Twenty NineA Chapter by emily
Unfortunately, I felt my confidence faltering as I crept towards the barn. My steps slowed as I approached the building that loomed ahead of me, internally scolding myself for putting on such an act of bravado yet being such a coward in the face of actual danger. I kept myself moving by trying to remember what Isaiah had risked for me and what this risk was worth.
As I had suspected, Ethan had been left to guard the front door of the barn. Roy knew as well as I that Ethan’s lack of an arm was made up for by sheer, strengthening arrogance. So it did not surprise me that he was the one I would have to deal with. I knew there was another entrance, but my father was no doubt watching that one, and that battle would be much harder to win.
Taking a nervous breath, I slunk closer to where Ethan stood until I found my way into the bush next to him. From the commotion I heard, I knew Roy was still in the barn. It tried to close off the sounds, not wanting to give myself away.
After a minute, the noises hushed and Roy strode from the barn, looking tired and angry as he headed back towards the house. I waited until he was out of sight before I made my presence known.
When Ethan turned his back to me, I sprung from my hiding place and grabbed his arm, twisting it behind his back as I had seen him do before. He was stronger than me, but I had taken him by surprise. He did not have the chance to shake me off before I pressed the knife to my brother’s throat.
Ethan did not try to fight me off. “Let me in,” I hissed.
He chuckled, surprising me. “We’ve done this before, Adeline. You’re not going to hurt me.”
His casual manner was infuriating. “Why wouldn’t I? You’ve done worse than this,” I growled, thinking briefly of the scar on Isaiah’s neck.
“Now, Adeline, I… Wait, ouch! What the hell?” He started charmingly but began to curse as I pressed the knife closer to his throat, just close enough to draw blood. “All right, all right.” I loosened my grip but did not let go. “Jesus Christ, Adeline, you’re not playing around.”
I eased up enough to let Ethan face me, the knife now at his chest. “No, I’m not. I will hurt you if you don’t let me by, Ethan, or if you tell Roy I’m out here.” I wanted him to think I was serious, even if I doubted I could kill my own brother
“Easy, easy…” he coaxed, backing up against the wall, “I’ll let you in, and not just because you’re about to kill me.”
I looked at him quizzically, trying to keep the ferocity in my voice. “What are you getting at?”
“Listen, Adeline,” he began, sounding much kinder than I had ever known him to be. “I’m as tired of this as you are. I stopped caring about this whole thing a long time ago.”
I clenched my jaw in an attempt to continue looking menacing. “Why?” I asked through gritted teeth. Ethan was saying things that were just too out of character for me to trust him yet.
“Well, because you’re my sister, of course, and I don’t want to hurt you anymore.” I had never heard him say anything like that, something that proved he felt something like brotherly affection for me. “Anyway, I have Abigail now, and I want my own life, not one that focuses completely on keeping you from sleeping with a slave. Clearly, I have no power to stop you.” Ethan laughed another strange laugh. He sounded oddly casual, but it did not sound at all like he was lying.
I was far beyond confused, but a part of me wanted to believe him. “Why did you do all this, then?” I lowered the knife a little.
“Because Roy is a friend. Besides, I would rather not have you completely tarnish our family name.” I clenched the knife and he winced away a little, obviously worried that the insult would set me off again. “Go ahead and kill me, Adeline. But I want you to know I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you.”
I looked at my brother for a long minute. I wanted so badly to believe that he was not setting me up, that Ethan really cared about me and didn’t want to hurt me anymore, that he was sorry for what he had done. And for some reason beyond my comprehension, I trusted him.
Slowly, I lowered the knife. Ethan stifled a sigh of relief. “How long can I have?” I asked.
“No more than twenty minutes,” he said, obviously more relaxed without the knife to his throat. “Roy just went in for some whisky. He will be back soon.”
I nodded. “Thank you. You don’t… I mean…” I could not seem to find the right words. Ethan and I had never exactly said anything sentimental to one another.
“I know,” Ethan said with a small smile. We stood uncomfortably for a moment. Then he took a step towards me and wrapped me in a brotherly hug, one that reminded me completely of Ruben. When he let me go, I took a nervous breath and pulled open the door to the barn.
It was darker in the barn than it was outside. I squinted as I searched the shadows. It was only when my eyes had adjusted that I saw him.
Isaiah was tied to one of the wooden pillars of the barn, his feet lifted a few inches off the ground. His arms were extended out from his body like a crucifix, bound to the horizontal beams. His head slumped in defeat. Though it was too dark to see how badly Roy had beaten him, I could tell Isaiah was hurting. He looked more hopeless, more alone, than I had ever seen him.
He did not see me, and I stood a few feet away from him for a moment, unsure of how to proceed.
“Isaiah,” I whispered. He raised his head, slowly, cautiously.
“I have to get you out of here, Isaiah. We have to find a way out.” I took my knife and moved to cut the ties at his feet.
“No, you can’t do that.”
I looked up at Isaiah, confused. “What are you talking about? Isaiah, we have to get away. Come on!”
“Listen to me, Addy,” he said firmly. “If you cut me down, you’re going to have to tie me up again.”
I still did not understand. “What?”
Isaiah’s eyes closed, either in sorrow or shame. “I’m not running away this time.”
Somehow, I knew where this was going. “Isaiah, Roy will kill you,” I said, hoping that he was simply failing to grasp the situation.
“And what if he does?” he asked angrily. “What difference would it make? We’re separated either way, don’t you see? If we run now, someone will catch us. If we wait, and Roy decides to let me live, what are the odds he lets you go with me?”
I understood a little better now, and I felt cold fear in the pit of my stomach “But I don’t understand why…”
“The difference is if I die, you get away. You and Jordan can escape.”
I was getting panicked now. “You can’t be thinking like that, Isaiah. You…”
“Addy,” he cut me off, “I am not going to let you risk yourself, risk our daughter, for my safety anymore. This is how it has to be.”
The air around me felt dense, like I was being smothered, like I had been thrown into a deep, dark crypt. “You can’t really mean that.” Isaiah gave no reply.
I was terrified, but beyond the fear there was anger. I was angry, infuriated with him for giving up so easily. “No,” I growled. “No, Isaiah, you can’t…”
“Addy listen to me…” he tried to cut in.
“No you listen!” I yelled in a way that I had not yelled at him in a long time. “You listen to me, Isaiah. I am not going to just sit here and let you go off and sacrifice yourself trying to be noble. Think of me. Think of our daughter! Do you really think the best thing for Jordan is to lose you as soon as she gets you back? Because I’ve been there, Isaiah, and I never want her to know what that is like. You’ve never taken the easy way out, don’t you do it now.”
“You think this is the easy way?” he yelled, equally angry now. “You think dying, letting them win, is the easy way? You don’t realize that I am willing to do this for you. I am so tired of doing what feels right to me and is so wrong for you.”
“Who are you to say what is right and wrong for me?”
“I am the man who loves you, Addy.”
“If you loved me you wouldn’t do this!”
That got his attention. Isaiah’s head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. “You take that back, Addy. You take that back right now! You can say you hate me, you can say that I mean absolutely nothing to you. But never, ever try to tell me that I don’t love you! You are worth everything to me, Adeline McCalvin, and if you still don’t understand that I don’t know why I ever bothered coming back!”
Isaiah stopped yelling when his voice gave out. He lowered his head and I knew I had really hurt him.
We were quiet for a long minute. I felt so guilty. I could not fight with him like this, not now. “I’m sorry,” I said quietly. Isaiah looked away.
In the silence, I looked around, remembering what had happened in that barn five years ago. “It shouldn’t be like this. We could have had a life together,” I whispered, half talking to myself as the realization dawned on me. “It’s just like you said. If I would have not gone to England, if I had left with you when I could, we could have had a future.”
Isaiah turned his head back towards me. “I was stupid then,” he said bitterly. “I’ve been to the north now, Addy, and I know that there is no place on this goddamn earth where they’ll let us be together. This is all we have, Addy. We could live for a hundred years and go anywhere in the world and nothing would ever change. If we stay together, neither one of us has a chance of something better.” He looked at me sadly. “It’s almost over. I can feel it.”
The tears that had been threatening began to flow as I realized the reality of the situation. Isaiah was almost certainly going to die. “Then none of this should have happened,” I sniffled, “I should have been able to let you go. I should have kept you safe. I…”
“You know that’s not what I meant, Addy!” he said angrily. “If I could do it again I wouldn’t change one second of my time with you.” His head dropped to his chest and he suddenly quieted. “I would rather they killed me a hundred times than live my life without you,” he said weakly. It was a ridiculous thing to say. But there was Isaiah’s sincerity, as pure as when he was seven years old, and I knew he wasn’t lying.
I made my way over to him, touching his face. “You can’t do this, Isaiah. You can’t just go out there and let them win after everything we’ve been through. You can’t leave me alone. I need you, Isaiah. I love you.”
I threw my arms around him, holding Isaiah to even though he couldn’t hold me back. He was quiet for a long minute. “I love you too.”
I couldn’t do it. I could not let Isaiah hang there, saying those things, ready to die for me, even if it was what he really wanted. Before he could protest, I took out the knife and cut the ropes at his feet.
“No, Addy, don’t…” he tried to object but I did not listen. I reached up and the ties at his wrists and chest and Isaiah fell into my arms.
He embraced me and I held him close. “Don’t do this. I can’t just walk away, Isaiah. I can’t let you die.”
“You have to try, Isaiah,” I begged. “Please, I don’t care about getting away, I don’t! You have to try to save yourself. That’s all that matters to me. That’s all that matters.”
“Addy, I can’t…” I could see the conflict on his face.
Isaiah closed his eyes for a painfully long moment. “All right, I promise. I won’t leave you.”
We held each other like that for a long time. “We still can’t go now,” he said quietly. “Roy will be back any minute. We have to wait until dawn.”
I knew he was right. “Aren’t you afraid?” I asked finally.
“Terrified,” he answered sincerely. “I don’t want to die. I’ve been so close before… I don’t want to go back. I…” he stopped for a second, as if trying to get a hold of himself. “I’m so scared, Addy.”
It was unnerving to see Isaiah so afraid. I could hardly remember ever seeing him this vulnerable. I couldn’t let him feel that way. If Isaiah didn’t have hope, no one did. He had always been the strong one.
“Isaiah,” I said, tilting his chin up, “I’ll be right there with you, at dawn. When they take you I will be there and I’ll stop them.” I tried to sound stronger than I felt. It was my turn to be the strong one. “It’s like you told me. You don’t have to be afraid when we’re together.”
He broke my gaze. “I shouldn’t let you do that.”
“Isaiah, don’t worry. They’re not going to hurt you,” I said, hoping that if I said it enough I could make it true. He looked at me like I was missing something. “Oh… oh, your face.” Eye-to-eye, I could see now that the cut on his cheek was deep and swollen, running from the corner of his eye to the curve in his jaw. “Here, let me see.” Isaiah winced at my touch and I pulled back immediately.
He shook his head, cringing. “Don’t worry. I’ve had worse.” He paused for a minute. “Addy,” Isaiah finally said, looking at me seriously and taking me by the shoulders. “You know even if I don’t choose it, I could… things could go wrong.”
I looked away. “No.” I did not want to believe it.
“Yes,” he insisted, “And I want you to promise me that if that happens, you’ll still leave this place.”
“I can’t, Isaiah. If you die, I…”
“Listen to me, Addy. All I want is to save you, even if I can’t save myself. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. You have to be strong, Addy, so things can be better.” His voice cracked on the last word.
Looking into his eyes, so pleading and afraid, there was no way I could say no. “I will. I promise.”
Isaiah pulled me closer, kissing me softly. After a minute, I realized the tears on my face were no longer my own. I pulled back and looked into his sparkling black eyes.
I had never seen him cry.
Through his whole life, everything he had ever been through, all the pain and all the sadness I’d ever seen him face, Isaiah had never cried in front of me.
“Isaiah,” I said quietly, finding it was all I could say. I took his face in my hands and brushed the tears from his cheeks. Isaiah kissed my forehead and buried his face in my hair, inhaling shakily.
“I love you so much,” he said quietly.
“I love you too.”
We held each other like that for a long time, not saying anything more, wishing there was something more we could do. Being in Isaiah’s arms felt so natural I could almost let myself forget that it might be the last time I got to hold him.
Though we could have been there for an eternity, it still felt like we had too little time. “All right,” Isaiah finally said. “Roy will be back soon. You have to tie me back up.”
I shook my head. “Isaiah, I can’t…”
“Addy,” he insisted. “You have to.”
“No,” I sniffed. “If something happens to you, if he hurts you… I couldn’t let go.” I kissed him as I said this, holding his hands in mine.
Isaiah looked back at me, eyes full of sorrow. “Addy,” he began when I had finished. “Addy listen to me. You and I have learned that sometimes, no matter how badly we want something, it can still be taken away. And if… if that happens tonight, all you can do is be strong and walk away with what you have left. And you might let go, but you will never forget what happened here. And as long as you don’t forget, if you hold on to that memory forever, no one can take me away from you.”
I nodded, humbled by the truth of his words. Isaiah stood on a crate while I tied the ropes around his chest, ankles, and wrists.
I stepped back and looked at what I had done. Isaiah was hanging the same way that he was when I found him. It was like I had never been there, the only evidence being the new expression of hope on Isaiah’s face.
“Come here, Addy,” he beckoned me, though he was unable to move. I threw my arms around him and pressed my face to Isaiah’s chest, listening to the beat of his heart.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered. “Don’t worry. We can make it through this.”
I looked up at Isaiah, wishing I could believe it. “But Roy… I’ve seen what he can do. He always wins.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said softly, “They can’t beat us. Addy. They can’t tear us apart. They can try, they tried for five years, but nothing can stop me from coming back to you. Because no matter what happens, I’ll always love you. We already won, Addy. We have overcome the world.”
The door of the barn creaked open and I jumped. “He’s coming, Adeline. You had better be going,” Ethan called softly from the doorway.
I turned back to Isaiah. “I can’t leave you. What if you… What if I never…”
“No,” he said, quiet and firm, before I could even finish the horrible thought. “You can’t think like that. I’ll be all right. I promise.”
With that, I stretched up on my toes and kissed him one more time. I relished the feeling of his soft lips under mine. I tried to memorize the way it felt to hold him in my arms, even though he couldn’t hold me. I swore to remember the sound of his heartbeat as I pressed my face to his chest in that last, lingering embrace.
I begged God not to let this be my last moment with him.
Finally, I turned from him and walked towards the door of the barn. Though my mind begged me not to turn around, I knew I had to. I looked back at him one more time. Isaiah was smiling, just a sad little smile, as he watched me walk away.
© 2012 emily
Added on September 2, 2009
Last Updated on March 13, 2012
AboutHello all! My name is Emily, I'm 18, I am definitely not at home in this tiny MN town, and soon I will be the most famous author my generation. I go to Barnes and Noble to see where my book will sit .. more..