Chapter One

My name is Maebilynn Yorktin, and I am a true southern woman, born and raised in beautiful Massachusetts. I am a young woman of twenty-two, with no husband, and I got no babies to raise and care for. My life has always been about three things: pleasing my Mama, kissing up to my daddy, and above all else, looking pretty.

Lord, I need to look pretty. Why? 'Cause I can't go one day without Mama tellin' me I need a man. "Maebilynn," she say. "Why don't I have no grand-babies? You are twenty-two years old, beautiful, and strong. But baby, you could be stronger and even more beautiful if you had a strong and handesome man to take care of you." I get tired of hearin' her say this, but she my Mama, and I love her. She just wants what's best for me.

I have a sister. Her name is Abigial, which is much more pretty than my silly ol' name. She has beautiful curly red hair, which she always tries to hide behind a ribbon or a silly ol' hat. Her eyes are the color of deep blue water. Lord, she hates them eyes of hers. She always tell me she wants my 'murky green' ones. My eyes are ugly, along with the rest of my face. But Abby? Oh, Lord, Abby the prettiest girl I ever seen. When she smiles, it's like the world smiles with her.

Mama look just like Abby, but her hair is just a little bit lighter than hers. She also has an older face, always scrunchin' it up when she see or hear somethin' she don't like. Mama is a true woman of the south. I envy her for it.

Daddy is so handesome, and he a good man too. I only ever seen him hit Mama once, and that was a long time ago. Way before we got our maid, Constantine. Now when daddy mad, he just go on and hit Constatine instead of hittin' Mama. Makes Mama feel so much better, but I feel bad for Constantine. Sometimes, she come to work with big ol' bruises on her arms and legs.

Constantine is an ol' lady. She have big cheek bones and big, brown eyes. In a way, she beautiful. She raised me. She why I talk so well, why I dress like a real lady, and why I know how to eat properly. When mama was never around, she always fed me, bathed me, and dressed me. She even taught me how to talk to a man, but Mama say I should never listen to her. Mama say that everything Constantine says is just 'black talk'. See, I don't believe we should be havin' all these prejudices, but everyone has em', so I guess they are normal.

"Maebi," Mama say. "Please, find a man. A man who will treat you right, love you, care for you, and above all, make sure he can give me some grand-babies." This is what Mama say to me on Sunday. She brings this up all the time, like she thinks I can just make a man appear next to me, with the snap of my fingers. It getting on my nerves.

"I know, Mama," I say. I don't wanna disappoint my Mama. "I promise." When I say this, she smile and act as if she never mentioned anythin', goin' right back to her knitting. I sigh, and she look up at me through her ugly glasses. I don't know what to say, so I just shrug. That when Daddy walks in, looking around.

"Where in the hell is Constantine?" He say. He look real mad, which is why I don't answer. I don't want to get Constantine in trouble. So I just sit there, looking down at the bonnett Mama sewed for me.

"Constantine? I just saw her go outside, probably to hang up Abby's shirts," Mama say, looking up from her needle. "Why? What's wrong?"

Daddy look angrier than a bee after someone go up and stole it's honey. "She was supposed to clean my shirts, but she didn't. Now I have to wear the real ugly lookin' shirts for the dance tonight."

"What dance?" I whisper. I don't wanna get Daddy even angrier. So I whisper. Abby comes in, wearing her new dress Mama sewed for her. She twirlin' and laughin'. "What are you all excited about?" I ask. She look at me and her smile disappear.

"Well, I gonna find me a man, tonight. I plan on meetin' some of the military men, and I just know that one of em' will want to take me home." She twirl some more, and smile. Mama's face light up, 'cause she thinkin' that Abby really will get a man. Maybe she will.

"What dance?" I ask louder. Daddy looks at me like I crazy. Mama goes back to her needle. Abby look at me and shake her head, her curls bouncin' around her head. "What dance?" She ask, mocking me. "The dance Daddy got invited to. He gonna be crowned an honorable military officer. A high rankin' one. He asked Mama to be his date, and you and I are goin' for support."

I look at Daddy, and his face suddenly light up like the president is talkin' 'bout him. But I bet Lincoln don't even know his name.

LATER THAT NIGHT

I decided to wear the really pretty purple dress Mama made for me a few years back. It still fits, and I haven't worn it since she made it, afriad I'll ruin it. Mama looks proud of me for wearin' it. Abby done did my hair into a bun on the top of my head. She also let me borrow her prized pearl necklace, which she said she's only lettin' me wear because it completes my dress. I got to admit, it does look pretty.

The dance was so lovely. I walk in and was greeted by a dashing man in uniform. He take my hand, kiss it respectively, and walk me in. I smile, of course, not wanting to be rude. We are escorted to a table, reserved only for us. Abby and I look at eachother, and we both know that this is the most important and fancy thing we'll probably ever see. Mama looks at Daddy like he the most handesome and strong man she ever see, and I know she still love him just as much as the day they met. I know when I find a man, I will love him just as much as Mama love Daddy.

There is beautiful music playin'. It seems as though every woman is here with their man, and I suddenly feel a slight pang knowin' I don't have one. I look to Abby,to see if she feels the same, but I know she doesn't because she has caught the eye of a very handesome man sittin' at the table next to us. He in uniform too, and with the way he smilin' at her, I can tell he's only got eyes for her right now.

Then the music is stopped, and the crowd becomes silent. We all look toward the stage, where a man who I have never seen before, is smilin' down at the audience. "Hello, and welcome to the first annual Congregation Ball. I would like to thank ya'll for comin'. You all look lovely." His smile is genuine, and his dimples are deep. "First off, I would like to call up some men who I have had the pleasure of meetin', and workin' with. Sir Hensworth? Please come onto the stage. Sir Taylors? Sir Yorktin?" When he say my Daddy name, I want to cheer and clap, but I know it would be impolite. So I sit, and watch as Daddy gets up and walks up to the stage. He shakes hands with the man, and stands in line next to the others. I look at Mama, who about to cry.

"And last but certainly not least, Colonol Shaw," the man says, and looks to the man that is now comin' out from behind the curtain. This man, Colonel Shaw, shakes hands with the other man, and the other men on stage, includin' Daddy, all salute. Shaw salutes right back, and the rest of the men sit in the chairs previded to them. Colonel Shaw turns to look at the audience, and everyone stare right back at him, focusing all their attention on him. I do the same.

"Hello, and thank you all for coming. My name is Robert Shaw, and I will be your host for this evening," he say. As this man talk, I just look at him. His voice ain't as deep as I thought it would be, and his face is bright. He is the most handsome man I ever saw, and I blush at the thought. His eyes are the color of a lovely green forest, and his mouth is shaped perfectly for the words he spoke. For some reason, the only thing I could think was, I'm gonna marry that man.