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Trust Me

November 2009

Annice Marie Brilane

            My head pulsed with the pain of knowing my three-year-old daughter and I were about to die. Patrick sat across from us on the living room floor like a worn puppet. His dull brown eyes threatened to spill tears as he spoke about his wife, Patricia. His gun lay in his lap.

            The cold from the hardwood floor chilled my bottom. My adrenaline pumped energy all through my veins, but I couldn’t chance running with my daughter. Had I been alone I’d have pooled into a glob of heaving sobs, but my daughter’s survival was all I cared about. 

            “Patricia told me once how damaged you are from an ex-boyfriend, but she was so happy you and that bastard found each oth er. You couldn’t hide your insecurity, though, no matter how well he treated you. That life needs to end tonight.” His voice held a bit of peace that made so afraid I felt nothing.

           Crushing Angela to my chest, I took a slow breath. “Are you going to kill me in front of my daughter?” My voice sounded stronger than I felt.

           Patrick stood to crouch down in front of me. For the first time that night, Patrick eye’s danced with something light. “Were you lying earlier when you said Jeremy doesn’t love you?”

          I blinked and shook my head. My eyes watered to know that my husband of five years, Jeremy Brilane, had never loved me. He cared so little he’d never even said I love you to me.

          Covering Angela’s ears with my hands, I shook my head again. “Jayme never loved me.”

          Patrick looked down at the floor and made a noise like a chortle and a sigh melted together. It froze my heart and dried out my eyes. My skin pricked and I squeezed my daughter closer.

          “No, you don’t deserve to be a martyr, and Jeremy doesn’t deserve the sympathy of being a widower, but what comes next will hurt.” Patrick put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

          The noise hit my ears like someone had hurled a brick at me. My vision was clear, yet I couldn’t see. Patrick’s blood hit my face just before he fell to the side. A buzzing sound bounced around in my head. His skull and brain spewed out of the back of him onto my polished hardwood floors.     

          As the buzzing sound in my head died off, I realized the rain had stopped. The thunder was only a whisper. Angela stared at Patrick’s body as I forced myself to stand up.

          Picking up my three-year-old daughter was like picking up dead weight in water, but I ambled  to the front yard before my legs collapsed. The cool, wet night chilled the blood on my face and the back of my legs as I rocked my motionless daughter.

          Life stalled as if someone had hit the pause button while I stared at the wet grass. The glaring lights of my husband’s Range Rover filled the dark yard sometime later. Jayme emerged out of the SUV as slow as molasses with the inky night framing him. He leaned over into the backseat to say something to our two-year-old daughter, Gabby, before rushing over to Angela and me.

          “Angela’s  alive,” I murmured. “It was Patrick. It was Patrick. He broke in…I think I forgot to set the alarm after you left…he had a gun…”

          Jayme’s eyes were steady as he listened to me speak, and he was at that moment in total control because I couldn’t be.

          “Let me take Angela to the car.” Jayme’s gentle voice eased my nerves, and I released our daughter to let him carry her to safety.

          My head drooped, and then, I fell in the damp grass. My daughter was safe. Freed from a mother’s burden, fear swept through me. Trembling, I curled tighter into a ball and forced myself to breathe.  

          After putting our first born in the car, Jayme returned and knelt in front of me. Taking off his jacket, he wrapped me in it. With steady hands, he touched my neck. “Can you focus on my face?”

          My hearing worked fine, but my eyes wouldn’t focus. My body lacked the strength to do much except stay alive. I gazed in his direction, but the scene of Patrick’s brain exploding onto the floor kept replaying in my mind.

          “Jayme,” I murmured. “Angela.”

          Jayme kissed my forehead and gathered my lip body into his arms. His warmth eased the cold out of me for a precious moment.

          “You and Angela are having acute stress reactions,” he explained as his eyes raked over me. “I’m going to call the paramedics.” My husband carried me over to his car and placed me in the passenger seat like I was a piece of blown glass. As he fastened my seat belt, I closed my eyes. 

          “Momma, Momma?” Gabby cried.

          I turned around and focused on Angela secure in her car seat with her thumb in her mouth. Her eyes stared ahead, and I hoped she had the peace of seeing nothing. Gabby clenched her sister’s hand in her fist with her mouth puffed out in a frown.

          "I’m okay, sweetheart. I’m okay. Angela’s just a lil sick from the spaghetti.” My voice sounded detached from my body as if it floated around the car. “We’re going to the hospital, but everything’ll be all right, and in the morning we’ll have pancakes because we have pancakes when everything is good.”

          Gabby’s hazel eyes stared at me. Despite her two-and-a-half years, Gabby understood me, but then again, she was Jayme’s child. Both my girls were precocious. My little doppelganger, Gabby, looked at her sister and squeezed her hand harder.

          A police car pulled up and two cops got out. Jayme spoke to them outside of the driver’s side door. I heard him say the ambulance was on its way, and they could question me after Angela and I were checked out at the hospital. They must have agreed because he slid into the driver’s seat with furtive movements, but his hand shook when he touched mine.

          “One of the neighbors heard the gun and called the police. The paramedics are coming. You’re both safe now.”  

          Too tired to speak anymore, I nodded. As Jayme drove us to the hospital, my mind wanted to replay the last scene when Patrick Canal blew his brains all over my living room in front of my daughter and me.

          Jayme had always inspired theatrics in others. My husband, the renowned neurosurgeon at Georgetown university hospital, was a legend. And legends, well, they inspire people.

          Jayme kept glancing at me during the ride to the hospital, but I was somewhere else. Where, I can’t say. I only returned when Jayme pulled his SUV to the ER of Georgetown.

          I grabbed his shirt sleeve. “Not here. Not where we work,” I pleaded.

          Jayme has eyes like a hero in a romance novel. Blue green or green blue or gray depending on his mood. Bedroom eyes that kept me on my back, but romance novels never write about the pain that causes the effect. The intensity of his gaze made me let him go, but his look was only meant to be tender.

          Reaching out to caress my face, Jayme tilted his head to press his lips to my ear. “We’re here. I get how you feel, but this is the best hospital. The staff knows us, and that’s better for the girls.”

          Of course it was, and had I been thinking like a doctor or a parent I wouldn’t have wanted to leave. But I was neither of those statutes right then. I was doing my best to stay conscious, but sleep beckoned.

          Most of the next few moments are a blur, but I recall a nurse asking if I wanted some water. Considering who we were, the on call doctors gave us the most privacy. Two nurses stayed with us to act as our maids, mostly. Two other nurses administered the tests and checked Angela and me for physical signs of trauma. They also let me wash up Angela and me up. The hospital gowns they gave us were wispy nothings, but they were better than our bloodied clothes. 

          As they checked my daughter I regained some control as my maternal side scrounged up the last strength I had. My heart broke more that Angela wouldn’t talk or focus, and the neuropsychologist in me knew how deeply Patrick had scarred her.

           “Daddy, Angel and me wan cookies,” Gabby announced the first moment our private staff left us alone.

            Jayme’s eyes darted from me and Angela cuddled on the hospital bed to little me with the severely puffed out cheeks sitting on his lap. He rubbed her head, and for a moment that sexy spark that just shouldn’t be legal in a man returned. His slight forced smile pulled me back to the present because I wanted any reason to forget the horror at my house.   

           When Jayme returned his gaze back to me his eyes were some color that startled me. Violet or black, but then maybe I was drifting off again.

           “Do you want something?” Jayme asked in a deliberately soft voice.

           As unfocused as I was, his tender care of me made my eyes water. He’d always been what I needed and wanted.

          “I don’t want anything, but get them cookies.”

          Jayme stared at me about a minute before taking little me to the vending machines. My mind drifted back to our recent vacation with Tara and her family in Mexico. I’d had the fleeting thought then we all needed to stay there and never return to DC.

          My intuition had always been strong, stronger than mere intuition, really. My Aunt Aceline called it the family gift, although only a few of us inherited it. Tara said it’s what made me special, and Jayme called me his witch. The gift hadn’t told me anything while Patrick held us hostage, but then fear always could overpower it.

          I was so lost in my head that I jumped when Gabby ran in with her little fists full of cookie packages. Jayme sat her on the bed and she smiled my smile at her older, mute sister.

          “Here, Angel. Choclate chip.”

          I took the package to open it, but Angela only stared past the cookie I offered. Jayme and I shared a long look, but Gabby only bounced a little and nodded her head.

           “It okay, Angel. You not hungry.”

           It was such a simple statement from a very young child, but it eased the stress off Jayme’s face and my neck.

           I gave Gabby the cookie and she took large bite of it before looking at her father. He strode over to sit next to us, and for the tiniest while we were our normal. Although, our normal had never been typical.

           A doctor and a nurse came in to talk to us, and a third nurse took the girls to another room. My arms hurt to have my baby gone from my arms again, but I didn’t want either of the girls to hear the scary, adult talk.

           Our doctor, a rather cute guy from India, was a newbie. I knew that by the way he fidgeted under Jayme’s gaze. The nurse was an older woman, and to her, Jayme was a staple at the hospital.

           “Your daughter’s in shock. She’s so young that she’ll probably recover, but you should see a specialist about that.” With that, the cute doctor from India left. The nurse walked out with him leaving me alone with Jayme for the first time since we’d had sex that morning.

           My vagina throbbed at the memory of his body in mind and how simple life was a few hours prior. Jayme brushed his soft, full lips across my chapped ones, and I kissed his back for the familiarity of his taste.

           "There’s my wife,” Jayme murmured as he stroked my arm. “Tell me what happened with Patrick.”

           I grabbed Jayme’s hands as the event flooded my mind. “Patrick got in some way…I think I forgot to set the alarm…he was so angry about Patricia, and Ashley, and Kyle. He was going to kill us…but I pleaded and he shot himself.”

           Jayme bristled and sat back before he squeezed my hands. “That man was a coward to take his anger at me out on you and our daughter. Patricia was right to do what she did, and I’m glad he’s dead. If it were possible I’d bring him back to kill him again.”

           Jayme never kidded, too much anyway. That darkness in him he always tried to hide bled out through his eyes. I slumped, but it was such a minuscule movement most men wouldn’t have noticed. Jayme’s eyes softened and he pulled me into his arms.

           “Do you want me to call Tara?”

           “No, she’s busy. Her sister’s been causing more family drama. She’d try to come down here and be in control, anyway.”

           Jayme’s easy laugh filled my ears and we both relaxed in each other’s arms. “Tara wouldn’t try. She’d just take control.”

           My laugh sounded peculiar in my ears, but it was genuine. We remained in that embrace until the police interrupted us.  

           I retold what I’d told Jayme with all the details the two detectives asked about, but I didn’t mention the part about how I got Patrick to spare Angela and me. I expected a long string of questions, but the detectives acted satisfied with the little I gave them. Patrick was dead, so what else did it matter?

           “Sir, could we have a word with you in the hall?” The older, balding man asked Jayme.

           Letting go of Jayme’s hand made me experience the sensation of drowning, but I let him go. He returned with those moist eyes of his and the lines on his boyish face deepening.

           “What did they say?” I drawled in my Louisiana accent.

           Jayme tugged on my hair and petted my head with a kiss. “Nothing you need to worry about. Procedure.”

           That wasn’t a lie. Jayme never lied to me, but he had a gift for skirting the truth. I opened my mouth to protest, but he kissed me quiet.

           Once Jayme was sure I wouldn’t ask again, he let me out of our kiss. “I made a reservation at the Ritz earlier, so we can leave whenever you’re ready.” Jayme was perfect, but fear gnawed at my soul. It said to be careful.

           Both girls were about sleep when we made it to our suite, and I decided that if they were hungry they’d wake up later to eat. I already knew I wouldn’t sleep much anyway. My system was still unsure of whether I was awake or dreaming, but my heart wouldn’t stop racing.

           The pills the doctor gave me would leave me like a zombie, so I opted for sex with Jayme. We threw the covers off the bed in the second bedroom and stripped down. I clung to him as he rode deeper and deeper into my body. Considering the day I’d had, an orgasm wasn’t going to happen, but his left me relaxed enough to consider sleep.

           We hadn’t packed anything since we weren’t going back to our house for a while. So while I soaked in the bubble bath Jayme ran for me, he went out to get us toiletries and sleeping clothes.

           While I waited for him to return, I rubbed my skin raw to get clean. It wasn’t so much the memory of Patrick’sblood on me as much as it was the memory of being so close to that man. The memory of him touching me was like a feces bath. I wanted to cry as I recalled how he’d run his finger down my neck or touched my hair, but my heart was cold.

           My skin felt as though it rotted off my bones. I wanted Jayme to come back and touch that feeling away. Pruning in the water was as much fun as it sounded, but as I stood to get out a slim trail of blood flowed down my leg.

           Plopping back into the water, I hugged my knees to my chest. Seeing the blood split my thoughts and my belly dropped. My body shook from my loud sobs, and that’s how Jayme found me.

           Kneeling at my side, Jayme stroked my hair. “Cry it out all you want.”

           A few wails later I realized what he thought I was crying over. The tiny pool of blood wasn’t visible to him with my legs closed.

           “No,” I sniffled. “I’m having my period. I’m not pregnant.”

           Jayme’s eyes teared up and his touch grew hotter. “We can try again later. I’m just thankful you and Angela are fine.”

           It was the perfect answer from the perfect man, but I’d never believed in perfect.

   

 

 

Clem Onojeghuo

Clem Onojeghuo

 

An American Love Story

Chapter one: February 1835

Lucy Beauregard

             Fanny pushed hard to bring that child into this world. Her hair, thicker and richer than Mrs. Bransford’s hair, clung to her in wet clumps down her back. Her soiled, cream nightgown inched up past her thighs with every push. The room smelled of sweat despite the chilly February air outside.

             Fanny let out another wail as her body jerked the baby forward in her belly. She squeezed poor Nancy’s little hand. Only eleven-years-old, Nancy had never seen a birth, but she’d heard the screams when the slaves and Master Bransford’s wife had their babies. Still, hearing wasn’t seeing, and her eyes were as wide as saucers. I don’t think she felt Fanny squeezing her hand.

         The cries of a woman in labor could still curdle my blood after three decades of midwifery, and when her baby’s crown emerged out of its tiny hole I prayed that the baby was strong. The last few slave babies born on Marigold Plantation had been fat and healthy, but there was a curse over Master Bransford’s illegitimate colord children. Everyone knew this one was his too.

         James Henry Bransford married Waverly Sageworth six years ago when they were both twenty and they had two, fat, spoiled little girls to show for his efforts. Waverly was pregnant again and everyone prayed that the child would be a boy. Maybe that would put the master in good spirits, just in case he had to get another girl if Fanny’s baby died.

         Master James had a strong liking for the yellow girls, and in the six years he’d been married, he’d taken four slaves to bed. He lost interest in the other three after each had birthed dead babies. His blood came from old Irish stock, and he was as superstitious as he was mean. Never could bed a woman after she had a dead baby, but his feelings for Fanny were deeper than those he had for the other girls. 

            Master James had left Fanny alone until she ripened. When she turned seventeen, her breasts and hips filled out. Her charming, sweet nature became something more intoxicating. Soon, she caught the attention of all the men on the plantation slave or other. Overnight Master Bransford morphed into a better version of the vile man that I knew once he snatched Fanny’s virginity.

           This change hadn’t occurred with his other three mistresses, and as disgusting as I found the man even I had to admit Fanny’s influence made his handsome face more alluring.

           His looks weren’t my concern, I preferred humble men, but his treatment of his slaves improved with his disposition, and I had to admire Fanny for that. She was already easy to like and easier to love, and for her, above any other reason, I wanted this baby, who she already loved, to live. Also unlike the other three, Fanny seemed smitten with the man who owned her.

            How that was possible I could not know, and had I not seen the way her eyes danced around him or the way her smile could chase away all sadness when he was around, I’d have died a skeptic on that romance.   

            A slave loving her master was sick, but it ran in Master Bransford’s blood, having illicit romances. His father, old Hugh, liked them blacker than coal. They say that the grandfather, Edwin, liked the young men of his own color, but if he did, he and his wife sure liked each other enough. They had ten kids but only three survived into adulthood.

            They were a unique coupling, Fanny and James, but they were a couple. Having no romantic sense, or rather at my age I didn’t need it, I wanted to spit in James’ face. James put a baby in Fanny and ruined her. His other three women were lucky he hadn’t loved them. He sure did love Fanny though, buying her gifts and turning a blind eye to her neglected work while she spent her days attending her rose bushes and her garden. Fanny, poor thing, was in love back.

            “Look what love got you child,” I whispered, as she pushed her pink baby out into my waiting hands. I swatted him twice and almost keeled over the moment his wails pierced the cabin. Fanny sat up with tears mixing into the sweat on her pretty face.

            “Miss Lulu, give me ma baby!” she cried with open arms. I knew she wanted to hold him before he died.

            I cut the cord attached to mother and baby. “Rest girl. He’s healthy and fat. I need to clean him off first.”

            Nancy stared at me with fear in her eyes, but I ignored her. Childbirth was traumatic for young girls, but it kept their legs closed better than the good book.

            I washed the afterbirth off the baby as he wailed for his momma and tried to be happy that he was healthy because I didn’t want to think what his resemblance to Master Bransford meant. The other three babies, all girls, were yellow like their mommas, but this one would be white, all white. He lacked any color around his ears or his forehead, sure signs of negro blood.

            The baby's thick, straight, black hair was silky, but then all yellow babies have silky hair for the first few months. Yet his eyes were clear as clean glass. Maybe he had a chance to darken, I hoped so. I didn’t know what the master would do with a white slave. I could only hope his love for Fanny would protect the baby.

            Once I had the baby cleaned, I wrapped him in one of the blankets Fanny’s mother had knitted. Swaddled, he stopped crying and stared upwards with alert, lively eyes, and I felt my heart swell for him. I begged God right then to make him dark enough to be colored. He was born from a slave and that was all there was for him.

            With assertive steps, I walked back to the bed and handed the warm bundle to his grinning mother. Most women were merely content to be alive with a living baby after the birth, but Fanny looked as eager as child for dessert. She snatched her first born from me, oblivious to the blood on the bed and the pain she must have been in.  

            “I wanta call him Ethan James Bransford,” she bellowed and smoothed his mounds of glossy hair. Little Ethan stared up at his mother and yawned before sticking two fingers in his mouth. 

            Nancy laughed as she edged closer to the bed. “That’s a lot fo a baby.”

            Fannie rocked her animated bundle and shook her head. “It ain’t! He a Bransford and theys all got three names. It be proper.”

            “Alright, Fanny. I have to tell Master James about his new son. You good for now?” I hated my task, and almost wished this child had died.

            “No Ma’am. I’s good miss Lulu,” Fanny said in her melodious voice.

            Nodding, I washed my hands in the basin I’d just cleaned the baby in. “Gal, clean this up before Master Bransford comes in. You know how he is. Thinks birth is painless and bloodless, like women are chickens.” I chortled .

            Smiling like the slaves usually did around me, she walked over to the water basin. My cloak cinched to my body, I moved to open the door, but my shaking hands stopped me. Theses old families were peculiar, and there was no telling what James would do with his white negro son.

            Five minutes was the most time it would normally take to get to the main house, but that particular night the walk took longer. My mind challenged my body to keep walking off the property and let James sort out his mess without me. My legs started for my phaeton with each footfall, but my heart remembered the new mother and tender baby waiting for me. Each step toward the house took all my fortitude.

            I hated myself for wanting little Ethan to be dead because from the moment Fanny knew about him growing inside of her, she loved that baby. Talked to him, sung to him, made plans for him. Still, I hoped when I returned I would find him passed on to the next life. 

            The main house met me with its wide columns in the front and back alerting all who passed by that part of the elite class of wealthy planters presided over the vast acres that made up Marigold plantation.  

            At the back entrance, I waited for one of the house slaves to notice me. I could’ve used the front door, but saw it more fitting to use the slave entrance. One stooped woman did see me before I froze to death. I recognized her as the personal maid and mammy to Master Bransford’s legitimate children.

            “Yes’am?” She sighed when she shuffled to the back door.

            “Tell James he’s the father of a healthy baby boy,” I threw out. 

          Her eyes widened a bit, but she kept her shock to a minimum and nodded her gray head. “Yes ma’am.”

           I made my way back to the cabin, asking forgiveness for my thoughts about the baby. The delicious scent of berries and vanilla hit me once I had reentered the cabin. The perfume bottle rested in Nancy’s happy hands as she peered at the baby from the side of the bed.

          “Too much perfume Nancy,” I scolded her as I took off my bulky black cloak.

          “I tole her ta spray it. It ma favorite smell and I wan ma baby to get use ta nice things like his siblins.” 

          Finding the baby and his mother well, I considered myself forgiven. Baby Ethan’s fat cheeks sucked nourishment from his mother with his full, pretty lips, and it lit up my heart to see him grip his mother’s finger in one little fist and a wad of her coils in the other. 

          “See Miss Lulu, ma baby is strong!” Fanny gushed.

          I smiled, but my eyes felt weighed down, and my hands wanted to tremble instead of obey me. I tended the fire to remain in control because Master James’ imminent approach made my mind and body want to be anywhere else. 

          Nancy had done a splendid job of cleaning up, although I was sure cleaning up Fanny’s cabin was preferable to going to her own mother’s. Fanny, being the favorite, had real curtains, real dishes, a white table and chairs with cushions, pictures on her walls, and a real bed and bedding, in addition to her full wardrobe of five dresses, and a trousseau fit for any woman. Her floor was as scuffed as one in any other slave cabin, but brightly woven rugs took away from the worn look. 

          James kept Fanny’s cabin in pristine condition. Each spring and fall he sent two workers to make her as comfortable as possible for the harshness of a Tennessee summer or winter. Her two-room cabin was luxurious compared to the prison like dinginess of the cabins her peers lived in.

          I had to admit that Master Bransford did, at least, treat his slaves like good cattle instead of dogs waiting to be put to sleep the way some other plantation owners treated theirs. He gave them plenty to eat, and his slaves had a higher mortality rate than was usual among the slave population in Tennessee. He was a business man, a good one, before Fanny took his heart and made him human.

          “Thank you Nancy. You did a good job,” I said.

          Nancy smiled widely but didn’t move from her seat on Fanny’s big bed. I doubted the girl had ever slept in a real bed. Master James was a business man, but his slaves were possessions. Only people got real beds. My eyes watered a bit as Nancy dug her fingers into the soft covers while she bounced a bit on the bed.

          The door swung open bringing my emotions down to a controllable level as the cool night air rolled into the cabin. Master James strode through with a bravado like that of an actor. His body was in top shape, despite never doing any hard work. His hypnotizing green eyes, alert as those of his first born son, settled on Fanny.

          My breath caught in my throat and Nancy jumped up to run behind me. The only acknowledgment she received from Master Bransford was his coat and hat when he threw them at her. She scrambled to pick them up, and I waited for his reaction to that baby.

          How’s my Mary?” he asked in a silly voice as he walked over to the bed. It wasn’t really silly since all men in love use it, but it sounded silly coming from his throat since he had no heart.

         “Jus fine.  I name him James afta you,” Fanny announced like he would be proud.

         Master James reared back making even me afraid, but Fanny chuckled and winked at me. Shifting on the bed, she twirled a lock of Ethan’s hair around her fingers. 

         “I ain’t stupid boy! His firs name be Ethan, like my daddy. But I want Bransford on his birthin tificate and his papers.” 

         Master James relaxed his body and sat on the clean bed next to his mistress and his son. His greens eyes looked over the baby, but I couldn’t tell what he thought about such a tiny spectacle as a white negro.

         James lowered his eyes to drift the length of the baby. “I hope you’re both well sweetheart.”

         I knew his interest only lay in getting between her legs not in the health of the baby.

         Fanny nodded my way. “I es. Miss Lulu did right by me.” 

         Master James turned his chiseled face and lively eyes to me, and I could see why Fanny loved him. I was too old for romance, and a man as repulsive as him would never get my heart, but I could see how a young girl would fall for him.

         “Master James.” I swept into a Texas dip as perfect as the one I did for my coming out party when I was sixteen.

         “Lucy, you’re not a slave. You spend too much times with them, old girl.” There was laughter in his eyes, and for a moment I found my old body responding in ways I thought were long gone, but I hadn’t been sixteen in four decades. My feelings were easy to hide, and I scowled at him. 

         “Someone has to care about these women. The men don’t.” 

         James licked his lips and stood up. “I can’t believe you never married with a tongue like that. If you were mine…”

         “I would never be yours Master James. I’m too smart.” My retort rolled out of my mouth as sweet as candy.

         His pleasant look darkened and Nancy crept further into a corner. “Now, see?” He spat at me. “You’re the very reason why women don’t need an education. Your father was a fool for letting you learn from him.”

         My Daddy, Dr. Taylor Beauregard, had taught both my sister and I how to read and about medicine. After he died, I moved to Tennessee with her and her husband over forty-five years ago. She became a society wife, and I became a midwife.

         My brother-n-law hated my choice to work with the slaves and the poor women, but he loved his wife. My sister had been smart enough to marry for love and money. It served us both well.

         “And your father was just a fool.” 

         Pretty James was, quick-witted he wasn’t. He curled his lip at me making his green eyes look more like the night and his face almost ugly, but he wouldn’t dare hurt me. The blood in my veins came from the Mayflower and my brother-n-law was a senator. 

         “Aw, love, leave her be. Come see yo son!” Fanny called out in her appealing voice. She did have a way about her that calmed the beast inside of him, and even his wife couldn’t do that. Master James turned his eyes back to the woman he really did adore, and I saw a peace settle over him my father always had around my mother. 

         Grinning just to the point of foolishness, he sat down next to her on the bed. “A fine boy indeed, but you know better, Mary.”

         She smiled like she did but knew that would change. “I know, I know, but ain’t he beautiful! Looks jus like ya.”

         The baby did look like his father, but I hoped he had his mother’s blessed nature. Her ability to only see the best in life was remarkable. I walked closer to see that Ethan’s clear eyes were open.

         “Ethan sho can drink.” Fanny giggled. “He be big as dis house in no time.”

         “Well that would be like his father too.” I quipped.

         Master James loved liquor more than money and sex. He glared at me with glowing eyes. This must be what the devil looks like, I mused.

         “Lou, what do I owe you for the trouble?” He sneered.

         “Five like always.” My mood lifted at the thought of leaving his vile presence.

         James reached into his pocket and pulled out a five then threw it at me. I glanced at it but refused to pick it up.

         "Nancy, girl, you did such a good job you take the money,” I said with Master James’ wicked eyes at war with mine.

         Nancy snatched the money. “I rich,” she muttered.

         James hated the thought of losing money to a slave, but he wouldn’t take it back from one as dark as Nancy. Dark skin was also a superstition of his. I always wondered what he thought made the yellow girls he liked, but I tried not to question his limited intelligence.

         "Well, Fanny, I’ll be back tomorrow to check on you two. Master James, Nancy.” I gave each a nod then pulled on my thick cloak and leather gloves.

         "Bye, miss Lulu.” Fanny and Nancy called out.

         The air seemed colder as I walked out into the night, but my relief to get away from that man warmed me. My horses stomped their feet when they saw me approach my phaeton. 

         “A healthy baby. Hope that mean good things for Fannie.” I yawned.

         Before I could climb into the seat and ride away Master James followed me out into the cold night.

         "What the devil do you want?” I yelled. 

         James dropped his eyes for a second and let his shoulders droop. “Are you sure Mary and the baby are fine?” His eyebrows knitted together and worry lines framed his mouth when he looked back up at me.

         Blinking like a fool, I stepped closer to him. “Are you really worried about that baby?”

         “I’m worried about her. A baby born under a full moon is never good for the mother. And she loves that baby. I’d hate for her to lose him.”

         “You’d hate for you to lose a healthy mistress. Don’t worry. That cockamamie superstition is not true. I’ve delivered many babies under a full moon.” I climbed into the seat of my phaeton. “She’s still a slave even if you call her by another name.”

         I’ll never forget the way he stared at me. No one emotion would describe what his eyes conveyed, and I would never guess.

         “They say death follows a white nigger,” he breathed.

         "I’ve never heard that.”

         “How many white niggers have you met?”     

         “Night James,” I said before riding off the plantation.