Catching the Rose, an excerpt
Enjoy this excerpt from Catching the Rose
Sensitivity Note: I wrote this book as a high school child who grew up in a predominantly white, upper middle class, socioeconomic situation with little awareness or sensitivity to my topic. I glossed over Nan's enslavement, promoting her to Veronica's friend and confidante, giving her a strong, beautiful presence while never truly engaging the enslavement topic. The opening chapter is perhaps particularly triggering in my childish attempts at motif, so I've skipped it for this excerpt.
As the morning sun ascended slumbering Richmond, a small bird crooned. Its song echoed in the winding, empty streets and alleys to land in the ears of a dog who sleepily snarled. Waiting for employment, the horse whickered at the dog, which yipped in reply. The horse shook his head from a persisting fly, which sailed from the threat and chanced upon an appealing rose.
It was on this solitary morning that a rose petal fell. It is not known whether the petal happened to be dropped by a hand, or whether it fell by the properties of gravity. But it is safe to say it began this story.
Veronica awoke to the smells of breakfast. After buttoning her plain blouse and pulling her brown merino over her hoops, she gingerly walked down the stair. Curious to see the city by day, she stepped to the living room window and watched Washingtonians walk by. Shrugging at how it seemed no different from a southern city, except perhaps with more trolleys than one would suppose, she walked into the hall toward what she assumed was the kitchen. Smelling bacon and eggs, she quickened her step, eager to reacquaint herself with the family and enjoy their food.
She gently pushed open the kitchen’s swinging door and stepped just inside of it. Instead of finding the entire family, as she had supposed a northern family tended to eat in the kitchen, Veronica found a man absorbed in his thoughts and food. So this was the son of the house. He seemed her age, perhaps a couple years older. He ate with deliberate, mechanical care, and his thoughts seemed to be on anything but eating. Veronica was suddenly seized with the urge to sketch him. Or perhaps she already had. “Am I late to breakfast?”
He looked from his meal in surprise, shaking his dark hair from his eyes. At first notice, he approved her softly pulled back chignon, preferring it to the popularly stringent hairstyle. His brow arched, surprising her with its fluid grace.
Veronica stepped back in astonishment, as Amy had that night in Richmond after seeing her journal. He was the man she had drawn, and was obviously Amy’s cousin. “Am I late to breakfast?” she stupidly reiterated.
Clearing his throat, he placed his napkin on the table and stood from his seat with the intent to introduce himself. Though he acknowledged her beauty from his seat, he had also thought she was a playmate for Madge. Evidently not. His brows rose as she stared at him. “Hello,” he said, bowing.
Veronica smiled as she curtsied. There was nothing very wonderful about him, she calculated. He had impressive eyes, the color of the sea before a storm. His dark hair had the habit of falling into his eyes. Thinking of her portrait, she found it rightly so, that his hair fell from his combed waves.
He exclaimed, pointing behind Veronica in alarm. Flinching as Veronica jerked backward into Amy, his mouth dropped as Amy tripped on her skirt, flailing her arms and shoving Veronica into her cousin’s arms. The junior Mr. Williams was careful not to hold Veronica for too long. He didn’t want to give Amy reason to believe anything happened before slamming into the blonde, as she tended to tease him about any girl he thought to look at. With a smile, he saw Veronica’s bright blush as he slowly released her.
Once seating Amy and her friend, he sat across the table. He was much surprised when Veronica murmured, “Quite odd, how you would not speak.” It seemed as though she was southern, by the account of her drawl. This was certainly interesting. Amy never brought her southern friends north. What was she planning?
Amy, who knew her cousin for his odd silences, smiled. “Veronica, this is Brad.”
Brad and Veronica nodded and exchanged pleasantries. He hid a smile as Amy placed a plate of food before her friend, who seemed so satisfied it was comical. Not knowing what else to say, Amy took a heavy drink from her coffee. Clearing her throat, she noticed Veronica wasn’t eating. “Is the food not satisfactory?”
Startled, Veronica flicked her fork and watched it land with a definite plop in something that constituted for porridge. Brad’s porridge. She wanted to crawl beneath the table as he picked it up by his thumb and forefinger, handing it to the girl by the sink. Refusing to meet his curious gaze, Veronica blushed as he casually leaned against the table and asked, “Why aren’t you eating, Miss Vernon?”
“I couldn’t possibly eat with you sittin’ there lookin’ at me as though I am to be your next meal,” she snapped, thanking the servant with a disgruntled air as she accepted another fork.
Amy sniggered into her mug, as she found Brad’s bruised pride too hard to bear as he bowed and fled the room. Evidently, Veronica’s wit was something Brad would have to study in solo contemplation. She smiled as she watched Veronica pour molasses over her pancakes with the air of an inspired artist.
Surveying her work, Veronica asked, “Does this often happen?” “Does what happen often?”
She gestured with her fork to convey the morning’s happenings. “Will I always be eatin’ alone?” Veronica would very much have liked to also ask whether each morning would begin with odd interactions with Brad, but the residue of her shock at throwing the fork and her growling hunger prevented such talk.
“Well, it depends.”
Veronica waited for Amy to elaborate.
“It depends on whether everyone has somethin’ to do or not.”
Silently finishing her meal, Veronica stood to hand it to the servant. Pausing to stare at the kitchen door as the servant washed the dishes, she suddenly burst, “Is he always that way?” Amy jumped in her seat, jerking away from her book and coffee and she cried, “Oh! —I thought you left. Brad? Well, yes, he tends to be quiet around strangers. Give him time, I’m sure he will come around.” He preferred those without flirtatious protocol, and as Veronica tended to be contrary, Amy was quite ready to watch them interact.
Lightly shrugging, Veronica left for her bedroom to stare at the garden below. What was she expected to do with her day? She had never seen a family so preoccupied. Feeling entirely put out, she locked the door to change into her brown calico. She packed away her hoops, deciding they would not aide in such knee-grubbing work as gardening. A novice when it came to doing her own hair, Veronica persuaded it into two braids and wound them into chignons at the base of her neck. Walking down the hall, she suddenly realized she had no hat to protect her complexion...something her mother would never forgive her for.
“Where are you going, Miss Vernon?”
Veronica spun to find Brad leaning against his bedroom’s doorjamb. She cringed as her hand hit a decorative lamp on the hall table. Losing her balance in the successful attempt to catch the lamp, Veronica stumbled in her piddling skirts. With great relief, she freed one foot only to hopelessly entangle the other. Veronica gasped and pitched forward.
Surprised into action, Brad grabbed her flailing hand and twisted Veronica into his arms. He concealed a laugh as he found her madly blushing, her eyes closed as though too mortified to look at him. And with good reason; she had been awfully rude earlier.
Veronica wondered why he had not yet released her. The lamp felt intact. She cautiously opened one eye and then the other with relief. She was most definitely indebted to him for saving his mother’s lamp. Feeling her blush deepen, Veronica thought perhaps he held her as punishment for flicking the fork at him.
With a smile, Brad watched Veronica’s thoughts echo through her features. How surprisingly charming. He wondered why he had reacted so quickly.
“You may release me, Mr. Williams.”
Brad made an apologizing sound and watched her stare at the lamp. Veronica was too humiliated to casually ask him where to place the lamp, as if this happened on a regular basis. When he reached for the lamp, she meekly handed it over. His slight grin, which he probably thought was well hidden, gave away his entertained thoughts.
Staring at anything but Brad as the silence between them intensified, Veronica was affronted to find that once she met his gaze he was already making a case of her. The slight stutter in her voice betrayed her startled composure as she asked, “Did you need somethin’?”
“Where were you planning on going, Miss Vernon?”
“I was plannin’ on gardenin’. There’s nothin’ else for me to do here.”
His eyes dropped to a darker shade of blue as he attempted to hide his bewilderment and delight. Brushing his fingers through his hair to give it that endearing roughhouse look Veronica had drawn in her portrait, Brad wondered if perhaps the thickening of her accent betrayed her unease. He smiled, taking pleasure in the fact that it would confuse her.
“What is it you want?” she timidly asked.
Rocking on his heels, Brad asked, “Have you any gloves, or tools with which to garden?” Her mystified smile amused him. “Would you like to borrow some gloves and tools, Miss Vernon?”
He said her name with such an easy, casual grace. Veronica was intimidated and impressed, and knew not how to respond as he said, “Miss Vernon, why do you stare at me? Am I to be harangued by your breakfast wit?”
“My wit was my response as a victim of circumstance,” she snapped, waving away his comment in her sudden frustration. “And I stare because you have been the only interestin’ thing here, other than the garden. And as you keep me from my chosen interest, it’s only right you become my subject of interest.”
Brad chuckled. No doubt, Veronica thought she would be entertained. A belle always assumes she will be entertained. “You are quite right, for assuming we are busy. I’m flattered you consider me interesting enough to endow your pretty brown eyes on me. But, I am exceedingly surprised you think we would drop everything to entertain a little waif like you.”
Veronica’s eyes widened at his brash comment. How dare he make such a remark so calmly, with a touch of mischief? Down south, he would have apologized, and immediately attempt to sooth her wounded pride. And to compliment her in the same breath! It was unsupportable. “Is there anythin’ else, Mr. Williams?”
“Would you like to borrow gloves, Miss Vernon?” When she grudgingly nodded, Brad took her hand as though they were close friends and led her down the hall.
“What are you doin’, Mr. Williams?” She tugged at her hand, frowning when he resisted. As his grip tightened, Veronica pulled with greater alarm.
“I was going to lend you my sister’s tools.”
“I thought you were takin’ me into your room.”
“Well, I was.”
Veronica reclaimed her hand and stepped from him with a frown. Did his parents teach him no manners, or was it merely because they were alone that he felt he could be so brazen? “I’d be much obliged if you got them by yourself.”
“Are you afraid I’m going to...do something to you because you’re some southern rose? Miss Vernon, I wouldn’t even think of—” He stepped into his room. “I can’t even think of myself thinking of trying to seduce someone like you.”
Veronica blushed. What had he meant, that he couldn’t think of seducing someone like her? Was she not worth seducing? How insulting. Well, she wouldn’t wait for his silly tools, then. Resisting the temptation to stomp to her room, she grabbed her hat and resentfully slipped away to the garden.
It was quite peaceful, to sit in the sun. And though the garden was tranquil, Veronica could hardly look up for fear a soldier would be there, gussied in blue and just itching for a bite of southern flesh—be it man or woman. Strategies of how she could tend the garden sped across her mind, though when none seemed practical she dashed them aside. Reaching down, she delighted in the dirt’s coarse texture.
Feeling someone behind her, she glanced at the house. When Veronica saw nothing but the flapping curtain, she turned to pick up a small handful of dirt. She brought it closely to her nose, remembering when she had the liberty to roam all she liked with the neighboring boy. But, of course, Papa had said she was too old to be so undisciplined: no more playing in the fields or riding bareback. No more loud amusements.
Dissatisfied with her thoughts, Veronica returned to the flapping curtain with no breeze. She wondered if Brad watched her, doubting she could do the job. Pulling on her old kid gloves, she spied an ominous weed and grabbed it with a ferocity her mother would have scolded.