Author's Note: This story, I feel, will probably end up being my gem. I will be taking my time with it, so expect only weekly updates at best. It's requiring a lot of research on my part to make it make sense at all. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I'm sure I will enjoy writing it. I'm going to start off by dedicating this story to -SuckerForJazz-, who is faithfully reading my stories. Much thanks to you!
Beaumont Texas, 1856
The sun began to raise far too quickly in the east, casting a blinding light over the large house that stood erect, surrounded by trees. In the distance stood several small cabins that were already empty of their inhabitants. The clanking of metal was loud, but you could sleep through the sound if you truly wanted to. It was the sun that wafted through the open windows that roused the family from their sleep.
It was mid-summer, and an unseasonably hot one at that. Most families had taken to leaving their windows open all night so that it might cool off the house and give them a refuge from the heat. Unfortunately, it did not help much and instead urged them to be awake earlier and begin their daily lives. Any adventure or thought of escaping to play was squashed when the maid-- a black woman with crazy hair, named Zafrina-- entered into the room that belonged to her Master's son.
Zafrina had been with the family since she was an infant and had been trained since the day she could walk to clean and cook. She had advanced up the ranks over the years and when Mr. and Mrs. Whitlock finally had the twins, she had been designated the maid and caregiver to the children while the Master and his wife went on one of their many business trips. She didn't mind, though, and truly enjoyed her time with the children longing to have her own. As the years began to fly past she finally accepted that she would not be able to have her own children, and threw her heart and soul into raising the children as if they were her own.
Not that they would ever know that. Rosalie was exceptionally headstrong and liked to pretend she owned the house and everyone inside of it. Zafrina secretly believed that when the Master died little Rosalie would probably take over the Plantation since her younger brother by two minutes was simply too sweet and good-hearted to ever lift a hand against the slaves. Whenever she thought of the boy her heart would swell with the warmth of love. Perhaps she couldn't birth her own child, but if there ever were a child that was meant for her soul it would be little Jasper.
The woman strode to the end of the bed, tugging the thin sheet off the boy's frame and stared down at his underwear-clothed body with a tsk. The boy curledu p in a tighter ball, his golden hair shoulder-length and curled and sticking out in every which direction possible. With an affectionate sigh, the woman tugged on his leg to pull him from the fetal position he had curled up in. "Now, now, boy. You know better than to sleep in late. Your Pa will have a right fit. Come along, now, it's breakfast time and y'know how that sister of yours can pile her food on her plate."
The boy didn't respond, growling quietly in his slumber as he grabbed the pillow he was laying his head on and flung it over the back of his head. He certainly was a hand-full, but she loved him all the more for it. Zafrina laughed and crossed her arms, slowly walking to the head of the bed and wrenching the pillow from the boy's head. Sleepy blue eyes lifted to her face and the cutest pout crossed his full lips even though he knew it would have no effect on her. The woman was as stubborn as any woman could ever be. But he wasn't going to make things easy for her. It was his way of showing affection, and she knew it. That's why, not a moment later, Zafrina fell onto the bed beside the boy and began to tickle him mercilessly. The boyish giggles erupted from his throat as he writhed on the bed, trying to stop her hands from their playful movement. She laughed and ruffled his hair as he sat up with wide eyes, his scrawny frame trembling as he tried to recapture his breath.
"Ahem." The two turned to face the doorway where Mr. Whitlock stood, a frown on his face. Instantly, Zafrina was on her feet and across the room, her hands folded into the skirt of her dress with an apologetic look on her face. Mr. Whitlock didn't even spare her a second glance as he entered his son's room and sat on the bed beside him. He was a large man with a wide-frame. His hair had once been blonde, though now it was turning slowly to grey and he had a long, full beard also flickered with grey. His eyes were a steel grey, but they held a gentleness of affection for his son. In Texas, as in most places, boys were prized almost more than girls. Though he was extremely proud to have fathered such a beautiful daughter as his precious Rosalie.
"Papa, I'm sorry I slept late." The child's voice was still high-pitched, though it was beginning to change as puberty began to settle in for him. His father still wore his stern face even though his eyes had softened at the corner, the wrinkles at the corner of them becoming slightly more pronounced. Jasper inched closer to his father and gave him a one-armed hug then stood and darted to the closet to search through them until he found a pair of tan slacks and a loose-collared white cotton shirt. He quickly changed into them and put on his suspenders with little difficulty.
"Grab your jacket, Jasper." His father's voice broke through as he tried to comb his fingers through his wild blonde tresses. "We have an important errand to run today, and you have to look sharp." The child's eyes lit up as he took in the information, running back to his father's side.
"Just the two of us?" The excitement was palpable as the boy trembled in his eagerness. Too often Mr. Whitlock had made journeys and left his son behind to fend for himself. It was time he started to learn the trick so fthe trade so that he may one day take over the plantation and help it to prosper. Since the boy was slowly becoming a man, it was better to go ahead and start getting him acquainted with the adult world that he would soon be involved in.
"Just the two of us. A new family has moved in on the old Massey plantation, and it's good ol' Southern hospitality to go and greet your new neighbors and see if they need any help settling in." Jasper pulled his nice black shoes from under his bed and slid them on his feet, hurriedly lacing the shoes. "Now run along down the stairs and get your breakfast. We will be leaving soon." Beaming, Jasper ran out the door and down the stairs. The sound of something crashing to the ground announced that he had made it down the stairs and tripped over the jacket-holder, just as he normally did. Mr. Whitlock allowed a small chuckle of amusement at his son's antics while he made his way to the door. Then he turned to face the slave that still stood in his son's room, watching his every movement with fear written all over her face. "Zafrina." His voice came out cool and hard once more, all traces of gentleness gone from his face.
"Yes, Master?" She said in her soft voice, taking a step forward as she knew he would want her to. Her fingers trailed over the lapels of the blue dress she wore, fingering the freying string. She would have to repair it that night, since she only had three dresses to her name...
"If I ever catch you touching my son again you will be in the cotton fields faster than you can beg me not to. Am I understood?" He watched with distinct pleasure as the woman shuddered, bowing her head so her hair would fall in her face. It was not missed by the older man, but he would not reprimand her for her fear. He didn't strive to be a heartless person, but he had to keep his help in their positions. He had heard too many stories of slaves getting out of control, murdering their owners in their sleep or poisoning their water. He would not take those chances.
"Yes, Master." Her voice was still weak with her humbleness, and he gave her a single nod then left the room to join his family at the breakfast table. Zafrina set about making Jasper's bed once again, tucking the blankets and sheets back into place, fluffing the pillow before she put it at the head of the bed. She carried the lantern down the stairs to fill it with oil once again so her boy could study in his room at night as he usually did. Reading was a favorite pass-time of his and she would often sneak into his room so he could read aloud to her. He had a rare gift for painting pictures in people's minds as a story evolved.
She hoped she could get a story tonight.
Jasper sat up front in the horse-drawn omnibus, practically bouncing in his seat. At his side, his father was chuckling heartily at the boy's eagerness while he steered the horse onward. It was still sunny outside, the temperature beginning to soar as the afternoon began to settle in. They had been riding for a very long time, much longer than Jasper remembered ever riding in his entire twelve years of life. The trees were beginning to grow thinner as they got closer to the house, and he felt a brief wave of sadness when he looked on at the house.
It was a two-story house made from red brick with a black roof. To the right of the house stood a stable and a fenced-in pasture for the grazing mares, stallions and foals that were scattered about. Aside from that, there appeared to be no cotton fields, no fields at all in fact. The blonde boy's gaze darted about the house, searching for the tell-tale slave cottages that would mark these people his equals, his familiars. But there was nothing there, no sign of slaves at all. He turned a questioning gaze to his father and Mr. Whitlock chuckled softly. "Jasper, not everyone owns slaves or plantations."
"We do." He said, looking confused. His father guided the horse to a tie-post and slide from his seat to tie the horse out. From the corner of his eyes he saw his son hop down from the seat and walk around the clearing to take in the unfamiliar landscape.
"Come along, son." Mr. Whitlock strode forward to his son's side and looked down at him. Together they walked to the doorstep and knocked on the door, awaiting the sound of someone coming to greet them. It only took a moment and the door flew open to frame the tiny figure of a little girl. Her hair was short and black, obviously windblown. Her cheeks were flushed from her excursion and her full lips were a light shade of pink, pouted as she studied the two males before her. But it was her eyes that captivated both of the Whitlocks, so dark blue they were almost black, a ring of gold around the pupils. "Hello, little miss."
"Mother and Father are busy. Go 'way." Her voice was sweet, like bells ringing through the air-- quite a contrast to what her words said.
"Mary Alice! I told you to let me get to the door! Oh, goodness, I am so sorry." Suddenly a short, slender woman came into view, pushing her tiny daughter back behind her, though the little girl still managed to peer around her mother's skirts to watch the entertainment. The sound of a man's footsteps trailed behind and suddenly the girl was hefted up into a giant man's arms. He set her on his shoulder and beamed at the Whitlocks with a winning grin.
"Sorry about our Mary Alice. She has a mind of her own." He offered his right hand to Mr. Whitlock, bracing his daughter with his left. Immediately, Mr. Whitlock took his hand and gave it a firm shake. "My name is John, this is my wife Abigail, our daughter Mary Alice. Our other daughter, Cynthia, and our son Emmett are out back drawing some water from the well." Mr. Whitlock nodded his head, acknowledging their names as he motioned to his own son.
"This is my son, Jasper. My name is Julian, my wife's name is Eva. We have a daughter named Rosalie, as well. They are twins." Abigail's eyes widened at Mr. Hillock's words, her eyes traveling over Jasper's face.
"That's most unfortunate. It was painful having them one at a time, I couldn't imagine multiple-births." Jasper puffed out his chest proudly. He'd heard this conversation from his father's end before. His family was of good stock-- a strong, able father and an equally strong mother. He would have the world by the horns once he was a grown man, and he would make people so envious of him that they would do anything just to be in his favor. It's how it was meant to be, and how it would be no matter what.
The tiny girl perched on her father's shoulder laughed then, pointing directly at Jasper's shocked face. "You stuck your chest out like you was a silly little chicken! If you are a twin does that make you a freak?" She tilted her head to the side as the colour began to rise in Jasper's cheeks, turning them a brilliant shade of red. No one really knew what to say to the child. Except, perhaps, Jasper.
"I am not a freak! You are a freak!" Mr. Whitlock looked at his son sharply, reprimanding, quite plainly telling his son that they would be having a nice chat on the way back home. Imagine all their surprise when John burst out laughing, setting his pixie of a daughter on the ground so he could double over in laughter.
"I think our kids will get along just fine. Mary Alice, how about you take your new friend outside and play so we grown-ups can have a nice little chat?" He ushered the raven-haired girl forth and she continued on without glancing back. She passed between Mr. Whitlock and Jasper, grabbing the boy's hand as she passed and dragging him along after her. The boy shot his father a panicked look, but all his father could do was cast him a quick glance and a loud, bellowing laugh. Wonderful. He was stuck with the girl for who knows how long.
They walked on down the lane a ways before she dropped his hand and smoothed out the baby-blue skirt she wore. They walked on in silence a ways, him with his arms crossed and glaring at her, and she about five paces ahead of him looking up at the tops of the trees. Finally, she stopped advancing and turned to a tree on her left, running her fingers over the bark. Before he could question her actions she had dug the side of her foot into a section of the tree and began climbing it with a determined expression on her face.
"What are you doing?" Jasper demanded her, glaring up the tree at her. She seemed uninterested in what he was saying as she climbed onto a high limb, casting her glance about from her new perch. He felt his heart pound wildly in his chest at the sight of the little girl in a tree. "You are going to fall! Get down now!"
"You're such a big baby!" Alice called to him, kicking her feet a little. The sun filtered through the tree and illuminated her pale skin. "I'm perfectly fine. I climb trees all the time. Y'know, since you're a boy you should prolly be the one climbin' the trees!" She heard his scoff and allowed the faintest grin to cross her features a moment before she twisted on the limb, locking her knees around the branch and dangling upside down. His panicked cry made her giggle.
"If you get hurt it is your own fault! You could break your neck!" The girl bit her lower lip and watched him a moment before she allowed her knees to give way. She started to fall towards the ground at an alarming rate, but she didn't scream or cry or wet herself. Instead, she allowed her eyes to just close, enjoying the air flying through her shorn locks. As she crashed into the ground, she first landed on the boy and they fell to the ground with a loud crash and an "Oof!" She quickly slid off of him and helped him roll into a sitting position.
"You didn't have to catch me. I was going to fly away." She said, tilting her head to the side. "Like a baby bird. They fall out of the nest and they fly, fly away." She had an enchanting, wistful smile on her face and all Jasper wanted to do was smack her for it.
"You're a stupid, silly girl! You ain't a bird! You can't fly! Wait 'till your Mama and Papa hear about you doing this, Mary Alice. You'll be in so much trouble!" Suddenly her eyes narrowed and he found himself shoved to the ground with the little girl's finger burying in his chest.
"Don't you ever call me Mary Alice, got it? 's just Alice. I don't like Mary. And go ahead and tell my mother and father, they won't do nothin'. They never do." They sat there, glaring at each other a long time then suddenly they both burst out giggling and collapsed together in a heap. They stayed that way a while and smiled happily until they turned and laid on their backs on the dirt ground, staring up into the sky at the clouds that passed overhead. "Why didjya come here?" Her voice was much sweeter now and Jasper found himself grinning.
"Papa wanted to meet the new neighbors. I imagine he'll be comin' 'round for me soon." He saw her nod her head from the corner of his eye. "Why d'ya have such short hair? Ladies ain't s'posed to have short hair. That's what my Mama says whenever Rosie tries to cut her hair off." The other girl laughed and ran her tiny fingers through her short black hair.
"Mama tried to tell me that too. But I cut it off anyway. I don't wanna be just like everyone else, I'm my own lady." Yawning, the tiny girl climbed to her feet and offered her hand up for him, to help him to his feet. He took it without hesitation. "I ain't never had any friends sides from my own sister and brother 'fore. Can we be friends, Jasper? Maybe your sister, too?"
"Prolly not Rosie." They walked together back to the house in time to see his father untying their horse from the post and bringing it around to wait for his son to climb it. The younger girl looked sad that her time with him was cut so short. "We can be friends though. How old are ya anyways?" He asked, turning his face to gaze at her. She beamed.
"I'm nine years and three months old!" She told him proudly, shaking her head. They watched a leaf fall from her hair and both of them burst out laughing all over again. Jasper grinned at her as his father hopped on in the omnibus, quickly realizing that his son was going to take his time reaching him. "How boutchyou?" She flashed him a glint of her bright white teeth and he squeezed her hand slightly.
"Twelve. And... I dunno how many months." Again, they shared a laugh. He guided her past his dad and led her up to the porch. He paused long enough to pick up a little red flower just off the porch and handed it to the girl with a grin when they faced one another. "So... bye, I guess."
"Bye." She grinned as he handed her the little flower. Then, as he had seen his father do this with any woman he'd ever met, Jasper lifted Alice's left hand and pressed the lightest kiss to the back of it and darted back towards his father. He climbed in with a little difficulty, his father laughing heartily beside him, and waved at Alice until she left his sight.