Kimberley Diamond Chapter 5
This chapter jumps back in time to the beginning of the day we found Carlisle pacing on the front veranda, waiting for his sons to come home. They have to unpick the mess that rescuing Rosalie and Esme potentially has them in.
Emmett and I sit impatiently in the wagon in the pre-dawn darkness, waiting for Edward and Jasper to tear themselves away from clinging women. I am hiding from Mrs Platt's fussing, which I can't abide. My brother hides from Miss Hale, not because she fusses but because he's frightened of what he feels for her. I don't say much, but I see everything.
Jasper smacks his wife gently on her tiny behind - she doesn't even flinch. He shakes his finger at her as he backs away saying, "I mean it, Alice. Not one foot outside of this house until I return. You hear me, my girl?" He's trying to sound like Carlisle, stern and firm and uncompromising.
Little Alice just smiles at him. She knows he's soft as butter and won't lift a finger to her. She'll do as she pleases, soon as his back is turned. He rolls his eyes at us as he climbs up and gets comfortable.
That just leaves Edward we're waiting for.
Bella doesn't want to let him go, but she doesn't want to cling, either. She's backing away, but her hand's fisting his shirt. Edward's delaying as long as possible. Emmett whistles at him to get moving and starts the wagon rolling. Ed looks around at us then scoops Bella up, wrapping her legs around his hips for a last kiss and squeeze, his fingers right where they shouldn't be, but she does not protest.
He slides her down his body again and pecks her on the lips, before running to catch up with us and hopping on the back. He lies in the box for a minute, hand over his cock, savouring the feel of her, I'm guessing.
I shift around, trying to get comfortable.
"Edward, get up here. We need to talk," Jasper yells. He's irritable at the whole situation.
He crawls up to sit beside me as Emmett jolts the wagon down the drive.
"I still say one of us should scout ahead, check they aren't lying in wait for us. Doesn't have to be me," says Jasper, turning his body around to face us.
"No. We stick together." Funny how Emmett sounds more like Carlisle than his natural born sons ever do.
Jasper doesn't argue. "So we're heading straight for town? Or the barracks? Or the mine?"
Edward has an opinion, as always. "I say we start with Rudd - get the mine business out of the way first, then find out what's happening with the soldiers. If they haven't come to arrest us yet, maybe they never will."
He sounds chipper about the whole shenanigan. Two months ago, he was the one dragging his feet on the idea of selling the claims. Marriage changes a man, they say. I kick his ankle and he kicks me back, getting straight into a silly foot scuffle, until Emmett interrupts us.
"If the Commissioner already confiscated your claims, you won't have anything left to sell to the man. Charles Rudd will have happily taken them on for free. I say we head to the claims first," he says.
"Claims it is then," says Jasper, as though he has the deciding vote.
Emmett hears my huff. "Riley? Have you got an opinion, Brother?"
"Ja, I do."
Edward cuffs me over the back of my head. "Spit it out, boy. You aren't here to look pretty."
I shove his shoulder, not hard or anything, and he smiles his crooked smile at me.
"We should go and see Jenks. His boy's back from Holland – you know he was studying law. He'll know all the town gossip and what the Commissioner's saying. Do we even know whether Waterboer is aware there are British soldiers here?"
My opinion is met with a long silence. As usual, no-one wants to listen to the boy who never went to school. I tip my hat down over my eyes and settle back to doze.
"Need help turning us about, Em? Jenks is in the other direction." Edward kicks me in the hide as he speaks, sharper than I did it to him.
"No, we'll turn up here where the road widens."
"Good thinking, Riley." Edward settles his shoulder against mine. I can feel the heat of his body through his shirt. It feels good to have my brother's attention back, even it it doesn't last long.
I draw in a deep breath of fresh Edward, and close my eyes, listening to the family bicker about women.
Jason Jenks, secretary - or something - to the Commissioner of Griqualand West, lives in a poorly built, rambling farmhouse that would fool any passing visitor to the area into thinking the man and his sons have no ambition, no clout, and no importance on the political scene whatsoever.
The Jenks family are like spiders. They make their web without anyone noticing, and sit quietly in the corner, waiting for you to get tangled up in their business. Then they come and let you out, but for a price.
We're lead into the parlour, a room full of trophies: a lion and a leopard skin on the floor, a stuffed rhino head on the wall, ivory trinkets everywhere, photographs of family with various important people, maps, books, rifles – is that a human skull on the occasional table? Edward points it out to me, obviously asking the same question with his eyebrows. I widen my eyes back at him. I've known the family a long time, and I can quite believe that Mr Jenks would use a skull as an ashtray.
He finds us all standing awkwardly in the low-ceilinged room.
"Cullens!" he shouts, as though he's surprised to see us. I guarantee he is not.
He begins by shaking everyone's hands, from oldest to youngest. When he reaches me, he pulls me into an embrace.
"Riley, my boy. How have you been? Victor's back. He's been anxious to see you. He'll be here soon, I've sent someone for him."
"Thank you, Sir," I mumble into his shoulder, wishing he would let go of me but respecting him too much to pull away. He's an affectionate man, gives his love away easily, but will hurt you just as quickly if he needs to.
"Well, take a seat, take a seat," he says, finally releasing me and gesturing to the higgledy collection of furniture in the room.
I find myself perched on what looks more like a drum than a stool. Even though it's low, my head is a lot higher than Mr Jenks', sitting in his leather armchair close by.
"I hear you have quite a story to tell me." He rubs his hands together in anticipation. "Who will start?"
We all look to Emmett, because this feels like his story, even though it began with soldiers on the diamond claims.
"Right." He draws in a deep breath, making his huge chest swell with fortitude. "We drove up to the claims a few days back to find them overrun with British soldiers, as I'm sure you know."
"Yes, oh yes. Was there a problem? Did they do something wrong?"
Despite sounding so eager, Jenks' excitement could mean anything – good news, bad news, old news - he's not going to give his opinion lightly.
"Not as such. Or not at first," Emmett continues, cautiously. "Riley and I left Jasper and Edward to deal with the situation and drove into town, where we were all to meet up later."
"Aha. And you discreetly paid the workers inside the store, one by one, so as not to alert the British. Genius, my boy, genius."
Emmett looks surprised, I reckon as much to be called a boy as to have been praised for forethought rather than scolded for duplicity. I hide my smile by looking intently at my knees. For sure, Jenks knew what we were up to.
"Yes, we have no issue with the Crown, we just like to do things our own way. I'm sure you appreciate that, Mr Jenks." Jasper jumps into the conversation cockily.
I catch Edward's eye. We're always the quiet ones, taking everything in. He winks at me. If he's this relaxed, I'm not going to worry.
"I like the way you Cullens think. Carlisle's a good man," he says, reaching over to ruffle my hair.
I can't help but cringe away from his meaty hand, even though it feels nice to be singled out for once. He laughs.
Emmett smiles at me, before picking the story up again. "Anyway, we'd completed all our transactions in the store when a certain captain came out of his way to harass us. He made a point of being obnoxious, so after he moved on and we all met up again, we remained in town to keep an eye on him, see whether he had an agenda. He seemed to be very cosy with the bigger mine owners. Jasper and Edward had come to an agreement on selling their claims to the highest bidder, and we didn't want that decision undermined by ficky-facking. You understand?"
Jenks laughs again. "I do, my boy, I completely understand. So you watched and waited, hoping to catch them out in some terrible crime and get them sent home again?"
"Well, no." Emmett's spine stiffens. "That isn't what we thought would happen, but that is, in fact, what did happen."
Jenks leans forward in his chair, the leather creaking underneath him. "What did you see?"
Em clears his throat and rocks his body with agitation. He's always so relaxed, it's strange to see him angry and unsettled this way.
"A group of officers were drinking, at first with their hosts, but they continued on their own. The captain stood up to leave the tavern, and the rest of his men followed like sheep. They didn't know we were behind them, because they were so intent on their prey."
The last word emerges like a roar, and Em can't contain himself in his chair any more. He leaps up and paces between the two cat skins, his hand pushing down on the top of his head as though he can keep his thoughts inside with it.
Jenks sits back in his chair and hauls one ankle over his other knee. His smile seems inappropriate in the face of my brother's discomfort. Even Edward shifts in his seat.
Emmett takes another deep breath and spins to face Jenks.
"If we had delayed just a few minutes longer, King would be in front of the firing squad for rape and murder. As it is, he merely suffered a beating. But here's the dilemma, Mr Jenks. His victims are under our protection, and we are in fear of retaliation. We have women and children to protect, and Jasper and Edward still want a profit from their claims. We'd like your advice as to what to do."
He collapses back into his seat, exhausted and rumpled.
We all turn to look at Jenks, who seems unconcerned – happy, even, at the unfolding of the tale.
"You have children? This is news to me – who are the lucky fathers? Let's drink."
He claps his hands and a little boy slinks into the room, sidling shyly up to Jenks. They confer quietly, and the little one runs out of the door as fast as his tiny legs will carry him.
"Well? Whose loins have fruited?" The old man wheezes with laughter at his own joke.
Jasper clears his throat. "That would be me. I have a daughter. A baby girl."
A woman knocks at the door with her toes, and enters with a heavy tray of glasses and whiskey. She pours, and the boy passes glasses of warm scotch to each of us. Edward finds a penny behind the boy's ear and closes the kid's little fist around it. They both grin.
We take our cue from Jenks and raise our glasses.
"To Jasper," he says, and we echo him.
"Who's the other lucky fellow?"
We look at each other, confused.
"What other lucky fellow? What did I miss?"
My head springs around to the door in time to see Victor, Jenks' youngest son, pushing his way into the crowded room. He's changed – I suppose we all have, and I don't know why I'm surprised. He's not much taller, but he's filled out, and his skin and hair look lighter somehow, as though the pale, European sun bleached him. The mix of Dutch and Hottentot ancestry in his bones has swung towards Holland with his fancy clothing and clean-shaven chin.
He kisses his father on each cheek before making his way around my brothers, shaking their hands. We haven't seen our childhood companion in four years.
He comes to me last. I hold my hand out to him, and he clasps it softly, his other arm resting on my shoulder as if he half wants to draw me in to an embrace and half wants to push me away. I'm a little embarrassed by how hard he looks at me, up and down and unblinkingly into my eyes.
"You're all grown up, Riley. You look like a man," he says, his warm breath washing over my face.
"You've been gone a long time, Victor. What did you expect?"
He smiles and drops his hands, but not before squeezing me hard enough to hurt.
"You'll stay for dinner then, Cullens?" asks Jenks.
Emmett speaks for all of us when he quietly agrees.
Wine, port and brandy later, we are stuffed and merry.
"The way I see it," Jenks slurs as he waves a meat fork in the air like a baton, "those bloody soldiers have no right to be here anyway. This is still Griqua territory, and Waterboer will be very pleased to boot their backsides all the way to the Fort – no, even further, right into the bosom of the cold Atlantic. Let them suck on her tit, see how they like it."
Victor shudders beside me. He leans over to whisper in my ear, his hand back on my shoulder. "If I never see the ocean again, I will die a happy man. If I am ever forced to return to Europe, I'll go by land."
I laugh. I've never seen the sea. "What's so awful about it?"
"By god, the sickness! And the never-ending swell, with no rhyme or rhythm to it. And the stench! When you're stuck aboard ship for weeks on end with the worst of people, and nothing to do – it's like being trapped in a coffee can forever. Miserable."
He leaves his arm on the back of my chair as he turns around to answer Jasper's question about law. "No, no, no. They haven't got a leg to stand on. They can't arrest you because they aren't here in an official capacity. They can put in a complaint to the Commissioner, but as he's not here and isn't expected back for some time – if ever – so, no, nothing to worry about there. I bet they are quaking in their sorry boots, wishing they'd never come here. The mine owners waited for the Commissioner to leave before they called in a few favours to get the battalion up here. They'll be horribly embarrassed if you make the story known."
Victor manages to yank my chair closer to his as he speaks, jolting me along with it. He has rolled up his sleeves, exposing his thin arms, which are surprisingly strong. I can smell his sweat, but it's a clean scent.
Edward raises one of his crazy eyebrows at me. I don't know why, but it makes me laugh.
"I won't expose Miss Hale and Mrs Platt that way," Emmett is declaring, while Jasper rolls his eyes and shakes his head.
"But if we just..." Jasper begins, but Emmett cuts him off with a fist to the table.
"No!" he bellows. "We keep it quiet, the battalion leaves, we sell the claims, end of the story."
Jenks leans over the table, pointing his fork at Em's chest. "That isn't the end of the story, my boy, is it? What about the women? What are you going to do with them?"
We all quieten down, not quite meeting each other's eyes.
"You'll have to marry them! Wait, you are already spoken for, correct Edward?"
My brother nods, a smile he can't keep off creeping over his face.
"Oh yes, that is a look of young love if ever I saw one," says Jenks, nodding happily. "And you," the fork nearly pokes Jasper's eye out as Jenks turns his attention to him. "You have a babe, you must be married too. Carlisle would never allow you to have not gotten so." He turns to his son and asks, "Did that make sense? Am I so drunk I can't speak?"
We all laugh and protest and agree, and another round of drinks are poured. I can't feel my feet any more. I know they are on the end of my legs, but it's as though they are made of lead or something.
"Mrs Platt is already spoken for," says Emmett, holding his brandy glass up to the light and staring at the amber liquid sloshing around.
"Oh yes? Is she yours? Is she lovely?" asks Jenks.
Em smiles wistfully. "Not by me, no. Carlisle."
Jasper's as surprised by this news as Jenks and Victor, but Edward winks at me. We both knew the minute Carlisle laid his hands on her when she was sick in our kitchen - not like a doctor, but like a man touches his wife – there was a kind of reverence there.
"That leaves the young one then, and Riley and Emmett must fight over her." Jenks hiccups. "But you'd better have her," he points at Emmett, "Because Riley will make a terrible husband." He laughs at his own joke like a baboon.
I stiffen into stone. What does he mean by that?
"She's just a little girl, Jason. Nobody will be marrying her yet," Emmett says definitively.
Edward nods. "She needs a pa more than she needs a husband. She is both spoiled and deprived. Besides, she has been through an ordeal. Nobody needs or wants a wife who is frightened of what her husband will do to her."
"Are you my brother Edward, or did we bring Bella with us instead?" Jasper teases. Ed punches his arm.
"You had better marry the girl anyway, Emmett. You can't send her back to her father," says Victor.
"Riley is closer to her in age," says Em. "She would be better off with him."
There is a chorus of protest at my brother's remark, but none of it comes from me. What is so bad about me?
There is a heavy weight in my chest, and I need to be outside. The air stinks in this room.
I excuse myself and make my way through the winding corridors to find a door into the garden. The house dogs follow me out and sniff around as I take a seat on a low wall on the far side, where I can stare out into the bush.
My thoughts are blank and confused, as they often are at night. I can't fit words to them, so they rattle in my head like ghosts, troubling but ill-defined.
Someone comes out of the same door I did. I don't turn around, but I can hear the footsteps walking in my direction.
He stands behind me and puts a hand on each shoulder, pressing into the muscle there with his strong fingers.
We don't talk for a while.
Eventually he interrupts the crickets and the night birds with my name.
One of the wordless thoughts becomes solid when he speaks. When I fell in with the Cullens as a young boy, my name was all I owned. Perhaps it still is.
Victor stops what he's doing and comes to sit next to me on the wall, his shoulder and arm warm against mine.
"Remember when Carlisle caught us playing how we shouldn't have been, and marched you off for a beating?"
"Ja." I hadn't remembered, but as soon as he says it the day comes back to me with clarity. Carlisle was really angry and I was so ashamed.
"I followed you. I watched him take his belt to you. I never told you, but I think about it all the time."
I don't know what to say about that. It's humiliating, but it was a long time ago.
"Carlisle apologised to me afterwards. That's what I remember most. He said he was wrong. He's a good father, Victor." Suddenly it's important to me that Victor doesn't judge the only truly good man I've known.
"Do you ever think about what we were doing to make him so angry in the first place?"
We can both hear the lie in my quick response.
We're quiet for a time. The night noises are like a concert taking up all the available attention of two young men sitting on a wall.
Eventually I'm compelled to break the silence between us.
"What did the night sound like in Holland?"
I can feel Victor smile next to me.
"Not like this. Nothing like this. There are so many people, Riley. The night sounds like people. I'm desperately glad to be home."
He lays his head on my shoulder. It's comfortable there. I sort of nuzzle his hair with my cheek for a moment.
"I'm glad you're back too," I say.
"You were so brave. When he hit you, you just stood there and took it. You didn't cry, or blame me – it was my game, you should have blamed me, but I was too cowardly to come out and stop him. You took everything. I think about that, Riley."
"I don't want to talk about that. I didn't stop you, and I didn't stop Carlisle. Nothing brave about that. Tell me about Europe. That's what I want to talk about."
"All right." He sits up and moves slightly away from me. "In Holland I went to parties where some of the men dressed as ladies and behaved as women of the night. I did that. I called myself Victoria and put on women's underclothes and a dress and I let men touch me."
Holy Christ. "Why?"
He laughs. "Why? Because it was exciting, and others like me were doing it. And it was the only place I found somewhere to fit, if I'm honest. If I wanted to be taken seriously I had to behave outrageously. That's how it worked. I know how ironic it sounds, but groups of people are all about playing games, and I had to make up some new rules or I would never have made it. Can you understand that?"
I shake my head, but I don't mean no. I need time to take this in.
"Was it only men touching you, or did you touch them too?"
"Yes, I touched them too. I did other things, Riley – I listened to lectures, and ate and drank, and argued, and wrote papers, had dinners, went to the theatre, concerts, read in the library... There is so much finery and frippery, and the men there think they are so important. They seem to believe nothing they do can be wrong, or against God. But I sit here, under these stars next to you, and remember them all as being so small – of no consequence to anyone, save the circle they travel in."
His words wash over me like a warm breeze. I can't imagine any of those things, so I stay silent. After a while, Victor places his hand back on my shoulder.
"This is what I need from you," he says, low and warm. "Your quiet. Your stillness. You just watch, and think, and be. This is what I've always needed from you."
The weight in my chest disintegrates and lifts into my throat. This is something – to be needed. I try to swallow around it.
"Why do they think I'll be a bad husband, Victor? What's wrong with me?"
We shift on the wall to face each other, straddling it now, close together. Victor puts his hands around the back of my neck and clasps them together. He looks at me intently.
"You are a fine, loving, honourable and brave man. You have been a great son to Carlisle, and the best of brothers, especially to Edward. But you love him, Riley, and not in the way God intended you to love a brother. We all see it. It's what had Carlisle so worried about you all these years. It's to his credit he's never made you feel uncomfortable about it, but Edward – well, he's never been that way inclined. He sounds very happy to be married."
If Victor wasn't holding me up, I would collapse into a ball of heated shame. As he is, my head drops as low as it can go to hide my face from his scrutiny.
"No," he says, giving me a little shake. "No, don't hide from it. I have been jealous of Edward for as long as I have known you, and now that I've been brave enough to confront you with the truth, I want you to face it with me. You can't have him – you will never have his love the way you want it. But hear this Riley. Look at me, so that you hear this from me."
I screw up my eyes, but raise my head and open them, because if there is anything I know about myself, it's that I do as I am told.
Victor's expression is so earnest.
"You can have me, Riley. I am not Edward, I know this, but I am worth something, and you can have me."
"I don't – what – how?"
"Just be with me. We'll open up an office together, you can come and work for me. Or the farm – lord knows, this farm needs a manager. You can run the farm and I'll open an office in town, and we won't put a label on it, but you can come and live with me. Here. And I won't be Edward, but I'll be everything else you need. Trust me – I know how – I'll be everything you need. Always."
"But it's wrong, Victor. These things we want – it's wrong. We mustn't..."
"No. It's not wrong. It's not. Let me show you."
He leans into me, pulling me closer. I'm still wondering what the hell is going on when his dry lips brush across mine. Next, his mouth is on me, and my words vanish again.
Victor's mouth is a revelation. He is soft and certain, the combination of which leaves me feeling cherished, like a lion cub being licked by his mother. While my soul is travelling in this white space of astonishment and bliss, his teeth are around my lip, tugging at it; his tongue strokes mine, smooth and hard and so sure one moment, then gentle and questioning the next; his spit tastes like the water of my home, my deepest home. He is never still, lips moving on me, tongue moving in me, but a stillness settles all around us. A sound builds up in me, some kind of animalistic call of recognition. This! This is where I'm meant to be.
I don't know how long this continues for, but when we break apart, we are both panting for breath. Our foreheads press together, and I realise I've been gripping his collar.
"Do you want me, Riley? Tell me you want me. It'll be so easy."
"No, not Carlisle. You're grown now, you make your own decisions. Carlisle loves you, but he can't live your life. You get to choose this. We won't flaunt it. They can all pretend we're friends, business partners. He doesn't have to know. He will pretend not to know. Tell me you want me."
"I want you." I do as I'm told, am doing what I'm told, but the want runs through my body like fire. I am inflamed with want. "I do want you, Victor. I do."
We wake up thirsty. Where our naked skin has pressed together we are rough with sweat. Victor has a jug of water in his bedroom, covered with a fine beaded net. We drink from the jug – he lets me drink first, and when he is done I take it back again for more.
We lie there and watch rivers of light shining through the large bay window. I don't look at his body. It was dark when I pressed into his skin with mine, when he kissed me everywhere, when we rubbed our excitement against and with each other's.
"Please don't regret this," he says.
"I don't. I promise I don't."
"Really?" He rolls over to look at me, and I can't avoid his scrutiny.
"I don't. But I wish..."
I sigh, a great huff of air that's been stale inside of me for too long.
"I still want you, Victor. I still want the life you laid out for me all night long. But I wish it could be celebrated, in the same way that Edward's love is celebrated. I wish we could have God's blessing, and a party, and that Carlisle would look at me with the same pride he does his real sons. It's stupid, but if I could have everything, that's what I would ask for."
We're quiet again after that.
I like that we can be quiet together.
A/N – this chapter is dedicated to the parents of LGBT youth who love and respect their children for who they are, no matter who they are attracted to.
On that note, go and read Building Hope by Shellshock81, a beautiful story.
Thank you, dear, kind readers, for sticking with me even when I torture you with silence for months on end. There is one chapter left to torture you with. Do you trust me?