don’t think he saw me jab potbelly in the stomach. I’m certainly not going to mention it right now.

Not finding the humor in my charade, he comes at me fast. His eyes flash as he grabs my shoulders and pushes me up against the wall. “Like I said last night, you’re in way over your head. You have no clue what’s at stake, or why I’ve spent years trying to come back here. We are dealing with the future of many lives, yours included. If you want to make it back home, then quit screwing around and making a game of it.”

His face is close to mine, causing a burning sensation in my belly. We stare at each other, not saying a word. The storm I see raging inside his beautiful gray eyes tells me this is not just some scientific time-travel experiment. No, this is something deeply personal. If eyes are the window to the soul, then I am peering into his, but before I can get a good look at what is truly inside, he closes the curtains, retaining his secrecy. He lets me go and changes the subject. Motioning to the basin on a marble tabletop, he suggests I clean up, and then points to some additional packages in the corner. There, I find several more dresses and accessories.

I clean up in silence, pouring water into the basin and using the soaps provided on the table. I wish I could wash my hair, but I can’t. Too much hair and too small of a sink. Instead, I tie it down with ribbons, fashioning it in a loose braid that I sweep over to my right, letting it fall past my shoulder. I leave a few loose tendrils framing my face.

Dabbing some perfume behind my ears and between my breasts, I take a look at the other dresses. They are full skirts like the one I’m wearing. Lying next to them is a corset and a hoop skirt, along with several pairs of panties. He thought of everything, but there is no way in hell I’m wearing a corset. I glance over at Quillan, who has been lying across the bed, staring up at the ceiling, as if he were in deep meditation. He’s not paying attention to me, and as tempting as he is, I still have no desire to strip down in front of him. I take refuge behind a decorative, three-paneled room divider. My dress of choice is a deep burgundy. I chose it because it seems to have less fabric than the others. The neckline is lower and squared off. There are no sleeves, only black mesh gloves that go halfway up my arms. This has to be much cooler than heavy sleeves. Still, there is the problem of those dang shoes.

I have an idea. I can hide my feet under my hoop skirt and forego the shoes. The dress is so long, I am sure I can get away without wearing any. Nearly knocking over the room divider, I present myself to Quillan. His face softens in agreement. He does a quick change himself, dressing in nice Southern-gentleman attire. He pulls his lovely hair back into a ponytail, and we are off.

The Faulkner Estate gives me the creeps, no matter what time period I am in. It’s decorated beautifully, though, and I am relieved to know the soiree is taking place outside, so there will be no need to enter the formidable mansion. Dozens of tables sit around the lawn, covered with white linen cloths, decorated with yellow tulips, and laden with food. Pitchers of lemonade and tea are on each table, as well as egg-salad sandwiches, pulled-pork barbecue on home-baked buns, deviled eggs, leafy salads, heavily frosted cakes, and baked pies. Slices of watermelon along with baskets of fresh raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries complement the desserts. The only time I’ve seen a spread of this caliber is in the
Country Living
magazine at my momma’s shop. My mouth waters. I haven’t eaten since the bread and jam in the cave this morning. The pages of delicious food have come to life, and I can’t wait to dig in.

We stroll past a group of musicians assembled near a weeping willow tree, performing a lively tune on their banjos, violins, and harmonicas. Most of the children are playing tag and chasing each other through the trees while some of the adults are engaged in a competitive game of croquet. Quilts litter the lawn, welcoming those who wish to recline and eat their meal picnic-style. Those who prefer not to sit on the ground have a choice of wicker chairs or wooden rockers.

I realize the motivation behind the big shindig when a mammoth cake supporting seventeen candles is unveiled. The pretty young woman with fiery-red hair I saw scurry up the staircase in the mansion last night is all smiles as she scoops up a dollop of frosting from the side of the cake and licks it off her finger. Today must be Emily Faulkner’s birthday. I watch her flitter about, laughing and greeting her guests. It’s hard to imagine her hanging herself a month from now. It’s sad really. Suicide is something I’ve never been able to understand. No matter how bad it gets, there’s always hope.

We load our china plates with food and take a seat on a beautiful quilt under the low hanging branches of an oak. Several women look our way, eyeing Quillan. I’m not surprised. He is a hottie. I scold myself for being attracted to him, too. This is one of those instances where I need to be smart and guard my heart. He’s wealthy and no doubt super intelligent, seeing he understands concepts of time travel. I sigh, defeated. He is definitely out of my league.

As the afternoon wears on, Quillan suggests we mingle. I oblige, and we stroll along the grassy lawn having meaningless conversation with people we will more than likely never interact with again. I take this entire exercise lightly until Quillan mentions we might be meeting our ancestors. The idea never dawned on me before, so I spend the rest of the afternoon wondering if I might locate my mother’s family.

It doesn’t take long before we happen upon a group discussing the latest political events. Dread overtakes me when I see Mr. Potbelly and his portly wife standing amongst the small crowd. My eye is on Potbelly, so I don’t pay much attention to the tall gentleman with his back to us.

“There’s the Negro sympathizer I was telling you about,” Potbelly says with an air of confidence now that his friends surround him. “This young woman thought it would be all right for my Negro to sit on a white person’s bench and drink from her flask.” I can tell Quillan wants to bypass this group. Before we can skirt the issue, the tall gentleman turns around to face me. I gasp. Forget Mr. Potbelly. Smiling at me with his hand extended is the one and only, Mr. Brackett! My knees buckle as I teeter backward toward Quillan. Putting his arm around me and drawing me close, he steadies me. The way he slightly turns me toward him is an indication he doesn’t want me to say anything. Before I can find my voice, Mr. Brackett stifles anything I have to say by lifting my hand to his mouth and kissing it.

“James Faulkner.” He introduces himself. “Nice to meet you.”

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Quillan has got some explaining to do. He doesn’t seem at all surprised that Mr. Brackett and James Faulkner are one and the same. He’s definitely been hiding some valuable information from me, and I intend to get to the bottom of it tonight.

“My lands, dear, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Elizabeth Faulkner points out, not realizing she just won the grand prize with the observation. Quillan shakes Mr. Faulkner’s hand, a diversion, I’m sure, to keep me from responding to Mrs. Faulkner. “Name’s Quillan Robison. This is my wife, Averie Griffin Robison. She is the granddaughter of Allen T. Griffin. He has sent me down your way to perhaps open a savings and loan right here in town. It’s been a long trip, not to mention we just found out she’s expecting. I’m afraid she’s been a little moody with the heat taking its toll on her fragile condition today.”

Expecting? Now he’s gone too far. His manipulative lie plays out perfectly before my eyes. Allen T. Griffin must be a well-respected man, because the mention of the name turns the men to putty in Quillan’s hand. Not only that, but everyone seems to view me in a much different light now. Everyone smiles at me since Quillan and I will own the company that will provide them with loans. Once again, the almighty dollar sets the rules of the game.

“This certainly explains why she attacked me with my own walking stick.” Potbelly is making an attempt at humor, but he doesn’t know I’m better at this game than he is.

“Well I figured if Congressman Brooks can attack Charles Sumner right there on the senate floor, then it would be okay for me to give it a try.”

Mr. Faulkner roars with laughter, and the other men follow his lead. Quillan’s eyes smile at me, and I know I did well. Being a history buff has its advantages. I know that little incident happened not long ago, right after Sumner gave a speech blaming the pro-slavery forces for the violence going on in Kansas. I never thought the information would come in handy anywhere but on a test. I am exonerated for my shenanigan in town.

BOOK: One Last Time
9.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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