TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Strong waves pounded the dark sand just a few yards away. Hidden by beach grass, they embraced, relieved to finally escape their wedding guests. His poetic whispers suddenly ceased as he leaned back, and said, “There’s something I need to tell you…”
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
Mattie and William stepped through the French doors into a glorious day–the sky and ocean waves were the deepest blue. It was May 2, 1870–the morning after their wedding. Mattie was happy to be walking with her new husband along the beach near his home in Charleston. It was so different from the farm in Georgia!
She was wearing a pale blue dress; she knew the color looked lovely against her fair skin and blonde hair. The cinched waist and full skirt showed off her figure. She wanted to look pretty.
William held her hand as they walked through the loose sand. She glanced at him. He was the handsomest man in all creation! Perhaps he had inherited his dark, warm eyes from his Spanish mother. How lucky she was to be married to William–he was from an old family, and had a fine home and property. Her father had lost nearly everything in the war, but William loved her, even though she had but little. And she loved him passionately.
“They can see us, you know,” she said to her husband.
“Father, Henry, and Simon,” she responded. “They’re still in the breakfast room, drinking coffee. I think they had too much champagne yesterday.”
She loved her father and her brothers–older, protective Henry and younger, wilder Simon–but she was feeling a little shy this morning.
William pulled her behind a stand of beach grass. “They can’t see us now.”
He swept her into his arms and kissed her deeply. Her whole body responded, remembering the night before.
“I utterly adore you, Mattie. I cannot believe you are mine.”
She blushed prettily.
William’s smile faded.
“My dearest, there’s something I need to tell you.”
She looked at him, startled by his somber tone.
“I will not start our life together with a secret. I am not William Garrett. I am James Garrett. William was my brother–well, my half brother.
“What on earth do you mean? Your father had only one son, other than the baby your mother died bearing.”
“Maria Perez Garrett was not my mother. My mother was a slave, a mulatto woman named Amelia. When I was five, my father sold my mother and took me into his household to serve my half brother.”
Mattie’s knees trembled.
“That cannot be. If that were true, you would be a quadroon. You’re of Spanish heritage.”
“No, I’m not.” He took her hand gently.
She was stunned.
“Mrs. Garrett died giving birth when William and I were but thirteen and fourteen years old. My father, fearing that war was imminent, sent us to live with Mrs. Garrett’s family in Spain. I went as my brother’s servant. After the war, father sent for us. William fell ill on the ship and died. I came home alone. But when I arrived, I found that my father had passed, too.”
“But your name is William,” Mattie insisted.
“No. I took my brother’s name and his inheritance. I felt my father owed me something–he loved me, but he never acknowledged me. William and I always bore a strong resemblance to one another, and we were close enough in age that no one questioned it.”
Tears welled in Mattie’s eyes.
“Don’t you understand?” said her groom. “It was the only way I could live here.”
Mattie pulled her hand from his and fled to the house. She crumpled into a chair on the side porch and sobbed. Simon stepped out onto the veranda and, spotting his sister, knelt beside her.
“Mattie, what is it? What is wrong?”
Mattie whispered her husband’s secret to her beloved brother. Simon briefly held Mattie while she wept.
An hour later, she was still on the porch, alone and staring at the sea. She could see William walking along the shore. Simon and Henry approached him, laughing and smiling. The three men walked to the dock and untied William’s small sailboat. Soon they were out on the water. The wind was brisk and before long the boat was a tiny white speck against the blue waves.
As morning slipped into afternoon, Mattie retreated into the cool of the house. She was standing at an upstairs window when she saw the tiny speck appear again. She watched the craft approach the dock. Simon and Henry stepped off the boat and secured the lines.
She met them on the veranda, where they told her she was a widow.
Three months later, Mattie stood in front of her looking-glass. She was meeting today with the family lawyer to settle the estate. She missed William, but it was better this way. She tried to avoid thinking about him and the circumstances of his death.
Her maid, Lucy, stood behind Mattie, lacing her corset.
“Missus Garrett, I cannot pull these any tighter. You’ve filled out.”
Mattie met Lucy’s eyes in the looking-glass.
“Yes, m’am. I suspect you going to have a baby for Mr. William,” Lucy said, as she picked up Mattie’s hairbrush.
Mattie’s eyes flew open. In the mirror, she gazed at her own waist, and then at Lucy’s dark brown hands moving slowly through her long, silky hair.