My time in the safe house is becoming desperately boring, but nothing can compare to the complete and utter loneliness I am starting to feel. With Lewis and Alex reunited, my place here is no longer necessary. Jim and the couple are one big happy family, and I have filled the role of a maid--making their meals and cleaning their rooms to kill time.
Time is too precious a thing to kill so often. Cats may have nine lives, but I only have one, and this was not my intended way of using it.
I whistle to myself in boredom as I dust the cupboards of Jim’s bedroom, who is away on business for the weekend. Lewis was right in saying that she and Alex make an exceptional team--bringing in almost double the food that she and I did. His charm and looks combined with her quick and silent movements in swiping goods off shelves and into her pocket make them incredibly valuable to Jim and the slaves that we have harboured here over the past year.
I lift a few parchments off the cupboard to swipe under them, when I stub my toe on the wooden leg and curse as I drop them all over the floor.
“Fan-freaking-tastic job, Alice,” I mutter aloud, “I can really see why Lewis didn’t like taking you with her.”
I gather them as quickly as a can and try and scramble them into the order they were in before. My eyes widen when they catch a glimpse of a drawing.
I didn’t know Jim could draw.
I pull it out to get a better look, studying what appears to be a portrait of...me?
My eyes dart to the bedroom door, which is wide open. I quickly shut it and lean against it, staring at the picture in shock.
It’s a drawing of a woman. Her eyebrows are thick and strongly arched. Her hair is cut like a man’s--short to avoid maintenance. Her eyes are gazing ahead in an angry determination, her full lips pursed. Her chin is proud, tilting up in defiance. Around her neck is a beautiful necklace, studded with diamonds and large stones fit for only a queen. She seems dangerously exposed, her collarbone and shoulders visible, and yet entirely comfortable with the darkness around her.
It can only be me.
Only one man draws like this, and it isn’t Jim. So what is he doing with my Jarrah’s drawing? I’ve never seen it before--I am sure of it, as something like this is not easily forgotten, so he must have acquired it after I left. I suddenly feel dizzy and confused, as I sink to the floor against Jim’s door. It doesn’t add up. Has Jarrah been in Preston? Has he been talking to Jim? Why would he not tell me about this? Why would he send Jim a drawing of me? Nothing is making sense.
My hand runs over the parchment in admiration. I missed his art more than I realized.
I miss him.
I flip the parchment on its backside, only to discover words. Hundreds of words, it must be, in a handwriting I will never be able to read, but unmistakeably belonging to Jarrah.
Curse my inability to read something like this. I lay the parchment to the side, shuffling through the rest of the sheets that are on the floor, but none of the others contain his handwriting or sketches.
My mind wanders to the constantly locked drawer in the parlour.
It must have some answers.
I fold the parchment gently along its creases and carefully place it in my pocket, as if it contains a living memory of Jarrah that I need to protect.
I run to the parlour room, fuelled by curiousity and a desire for answers. I grab the drawer handle desperately and try to jar it open, but it won’t budge. I debate on just breaking the drawer open, but I don’t want to risk Jim finding out I saw the contents just yet.
I smile broadly. This is something I can handle. I think back to a particular period during my life at Jackson Plantation, never realizing that those moments in time would be so important. I had a friend, Les, who used to break into the doors at Jackson Manor. He liked tormenting the Massa when he knew he could get away with it, leaving snakes and rodents inside to frighten them. He’d always try and teach me how he picked the locks before he was sold, telling me it might help me break out of handcuffs one day, but I knew it was useless since I’d be caught again anyway. I wish I’d paid more attention to his lessons, but it’s worth a shot.
I inspect the lock. It’s fairly basic--a warded lock. I’ve seen many of them before, but I’ve never actually had to break into anything. Usually it’s breaking out (a more destructive, let’s-hope-I-get-lucky kind of thing if you recall), but it’s worth a shot.
“Wire...wire...” I mutter, thinking back to how Les used to do it and scanning the room for the right material. My eyes fall on Jim’s fishing rod, propped up against the wall, and I smile. I break it off and test it in my hands--it’s stiff enough for this to work. I carefully make a small bend in the wire, shaping it like an L. I inspect the key hole again, making the bottom of the L short enough to be the same size as the hole. I bend a larger section at the other end for me to use as a handle.
I take a deep breath and insert the wire into the lock. I begin twisting it in gently and muttering prayers in my head as I navigate the wire through the wards inside the lock and try to pull back the bolt.
“What in god’s name are you doin’, love?”
I turn my head back quickly and feel the wire snap in my hand.
“Dammit, Alex! I had it!” I growl.
“Had what?” he laughs, coming closer.
“It would’ve opened, you arse!” I sneer.
“Is that ole Jim’s drawer? What could you possibly want from there?”
“Well it doesn’t bloody matter now, does it? That was the only wire I had!” I snap, sighing as I lean back against the drawer.
“It’s just taxes an’all that he keeps in there. Why would ya bore yourself with that? My, you’ve been cooped up here too long.”
“Taxes?” I laugh humourlessly, “haven’t you ever wondered why a man would want to lock up his bloody taxes so badly? Most people like to get rid of them! He’s not without secrets, Alex, I know it and I need to open this.”
He studies me for a second. “He’s my uncle, Alice, you know that right? And he’s always been there for me--since the day I lost my folks. I don’t want to turn my back on him--whatever’s in that drawer, it’s there because he thinks it should be and that’s good enough for me. He may not be the best person, but he is always right.”
I smile sadly. “I know--he’s been there for me too. But I can’t live here a moment longer unless I know the truth.”
“The truth?” he asks.
“If you had known that Lewis wanted to see you after all this time--you would’ve gone to her, right?”
He nods eagerly.
“I may be making the biggest mistake of my life right now, but unless you get that drawer open I’ll never know.”
He cocks his head. “I’d say you’re a straight up lunatic any other time, Alice, but listening to you in the past was the best choice I’ve ever made. I would’ve left her behind if it wasn’t for you.”
He hesitates, looking into my pleading eyes.
“Lewis is at the market, still, so we have some time. I better not regret this.”
“You know where the key is?” I shoot up in excitement, my hand falling over my pocket where Jarrah’s sketch is to make sure it’s still there.
“I have a fair idea, lass. Give me a moment,” he says, brushing me aside.
He kicks the drawer with all his strength, smashing the wood to pieces and leaving splinters all over the floor.
“That’ll work too,” I say breathlessly.
“Well go on, then. What’s in this bloody thing?”
“It can’t be,” is all I can bring myself to say.