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Southern Angels (Part 1.1)
“Emmett, Jasper, leave!”
Nessie came into the living room followed by Alice, Bella, and the imprint girls. Emmett and I were sitting on the couch playing Xbox. We were playing our favorite wrestling game, and I was shamefully losing. He might have bigger muscles in real life, but I usually have quicker thumbs in virtual reality.
“Come on, Nes,” Emmett complained. “I’m kicking butt here!”
“It’s Thursday,” Rachel said, curling her legs up on the couch.
I rolled my eyes. Every Thursday at exactly seven PM, Nessie gets control of the TV to watch some overrated vampire love show. It was no surprise that she had gotten every girl she knows who’s dating a paranormal monster, except Rosalie (surprise, surprise), into it.
I considered, was it worth an argument? No. We’d probably lose. If there was one thing I learned since marrying Alice and living with the Cullens it was that you never verbally fight with a woman--you always lose. Plus, if we stopped now I wouldn’t have to lose anymore to Emmett.
“Let’s go, Emmett,” I said.
“You’re just mad ‘cause you’re losing, Jasper,” Emmett said even though he pressed pause and ended the game.
We left, escaping swoons, “OMGs,” and “OMG he’s so hot!” I guess according to them, the only thing better than their real boyfriends was two actors pretending to be vampires. Personally, I didn’t see what was so great about that, but it might be because I’m a guy.
“Why do they drool all over the TV for people they’ll never meet?” Emmett pondered. “It’s almost as bad as Jersey Shore.”
“You’re wife’s not the one drooling,” I pointed out.
“This is true,” he responded with a smile. “You think Edward knows what they’re thinking when they watch that?”
“If I were him, I’d tune it out.”
Emmett laughed, leaning against the kitchen wall. “Agreed, bro. Want to go hunting tonight, discuss the mysteries of the female mind?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ve just got to finish my essay for English.”
Knowing us, and how we hunt, we’d make it home with just enough time to change our clothes and get out the door while moving at top speed.
“’Kay,” Emmett said. “Hurry, though.”
I went back into the living room to get my notebook from where I left it on the ottoman. As I walked in, the image on the TV caught my eye and held my gaze there. I knew the woman staring back at us on the screen.
“Katherine,” I whispered.
“Didn’t think you watched The Vampire Diaries,” Nessie said.
“I don’t,” I said, moving behind the couch. “I know her.”
“Wait,” Emily said, looking at me. “The Vampire Diaries is real?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “But Katherine sure is. So are the Salvatores.”
“But this takes place in Virginia,” Claire pointed out.
I stared down at her. I thought an eleven year old was a little too young to be watching The Vampire Diaries, but Nessie was only nine, so I can’t really say anything.
“They’re wrong. They lived in Houston, like me. Katherine….”
The picture flashed to a young man, Damon Salvatore, in his Confederate uniform as Katherine and her handmaid got out of a carriage.
“I’m guessing Maria wasn’t your first, shall we say, interest?” Nessie said, annoying little-girl trickery at the edge of her voice.
“Nessie,” Bella scolded.
Alice turned her whole tiny body toward me, crossed her arms, and fixed me with a look that I knew said, “you better tell me what I want to know and not lie to me.”
I dismounted my horse and tied him up to the post outside the general store. As I walked in, the young man lounging behind the counter looked up. He had dark brown hair, even darker brown eyes, and could easily be mistaken for any given outlaw in the South--in my opinion, anyway.
“Jasper Whitlock,” he greeted me.
“Hello, Jonathan,” I responded as I walked to the counter.
“Haven’t seen you in here for a while,” he said as he shook my hand. “You can’t buy so much feed at one time. Quick drink of whiskey?”
“Just a small bit,” I said.
Jonathan pulled a bottle of whiskey from under the counter and two glasses from the shelf behind him. We’d been snatching the liquor from the general store since we were ten, old enough to realize neither of his parents was in here in the afternoons. We didn’t drink so much that we stumbled drunk in the streets, just a sip or two here and there.
“What do you think about this war?” Jonathan asked as he poured the whiskey. “Who knew slaves had enough brains to know how to shoot a gun?”
I nodded as I lifted the glass to my lips. “I’m thinking about enlisting.”
“Jasper!” he said. “You’re seventeen. Maybe if it lasts another three years, then you can go get shot at by some Negros.”
“You sound like your mama,” I teased. “Besides, the farm’s failing. We didn’t get a good crop or eggs this season. Now I don’t have much other choice.”
“You could work here,” Jonathan offered. I read the worry in his eyes.
Jonathan and I had been like brothers since we were four. I understood why he was so worried about me. But Father and Mama were getting old, and the field was barely giving us enough to feed ourselves, much less sell. Enlisting was one of the only ways I could get enough money to them to keep up the farm.
My horse neighed loudly outside. I turned to see a stage wagon rolling up to the station on the other side of the dirt road. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life stepped out. I barely took notice of the black slave helping her out of the wagon. All I saw was the way her long brown hair curled around, so much like the way I was told melted chocolate wraps around strawberries. Her skin was beautiful light beige. And her eyes…I wanted to lose myself in them and never find my way out.
“Who’s she?” I asked Jonathan.
“Her first name’s Katherine Pierce,” he said, “From the rumors--and that’s pretty much it, rumors--she’s from a wealthy family of cattle ranchers in Atlanta. Don’t get any ideas, though.”
I looked down at him. It was easy for me to intimidate him, being six inches taller than him and much stronger. He was immune to my size by now, though.
“Give me one good reason not to,” I said.
“Well, for one thing,” he said, taking a sip of whiskey, “if there’s anything I know about city women, they don’t like poor boys like us.”
I took another sip of whiskey and put the glass on the counter.
“I think I can change her mind,” I said.
Straightening my vest, I walked out to my horse. Trying not look too obvious about it, I caught Ms. Pierce’s eye. That shade of brown! I did not know such a heavenly color of brown existed. Good Lord, I was falling in love and I had not ever talked to her!
“Excuse me, sir,” she called to me.
I turned politely to face her. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Can you direct us to the Farnworth hotel?” she asked. Her voice was so lovely, like bells played by angels.
“Would you like me to escort you there ma’am?” I offered.
“I would like that very much, thank you,” she said, smiling. “But I am never escorted by anyone whose name I don’t know.”
“Jasper Whitlock, ma’am,” I said.
“Jasper,” she murmured, as if trying the name out. “I’m Katherine Pierce.”
“Shall we, Ms. Pierce?” I said, gesturing down the road.
“We shall,” she said.
We started walking on the side of the road, trying to keep my pace slow. The longer it to get to the hotel, the more time I would have to talk to her.
“Are you a visitor also,” Ms. Pierce said, “or do you live in Houston?”
“I live here,” I said.
“What do you do?” she asked.
I hesitated. I could tell her the truth. Maybe she wouldn’t think anything of me being poor. Or I could lie and pretend I had more money than I actually did.
“Just a few jobs here and there.” My next idea was not a complete lie: “Sweeping shops, tending to horses, things like that.”
She turned to me and looked at me right in the eye. A fuzzy, hazy feeling clouded my mind, and all I was able to see and hear was her. The rest of the busy street faded into the background, a calming buzz that amplified Ms. Pierce’s voice.
“Tell me the truth.”
She broke eye contact and smiled at me.
“My family owns a farm at the outer fields of town,” I admitted.
Katherine laughed. “You don’t look very dirty for a farm boy.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. A simple “thank you?” Oh Katherine. I’d only known her a few minutes and she was already very charming.
“Are you meeting someone?” I asked.
“No,” she said simply. “Just passing through. However, I might be willing to stay a little longer if you come visit me tomorrow.”
“I will,” I promised.
We had reached the hotel. I could not have gotten more than a few minutes in with her, and it was too short. I wanted to talk to her more. I considered taking her for dinner tonight, but bit back the idea, knowing I could not pay for it.
“Thank you, Mr. Whitlock,” Ms. Pierce said. “Do you mind if I call you Jasper? Last names are far too formal with friends, don’t you think?”
“Of course, ma’am,” I said.
“I will see you tomorrow then,” she said with a final smile, and walked with the Negro girl into the Farnworth hotel.
I turned around and walked back down the road to the general store. Jonathan would tell me that love at first sight was impossible, but I could feel it in all my bones. Katherine’s eyes…and her hair…and her perfume…. I knew I could keep listing, but it would not do the real woman justice.
As I neared the general store, I saw two new horses next to my tied up on the post. Curious about the new strangers, and still needing to buy feed, I walked into Jonathan’s store.
There were two men talking to him at the front counter. One was dark haired and had a muscular build under his button-down shirt. The other had bronze-brown hair and was leaner than his companion. They both turned when I came in. The brown-haired one had hazel eyes, as if they were having trouble deciding if they wanted to be green or brown. The one with the black hair had ice blue eyes and paler skin.
“Jasper,” Jonathan said, “these are they Salvatores, Stefan and Damon.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” I said politely.
“Jonathan tells me you’re thinking about joining the Confederate army,” Stefan said as we shook hands. “Damon’s a soldier. He could help you out.”
“I’d be happy to,” Damon put in.
Jonathan busied himself with writing something in an account book. He really wanted me not to go. I suppressed a sigh. I hated seeing my best friend, or any friend, be this distressed about anything. Having it be about me was even worse, but family always came first with me. Even Mama was nervous, but we all knew this was something I had to do.
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
“I’m going back in a week,” Damon said. “Enlist and you can come with.”
“Thank you, I will,” I promised.
Then I thought about Katherine. Would she leave before then? I did not know if I would see her beautiful features after telling her my plans.
“Jasper, please,” Jonathan pleaded, throwing down his pen and finally looking up. “You’re three years too young, you’ve only shot at deer, and you’ve never even been four miles out of the city.”
“Men are slower than deer,” Damon pointed out. “You look older than seventeen, Jasper, and stronger than most soldiers I know. How well do you fight?”
“Fairly well,” I said, shrugging.
“Well, let’s find a pile of hay to see how well ‘fairly well’ is,” he said with a smile.
I smiled and Jonathan and I led him around the side of the general store. Jonathan’s family kept a room of hay bales at the back. There was plenty of loose straws on the ground to make it soft enough to fall on. However, it was not soft enough to cushion you from a bruise; Jonathan and I knew that plenty well.
I unbuttoned my vest, untied my shoes, and handed them to Jonathan. Damon did the same and gave them to Stefan.
“Are you sure about this, boy?” Damon challenged, smiling.
“Plenty sure,” I said, and then lunged at him.
I brought the two of us crashing into the hay, the stiff yellow stalks poking our arms and backs. Jonathan and Stefan cheered us on as we wrestled on the floor, throwing punches. Finally, after only a few minutes, I had him pinned under me by the shoulders. Both of us panted as we tried to catch our breath. Damon started laughing.
“Well, you might be just a bit stronger than most of the men I know,” Damon laughed.
I stood up and held my hand out to help him to his feet. We brushed the hay off our clothes and ruffled it out of our hair.
“You don’t have such a bad punch either,” I complimented him.
“It looks like you have some competition,” Stefan said as he handed Damon his things back.
“Jasper’s beat any man who’s challenged him,” Jonathan said, handed me my vest first. I could tell he was proud to know someone who had just won a fight against a Confederate soldier.
I sat down on a bale of hay and put my shoes back on. “Almost any man,” I corrected.
Jonathan shook his head. “Nope. I’ve been keeping track in my head. It’s Jasper, too many to count, the rest of the world, zero.”
“Thanks, Jonathan,” I said.
“We need to be on our way,” Stefan said.
Damon rolled his eyes. “He’s the younger one, yet he obeys rules more, as if he actually thinks it’s important. I promise I’ll put in a good word to my officer for you, Jasper.”
“Thank you,” I said.
We stood up and shook each other’s hands. I wondered how this man could be a Confederate soldier. He seemed so easy-going and joking. Many soldiers I had met in the past were all business, as if war and receiving orders from others had made them as stiff as a board.
The Salvatores left and I paid Jonathan for the feed. He was silent as he took down a small burlap sack and pushed it on the counter toward me. The whole time he avoided meeting my eyes.
“Jasper,” he said finally, hesitantly. “That Damon Salvatore, he’s a lucky fellow. He’s not dead. Yet.”
“Jonathan,” I said, trying to keep myself from sounding like a complaining, whiny child. “My father and mama are both old. Neither of them can work much. I have to provide and since we didn’t get an adequate crop sale--.”
“Stop,” he said, holding up a hand. “Just stop, Whitlock. I don’t want to hear it. You want to go to war, fine. I won’t argue with you anymore.”
“Good day,” I said curtly.
I picked up the sack of feed and walked out. This was the most serious fight Jonathan and I ever got ourselves into. He was worried about me, and I understood that, but he had to understand my motives.
All thoughts of war and Jonathan melted from my head as I passed the hotel. The sun was setting, smearing the sky with and intricate array of purple, pink, and orange. As I passed the hotel, Katherine was sitting on the balcony of her room, reading. She looked absolutely angelic, in a white dress with the orange on the horizon haloing her chocolate locks.
I rode home quickly, knowing I would have to if I wanted to make it home before dark. You never know who or what is lurking in the fields when the stars’ light replaces the sun’s.