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Authors: Beverly Jenkins

Tags: #Historical Fiction, #African American history, #Michigan, #Fiction, #Romance, #Women Physicians, #Historical, #African American Romance, #African Americans, #American History

Vivid

BOOK: Vivid
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Vivid

by

Beverly Jenkins

Copyright © 1995, 2000 by Beverly E. Jenkins

Prologue

Grayson Grove, Michigan August 1865

 

Nate Grayson stood before the big bay
window in his large, book-lined study watching the rain. By all rights, he
should have been more concerned with the business being conducted across the
room by his barrister and his wife, Cecile, but Nate preferred the rain. As he
stood there, his thoughts drifted to last evening when he'd stood in much this
same way…

He'd been in the doorway of the upstairs
bedroom, indifferently watching Cecile pack. He'd not been allowed to share the
room or her bed since his return from the war in June, and he'd not much cared.

When she had spotted him, she'd tossed a
rose silk gown atop the bed and haughtily said, “At least try not to hate me,
Nathaniel."

He responded with a bitter chuckle.
"It's a bit late for that."

She strode over to the polished cherry wood
wardrobe that once belonged to his grandmother Dorcas and took down another
armload of gowns, which she tossed alongside the others. As she held each gown
up for critical inspection, she glanced back at him and said, "Were you
more worldly, you'd not hate me. Marriages end every day. At least we're not
being hypocrites by pretending otherwise."

More worldly.
He'd heard her throw out that phrase so
many times to describe his shortcomings, he swore the words echoed in his head
while he slept. More worldly. Had he been more worldly maybe he wouldn't have
cared that she came to their marriage secretly carrying another man's child.
Had he been more worldly maybe he wouldn't have been bothered by the gossips
whispering that she preferred other men to her husband in bed. He admittedly
knew nothing about living in this more worldly world she described.

As she continued her packing, he realized
he had never loved her, not really. And he never should have married her. He'd
been an eighteen-year-old Michigan farm boy, and she the pampered only daughter
of one of Philadelphia's best known abolitionist ministers. They'd grown up in
entirely different worlds; worlds that would ultimately pit his beliefs and
values against hers. Unfortunately, at the time he hadn't known that. When he
first met Cecile Gould on a visit to Philadelphia in the spring of 1862, he
thought a more beautiful and accomplished woman had never been born. He fell in
love with the way she moved, the way she laughed, the way she smelled. She was
a brightly gowned butterfly compared to the practical, everyday women he'd
grown up around, and he'd been blinded. Despite having known Cecile only seven
days, he'd proposed marriage rather than return to Michigan without her, and
she'd accepted with tears in her beautiful brown eyes. Only later did he learn
that her tears sprang from relief, not joy. She'd married him to give a name to
her lover's child, and when she lost that child a few months after their
marriage, she began taking new lovers.

She paused packing to ask, "Is there
a reason you're here? I'd prefer to do this without you hovering over my
shoulder."

"A simple question, Cecile. Did you
ever love me?"

She had the decency to avoid his eyes as
she answered, "Truthfully, Nathaniel? No. I never did."

The answer did not surprise him, nor did
it cause new pain. Any feelings he'd ever had for her had turned to ash long
ago.

Then she raised her beautiful eyes to his
and said, "Nathaniel, you're a decent, handsome man, but you need a woman
more like yourself. I detest this place. I detest the mosquitoes. I detest the
mud. I detest living in the middle of nowhere without anything to do or
anyplace to go. I need the theater, and dinner parties, and gaiety. Not
chickens and trees."

He didn't bother to reply. She'd never
understood how much this land meant to the people here. To her way of thinking,
land had no value if it didn't sit beneath a fancy house. During the first
months of their marriage, he'd hoped she would one day come to appreciate the
raw vitality and potential of Michigan, but that was not to be.

"So you only married me for what, my
name?"

"Frankly? Yes. I was desperate, and
at the time you were my salvation, but I don't need saving anymore."

"What will you tell your
father?" he asked her then. The Reverend Gould would demand an explanation
when he saw the decree dissolving the marriage.

"That you changed after the war and
we no longer suited."

Nate supposed the lie was close enough to
the truth— the war had changed him. The haunting sounds of men screaming
as they died still echoed inside him, especially at night. If he closed his
eyes, he could see the dark clouds of cannon fire, smell the gagging stench of
burned flesh and powder in the air. The horrifying memories of Fort Pillow had
come home with him, and he could not shake them. "And your lovers, what
will you tell your father about them?"

She stopped packing, unable to mask the
surprise on her face. The Nate Grayson who'd marched off to fight for Mr.
Lincoln in 1863 would never have broached such a subject. Even when confronted
with her adulterous behavior, he had blindly set aside his doubts, knowing that
of all the men Cecile could have married, she'd said yes only to him, Nate Grayson,
an eighteen-year-old farm boy.

But he was older now, in age and in
spirit.

Nate asked her again about her father and
her lovers.

"There is no need for my father to
know anything other than what I tell him," Cecile remarked sharply. She
swept all the tiny bottles holding her perfumes and cosmetics atop the dressing
table into a large leather valise. "If the country can start anew,
Nathaniel, so can I."

"I wouldn't dream of stopping
you," he replied, his eyes cold.

She paused and stared as if that, too, had
been unexpected. "Surely, Cecile, you didn't think I would care that
you're leaving, not after all you've done?"

She laughed, a forced, fake sound.
"No, Nathaniel. Although I wasn't really certain you'd actually agree to
the decree, considering how provincial you farm people are about things like
this."

"Every man expects his wife to be
faithful, Cecile, provincial or not."

"Well, next time, choose a nice
provincial girl. Maybe she'll be more appreciative of that long drawn-out
rutting you seem to enjoy."

The barb hurt, just as she'd intended. He
bore it, though, because she would be out of his life soon, taking the hurt
with her.

He left the room, and Cecile, intent upon
packing her many pairs of shoes, didn't even look up. The soft voice of Nate's
barrister interrupted his musings and brought him back to the matters at hand.

"Nate, I need your signature. I've
worked up some figures, if you'd care to review them."

Nate didn't move. "Give her whatever
she wants, as long as it doesn't involve Grayson land or property."

"I'll still need your
signature," the banister, John Freeman, replied.

Nate walked over to the desk and took the
documents from Freeman's hand. "Where do I sign?"

Freeman cautioned, "You should review
the figures, Nate-"

Nate looked down at the man and repeated,
"Where do I sign, Freeman?"

Freeman pointed to the spaces with a
finger.

Nate affixed his name in the three places
indicated, then tossed the papers onto the desk. He turned his eyes on his
faithless wife, "You'll be leaving soon, I hope?"

"Not soon enough, Nathaniel. I can't
wait to put this backwater behind me," she replied coolly.

Nate wondered again how in the world he
could have ever been in love with her.

Freeman looked between the two of them,
then hastily gathered up his papers to leave. "I'll file the decree as
soon as possible. Good luck to you, Mrs. Grayson. Nate. I'll see myself
out."

Freeman's exit left the two of them alone,
a risky situation considering Nate's strong urge to choke her. He'd never put
his hands on a woman in anger, and to keep himself from temptation, he went
back over to the window and concentrated on the drizzle rolling down the pane
like tears. A few moments later, he heard her rise and leave the room. He
didn't move.

She left his life two hours later.

Watching the buggy drive her away, Nate
swore he'd never love again.

Chapter 1

Ogallala, Nebraska May 1876

 

Dr. Viveca Lancaster, affectionately
called Vivid by family and friends, glanced up from the medical journal she had
been reading, when the blue-coated conductor entered the car. His appearance
drew a passing interest from the other nine passengers, who quickly drifted
back to their books and conversations as he came down the aisle. But Vivid
continued to watch him. He probably wasn't much of a poker player, she noted
offhandedly. His nervous eyes and the uncertainty sketched on his face told her
what he was about. She almost felt sorry for him—almost. After all, he'd
been polite since her boarding. However, there would be nothing polite about
the insult he'd come to deliver.

"Uh, ma'am?"

Vivid put aside the
Lancet
medical
journal and looked up into his young face. "Yes."

"Um, I'm going to have to escort you
to another car. There's been complaints."

Vivid assumed the complaint had been
lodged by the man across the aisle. Ever since he'd gotten on at Cheyenne, he'd
been unable to mask his displeasure at the sight of her seated in the car. She
glanced his way now, and he flashed her a superior smile of triumph. Vivid
looked away. A majority of the passengers had boarded the Central Pacific as
she had at the station in her hometown of San Francisco. At the Great Salt Lake
they'd all switched to the eastbound Union Pacific. None of them had been
overly polite, but none had gone so far as to take issue with her presence.

The young conductor appeared relieved now
that he'd given his speech, but there was nothing for her to say in reply. She
was en route to Michigan to open a practice and had journeyed as far as
Nebraska without any such complaints, so in some ways she counted herself
lucky. Jim Crow was a plague creeping across the nation. Many trains both local
and transcontinental were refusing to seat Blacks on some runs. Vivid wanted to
rail at the man across the aisle about this injustice; after all, she'd
purchased her ticket just as he had, but she held back her words. She had no
desire to share the same fate as the woman she'd recently read about who, after
being Jim Crowed from an Iowa train, spent the night alone on the plains,
snapping and unsnapping her umbrella to keep away the predators. Vivid could
also hear her mother's advice in her head, reminding her to pick her battles,
and this was not one Vivid could win, so instead she gathered up her bag and
books from the unoccupied seat at her side.

She paid scant attention to the covert
glances from the other riders or the low-toned buzz her banishing evoked. With
the dignity of an ancestry that spanned three continents, she held her head
high, stepped into the aisle of the moving train, and followed the conductor
from the car.

He led her to a small unoccupied boxcar at
the train's rear. The noise was deafening. The windows were unsecured against
the elements, and as a result the smoke and cinders from the train's stack
poured in freely to foul the air and cover the floor and walls with a thick
coat of coal dust and black ash. There was only a narrow wooden bench built
into one wall where she could sit, and she had to share that with a mound of
soot.

The conductor stayed no longer than
necessary. He mumbled something that sounded like "Have a pleasant
trip," then hurried back to resume his duties. She watched his departure
silently.

Alone now, Vivid walked over to the bench.
She extracted a petticoat from her small traveling bag and blackened the
snow-white garment by wiping the dust from the seat. As she sat on the hard
wood with her handkerchief to her face to filter the thick smoke billowing in,
she wondered how her great-great grandfather Esteban would have dealt with such
treatment. He'd been of Moorish descent and had sailed with the Spanish on one
of the early expeditions to the land now called California. He'd settled there
and married her great-great grandmother Maria, a Spanish slave of Ethiopian
ancestry. Together, they and twenty-four others with African blood were among
the forty-four people from eleven families who founded the Spanish settlement
of Los Angeles.

BOOK: Vivid
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