Mariam and Mariel set their knitting aside, stood up, and each pulled one of my girls out of their wormhole. Kair and Kare now appeared to be the size of five year-old humans and they were much too heavy for the human twins to carry, so they were immediately set down. As soon as they were down, they were jumping into my arms and I barely had time to set down my own knitting.
"I'm so glad to see you girls. You've kept me waiting a long time," I said, kissing each twin on the forehead.
"That's Mommy's line," Kare replied.
"You two are a bit bigger than I was expecting: this sweater will never fit," I said holding up the sweater I had already finished so that my girls could see.
"We'll come back that size again," Kair said.
"So you're not visiting me in order anymore?" I asked.
"Yes and no. Each series of visits for us is in order, but the series overlap," Kare answered.
"Do explain," I urged.
"Well we can't move the wormhole very far, so we have to be in Houston when we enter it if we're gonna get to you before our time is up and we have to head back home," Kair began.
"And we haven't lived in Houston with Uncle Peter since we were five years old. Not since what for you was the first day you fell in the wormhole," Kare continued.
"We come back to visit Uncle Peter once every few years and when we do, we visit you here, but we try to spread the visits out evenly and we also spend time with our Nanas before we brought you here," Kair finished.
"Okay, but why did you say you'd have to turn back before reaching me if you aren't in Houston? Is there a time limit I don't know about to your time traveling?" I asked.
"Only the one you and Mom impose. We have to go to school during the day and do homework in the evening and spend quality family time together at night, so that only leaves two hours and fifteen minutes every day for time travel. It normally takes us about seven minutes to get here," Kare answered, confirming what Monroe had said about their visits lasting for two hours.
"I sound very fair and reasonable," I replied. "But how are you going to school in Houston if you don't live here?"
"Sometimes you homeschool us during our visits, if they're short. Or if we stay a little longer, we go to school with our cousins Kynna and Jace," Kair replied. "We're all in the same class."
"There's a school here in Houston?" I wanted to specify that I was talking about vampire schools, but I did not want to say the v-word in front of the humans. They may know almost everything there is to know about our kind and they probably even suspect what we are, but I was not about to confirm their suspicions for them.
"Yes, there are schools all over now, wherever there are children of our kind. There are a lot of children around the same age, because everyone germinated eggs in the years following the war. And a lot of our kind moved to Houston after the southern wars ended, so there are enough children in the city for a class," Kare said. Putting an end to the southern wars was one of the many positive things the Volturi had done for our kind before their fall.
My girls spent the next few minutes telling me more about the world in their time, but we were interrupted by the clopping sounds of horses galloping in our direction. I looked up at the grey sky to check the state of the cloud cover, to determine whether or not I should take my sparkly girls and run for cover. The Jacksons never seemed to mind when we sparkled, but I did not want to risk exposing our secret to whoever was visiting on those galloping horses. Today looked to be one of those rare cloudy days and the layers of water vapor in the air looked thick enough to last all day; in fact it looked like we were in for some much needed rain, because Houston was currently in a drought.
With the weather on my side, I decided to hold my ground and take my chances with the visiting humans; the only thing that still worried me was my girls and their reaction to strange humans. They were fine around the Jacksons, but the Jacksons were family and they have been visiting this homestead since they were toddlers. I had no idea how much exposure they had to other humans; ones that they were not biologically or emotionally linked to. So I pulled both girls into my arms and held them firm, in case one of them lost control.
"Who could that be comin'?" Mariam asked, only hearing the horses just now.
"Maybe Suzanna's comin' over for a visit," Mariel suggested.
"No, those horses're gallopin' too fast for a casual visit. Suzanna'd fall off her horse if she was goin' that fast," Mariam replied. "Monroe, are you 'spectin' anyone?"
"No, not today. Maybe it's the Sheriff with news of some kind," he suggested, coming from over by the barn, where he had been reshoeing his horse.
"Maybe," Mariel replied.
And while I listened to the human conversation, I was also listening to Kare whispering into my ear. "The humans can't know about us, because it doesn't fit with your cover story."
"You always take us into the barn to hide when visitors come over," Kair added.
I nodded and just moments before the visitors appeared, I dashed into the barn with my girls to wait in secrecy. I still held onto the girls for my own comfort, even though they would no longer be close enough to the visitors to smell them up close. And then I could see through the open barn door that several horses were appearing through the low brush. There were six horses total and each one had a scruffy looking man on its back. The youngest was a teenager, around the age of sixteen or so and he was apprehensive and scared as he clung to the reigns of his horse in the back of the group. The oldest man looked to be in his thirties, was full of anger, and was riding point; clearly the leader of the bunch.
"Howdy Monroe," the oldest man said dipping his cowboy hat. "We've got ourselves a runaway slave and we're fixin' to put together a posse to go after 'em. Are you in?"
"No," I answered, stepping forward, out of the barn and answering for Monroe. I had set the girls down the moment I heard the word slave and they stayed out of sight in the barn behind me. "We won't be able to help you out today." I was not about to participate in a posse and I did not want Monroe to either.
"And who are you?" The leader asked looking from Monroe to me and back to Monroe.
"I'm Jasper Cullen. I'm stayin' here with the Jacksons," I said, giving the explanation we had agreed upon previously.
"Monroe, are ya really gonna let this man speak for you?" the leader asked, trying to pressure Monroe into joining him. "Last I checked, ya were the man of this house, not some visitor."
"It depends," Monroe answered him, before turning to me. "Jasper, is there a reason why we shouldn't help out? These men'd help me out if I needed 'em."
"I'll explain it later, in private. I won't be going and I hope you'd trust me on this one," I whispered into Monroe's ear, having closed the distance between us.
I sent Monroe the feeling of trust and encouraged him to agree with me. He looked me in the eye for a few seconds before nodding and turning back to the leader. "Sorry John, but I'm gonna go with Jasper on this one. You'll have to go on without me, but I wish you luck in findin' him," Monroe said tipping his hat. "My boy's sick today and the women folk need our help tendin' him."
"Oh we'll find him al'ight, whether he's dead or alive," the leader replied, tapping his pistol in his belt. He also had a shotgun with him and the rest of the posse was heavily armed as well. "Give my regards to your ma and that wife of yours and I hope the boy recovers swiftly."
"Well go on then," I said dismissing them and turning my back to them.
The posse did not move, nor did Monroe, so I touched his shoulder lightly and indicated for him to follow me into the barn. He did and that triggered the posse to turn around and gallop off with a mixture of surprise, disappointment, anger, and hatred.
"Sorry about pulling my weight on you like that," I apologized, opening my arms for my girls to jump up into them. I silently thanked them for staying put and nuzzled my nose into first Kare's hair and then Kair's.
"I'd like to know why," he replied. "Those men're my friends and we all help each other out 'round these parts."
"If they find that slave, he'll hang."
"And? Runaway slaves get hanged, that's the law."
"It ain't right."
"It ain't right that they runaway when they know they're property."
"It ain't right that they're property. This's what the next war's about, slaves, and our side doesn't win. Hundreds of thousands of white Southerners die for the right to keep other men as slaves. I die in this war. My father, two of my brothers, and my sister all die, and for what? For the right to cheap labor? To keep people down? I can't stand by and watch you put your hat in with them. I'm tryin' to keep this family alive."
"The Negros are slaves, they're supposed to be kept down. Otherwise we'd have to ship them back to Africa. We can't have 'em mixin' in with regular folk."
"Why can't we?"
"They're dirty, disease ridden, retards. What if they contaminated the rest of us?"
"In the future, they do contaminate the whites with their dark skin. The color of their skin and a lack of proper education is the only difference between them and you."
"Can't your kind do somethin' about it?" he asked incredulously.
"We encourage it. In fact, four of my step-siblings were African." I wanted to tell them that I had black brothers and sisters too, but I did not want him telling my grandmother too much.
"You've got Negro step-brothers and step-sisters?"
"And you just agreed to this adoption? You were already a grown man, why didn't you leave?"
"Because I agree with them. I named Kair and Kare after two of them. Zakaira and Zikare are African names."
Monroe was speechless after that, so I gave him some space and went to find the twins. They had gone into the house during the confrontation and I found them sitting on the floor combing wool for their knitting. I joined them and moments later when the task was done, we went back outside to knit on the porch, but before long my girls had to go and I was left all alone with the humans once more.
I was back in my pile of hay in the barn when one of the riders from the posse came back. It was not the leader, but one of the other men. I did not go out to greet him, but watched from the safety of the barn, to avoid another confrontation.
"Monroe?" he called out.
"Paul?" Monroe asked, coming out of the house. "What're you doing back here so soon?"
"We found the Negro. John tied him up and got men watchin' him. We're gonna have a proper hangin' in the mornin'. I've been sent out to invite everyone," the man, apparently Paul, said.
"Sorry, but I can't make it, not with the new baby being sick. I wish yall the best of luck," Monroe replied, thankfully taking my advice.
"It's mighty shameful for abled bodied men to turn their heads in time of need," Paul replied.
"I'd help, you know I would, but I've got the baby to worry about. Little Monty's real sick and this is our first baby," Monroe lied. "If some'in' happened to him, I'd never forgive myself."
"And what about that strange guest of yours?"
"Jasper? He's not abled bodied. He can't even do men's work. He spends all his time knitting with my sisters."
"What's the story with him? Is he courtin' Mariam or Mariel?"
"Neither. He's a traveler that fell off his horse. We let him stay for a while until he can get back on his feet and buy a new horse. He's handy with things, like hunting that Alligator I brought into town, but he's a bit backwards with most tasks."
"What was he doin' 'round these parts in the first place?"
"He was visiting his mother. But he never made it and now I think he just wants to get back home to his wife."
It took another ten minutes, but Paul eventually decided he had to get on his way and Monroe went back inside his house. Once the way was clear, I snuck out of the barn and followed the scent of Paul's horse until I found John's homestead and the tied up slave. There were three men on guard when I arrived, but as the night wore on, two of the three left. I waited in the shadows and sent the remaining guard lethargy, until he finally fell asleep.
As soon as the final guard was out and the slave was left unguarded, I slipped in and untied him. He woke up, but I covered his mouth and put my finger to my lips, to indicate that he should stay quiet. It was hard to do, because he was bleeding, but I picked him up and ran him into the wilderness. Once we were free of John's posse, I stopped to ask him which way he wanted to go. He had a family waiting for him at a safe house, so I escorted him there and impressed upon him the need to make haste out of town.
I must have succeeded, because when John came back to our homestead, he was livid that his slave had escaped. When I failed to care, he suspected I had done something to help the Negro escape, but he had no evidence and I was not about to admit my involvement. Over time, the whole incident faded from memory, except for that no one stopped by the Jackson homestead looking for men to join in a posse now. We did not even get invited to hangings, which was fine by me.
Author's Note: Please review!