“You’re a daisy,” Michael said, watching David as he tossed small bits of paper into the fire.
David looked back at him and said, “Then we’re a pair.” He opened up the book beside himself and then shut it again.
“What’s up your britches?” Michael said again.
“Nothing worth talking about,” David said.
“Goody Girl, then. I thought as much.
David watched as Michael opened his mouth, a devious smile creasing his cheeks, but he was surprised when his brother simply said, “Sorry. It’s no fun.”
David shook his head. “It’s not that. I was supposed to see her tomorrow night, but I can’t leave now. I got in trouble for not doing my school work.”
Michael chuckled heavily, the laughter mixed with a soft cough. “You got a funny meaning of ‘can’t,’ I think.”
“Not like I can just walk out the front door. ‘See you in a bit, Ma. I’m off to be alone with doctor’s daughter.’ Tip my hat, and be off.”
“Well, you could, really,” Michael said. “It would give me a laugh at least, until father came and caught you.”
David nodded in agreement.
“But you could still walk out the front door,” Michael said. “And not get caught, if you know the right time. You see, sneaking out is an art I’ve mastered over the years.” He cracked a toothy smile.
“I’d wager I’d still get caught. Anyways, I’m supposed to meet her at dusk. Not much chance of sneaking out when the sun’s up.”
“Nonsense,” Michael said. “Like I said, it’s all about knowing when. Any good trickster knows his mark inside and out.”
“You fancy yourself a trickster?”
“I tricked you,” Michael said.
“And got whooped for it,” David said.
“Everything has a price in life,” Michael said.
“Alright, what do you have in mind?” David said.
“First I need you to do something for me.” Michael’s smile deepened and took on his characteristic deviousness.
“Everything has a price?” David said.
“You bet. I need you to go to the voodoo witch on the other side of town and buy me something.”
David nearly jumped at that. “Whatever do you want with black magic?”
“Aw, it ain’t all black magic and stuff. She’s got medicine and such too.”
“Not the kind of medicine the Doctor would give, I’ll wager.”
“Sure as hell not,” Michael said. “I’m thinking of something Mayem said to one of the other slaves. About a potion that drives out the evil in the body.”
“You got consumption, Michael, there’s no evil spirit in you,” David said, forcing a laugh, but Michael’s own smile had dropped into a waxy straight stare.
“You wouldn’t know,” Michael said. “I feel it in my bones. It’s a deeper ache; it’s like a fear burrowed deep in my ribs. I… Just get me the potion. I don’t remember what it’s called. Coffin water or something.”
David sighed. “Alright, I will. If I can get out to the stables and slip away without being noticed.”
Michael nodded. “Like I said, it’s all about knowing your mark, and knowing your timing. Sitting around here, I know my marks. Too bad I can barely stand without losing my breath.” Michael rubbed his hands and leaned forward. David scooted closer to him. “Mother always leaves the study at three, as you know, but do you know what she does after that?”
“She goes comes down to the parlor to give Elise her piano lesson.”
“Ah, but first she goes to the kitchens to check on what Mayem is making for supper, then she mostly heads to the outhouse. Don’t be surprised I know this.”
“I’m not, but if I walk out the front door, Elise will see me from the parlor.”
“That’s why you go to the pantry, and close the door. Mayem can’t see it when she’s in the kitchens, and none of the other slaves go back there once they start on supper. You go in there and wait until Mother comes back in and Mayem starts setting out the table, then you head out the back through the kitchens. There’s a hole in the door where you can see her pass by.”
“So just like that? What about father and the slaves out in the fields?”
“That one’s easy,” Michael said. “Just run out to the thicket on the other side and wait awhile. Mayem will ring for supper, then father will break the day, send the hands on their way, and watch the stock get put away. Charles usually goes down to the slave quarters for a bit. When Father walks away, you go into the stable, grab your horse, and head out the east way, over the creek.”
“What happens when I’m not at supper?”
“You get in trouble, of course.”
“I thought the point was to avoid trouble.”
“Everything has a price to pay. You can deal with the fallout when you get back.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Of course I am.”
“I’d better get the Coffin water from Tabitha while I’m out. God knows I probably won’t be going to get the mail for a while.”
“You’d be surprised how quickly transgressions are forgotten around here,” Michael said. “Why, you’ve totally forgotten that I abandoned you by a grave in the middle of the woods with no idea how to get home.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“Well, you’ve certainly forgiven.”
David chuckled. “I haven’t done that either.”
“Lord’s prayer, my brother. Besides, isn’t my little prank how you met miss Goody?”
“Fine, I forgive you,” David said, and laughed. He leaned over to where his brother sat and tried to look in the blank paged book. He saw lots of black letters before Michael jerked it away.
Michael held his hand back toward the hearth. “Forth and sin no more!”