I close my eyes angrily and roll over. The door opens a few seconds later, and Jarrah comes in tiredly. He doesn’t see me, so he must think I’m asleep. I try and fight back my tears.
I watch him nestle into a bag of hay beside me.
“I’ve really screwed this up, haven’t I?” he whispers, and I freeze. He knows I’m awake?
I’m about to respond with a sarcastic quip, when he sighs and turns away from me.
I realize he’s talking to himself, and stay quiet. I lie there, taking in everything I’ve heard tonight and realizing there’s no chance I’ll be able to sleep. A few moments later, Jarrah’s breaths become harsh and he too falls asleep beside me.
Can I even trust him anymore? Do I even know who he is? Just hours ago, I believed he was genuinely trying to help me.
Now? I think it’s been me helping him all along. Maybe everything was an act. I think about what Marian said to him.
“You’re just usin’ em to get out of ‘ere. It’s not them yer freein’, it’s you.”
The more I think about it, the more I believe it’s true. Why would he help some random slave girl anyway when she sprained her ankle? He didn’t need to care, so why did he? He probably had a reason for it; was already thinking of how to escape and just covering his bases.
What about the canvas in his room? Why would he paint you? My subconscious argues with me.
That could’ve been anyone, I retort, I just liked him and wanted to see myself there. Could’ve been Marian for all I know.
That’s not true and you know it, my subconscious says.
I don’t know what’s true anymore, okay? All I know is I’m talking to myself because there’s no one else who’s got a clue how I feel! I don’t even know who Marian is and what she knows about Jarrah, but something clearly happened between them.
Why don’t you ask her? Now’s your chance to get some answers.
She wouldn’t tell me anything. I’m just a slave in her eyes that she’s harbouring because Jarrah begged her to.
I decide to go for a walk outside to clear my head. Carefully, I slip outside the doors of the storage room, careful not to squeak them and wake anyone up. I step into the cool night air, greeted by a clear autumn night above me.
The stars have always been there. They’re the only constant thing in my life. Each time I look up, thousands of shining lights dance across the sky, singing a song of their own and enjoying the view from above. The full moon glows brightly; asserting its dominion over all the diamonds that surround it. It illuminates the night, giving off its own kind of beauty that most people, asleep in their beds, never see. The light falls upon the forest, almost making it glow. There is a slight breeze, caressing my cheeks and uplifting the tangles of my hair. Not a cloud lies in sight, none daring to obstruct the mighty velvety painting that I gaze upon. I have always preferred the night. While it frightens some people, for me it is a comfort that when I leave this Earth, there will be something more beautiful beyond, waiting with outstretched arms to welcome me to a new adventure.
I hear yelling from the inn, and the breaking of dishes. A plate smashes against the floor, and a man yells, “Oh fer the love of the Lord, would ye keep my tableware out of this?”
I’m careful to stay as far from the bar as I can to avoid being seen. Instead, I walk the outskirts of the forest, enjoying my own company and treading in the muddy grass. As I walk away from the inn, I hear sobbing. I approach the sound cautiously, and when I get close enough the frizzy red curls instantly tell me it’s Marianna. She’s holding a bottle of whiskey and drinking it like water. Several other glasses lie around her, empty and tossed away.
“Marian, are you alright?” I ask slowly, as not to startle her.
She gives no sign that she heard me, so I walk carefully towards her and sit down.
“Oh, it’s you,” she grunts.
“Sorry, I’m probably not who you were hoping for,” I apologize.
After an awkward pause, I start again. “You alright?”
“Alright? I’m bloody f**king fantastic,” she laughs bitterly.
I sit there, nose crinkled at the strong stench from her drinking.
“What happened?” I try again
“I’m sure ye know what happened, since you’re sitting here.”
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Sorry? Yeah, you should be, bringing Jarrah f**king Whitley back here. He shouldn’a came. Not after what he did.”
“It wasn’t exactly his fault,” I shoot back defensively, “he took us here to save us.”
She snorts. “Yeah, nothing’s ever his fault. But who suffers for it, everytime? Me. I’ve been getting drunk ‘lmost every nigh’ since he left me. I was hoping, always hoping, that he’d come back for me. Then he just waltzes right back in, actin’ like nothin’ ever happened.”
“What...what did happen?” I ask cautiously.
“You’d like to know that, woulncha? Well, you can ask him yourself, since he loves you so much, dudn’t ’e?” she sneers, taking another swig of the whiskey.
The pleasant smiles we exchanged when I first arrived are gone, and now she only looks at me venomously. Another bout of silence.
“God, he really thought he could replace me with you?" she laughs.
“Excuse me?” I spit, “what’s that supposed to mean?”
“I mean, you’re a plain slave. You look like all the other ones! What’s so special about you? What can you offer him, a life on the run and shame from his friends and family? And I’m...well, look at me! I’m running an inn, I’m actually a legal citizen, and I’ve known ‘im for years. Family friends, see? My uncle owns this place. I bet he didn’ mention that either.”
I glare at her, but she continues. “Did you really think ye stood a chance with ’im? You’ve seen ’im, ‘aven’t you? He’s a bloody god! Ye aren’ right for ‘im and you’d best stop tryin’ . Me and him were already decided before you even showed up. Best you take yer friend and go.”
A verbal slap in the face. My blood boils and I retaliate immediately.
“Who the hell do you think you are? Clearly, he didn’t give a rat’s ass about you or he never would’ve left you, yeah? And the way I see it, he hasn’t even thought about you since he came back. Never even mentioned you. You’re nothing but a bad memory to him,” I angrily spit.
“That boy hasn’t stopped thinkin’ about me, or ’e wouldn’a come back ’ere. There’s loads of safehouses in West Virginia. Face it sugar, he still loves me. You know what ’e said to me last night? He said, come Marian, come to Paris with me. We can start over.”
“You’re a liar,” I say, but fear grows in the back of my mind.
“Ha! You’re nothing but cargo now that he’s escaped, and you bloody know it. He’ll get rid of you at the next chance he gets, just you wait.”
She takes another swig of the whiskey, and wipes her face sloppily. “In fact,” she says, “I might even make his job easier and turn you in right now. Stay there, love, I’ll be back in a ’mo!” she giggles, drunkenly turning towards the inn to alert the police.
I react in an instant, sprinting towards the barn to warn him and get us out of here. My feet carry themselves, and my mind is numb, trying to process what she just told me. I burst into the storage room, to see Isaac and Jarrah still asleep. I make my way over to Isaac, shaking him.
“Wake up!” I hiss, “wake up, Zac!”
He groans and rolls over, me quickly muffling him.
“What’s...what’s going on?” he sighs.
“The police are coming.”
Isaac’s eyes widen in an instant, and he springs into action. He’s about to wake up Jarrah when I grab his wrist and pull him back. He cocks him head curiously, waiting for me to explain.
I shake my head and whisper, “He can’t come. Not anymore.”
Isaac takes my word for it and makes his way out of the room. I take one last fleeting glance at Jarrah. His sandy, wavy hair falls over his eyes, and a small grin tugs at his mouth in sleep. I hope he’s thinking of me, but even then I know not to be so naive. His shirt is ruffled and dirty, but even then he looks as handsome as ever.
Marianna’s right. He doesn’t fit with me, at all. We’re from two different worlds.
“Goodbye,” I whisper.
I sigh and exit the storage room, grabbing Isaac’s hand and my satchel, as we run out of the forest and into the night.
My heart pumps furiously as I sprint, my legs trying to distance me as far from the inn as I can. I’d estimate around twenty minutes before the cops reach the inn and realize we’re gone.
“What happened?” pants Isaac as we run, “how did they find us?”
“Marianna called the cops on us.”
“Why did we leave Jarrah? We have to go back for him!” says Isaac.
I never want to see him again, but I know Isaac won’t like my girlish excuse too much.
“Jarrah turned us in,” I lie, “he brought us to Marianna, they were working together all along. He led them right to us.”
“That doesn’t make sense, why would he--”
“He just did, alright? He’s not who we thought he was.”
“That son of a bitch. I risked my ass for him. Why, I’ll--”
“Focus, Isaac. We don’t know where we’re going.”
“Right. Do we have that map?” he asks.
I shuffle through my satchel, hoping Jarrah put it in, but no luck.
“It looks like we’ll be going it alone and reading the signs. Did Jarrah mention anything, towns, or streets to you?” I ask.
Isaac crinkles his nose in distate. “He did, but we’re not trusting what he said. He was probably leading us into a trap. Let’s do the opposite of what he--”
“No,” I interrupt quickly, trying to hide my lie about Jarrah, “that part was real. What did he tell you?”
Isaac looks at me suspiciously, but disregards my comment. “He mentioned some place called...Preston?”
“Alright,” I say, and we continue running well into the night. The darkness hides us well, and we go unnoticed past small cottages and houses, following the signs leading to Preston. I feel numb, and fight back my tears, never until now realizing how attached I was to Jarrah. I’m unable to clear my mind, thinking only of how he’ll feel when he wakes up and we’re gone. Will he be mad at Marianna? Or will she lie and say the police found us on their own? I don’t know, and I almost don’t want to.
The wind whips in our faces, and our feet are muddy and sore by the time we see the sun going up. We’ve been following the path from the safety of the forest, but up ahead is the large village of Preston and we’ve run out of ground to hide in.
“I think we should stop. We shouldn’t travel by day anymore, it’s not safe and I’m bloody tired,” pants Isaac.
“Right. Where do we hide?”
“I say we climb a tree. It’s dangerous to stay out in the open, when the villagers wake up they’re bound to find us.”
“Have you ever climbed a tree?” I scoff.
“So much you don’t know about me,” says Isaac cheekily. I curiously watch him walk up to the nearest tree and inspect it. He chooses a sturdy limb and cracks his knuckles. I roll my eyes as he wraps his hand around it, and kicks his legs up against the tree. Almost rhythmically, he grabs the branches of the trees with a focused face. I watch him fascinated as he climbs farther and farther away from me.
“Alright, your turn.”
“What?” I laugh shakily.
“Go on!” he teases.
“Are you crazy? I can’t do that! Look how high up you are!”
“Would you rather be down there with cuffs around your hands?”
“Fine,” I sigh.
“I’ll guide you, relax Alice.”
Relax, he says. I try and follow the path he took, nervously placing a foot on a thick branch. Atleast I’m lighter and much smaller than Isaac, so the smaller branches can support my weight. I try not to look down. I hate heights, but I hate cops more.
When I’m almost there, I laugh and say, “That wasn’t so bad.”
“Just one more step, then you’re high enough.”
I place my foot on a rather darkened branch, and lean forward when I feel a snap. I begin to fall, and frantically shout out, when Isaac’s hand grabs my wrist and pulls me up.
“You’re okay, you’re okay,” he says, and I relax against the trunk.
“Isaac?” I ask shakily.
“How am I gonna get down?”
He rolls his eyes and says, “No more talking, it’s already day. You sleep, I’ll keep watch.”
And I do. Restlessly, but probably feeling safer than I have in a long while. I’m surprised when Isaac tugs on my arm a few hours later, and puts his finger to his lip telling me to stay silent.
“Listen,” he whispers. I hear the trotting of a horse around the forest, and once it gets louder I catch a glimpse of red hair from beneath the tree.
“Alice! Isaac! Where are you? Come on, please! You have to be somewhere here! I swear, I’m alone!” she yells worriedly.
I look at Isaac curiously, unsure whether or not to reveal ourselves. I don’t trust her.
“Alice, I know I said some mean things. I was arrogant and stupid, and I know we don’t agree with each other. Come on, where are you?”
I frown, waiting for her to leave and entirely believing it’s a trap.
“Please listen to me, are you there? You have to come back!”
I look at Isaac curiously, and he shakes his head.
“Please! It’s Jarrah! They arrested him!”
* * *