The Blossoms

Chapter Seven

Author's Note: It's been a while, huh guys? Well, lotsa drama happened over these last two months and I'm not going to be able to go into great detail about it. Just was kicked out of my house for something stupid, lack of car and no Internet access on my computer. So, anyway, I'm here now and here's an update ^.^

~*~*~*~

Beaumont Texas, September 1860

Alice awoke long before the sun had risen, even before Mrs. Whitlock had made her way from her bedroom. She dressed properly and slipped on her shoes then tip-toed down the hall until she reached Jasper's bedroom door. Without missing a beat the girl pushed the door open and practically danced to his bedside, a slow smile curling over her lips at his slumbering form. Gently as possible she sat on the edge of his bed and placed her hand lightly on his then slowly trailed her hand down his arm until her hand met his then laced her fingers through his. She was a little startled when he squeezed her hand in response and found herself looking into tired blue eyes.

"Mornin', Darlin'." He said in a gravelly voice. Her eyes danced excitedly as she smiled back at him. The bed creaked as he turned onto his side and half-curled around her sitting form and allowed his hand to release hers and rest on her thigh. He enjoyed the slight rush of pink that crossed her cheeks. She beamed at him and settled her hand over the one resting on her thigh.

"You promised me." She smiled at him winningly.

"Mmm... I did. But it can't be later than four in the morning. If we're lucky. Why are you getting us up this early?" He groaned and tugged her slightly until she consented to giving him a few more minutes to relax. Eventually she turned her body so she could lift her legs up onto the bed and she snuggled into his side, tensing slightly as his arms slipped around her waist and his face buried itself into her hair.

He felt soft pressure on his back as she drew circles on his back with her fingertips and allowed himself to smile into her hair. "You said you would take me fishing before your Mama gets up. And you know how early she gets up. So you have to show me now." Arms suddenly tightened around her and she felt herself being spun around until she was pinned beneath him, her eyes wide as he grinned down at her.

"I can show you another time, if you'd like. We don't really get to spend any alone time anymore." His large, calloused hand rose and pushed her thick black hair back and tucked it behind her ear. "I'm sure I can get Papa to let Mama to let you come with me to fish." Alice's lips curved into a delicate pout and he allowed himself to smile wider.

"The fish don't bite in the afternoon, Jasper! Please?"

He groaned and allowed himself to slump forward, resting his head on her collarbone as his breath escaped him in a tired sigh. Again, he felt her tense slightly but he paid it no heed, curling his hand into her wild locks. He placed a gentle kiss on the hollow of her throat and rested his ear over her thudding heart. Then, suddenly, he was off the bed and rummaging through his closet. Alice sat up on the bed while he gathered his tattered jeans and a worn cotton shirt. She glided from the room agilely, waiting patiently for him to venture next dressed in his casual attire.

It didn't take long and then the pair were walking hand in hand to the gardening shed to gather the fishing rod. Jasper found it quickly and balanced it against the shoulder of his free hand. The walked through the thick grass, him often pausing to help her get through some of the thicker brush until they finally reached the edge of the shore, then he plopped down on the muddy bank and began to dig for worms.

Alice quickly learned that there was no real glamor to fishing, as she had always perceived there to be. You got muddy and bloody and gross. And when she was given the rod and instructed to cast the line out she learned that it was a lot trickier not to throw the entire pole out into the water than she expected. To her relief (and embarrassment) Jasper found it extremely hilarious and wasn't angry that he had to dive into the pond to retrieve the wayward pole and once he set it upon the bank he took it upon himself to shake some of the water off of himself and onto her.

Alice reacted accordingly and before long the pair were in a play wrestle, their clothing now wet and muddy. A small hand twisted and squished a handful of black mud onto Jasper's chest and without missing a beat he wiped his hand into it cupped her cheek and pressed his lips against hers. When she struggled to get away with a squeal of disgust he just held her tighter to his chest and allowed himself to sink more comfortably solidly on his back, holding the tiny girl over his frame. When she stopped trying to struggle to pull away, he slid his hand back into her hair and angled her lips more comfortably against his then gently parted his lips against hers.

She froze, her hands resting against his chest unsure at the first tentative brush of his tongue against her closed lips. Alice drew back, unsure, looking into his strikingly handsome face and felt a thrilling rush go through her entire body at the red tint to his cheeks. Slowly, hesitantly she leaned back in to meet his lips with hers again in a tentative, unsure manner. It took a moment before he relaxed enough to try again and this time she allowed her lips to part slightly. Her small hand curled into a fist against his chest while she allowed her tongue to brush his.

Strong arms circled her waist and held her possessively against the firm chest on which she was perched. One hand braced her there while the other trailed slowly over her side and settled on her hip. When they finally parted, she sat up and looked down at him with innocent and curious eyes. Jasper was smiling at her slightly, his hand lightly kneading her hip then his gaze shifted up to the lightening sky. "We'd better get going back." He offered shyly. "You're going to need a bath before Mama gets up."

They made it back to the house and into the separate rooms in plenty of time, and Zafrina helped Alice to draw herself a bath just as Mrs. Whitlock was getting out of bed. By the time Alice was done bathing and making herself presentable to the lady of the house breakfast was being set on the table and Mrs. Whitlock shot her a disapproving look at her tardiness. Alice apologized and folded her hands on her lap demurely until the Whitlock men came down for breakfast. It didn't go unnoticed that Jasper had wet hair and was freshly washed as well, but Alice forced herself not to meet their eyes. She kept her eyes downcast the entire meal and ate in silence.

Zafrina and Senna cleared the table and Mrs. Whitlock started to prepare for the morning's lessons, glaring at her son as she passed him. Jasper could only give her a sheepish grin then he and his father were off to the fields. Harvesting season was almost upon them so they had to get the slaves ready to take care of it.

The lessons flew by in a blur, and Mrs. Whitlock was harsher than usual to Alice. She constantly cracked down on the girl, finally losing her temper when Alice misspelled 'ominous' in the lesson. "You have enough time to go trekking off to Lord knows where during the middle of the night, girl, but you don't have the time to learn simple English?" She demanded.

"I'm sorry, ma'am... I'm trying. Let me try again." Mrs. Whitlock's eyes narrowed at the non-confession.

"No, I think that's quite enough for today's lesson! Perhaps all lessons! Would you like to go back to your nothing life? Become a nothing prostitute, child? Have you no self-worth? I brought you into my home so that you might become something someday! A good wife to a good man. And you try to ruin it all for what? A little pleasure? What if you became with child, girl? Are you really so thoughtless?" She demanded, rising to her full height. Alice bowed her head and seemed to shrink a few inches.

"Of course I don't want that... I have-- we haven't-- done anything, Mrs. Whitlock. And we won't, not until we are wed. Like it says to be in the Good Book." Mrs. Whitlock crossed to stand in front of the girl, turning her chin up and staring down into her face. Alice's eyes were sincere and filled with unshed tears. Mrs. Whitlock frowned and dropped her hand, backing away from Alice.

"I think you need to spend the rest of the evening in your room. I don't want to see you until tomorrow, do you understand? Senna will bring your dinner up for you. You will have no visitors. Now go."

Alice wasted no time and she raced up the stairs and into her designated room. She shut the door and flung herself onto her bed, allowing her slender form to tremble with the onslaught of her tears. She distinctly heard when the rest of the family entered the house, heard the argument that sprung up between Jasper and his mother. She heard when Mr. Whitlock told Jasper to let it go and then it was eerily silent in the house through the rest of the evening.

When Senna came in that evening with supper, Alice refused the meal and instead curled up in a ball on the bed and drew her knees up to her chest. Senna sat behind the young mistress and gently combed through her thick hair murmuring tales of little Nahuel and how he'd grown a lot over the month. She told Alice that in the morning after lessons she would bring Nahuel up if she wanted to play with him for a little while, and Alice took great comfort in her soothing words.

About an hour after sundown the sound of frantic knocking echoed throughout the house followed by quiet, rushed voices. Alice had decided to try and get some sleep and had changed into her nightdress and was in the process of tying her hair up when her bedroom door was pulled open. She looked up expectantly into Mrs. Whitlock's tense face and she felt her heard drop in her chest. "Mrs. Whitlock?" She asked softly.

"James Witherdale is here for you, Mary Alice." Her voice was just as tense as her face and Alice was on her feet in an instant. "Your parents sent him here. Garrett is ill and will not cooperate for the doctors. They are requesting you to come home tonight." Already Alice was in her closet, tugging her nightdress over her head and stepping into an ill-fitting gown. She paused beside Mrs. Whitlock and bestowed a light kiss on the older woman's cheek.

"I will stay in my room all the next day that I am able, but I must go to my brother. You will forgive me, Mrs. Whitlock?" And in that moment Mrs. Whitlock's eyes softened and lost all the tension and iciness it had held the entire evening. She drew the girl into a tight embrace and let out a heavy sigh.

"You've grown a lot since coming here, Mary Alice Brandon. You will not need any further punishment so long as you stay in line from here on out. Now go, your brother needs you."

~*~*~*~

The ride back to her parent's house with James Witherdale was extremely awkward. Jasper had been most unwilling to let her go on her own, but Mrs. Whitlock had insisted that Jasper remain behind since they did not request his presence. James was far more proper than Alice would have previously given him credit for, and the young man was most understanding of her fright. At one point on their lengthy journey he even shrugged the jacket off his shoulders and slipped it around Alice's so her form would stop trembling.

All in all Alice thought perhaps she'd underestimated James. When finally they reached the Brandon residence he hopped out of his seat and tied the horse to the post then came around to help Alice down from her seat and settled her on the ground. She tensed as he traced a stray lock of hair framing her face. While they walked to the front step she felt his hand on the small of her back in a gentlemanly gesture of kindness. The first step inside the house was a moment of chaos while shouting filled the air, panicked crying reverberated all around. Her shoulders slumped slightly as she walked forward and James' jacket slipped down. She was barely aware of the thud from the cloth crashing to the ground when she entered the living room and found little Cynthia kneeling on the ground beside the couch, tears rolling down her cheeks. Mrs. Brandon was sitting with little Garrett's head resting on her lap and Mr. Brandon stood across the room watching the whole scene silently.

Cynthia turned to face her sister and sobbed, curling in on herself. "Mary Alice! I-I tried to do everything but I just.. He won't-- He just keeps fighting us... And, and I don't want--" She couldn't finish her sentence in her misery and for a moment Alice thought that perhaps she was too late. Then Garrett, her precious Garrett, turned his head and looked directly at Alice and lifted his arms for her.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she darted over to her little brother and raised him up into her arms, soothing the whimpering cries overtaking his tiny body. She sank down to the couch beside her mother and felt his forehead. Her breathing was a little out of sink as she gently peeled the little boy's clothes from his body until he was just down in his diaper. "He's got a very high fever. I need some cool water. Cyn, how long as he been sick?"

"A couple days he's been coughin', but today he just... Wouldn't react. Oh, Alice! What if he doesn't make it?"

"Don't say that! He'll be just fine, won't you baby boy?" Garrett rested his head weakly on Alice's shoulder and let out a shuddering breath. She began to rock him gently when James came back in with a bowl of cool water and a rag. She smiled at him gratefully as she began to cool off the boy's high temperature. "Where's Emmett?" She asked when she felt her brother's muscles beginning to loosen.

"He went to get the doctor." Mr. Brandon finally spoke, staring at his daughter almost without even seeing her there. "It likely won't do any good. With as sickly as the boy is there probably isn't much they can do for him. It was always just a matter of time."

Alice turned her hard gaze onto her father. "Don't you dare speak of Garrett like that. He's going to be just fine. He's always just fine. And I'm here now, little baby brother. Your Alice isn't going anywhere, do you hear me? So you have to be strong." Mr. Brandon was suddenly standing in front of her, shaking his head at his daughter.

"You always were an unrealistic dreamer, Mary Alice." His voice softened when he turned to face the sobbing Cynthia. He opened his arms in a show of sympathy Alice hadn't seen in ages and drew Cynthia into his arms, pressing a kiss to her temple. "Off to bed, Cyn. If this takes a turn for the worst I don't want you to be around for it. Mary Alice will stay here with your brother."

Mr. Brandon and Cynthia retired to their beds then, and left Mrs. Brandon, Alice and James to sit with little Garrett. It was over an hour after Alice first arrived that Emmett and the doctor finally arrived together and by then Garrett's fever had in fact broken. The doctor administered some medicine, telling the the four adults that Garrett sounded like he had whooping cough and gave them some medicine to give to him once every few hours. Breaking the fever, he told them, may have saved the boy's life. They would know for sure if he made it through the night.

Emmett kissed his little sister's forehead in gratitude then he left to return the doctor to his home. Mrs. Brandon smiled tightly at Alice and Garrett then followed her daughter and husband up the stairs to her own bedroom, leaving Alice and James alone with the now-sleeping toddler. Alice lay down on the couch with the little boy draped over her chest so she could rub his back tenderly, and after a few minutes James walked to the couch down by her feet. With the hint of a smile he lifted her feet delicately and sat back against the couch, settling her legs on his lap.

She was quite aware when his hand remained on her ankle, tracing lines over them nonchalantly, his eyes never wavering from hers. "Quite a night you've had, Miss Brandon." He said to her. She shrugged a shoulder, pressing a kiss to her brother's temple. "Did you want me to take you home tonight or do you want your brother to take you back tomorrow?"

"Emmett will take us to the Whitlock Plantation in the morning." She gritted out, tightening her arms around the boy. "Lord knows I can't leave Garrett here. He will die. And they won't even care." She sniffled slightly, turning her face into the brown curls to hide the tears threatening to roll down her cheeks.

James moved instantly, inching closer to her until it was her thighs draped over his lap then he leaned over her and the little boy. He wiped the tears away with a faint smile which changed to a smirk as the color flooded her cheeks. "Hey. Don't cry, Mary Alice." Everything happens for a reason, right? Maybe this was God saying he wanted you to have your brother with you. The Whitlocks won't tell you that you can't have him there if they knew the truth about what's going on. And I will back you up, I'll tell them that they were just going to let your brother die."

"You will?" She sniffled slightly. Her gaze dropped down when James' hand ran in circles over Garrett's back.

"Promise. I'll stay here and you, me, Garrett and Emmett will talk to the Whitlocks in the morning." She allowed a faint smile to cross her lips. "Now get some rest and I'll wake you in a little bit so you can give him his medicine when he needs it. You're not going to be getting much sleep for a while."

~*~*~*~

Jackson Mississippi, September 1860

Irina had arrived at Royce's plantation only days before, and already things were very different. Rosalie hadn't ever really seen Royce interact with any other females than herself and Alice (who he found rather annoying with her disobedience), so the way he strutted around the house as if he was the only cock in a hen house was beginning to get rather annoying. It didn't seem to matter to him that he was in fact related to one of the women in the house, and he took it upon himself to tell both of the women what to do and when to do it.

Rosalie was taking the opportunity with Tanya in the house to see how he would react with a child, and the results really were not in his favor. When he was not blatantly ignoring the little girl he was constantly reprimanding her, or scolding her. One time he even spanked her and left bruises on the poor child's little behind. Irina seemed oblivious to it all, or perhaps this was what she had been brought up to expect, but Rosalie couldn't believe her eyes. The man she'd taken for her husband was completely different than the man who courted her for all those years...

She tried not to think of the life she'd been trying to bring into their world. She completely forced the fact she'd missed her feminine time by two weeks already to slip away from her and instead focused on her new semi-perminate guests. She took great pleasure in helping set up a room for little Tanya, and even enjoyed the distraction of helping prepare Irena's room.

Irina was a mostly quiet woman, pensive almost. She never spoke out of turn. In fact, she rarely spoke at all. Her evenings were mostly spent by the fireplace, a book in her lap or in her hand until it was time to help make supper. Afterwards she would take Tanya to bed and then call it an evening for herself. It was all very monotonous. Very boring and suffocating. Rosalie was gradually beginning to feel trapped in this life she set up for herself, but she saw no way out of it.

Dinner was finally finished and Rosalie helped Tanya to set the table for the four of them. She sent the child off to get her mother and Royce, then made the customary plate for Laurent, who hurriedly rushed it down to Tia. He returned just as everyone was filing back into the room, his arms folded over his chest protectively, his eyes locked with Royce's as the man took his seat across the table from his wife.

The meal went on in silence. Rosalie closed her eyes briefly, feeling Royce's hungry gaze drifting over her slim form. She willed him to look away and when she felt the heat of his gaze finally go elsewhere she frowned when she saw his eyes raking over Irina's curvier figure. When the plates were cleared away, she watched as her husband approached the pregnant woman and gripped her shoulders.

That was when she saw the first flash of life in Irina's face. She turned her head sharply to look at little Tanya and the girl raced from the room. Royce paid her no heed and allowed his hands to skim over her figure. Rosalie couldn't stand there idly while her husband fondled his cousin. Without missing a beat, Rosalie pulled the clips from her hair and pulled her curls enticingly over her shoulder then glided to him. Her hand trailed enticingly down his arm and laced with his fingers, lightly tugging him away from the trembling woman.

At first Royce refused to budge from his place, but Rosalie was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. And it was a rare feat that she would becon him to bed, so he walked away from Irina without a second glance. The two left the room, Rosalie meeting knowing eyes firmly when she leaned on her husband's arm.

Their lovemaking was loud that night. It was a wonder little Tanya could sleep through the sounds that would put a herd of cattle to shame. Irina reclaimed her seat before the fireplace, a book lay open on her lap though she hadn't read anything since before dinner. Her hand was splayed over the bump of the life growing within her. The creak of the floorboards snapped her back into focus. She twisted her upper body around to face the scarred slave standing not even ten feet behind her, a blue blanket bunched in his large, calloused hands. "I thought Miss Irina may be a bit cold. Don't want you gettin' sick when your with child, Miss." He offered and wrapped her blanket around her shoulders.

"Th-Thank you. Uhm... What is your name?" She asked him, blinking her large hazel eyes up at him.

"Laurent, Ma'am." He offered, straightening his posture.

She nodded to him, looking him over. "Will you sit with me a while, Laurent?" She asked, patting the space beside her. Unsure, Laurent cautiously lowered himself into a seated position next to her. To his surprise she leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder, he could feel the trembles clearly now and he awkwardly rubbed her back.

They stayed like that a long time until the young woman drifted off to sleep, so Laurent, not knowing what else he could do, scooped the girl into his arms as if she weighed little more than five pounds and carried her up the long stairs. He pushed her bedroom door open and lay her gingerly down onto the bed then covered her with the blanket, smoothing her hair back. Thoughtlessly, he reached down and brushed his hand against hers, marveling at the stark contrast between her skin and his own. He watched as her hand reflexively closed around his, and he had to gently pry away from her.

"G'night, Miss Irina." He offered and slipped from the room.

He walked from the room and closed the door. Tilting his head down at a slightly easier angle, Laurent started his first night of standing guard between Irina and Tanya's bedroom doors as if he was their own, personal guardian.

End Chapter Seven