I awake to pitch darkness, save for a sliver of light escaping from underneath the battered door frame. The consistent throbbing of pain in my side wakes me up often, and I search for something to distract myself with.
Memories of the past are a bad choice; the kind that slowly eat away at you rather than knock you out all at once--but they’re all I have left of Isaac and Jarrah. Like a drug, I need the glimpses into a happier time to distract myself from the present, to fight back the sorrow.
I think about them all the time. Isaac’s presence, now gone from my life, leaves a gaping hole in my mind. An emptiness that will never be filled. He rarely spoke to me of his emotions, but he didn’t need to. They were written all over his determined and angry eyes, sung like a lyric-less song in his raspy and powerful voice, and felt in every comforting embrace.
Jarrah--I can’t yet think of him. His death to me is surreal, for I never saw it the way I did Isaac’s. It is an unconfirmed and yet blatantly obvious assumption that he didn’t survive that day in the gallows. Still I draw the hope that his life was spared, though one day that too will be gone from me as I face the truth I have blindfolded myself from.
I may have escaped the plantation, but I will never escape the grief that they have left me with.
Eager to push it further to the back of my mind, I focus on my breathing to force myself into a restless slumber. I soon hear muffled arguments echo outside, keeping me from falling back to sleep. I strain to make out the conversation, but to no avail. It sounds agitated and persistent, barely loud enough for me to ignore. After three or four days of lying in bed I decide to test my luck standing and see what the commotion is.Tiredly, I clutch the edge of the mattress with my left hand and try to swing myself up. Immediately, I feel a gut-wrenching ache in my side and tumble off the bed and onto the floor with a cry.
The argument stops. “Alice? What’s happened?” I hear a female voice call.
I find difficulty regaining my breath, feeling faint and dizzy.
Light floods the room moments later as the door swings half-open to reveal Lewis. She looks flustered and breathless as she closes it behind her and rushes towards me.
“Lord, Alice, you hurt yourself even in sleep? What am I supposed to do with you?” she sighs.
I mutter a delicate string of curse words, to which she rolls her eyes.
“All right then, let’s get you up.”
I grab her shoulders for support, but stop abruptly when I hear fragments of the argument outside continue.
“Please, believe me when...it’s for her own good...”
“-What do you know--her own good!?”
It can’t be.
Lewis quickly snaps me back to attention, talking louder than normal.
“Come on, Alice, ignore them. It’s just Jim and his mate. Grab my shoulders, I’ll help you up.”
I frown and strain my ears to hear better, ignoring her command.
“There’s nothing you can--”
“Alice, please just ignore them,” insists Lewis nervously.
“For the last time, lad, you can’t go in there--”
“For the last time, Jim, you can’t stop me!”
That voice. Unmistakeable, and alive.
My eyes widen as the door slams open, to reveal the form of a tall figure. His sandy hair is unruly and hasn’t been washed in days. His arms are a patchwork of deep blues and brilliant purples, with streaks of dark red forming a bitter pattern. His eyes look tired and his face is unwashed, visible with the tears that streak down his cheek upon seeing me.
He has never looked more beautiful to me.
Lewis stands up to protest, but Jim shakes his head in defeat.
He comes towards me slowly, almost in a trance. I sit against the bed, dazed as he makes his way over. He kneels on the wooden ground and cups my face into his hands. His hot breath blows gently over my face, his piercing green eyes studying every inch of it as if he’ll never see it again. My heart hammers madly in my chest.
Time freezes around us, and I can’t hear anything but his breathing. The world itself seems to have stopped in this one endless moment.
“Would you two mind excusing us?” says Jarrah.
Jim looks at me hesitantly, and I nod at him. They leave the door open and disappear from sight.
“Hey, you,” I whisper.
He presses his nose against mine, a small smile curling his lips.
“I knew it,” he whispers, “I knew you made it.”
A moment of silence--or an eternity--passes as I sit there in his presence.
“Princess?” he says, every letter like a beautiful symphony to my ears.
“Yeah?” I ask, breathless.
“I’m going to kiss you now, okay?” he whispers, and before I can give a response his lips brush against mine, soft and hesitant. For just a moment, I feel every scar, bruise, and mental wound ever inflicted upon me wash away, like leaves being blown from their tree and being carried away by the wind. He pulls away a moment later, eyes wide and watching for my reaction.
“Okay,” I whisper, afraid of my own words, and he leans in again. I wrap my hands around his neck, his musty scent surrounding me. His normally cocky demeanour is tentative and unsure, as if his walls have been let down. I press my lips against his, moving them slowly down towards his scarred neck. I feel the deep gash on his neck softly, and look up into his eyes, watery and crinkled as tears form around them.
“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”
I smile as he leans in again, but my knife wound protests at the motion and I let out a cry of pain.
“Sorry,” I laugh breathlessly.
“Don’t be,” he says, caressing my arm, “you know, something tells me that it was like this when we met.”
“Hm?” I wait for clarification, rubbing my thumb against the palm of hand mindlessly.
“You know, you being in pain on the ground ’cause you’re clumsy as hell, and me helping you up, yeah?”
“Shut up, Jarrah,” I say, rolling my eyes and pulling away from him.
“All right, let’s get you up princess.” I flush with joy at hearing the old nickname.
He hoists me up onto the bed, and sits beside me.
“Why wouldn’t they tell me you were here?” I ask him.
“You were already so stressed about losing Isaac, they didn’t want to put you into shock,” says Jarrah patiently.
“So they let me think you were dead?!” I ask unkindly.
“Arnie told them it was the best thing for you until you recovered. I was too selfish to wait. I had to see you. They said five weeks at best, if you’re lucky and don’t get sick--which you won’t--,” he adds nervously, “but you’ll never lose the scar or have full mobility. At least the wound wasn’t too deep.”
“How did you find me? I thought you were dead--how did you--when did you--” I sputter out every question that’s been on my mind this week.
“All in time, princess. How about some rest first?”
I shake my head, worried that I’ll wake up and he’ll be gone.
It’s as if he reads my mind. ”I’m not going anywhere, love."
He squeezes my hand. “Tell me,” I ask, “why are you all bruised? The trial--why did they sentence--God, what happened to you?”
“So, from the beginning, then?” he asks slowly.
“The Chief requested that my trial be moved ahead. He said he wanted me attending the execution--either watching the hanging or participating in it, and they took me out of my cell. I was doomed from the start. My father didn’t come to help. I hoped, in a small corner of my mind, he’d bring his lawyer and defend me. Of course, he used him to try and keep you from going back to Jackson Plantation, but for his own son?”
Jarrah scoffs. “Never.”
“Maybe he didn’t make it here on time, Jer. You don’t know that.”
“I would’ve made it if it was my son with a rope around his neck,” he says bitterly.
“I don’t remember exactly what happened after the trial. They took me into a room with a few other men, and handcuffed us. They told us the procedure--imagine that, being told how you’re going to die? Step one, stand on this stool. Step two, rope around your neck. Don’t mind the snap. Say hi to the devil for us.”
He looks at me with a blank face before he continues.
“When I got out there, I didn’t feel anything. The crowd was jeering at me, spitting at my feet, but I didn’t care. I felt light as a feather. All I wanted to see was your face. One last time.”
He runs his hand over my cheek.
“I thought you were dead,” I whisper, afraid of my own words, “all this time, I thought they killed you.”
“There was a huge fight at the gallows after that boy got shot. I tried to help out as much as I could, but I was handcuffed and the people wouldn’t trust a white man, and well, they turned on me too. I realized I couldn’t help out like this. So I slowly made my way out onto the street, when I ran into two, tall black men. They accused me of being a typical white man, starting a fight and run from it, and pinned me against a wall. One of them pulled a blade on me, and...”
I study the deep gash wound on his cheek, and the smaller cuts that decorate his arms in bitter patterns.
“I couldn’t fight back, Lis. Even with my hands not tied, there was little I could’ve done. Prison made me weak--mentally and physically. Then, another two black men came up to us. I thought I was done for sure then, but they saved me. They pushed them off me. Said it wasn’t the right way, and if they wanted to fight me properly neither of us should be chained. They took me to a safe house. I recovered there for a few days, when they told me Preston had issued arrest warrants for missing prisoners. They had already counted the dead. I saw the posters--and I searched eagerly looking for you and Isaac. When I saw your face on that paper--I...God, Alice I was so relieved.”
“Ah yes, the love of your life--an escaped convict. Every man’s dream.”
“How much am I worth?”
“A solid 300 for your arrest.”
“They’ve devalued me! The nerve of them.”
I laugh at nothing at all, studying the details on his face.
“I’m sorry,” he says.