Tess had been walking for a while and seemed to relish the manner in which she had told Silas Johnson off. It was the dead of August, and though the hot sun proved that it was summer, the leaves seemed to argue otherwise.
The wind nested comfortably in the trees, and from time to time, it reached down to flirt with the hem of Tess’ dainty skirt.
No buggies were rampaging down the street during this time of day, for people were either inside eating or out in their fields, or someone else’s, working from ‘kin to kan’t’, as Grandma Dinah would call it… Tess had gotten far enough away from the house to feel as though she didn’t belong in it or even in the little town.
Down beside the road, she spotted a tree which had fallen last autumn due to a hurricane. She seated herself upon the massive trunk and allowed lighthearted thoughts to clutter her industrious mind.
The eve of day slowly crept into existence. Trees began to cast lengthy, skeletal shadows across the ground where Tess sat. She gathered her thoughts, which were composed of ’What ifs? Why nots? And how comes?’ and attempted to walk home in order to avoid the somber dawn of night.
Something was moving in the distance. Tess stood still and looked down the hazy dirt road. It couldn’t be a buggy, for it would be a while before darkness forced people out of their fields. It was a car, Jeremy Pickett’s car, if her eyes had seen it correctly; he came to a gradual cessation and got out to greet her inquiring soul.
He stood from his car smiling widely at Tess, “Ms. Contessa, evry’time I see you, ya’ walkin’ down this here road… What’s yo’ fascination wit’ it?”
“Well, Mista Pickett,” Tess counteracted, “’dis hea’ road ain’t gon’ judge me, no matta’ how much my feet dun’ walked on it.”
“Ain’t that de’ truth…” Jeremy assented. “So… You need a ride or anythin’?
“Nah… just wandered out a lil’ bit… I’m headed back home now…”
“But… I sed’ I ain’t need no ride…”
“I unda’stand that… But I ain’t takin’ you home. Come wit’ me for a minit…”
Tess evaluated her newly discovered boldness. After walking out on Silas, she figured that getting into the car with Jeremy would make up for the least of her unconquered feats. So, she denied all preconceived teachings that were instilled by her grandmother and got into the car with Jeremy… a young white man. She did kinda like him after all, right?
‘She ain’t got to know…‘ Tess thought, closing the door behind her. Then, Jeremy turned his car around and went down the road a spell.
“Where we goin’…?” Tess asked curiously .
”Just… nowhere--we jus’ ridin‘…” Tess sat back and leaned her head against the seat. “I like the way you trus’ me ta’ do right by you…” Jeremy said.
Tess smiled, and turned her attention back to the window. Jeremy turned his car down onto a worn path.
“Let’s jus’ sit here for a while…” he said to Tess, turning off the engine.
They both sat in silence for what seemed like hours. The sound of rustling leaves soothed Tess' busy mind.
“It’s real peaceful out here…” she said, feeling the rebellious wind creep inside of the car through a small crack in her window.
“Yes… it is,” he answered.
A snippy breeze clipped a few fragile leaves from the trees. It carried them in a weak current and dropped some of them atop the hood of Jeremy’s car.
Tess turned to answer him and was met with a sudden kiss; afterwards, he released her slowly. Then opened his eyes to glimpse her timely reaction.
Tess was speechless and a tad bit worried. She was kissed by a white man and she didn’t mind… Was she crazy? Was she insane?
“I think…” Jeremy said comfortably, “that this explains a lot… “
‘That’s a lie…’ Tess thought. That kiss explained absolutely nothing to her; if anything, it had made her more nervous and confused than ever.
“I would like to--to court you Tess…” Jeremy said, reading the blatant confusion in Tess’ demeanor.
“Jeremy… th--this is crazy…” she stuttered. “Do you know what that looks like? Us togetha’... with each otha’??”
“It looks right in my eyes, Contessa… How does it look tuh’ you?”
Tess was hesitant to answer; by now, she was certain that she had feelings for him… But was he sure of himself…? of what he was doing?
“I reckon I wudn’t mind…” she finally answered, “but--my family? Dis town? What about dem?”
“It ain’t them ‘dat I’m interested in, Tess… It’s you. And if you wohnt the same, I s‘pose ain‘t nothing wrong wit‘ it.”
Jeremy’s family was from up North, and they never posed a bias to the color of anyone’s skin, or at least they never seemed to do so. He vaguely understood the rules of the men from down south, but he really didn’t care to learn them either. Times were changing anyway…
Wouldn’t someone accept their love? If Tess, a colored woman, was who he wanted, then that was who he’d pursue until he had won her over.
“Wanna be mine…? My girl, I mean?”
“…Well… I reckon I do want that… Sho’r… I kin be yo‘rs…” Tess said smiling.
“Wow…” Jeremy said, smiling and exhaling with great relief. He leaned back and looked into the air with his steely, teal eyes and ran his fingers through his burnt-auburn hair. “Now, let’s git on back fo’ you get into some kinda trouble.”
It was nearly nightfall, and Tess had been gone for a long while. Jeremy drove quickly down the road in order to beat the rising moon.
“Drop me off hea’…” Tess said, fearing that Jeremy would cause confusion by pulling up into her driveway.
“It’s a shame…” He said, shaking his head. “How long do we have to keep each other a secret?”
“Dunno…“ Tess answered, “Until ’de time is right…”
“The time might neva’ be right…“ Jeremy responded. “I don‘t care if ‘dey don‘t accept me… We gon’ fight this war that’s ragin’ against us…”
Tess nodded in agreement, and stepped out of the car. She hurried up the street in order to make it home before sunset. Jeremy waited to make sure that she did so safely; then, he turned his car around and headed back up the street.
“Tess!!” Grandma Dinah yelled. “Whea’ you been at?! You know how long we been lookin’ fuh‘ you?”
“I jus’ been walkin’ gram’ma… I jus been walkin‘…” Tess answered calmly, showing thought in her wistful eyes.
“What dun’ got inta’ you gal?! You know what you dun’ did? You made a fool outta’ me by walkin’ out on that nice man!”
“Yeh! You know how long he waited fuh’ you ta’ git back hea’?!”
“Not long a‘nuff… It seem like he‘d come to look fuh‘ me his’self, if he cared so much about me like you say he do…”
“Dat’ boy is crazy ‘bout chu!”
“Sho’ don’t ack like it if he is… “
“Look hea Tess,” Grandma Dinah said, pulling Tess aside and asking her to sit. “I ain’t askin’ you fa’ much… But dat’s a good man you passin’ up... And fa’ what?! Dat white man don’t won’tchu!”
Tess tilted her head and squinted her eyes, “What’d you say…?“
“Lis’sen baby, I know you like keepin’ quiet and tuh’ yo’self, but you bein’ seen wit’ Silas gon’ make dem’ town folk stop talkin’ bout you and dat’ otha’ boy… Hea’ me? I ain’t sayin’ he don’t won’tchu, cause you’s a pretty gal. Fac’, dat’s what I’m worr’d ‘bout.”
Tess bit down tightly, clenching her teeth together, “Whatchu’ mean gram’ma…?”
“I mean, Tess, I’m scared dat he mite want mo’ dan’ you care tuh’ give, hea’ me? He mite jus’ be foolin’ yuh. Sorry it had tuh’ come from me like dat’ chile’, but somebody had tuh’ say som’thin.” Grandma Dinah squeezed Tess’ hands in hers, “You hea’ me chile’?”
“Yes ma’am, I hea’ ya…”
“Ha-lay-loo-yuh!” Grandma Dinah proclaimed, pulling Tess’ head down into her bosom. “Now, Silas sed he be back ova’ hea Thu’sdey cause he had some stuff tuh‘ tend to. Git yo’ prettiest clothes togetha’ and figure’ out how you gonna git back on his good side--okay, Tessa?”
“Yes ma’am Gram’ma D…”
Tess stood, then bent over to give her grandmother a kiss on the cheek. Then she went to her room.
“Jeremy… a lie? Nah… Course he wohnts me… Don’t he?” Tess said to herself, tying back her hair and lying in the bed. “But… maybe he don’t…” She hugged her flat pillow tightly and closed her eyes.
© Copyright 2017 Jennifer Brighton. All rights reserved.
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