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Authors: Denise Daisy

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BOOK: One Last Time
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“Emily dear, why don’t you take Averie down by the river. It’s much cooler over there,” Elizabeth Faulkner suggests to her daughter.

“Yes, Momma.” Emily seems more than eager to whisk me away. If she’s anything like me, she’s ready to escape the political mumbo jumbo. I leave Quillan and follow Emily across the property. It’s an eerie feeling walking alongside this legendary character, so full of life. Her perfect bow lips smile as she acknowledges her admiring guests, wiggling her delicate fingers in the air in a friendly wave. She’s stunning, that’s for sure. It’s obvious she lives a life of privilege. I’ve never seen a girl near my age so perfect and put together. Her ivory skin is flawless. I bet she is meticulous, never exposing it to direct sunlight, unlike the girls back home who spend their entire summer lying out in the sun at the local pool. Even now, she totes a parasol, shading herself from the harsh rays. Her deep red hair heightens her blue-gray eyes as it cascades in curls halfway down her back.

While I am in awe of her beauty, she turns to me, taking me completely off guard. “You are beautiful. I can see why the men have been stealing glances at you all afternoon.”

Stunned, I have no idea how to respond to that statement. It doesn’t matter because she rattles on until we arrive at a charming gazebo down by the rushing water.

“Everybody’s talking about what you did in town this morning. You have a lot of spunk, that’s for sure. I have wanted to hit Mr. Butler over the head with his walking stick many times, but I would never have enough courage to do something like that. I think you must be the bravest girl I’ve ever met. Why, even offering a Negro a seat on a white bench is daring, to say the least.”

I’m the most courageous person she’s ever met? I want to laugh. Clearly, Miss Emily Faulkner doesn’t know me.

“And I can tell you’re smart, too.” She continues with her hero worship. “I’ve never heard any of the women talking politics, and you just spouted off something about our congressman and made my daddy laugh. What I’d give to be able to do something like that.”

Her accolades are making me uncomfortable, so I attempt to defer the honor. “I see the way your father admires you. I am sure you make him laugh all the time.”

She’s quiet now. Her happy hostess face has transformed to sorrow. We take our rest on a decorative wooden bench that sits in the center of the gazebo. She stares off across the river, her mind drifting away, meditating on a dark secret that torments her. A feeling of gloom invades the balmy summer evening. I witness Emily peeking inside of death’s door. She’s contemplating it, I know. I can sense her despondency—it’s whispering in her ear, filling her mind with lies of hopelessness. I know the gaze. I wore it the day Momma took me and left daddy. I wore it again the afternoon his receptionist turned me away. I sat on the curb outside his office, staring off into space until the sky turned dark. I didn’t see how life would ever get any better for me. My own father refused me, and with that rejection, I couldn’t see myself worth anything, let alone lovable or wanted by anyone. That’s when fear moved in, taking residence, convincing me no one would ever want me, and I would be alone the rest of my life.

I want to talk with her. I want to tell her she takes her own life a month from now, but as usual, I am afraid
.
How could she ever believe I am from the future? I fear if I say anything, I will ruin Quillan’s plan, even though he admits he doesn’t really have one. Still, I don’t think blurting out that I am a time traveler would be the best course of action. Again, she interrupts my musings with her sweet Southern accent. “Your husband is dreadfully handsome. I suppose you love him a lot.”

Now this, I am not sure how to respond to. Yes, he is very hot, but as far as loving him…

“Yes, I do.” I smile, keeping up the charade.

“How did you two meet?” she asks, keeping her eyes cast far across the river as if she’s looking for something. Who does she think she’s fooling? She doesn’t care how we met. She’s just making small talk, biding her time. I’ve been treated this way before so I know how it works. It happened a lot back in high school. Someone would sit next to me in the lunchroom just because they didn’t want to be seen as a loner. They would offer idle chitchat but the entire time they looked past me, at the door, waiting for someone better to come along. Then they’d excuse themselves, no matter where I was in my story. I hated it then, and I hate it now.

“We met at a dinner party.” I keep it as truthful and simple as possible so not to contradict myself later. I don’t know why I’m being cautious, she’s not listening anyway. Since I am playing make-believe, I’d love to embellish the story and come up with some wonderful, romantic, chance meeting. Come to think of it, the way we met
was
exceptional and a bit romantic. My stomach does that warm burning sensation when I think of Quillan grabbing my hand and pulling me into the passageway. He saved my life. I wonder why since he allowed the other dinner guests to remain behind, sealing their fate.

“You’re smiling,” she says, and I’m surprised she noticed.

She pulls her attention from the woods and focuses in on me. “You are in love. That’s nice.”

My cheeks grow hot. I want to deny her claims, but then it would be odd, so I smile and play along. “Yes, yes I am.”

“And you’re having a baby.” She continues on, returning her gaze across the water.

I smile and nod. “That’s what they tell me.”

She laughs. “You’re funny. I like that.”

Her eyes widen, and I see anticipation spread across her face. I follow her gaze except I can’t see what excites her. Slightly raising the hem of her dress, she turns to leave. “Will you excuse me a few minutes, Miss Averie? I have a little errand to run. I’ll be back shortly.”

I nod and watch as she gracefully glides along the grass, making her way down the riverbank. She disappears into the thick trees lining the back of the property. It’s still hot as hell, even in the gazebo. I lift my hem much higher than Miss Emily did and wade out into the water. My feet sink in the soft, cold mud. The water feels like heaven on my ankles. I splash out a bit farther, stepping on smooth stones, the clear, cool water rushing over my feet. What I’d give to strip down right here, dive in, and swim. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to skinny dip. Of course, I’ve always been too afraid of being caught. Instead, I lift my skirt as high as I can and step out a bit deeper, fording the stream one rock at a time. I step into the shade where the big oaks line the bank. The rocks are green, covered with moss. It’s been a long time since I went wading, long enough for me to forget how slick the wet algae can be.

I slip and plunge into the rushing water. I try to get my footing, but the river is deep and the current swift. I would have a chance of swimming out if I weren’t wearing this ridiculous dress. The weight of the fabric holds me down, pulling me under. I fight the rapids, but the rushing water tosses me like a piece of driftwood, trapping me in a current and floating me farther downstream. My heart thunders against my chest as the river rushes over my face, obstructing my view, filling my mouth and nostrils. I struggle to keep my head above water while trying to grab some of the low tree branches, but the fast flowing stream rips them from my hands.

My next frantic thought is to somehow remove my damn dress, but it’s impossible with the water tossing me about in such a way, giving me no control. Fear takes over, screaming in my ear that I am drowning. This terror does nothing but weaken me more. I thrash around in the water, fighting against the morbid thought, determined to survive this horrifying ordeal. All I can hear is fear, hissing in my ear, telling me it’s useless. Give up. It mocks my attempts. The property is cursed. Death dwells here. These rivers run with the blood of those who came before me. Life may not trespass, and when it tries, it will be snuffed out.

My heart thunders above the raging water. I am convinced evil inhabits this house and is what pushed me in, knowing all too well, I am here to help stop Lunar’s death. “No,” I scream, fighting back, not conceding defeat for me or Lunar. My back scrapes up against a jagged boulder that tears through my dress and into my skin. Sharp pain radiates through my body as the rock cuts into my flesh. With all the strength I can muster, I grab the rock and cling to it like a life preserver. Water slaps at my face, trying to push me off my life raft, but I hold on tight. I will not let the malevolence wash me away. I’m trembling, exhausted, and not sure how long I can hang on. What I need to do is climb on top of the rock, instead of just clutching it, but unfortunately, I have no strength left. Laying my head against the side of the boulder, I cling to life. It hasn’t been much, I know, but it’s my life, and there is always hope for a better day.

Something soft and warm wraps around my waist. Before I realize what is happening, my rescuer pulls me off the rock. I struggle, but I hear someone quietly say, “Calm down, I got you.” It’s a man’s voice, but it doesn’t belong to Quillan, so I have no idea who has gently towed me across the water and is now carrying me up onto the grassy bank. It doesn’t matter. Whoever it is saved my life, and I am thankful to be on dry ground. I cough uncontrollably, gagging on river water as I lay in the tall grass. Exhausted, I stare up into the late-afternoon sky and see a blurred silhouette of the one who pulled me out of the river. I turn my head and raise my trembling arm, shielding the orange glow of the setting sun from my eyes. I want to see the face of my rescuer, the one who braved the waters, looked death in the face and said, “You are not taking her today.”

My eyes adjust. I see a shirtless Lunar Wilson sitting in the tall grass beside me.

 

 

Chapter 15

 

I want to sit up and hug Lunar with what strength I have left and thank him profusely, but I am weak. Besides, the weight of my dress holds me down. “Thank you,” I choke out, amidst coughing up river water. He doesn’t say anything, just sits beside me and stares me in the eye. Beads of water roll off his bronzed skin and drip from his long dreadlocks. His features are fierce, and his eyes intimidating. Funny thing is, I am not afraid of him, but then again, why should I be? He risked the current to pull me to safety. His eyes bore into me as if he is trying to decide whether or not rescuing me was a good idea. I can see why Emily is drawn to him. His muscles bulge, sculpting his dark skin. He is in optimum shape, no doubt from hard labor. Mr. Faulkner more than likely abuses him, treats him no better than a workhorse, and overlooks the brilliant mind behind his eyes. I can see it, and I am sure Emily does, too.

“You gonna be all right,” he says. “Once you rest up, you get back to that party. You don’t tell anyone who pulled you out of the water, you hear?” His tone is harsh. I think he’s trying to intimidate me, but it won’t work. I went to high school with tough guys like him. Once you get to know them, they’re just like everybody else.

“Sure,” I say as I struggle to sit.

“And another thing,” he continues his list of instructions, “I know you were only trying to help Naomi this mornin’, but you done her more harm than good. She got punished bad for sittin’ on that bench and drinkin’ your water. You may be white, but your opinions about colored folk ain’t taken seriously by menfolk ’cause you’re a woman. From here on out, mind your business and save us the trouble.”

In any other circumstance, I would be pissed off, but right now I am just thankful I am alive and on dry land. Having said his piece, Lunar stands, leaving me to dry in the grass. When we hear Quillan yelling my name, Lunar’s countenance dissolves into a troubled teen, running from authority. Anxious, he glances toward the woods. Cutting his eyes back to me, he raises a finger, giving me a final warning. “Remember what I told you. You got out of the water on your own.” He disappears into the trees as Quillan’s voice rings out again.

“Averie!” He sounds anxious.

Letting out a few lingering coughs, I respond to his call. “Over here.” I make an attempt to raise my weak arm.

Quillan sees me and breaks into a run. “What the hell happened?”

“I slipped on a slimy rock,” I answer him. He shakes his head. I think he might be mad again, and I’m afraid he’ll reprimand me for screwing around.

“You could have drowned,” he says, not looking too pleased.

“No kidding,” I fire back. “I thought I was.”

His face takes on a new anxiousness as he spins around. “Where’s Emily? Did she fall in, too?”

“No.” I cough again. “She left me alone at the gazebo to run a quick errand. I was hot and bored so I decided to cool off. I never figured it was so deep, not to mention swift.”

Quillan shakes his head and sighs. “I’m glad you made it out.”

“Me, too,” I mumble, keeping Lunar’s secret for the time being, just in case he’s close by listening, but I intend on telling Quillan once we get back to the hotel.

He helps me to my feet, and I struggle to make the long walk down the river’s edge. We haven’t gone far before Emily meets us. Looking aghast, she clutches her heart. “Oh, my dear, whatever happened to you?”

I don’t know why, but for some strange reason, I feel as if she knows. Maybe it’s because of her blatant overacting. For extra credit, I volunteered to crew during our high school play last year, and believe me, I have seen my fair share. Emily Faulkner deserves an award for her stellar performance.

“I fell in the river.”

“Oh dear.” Her delicate fingers cover her bloodred lips. “I am sorry I left you alone. You could have met your end in such swift water. How did you manage to get out?”

Again, I see some sort of trickery at play in her blue-gray eyes as she awaits my response. “I’m a pretty good swimmer. I was on our swim team at school.” Quillan jabs me in the side with his elbow, and Emily tilts her head in confusion. “Your school has a swim team?”

“It was just among friends.” I fake cough this time. “We raced in the lake after school, not at school. I’m fast and much stronger than I look. I actually just relaxed and floated along with the current until I was able to grab hold of some tree branches and pull myself out.”

BOOK: One Last Time
4.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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