The Nights (part 3)

“Stephanie, where have you been? Momma has been looking for you. If you have been in the quarters again momma is going to be upset. You know she has been feeling faint, tires easily and according to the doctor should not put a strain on her heart. Why can’t you be a lady and stop running around Divine Mercy like a savage? Look at your clothes. You’ve surely ruined your dress.” 

Even though her name means crown, I say crown of thorns. She often says, “I just want to be free!” Free? Being a lady is freedom. Being the middle daughter is freedom. Being the child of a wealthy businessman is freedom. Momma doesn’t require her to do the same things as I. That’s freedom. I would love to ride my horse or hangout in the quarters or sit in the barn loft thinking of our recent trip to Paris. As the oldest child the expectation is for me to keep an eye on Stephanie. 

Momma wanted her to be a boy so much that she named her Stephen. Poppa said no girl of his would have a boy name. Who would marry a woman named Stephen? She says she plans to runaway one day and explore the world. I have no time for such foolishness. 

I do as momma says and I try to watch her and Sally. Sally is a sweet quiet girl. She is always reading a book or sewing something for her hope chest. She filled mine with the most delicate doilies with beautiful details. I like to open the chest and look at them and run my fingers over the edges. They are a thing of beauty. I pretend I’m the mistress of the house and lay these out for our guests. One day, after I’m married, Divine Mercy will belong to my husband. I look forward to those days. Running a home will be easier than keeping up with Stephanie. 

“Poppa”, Stephanie yelled. Mattie, one of the house slaves, told her to hush because it’s not proper to yell in the house. Stephanie kept walking and yelling. When he rounded the corner he looked at her with amusement at first then quickly changed his expression to one of concern mixed with slight disapproval. “What is it daughter?” Poppa asked. “Will you please come down to the slave quarter and tell Moses to jump a broom with me?” Poppa’s expression changed to irritation with a bit of anger. Jumping a broom was what the slaves did to signify a marriage union. Our slaves were not allowed to marry. When they married they had children and the males became protective and therefore a nuisance. We kept our males and females separated. No need in creating a problem unnecessarily. 

Moses was one of the slaves that had grown up here on the plantation. He was learning to play the fiddle and was a natural. Due to his caramel skin color and slight build he would be easy to hire out for parties and other occasions. 

Stephanie said, “I love him and want to marry him.” To which father replied, “I will sell him if you go near him again.” Stephanie’s hands clenched together by her side. Poppa’s jawline was tense as he squinted his eyes. They both stood their  ground staring at each other until momma, who had been listening and watching, walked up and shook Stephanie. Momma promised to lock her in the cellar if she said another word. Stephanie never challenged momma. She knew momma would keep her word and lock her up in the root cellar. Stephanie let out a stiffled scream of frustration and stomped off. 

This scene had become a regular occurrence since Stephanie turned thirteen. She was becoming more belligerent by the day. She seemed to pick fights and willfully disobey. 

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